Under the umbrella of Pre-University Education, the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) offers its students a unique and effective transition between high school and university. Since the Program’s inception in 2001, hundreds of students have graduated successfully to go on to renowned universities in Qatar and abroad. In this column, we run a series of their profiles, highlighting their academic, professional, and personal achievements, and the role their ABP education has played in them. We want to present portraits of young people, ABP alumni, Qatari and non-Qatari, male and female, fully engaged with their studies or work, serving their community and their country in various ways – who are a testimony to ABP’s teaching competence and lasting impact. Here they tell their stories, speaking about their ABP experiences, university studies, professional practice, hobbies, dreams and passions.
Abdulrahman Al Malki joined the ABP in August 2012. He says he knew then that the Program would help him develop his academic skills, particularly academic writing, to prepare him effectively for university. While at the ABP, he also significantly increased his IELTS score, which broadened his choice of university options.
He decided to go to the UK where he pursued a degree in media, communication and society at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. He enjoyed his studies immensely and finished them on a high note writing a dissertation about journalism in Qatar. As a recent university graduate, he came back home in June 2017, ready and eager to start his professional life – which he did, in an organization already close to his heart.
Re-visiting his former teachers in the ABP in September 2017, he proudly shows off his brand new QF badge: “I'm now working in Qatar Career Development Center (QCDC) under Qatar Foundation. The center’s aim is to educate and guide local school students about careers and help them understand the working field”, he says. Abdulrahman is excited about this opportunity and talks about his new responsibilities with contagious enthusiasm. But, inspiring though it is, there is more to him than just work. He reveals an unexpected side to his life, which stems from a great passion and a unique skill.
He tells his story: “Earlier this year, in February, when I was still at university, I was introduced to specialty coffee and was amazed by the preparation process. Coffee and milk never tasted this great: no sugar, no syrup, no fillers. I kept going back for more. Finally, I decided to take a couple of basic courses while I was still in Nottingham. I wanted to learn how to make coffee myself. It was so interesting and not at all easy!”
Last summer in Qatar, Abdulrahman, a fresh graduate, was offered a chance to train and work as… a barista at Flat White in the Pearl: “The chance came at a perfect time considering that I was mostly free and had nothing to do before starting a full time job at QF. After a couple of days of being a barista I realized that I absolutely loved it. It is hard and challenging, but I really enjoy it, even though I can only work part-time now, on a voluntary basis, in my spare time during weekends or in the evening, since I have a full-time job. When I am behind the espresso machine, I am happy and I know that it may be a cheesy thing to say, but it is true. Some people may see me making and serving coffee and think, wow he is being an inspiration for others, but I really don't consider myself being inspirational, I am simply having fun and being happy doing what I love doing. I'm doing it because I enjoy it. So if I were to give advice to young people, it wouldn't be like 'go and work a pink collar job', but rather do what makes you happy and enjoy life.”
His advice – based on his personal experience – will surely resonate with the youngsters he works within QF. His enthusiasm, modesty, and humble attitude are in fact an inspiration – and not just to young people, but to all who know him. His former ABP teachers are certainly very proud of him and the Flat White is a busy place.
Abdulrahman’s Instagram page
Sarwar Sultani was one of three Afghan students admitted into the ABP in 2006, on a special scholarship from HH Sheikha Moza. Here is his story in his own words: “I joined ABP mainly in order to improve my TOEFL and SAT score. I had a bit of a rough start. Having completed my primary and secondary school in some of the least developed countries, I had no familiarity with western/modern education system. Although I was familiar with the TOEFL exam, I had never heard about SAT and ACT tests. ABP was my only chance for understanding the modern education system, improving my standardized test scores and academic skills. The Program literally became a bridge that linked my high school education to university.
After spending a year at ABP, I was admitted to Georgetown School of Foreign Service (SFS) in Doha, Qatar. This was an extraordinary achievement and would not have been possible without the guidance and support from ABP teachers. Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar is all about reading and writing and I had only very basic reading skills and nearly zero writing skills to start with. The academic work load at ABP made a huge difference, improving my TOEFL and SAT scores that eventually got me the offer of admission from SFS. I must mention that ABP is not just about classes. The extracurricular activities like Debating and Model UN play an equally important role.”
At Georgetown’s SFS-Q, Sarwar studied International Relations and earned a certificate in American Studies. After he graduated, he went back to his home country, Afghanistan, where he spent a year working for an international organization responsible for capacity building in Afghanistan, until a scholarship from the Open Society Foundation enabled him to study for an MA. He chose the University of York in the UK and wrote his Master’s dissertation on post-war reconstruction and development, entitled Peace Process between the Afghan Government and the Neo-Taliban: An Alternative Strategy for Reaching Political Objectives.
In 2013, he was offered an opportunity to join Princeton University as a Visiting Student Research Collaborator, a challenging but stimulating experience. He interacted with renowned scholars and presented talks on the situation in Afghanistan at Princeton’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, where he spent some time working with Wolfgang Danspeckgruber and Michael Barry on projects related to elections and democratic governance in Afghanistan.
With his MA degree in hand, he returned to Kabul, Afghanistan, and started working for the American University of Afghanistan. He spent three years there, getting involved in the election campaign of President Ashraf Ghani. After Ghani’s victory, encouraged by his employers and family alike, Sarwar decided to apply for a doctorate. In 2016, he received a Fulbright Scholarship for pursuing PhD studies in the United States. He is currently in his second year at Rutgers University. Who knows, maybe one day, he will be a presidential candidate himself in his home country?
Sarwar has an optimistic vision of a more politically successful, modern, and peaceful, Afghanistan and is working very hard to make it come true. He still remembers his ABP years as some of the most formative time of his life. He believes that “Behind every successful ABP student, there is a successful teacher. I am very grateful to many teachers, but especially to Mr. Wayne Schlegel who did not give up on my extremely poor academic writing skills. I had to revise my personal statement probably more than 20 times. I might be exaggerating. But, it was certainly worth it…” Yes, it was!
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He explains why he joined the ABP: “Initially, I never thought of studying at the ABP and never even thought to apply. It was just around the end of May 2016, in my last year of high school, that I came to know about the ABP through a friend, Mohammed. He encouraged me to apply for admission to the Program with him, since neither of us were ready to attend university. I felt I needed something that would enable me to transition not just to any university, but to a top university here, in Qatar. It was a major challenge! I felt that my high school did not equip me with sufficient confidence, academic skills, and most importantly, the ability to think critically. I knew I had to gain all those somehow to be accepted at a renowned university. But where? The ABP was the best option. That is why I ended up applying to the ABP. I must say I never regretted this decision, not even once. The one year I spent as an ABP student was worth the three years I had spent studying in high school.”
Reflecting on his ABP experience, Ahmad remarks that one of the most important skills that he learnt here is how to be a good time-manager. Effective time-management is a key ingredient of success at university where “You need to be able to manage your time wisely in order to get your work done. This also applies to your professional life, so the benefits of solid time-management skills are long-lasting”, he says. Some other essential skills he developed while studying in the ABP include note-making and the ability to communicate in an academic style, conducting presentations, participating in seminars and discussions. He admits that he struggled trying to keep up his grades during the first semester, but soon got used to the rigorous ABP system and gradually fine-tuned his learning methods to obtain the best results. His advice is to take it slow, ask teachers for help, and “you will be fine”, he smiles. He ended up so ‘fine’, in fact, that he was offered admission to two universities: Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon.
The most important thing for Ahmad was that the ABP helped him to choose the university path best suited to his talents and interests. “Thanks to the monthly workshops that the ABP sets up, the assistance it offers to help students through academic counseling, information materials, and collaboration with Education City universities”, Ahmad discovered he had a passion for Information Systems, wanted to study it, felt he was good at it and able to do well. Encouraged by the ABP, he chose CMU. And this is what still makes him smile – he is a happy university student who made the right choice.
Ahmad has a final message for the current and prospective ABP students: “My dear fellow students, one last comment that I would like to make is, be competitive, be engaged, be problem solvers, time managers. don’t forget to have some fun, because at the ABP, you will learn the true meaning of fun when you are in class, with your colleagues and your teacher, and discover the joy of learning and secure your own bright future!”