Marah Ajilat, a fourth-year student from Jordan majoring in politics and minoring in French, recently participated in a student panel that discussed Arab youth and employment in the COVID-19 era. The event was a collaboration between The Hill and the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. In this Q&A, Ajilat shares her perspective as an Arab student making postgraduate plans, the experiences at Oberlin that she holds most valuable, and the skill she believes will give students a competitive edge.
How did you get involved in this panel discussion with The Hill?
I have been interning remotely with the Embassy of Jordan in Washington, D.C. this fall, which is how I stumbled upon this event. When the embassy received an invitation to nominate someone to take part in the panel discussion, they asked if I would be interested in speaking on the panel about Arab youth and employment in the COVID-19 era. As an Arab student graduating in the spring, I wanted to share my perspective on how I have been navigating the pandemic vis-a-vis post-Oberlin plans.
Before the pandemic, what were your plans and intentions after Oberlin? Did you plan to return to Jordan?
Since I arrived at Oberlin, I have been determined to go to law school in the United States. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced me to pivot because my main goal now is to find opportunities to work or pursue studies in a country that is faring well in terms of economic recovery and containing COVID. With the fate of COVID being uncertain in both Jordan and the U.S., I have decided to put my law school plans on hold until it is safe to return to the U.S.
How has Jordan been affected by COVID-19—economically, socially, etc.? What job opportunities are in your region?
The economic and social risks imposed by the restrictions the government had put in place since March severely tested the government and the people’s resilience. The government was under immense pressure especially because it was responsible for hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps that do not allow for physical distancing. And the households surviving on a single paycheck (or none at all) due to high unemployment could not afford being unable to work anymore. The lack of opportunities in the country has forced people to move, either internally—from the south to the capital or the north, or externally—largely to the Gulf countries. I am fortunate that my preprofessional experience has helped me build a network that I could tap into for employment back home should I need to. Not everyone has had that privilege of spending their breaks doing unpaid internships. I have numerous friends who’ve been looking for a job for almost a year now. They are spending their time bolstering their qualifications and pursuing online courses to have their skills certified. These courses and certifications, however, come at a hefty cost.
In the discussion, you mentioned that the pandemic has made undergrads reconsider the value of traditional postgraduate opportunities since virtual learning is more convenient and less expensive. In your opinion, what kinds of online classes or skill building has value for those who are about to graduate and enter the job market?
Languages. I believe that learning a new language, especially languages that are highly demanded in one’s respective field, are always a great way to distinguish oneself from other candidates. Not only does it attest to one’s language proficiency, but also one’s discipline and dedication. It takes a lot to learn a new language but it always pays off.
“Resilience” was one of the topics in the discussion. Are there any courses or experiences you’ve had at Oberlin that you think will give you a competitive advantage?
Absolutely. Oberlin students are nothing if not resilient. I think our COVID numbers attest to that. Personally, the doors that Oberlin opened for me tested my resilience the most: The internships, part-time jobs, research, and consultancy opportunities made me want to consider career paths other than law. At several points during my undergraduate career, I have questioned whether I really wanted to spend at least seven years to get a law degree, when I could have had a law degree in half that time back in Jordan. Now, I can confidently say that these opportunities only proved to me that I made the right decision by coming here and going down the longer path, rather than the easy one, even though my law school plans have had to be pushed back further.
You’ve been involved with ExCo. Did you participate in any other organizations or extracurricular activities?
I have joined a couple of student organizations at various points throughout my time at Oberlin, but being a student staff member in ResEd and an ExCo Committee member has taken up most of my time. I have been very invested in those two positions since, in my experience, they have prepared me the most for life after college. I strongly encourage every student to seek and get involved in opportunities that require handling responsibility independently as well as in a group. It teaches you what to look for in a positive work environment so you can approach your job-hunting with more clarity and confidence.
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