Joy is a PSC scholar who enjoys going off the beaten path. Currently studying Business at the University of Manchester, she spent 2 months in Bahrain working on a project from AIESEC. AIESEC is the world largest student run organisation currently presented in 113 countries including most emerging markets. Find out more about AIESEC here.
We speak to Joy to find out about her experience.
Interviewed and written by Rayan Tan
Hi Joy! It is a pleasure to meet you. Give us some insight into Bahrain.
Bahrain is a very cosmopolitan country where you get to meet many people from around the GCC and beyond. I was pleasantly surprised to find that on my flight to Bahrain, there were more Filipinos and Koreans than there were Arabs! The locals are amazingly friendly and have no problem accepting you if you are a foreigner – they will be really interested to find you more about you!
Trying out the traditional Arab headgear!
The Arabs are really proficient in English, and I had many long and interesting conversations with the locals. The downside was that I didn’t get too many opportunities to learn Arabic!
It is a safe place to be – you can leave your laptop on the table of a busy cafe for 30 minutes and return to find it where it is (not that I am advising you to!).
What’s the weather like in Bahrain as compared to Singapore?
The weather in Bahrain is hot but personally I feel it is not as bad as Singapore because it is not humid. A lot of places are well air-conditioned.
With that being said, the locals don’t like to walk outside for more than 5 minutes because it is very hot! One day, temperature peaked at 51 degrees, I thought that I might start melting! Because of the hot weather and cheap fuel, the Bahrainis are highly reliant on their cars and will drive to places even if it is a distance that will only take 5 minutes to walk!
Another funny incident related to the weather was since I was used to the unpredictable rainy weather in Singapore and Manchester, I was carrying an umbrella around Bahrain for a good one month before a friend found it in my bag and laughed at me for carrying extra luggage around. According to the locals, it will take a miracle to get rain, especially in summer! (Some other nuggets: When my friends came over to Singapore last Februrary they were so excited that it was raining and my Facebook feed was filled with pictures of the rain in Singapore!)
So how do you normally travel within Bahrain?
We established a network of really nice friends (sometimes through begging and a little bargaining) to drive us around. The public transport system is not well established yet – there is a lot of potential to expand and develop the system.
People in Bahrain travel in vehicles because it is cheap – there are no tariffs (or COEs) on car ownership. Pumping a full tank for a Toyota will cost only around SGD$12 which I still can’t get over! Just a fun fact – Saudi Arabia and Qatar have even cheaper petrol – the cost of a liter of petrol is even cheaper than a liter of pure water.
Having breakfast fast with my Bahraini friend’s family during Ramadan!
How was it like working in Bahrain, did your project go well?
The working culture is significantly different from Singapore.
1) Sundays are work days.
2) The weekend is Fridays and Saturdays.
3) For employees who do not work in an office, they do not work from 2pm to 4pm (Bahrain time, which is 5 hours slower) as it is the hottest period of the day.
4) Face to face communication works the best in getting work done.
5) Arabs are really family oriented and their families usually come before work.
I was working on a youth leadership programme and we had to communicate with ministries, businesses, schools, teacher and parents. It was tough initially because we didn’t speak Arabic, so we need to work twice as hard to gain trust. However, once we got the trust, the locals were extremely helpful and offered help in areas beyond what we asked for! The trick to getting their support is that you have to be really really insistent, and be willing to visit them everyday! That is how I settled the venue for my project. The project was really successful, much to our surprise, and they have recently completed the 2nd run of the project with equal success.
What is in for you in the near future, Joy?
I’m hoping to head back to Bahrain (for some more community work and to get over my food craving) this summer if I manage to find some time before term starts. I am also researching on Masters programmes and am exploring the possibility of pursuing my studies in South America and other emerging markets.
Recently I convinced a friend to visit Bahrain and she is enjoying herself now!
Waiting for the sunset at Fort of Bahrain, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is thought to be the center of power for the ancient Dilmun civilization.
Remember to check back for Part II of Booming Bahrain next week, where Joy tells us more about the exciting prospects she’s found in Bahrain!