On Oct. 20, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Class of 2014 alumna, Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui announced
on Instagram the sixth cohort of UAE youth delegates to the United Nations. May Alhajeri, Class of 2021, was selected as the female representative and will be representing her country at the world’s most prestigious stage. The Gazelle sat down with the NYU Abu Dhabi alumna in an exclusive interview to learn more about her and her plans as a delegate.
Coming from a tribal family, Alhajeri was exposed to politics and history from a young age thanks to her father, but it was not until the Arab Spring that she became personally invested in political changes and influences in the MENA region. Despite coming from an applied technology high school, she decided to pursue her interests in international relations and graduated with a degree in Political Science.
During her undergraduate years, she continued to deepen her knowledge in diplomacy and global affairs through various internships, including a stint at the Consulate General of the UAE in New York. However, when a friend urged her to apply to be a youth delegate, Alhajeri hesitated.
“Sometimes rejection can hit me,” Alhajeri admitted. “I didn’t feel good the other time and now the competition is even bigger."
Yet, the previous letdown also helped lead her to this current opportunity. When she was applying to be a member of the Abu Dhabi Youth Council, she befriended Maryam Belhoul, who was a UAE youth delegate to the UN in 2019. Though Alhajeri was unsuccessful in her application, she stayed in touch with Belhoul and found out about the youth delegate program through her social media.
Braving the fear of another rejection, the fresh graduate submitted her application and was fortunate to receive an interview invitation. Yet that was only the beginning of her challenges — she had taken her third Covid-19 booster shot the day of her interview.
“It was insane, I was literally talking when [I was] having a fever. Once I finished the interview, I had to go to the hospital,” she recalled. “But it was rewarding the fact that even though I was in such a state myself… I still got [this position].”
On top of answering tough questions from interviewers, Alhajeri also had to deliver a one minute speech in both Arabic and English. “This was the most challenging for me because it’s a kind of exposure of what we’re going to face within the UN, we will be facing a lot of speeches and negotiations,” she admitted. “You want to express your thoughts … adequately in a sense that not only captures your thoughts as a young person, but also you have more than one million people you ought to represent back home.”
And it is the same desire to be the voice of Emiratis on the international stage that propelled Alhajeri to her current position: “I think one of the things that they saw in my application and interview is that... I am committed to supporting whatever my country is advocating for."
When asked about what she plans to do at the UN, Alhajeri hopes to export the Expo 2020 motto of “connecting minds, creating the future” and use it as a starting point of every discussion: “[The motto] is a reflection of youth and their aspirations and ambitions… [Creating] the future of not only our country but all countries."
Alhajeri started her position as a youth delegate last month — the same time she started working as a graduate trainee at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. While juggling full time work and remote meetings with other youth delegates from around the world is no easy feat, the young Emirati representative enjoys fulfilling her duties in both roles. In two to three weeks time, she is looking forward to flying to New York and engaging more closely with the UN by attending General Assembly meetings. She will return to Abu Dhabi in the beginning of December after the UN “high season” and continue to represent the UAE as a delegate for a full year.
After her appointment as youth delegate, Alhajeri will continue working in her investment role for some time, acquainting herself with a field that she is less familiar with. She ultimately aspires to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
One can hardly imagine that seven years ago when she first joined the NYUAD Summer Academy, Alhajeri was a shy and timid girl who did not speak fluent English. What she lacked in linguistic ability, she made up for with hard work and determination. After graduating from the Summer Academy, she had her eyes set on attending NYUAD, applying only to the one university.
“There are so many lessons that I learned at NYUAD that really shaped me and the way I think today,” she said, recalling the various mentors and peers that have helped her along her undergraduate journey. “I was on the verge of breaking down in my senior spring semester, but my [capstone] mentors pushed me to the last bit so I’m really grateful for the support.”
Living by her model of grit and tenacity, she advises other youth with ambition to invest in themselves: “Learn as much as you can and challenge yourself. If I hadn’t challenged myself seven years ago, I wouldn’t [have] reached the place where I am today.”
Charlie Fong is Senior News Editor. Email her at email@example.com.