Alumni Spotlight: Rima Bettaieb (Tunisia)

The content below is originally from the Yale-NUS Admissions Blog. The piece was written by a classmate and friend of Rima Bettaieb who was inspired by the young leader’s socially conscious and charismatic character. Rima shares her experience whilst at ALA, her new journey in college and the plans she has as she pursues a project in her home country.

Rima, tell me more about yourself—where you’re from and what you did before coming to Yale-NUS College.

I’m Rima, and I’m from Tunisia! I come from the coastal city of Sousse, and before coming to Yale-NUS College I was a student in the African Leadership Academy (ALA), which is a school that aims to develop the next generation of African leaders. In ALA, I found myself living with students all over the continent—these were some brilliant and inspiring people. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing they are! During my years at ALA, I really grew a lot. The curriculum was about leadership development and African studies, so I learned a lot about that. In ALA, I also started having a vision of something bigger than myself. I got very attached to my continent, my country and my identity as a Tunisian and I started seeing what was wrong with the world. I also started really believing I could change things. ALA changed my life; I wouldn’t be who I am now if I didn’t go through that process.

ALA sounds awesome. Coming out from that experience, what made you choose Yale-NUS College?

Having been exposed to so much In ALA, I wanted to challenge myself further by living in a place that I did not know anything about. I didn’t know anything about Asia, the Chinese language, the culture or the food, so Singapore seemed like a great choice. Since I also needed to explore more in terms of academics, it made sense for me to go to a liberal arts college, where I could learn about many different things. Traveling is another reason- it’s so easy to travel in Singapore! Lastly I chose Yale-NUS College because the financial aid that I got was really good. This was definitely a decisive factor. I come from a system where parents do not save money for their children’s tertiary education, since university is free in Tunisia. Had I not gotten a good scholarship, I would not have been able to go to Yale-NUS College.

How has Yale-NUS College been for you?

I love being here! At first, I had this fear that life here would be like living in an upper class bubble. I was fearful that I would only become concerned with the issues within this bubble and be disconnected from the world. One of the best things that happened to me is to wake up and realize how much I cared about the world and how much I wanted it to change. I didn’t want to lose that.

But when I came here I realized that I wasn’t losing anything; rather I was gaining the opportunity to use the resources here to learn more and grow more so I can have more impact in the future. I try to be very intentional about how I decide to spend my time in Yale-NUS College. It’s very easy for me to spend my time lazing around, but once in awhile just having to work on my project Empower Education keeps me grounded and reminds me of the person I want to be.

I have been very grateful for all the things I have been learning. All my classes, especially Philosophy & Political Thought (PPT) have been awesome. Learning about analyzing arguments has made me a better debater. Classes have also made me more rational in how I decide on and think about things. Comparative Social Institutions (CSI) class has also been great. It made me rethink everything around me. To think that so many things are a social construct!

You mentioned the high quality of the resources here, can you elaborate?

Resources start with support. I have a really amazing community around me. In a team, I tend to be the type of person to have great visions for a project, but I always need people to ground me to the practical side of things and make me see the details. So for example, when I meet with my Dean’s Fellow Lauren or you and I discuss my ideas, it really helps make my ideas more real. That’s something that is so precious to me.

The Writers’ Centre has also been amazing. English is my third language (Interjection from interviewer: Rima speaks like 5 different languages, including French and Arabic. We’re crazy jealous of her…), and I hate writing academic essays in English, but knowing there is support for writing has been really awesome. A few days ago when I realized there were so many assignments and I didn’t know what to write about, the Writers’ Centre really helped me brainstorm for ideas.  The writing techniques like free writing that they taught me were really helpful.

The Centre for International & Professional Experience or CIPE has been awesome as well. They ran some workshops on EQ & IQ and interview skills that have been really helpful. CIPE really helps you decide how to spend your 4 years in a very productive way. It has helped me to be intentional and specific about the skills that I want to acquire.

Another thing about Yale-NUS College is the amazing talks we have. Just a few weeks ago, a couple of us had a private dinner with the country representative of UN-Habitat in Afghanistan, Peter Dalglish. I learned about what people do in the UN and how the UN actually functions. I had this idea that a lot of people worked for the UN for prestige or pay, and I found that very repulsive. But when I heard about Peter’s work and how much he uses what he has to make the world a better place, it really inspired me to be better too. Even small things like connecting people and teaching English can be useful. In fact, I am now considering working in the humanitarian sector. We have so many resources here, and I feel like I can really take all my social projects to the next level.

You are working on interesting summer projects. You mentioned Empower Education. Can you tell us more about that?

So, Empower Education is a Tunisian educational program that I started in 2014 that aims to teach high school students crucial skills to allow them to transition into the working world. The program started from the fact that there are so many gaps in the Tunisian educational system. Having had the education I had in ALA, I realized that students could benefit from leadership training, entrepreneurship and professional skills. When I piloted this in 2014, it went extremely well: we had 25 participants and a good curriculum. I was inspired by how motivated and responsive the students were, but it also made me realize that there is a huge potential in Tunisian youths that is not being used. I have time and resources next summer, and I really want to bring it to a national scale. Tunisia has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and the vision of this project is to build a country where unemployment is not a problem anymore.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I would like to pioneer more youth development programs. I want to create more opportunities for young people and I want to give back. I am really privileged to have gotten the exposure that I did, and I believe that education is something that everyone deserves. I want to completely change education in my country. By not giving youths the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, we are taking away their hope of doing something they like. Unemployment has many repercussions; many unemployed youths end up getting involved in crime or terrorism, which further hurts the country.

Education and politics are extremely important too. I see myself getting involved in politics. I feel that there is no way of changing the system without being a part of it. I want to do a minor in Global Affairs in order to understand the political world and social change better. I want to know these things so deeply that by the time I go back I will have a good plan that will actually bring about the change I want to see happen.

Rima will be running a program focused on leadership, soft skills and critical thinking for high school students in Tunisia called: Empower Education that seeks to prepare high school students better for the future. Learn more here.

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