April 6, 2012

The Sisterhood Series: Whipping Up A Career

In this installment of The Sisterhood Series, I interviewed Afra Abdeen. I met Afra in high school and she currently lives (and goes to university) in New Zealand. She is an avid baker, a great writer and a dedicated volunteer. To read more about what the series is all about and why I launched it,click here.

Who are you and what do you do?
I am a university student. Studying psychology and marketing and just on my final semester of a bachelor of arts and business conjoint degree . I am also the current president of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) at Auckland University of Technology here (AUT) in New Zealand.

What does a normal day look like for you?
This question made me laugh as I am currently getting my head around what it looks like for me too. In addition to being a student and running an organisation, I also work part time at a call center in uni. So my typical day is one big balancing act where I run between work, study, SIFE, friends and family. Conveniently this semester, SIFE also acts as my work experience for my degree. So study + SIFE mesh in together (time saver - YAY!).

What inspired you to be involved with Students In Free Enterprise?
SIFE is a global, not for profit, student-run organisation that originated in the United States. There are about 1600 SIFE institutions worldwide so SIFE AUT is one of many. All SIFE teams work towards improving people's quality of life and standard of living through a consideration of relevant social, economic and environmental factors. This is achieved through the creation of community outreach projects. Essentially, we are all changemakers looking to achieve the best for the communities we live in by applying our skills as students along with an entrepreneurial approach. I got involved in SIFE in 2011 when the last faculty advisor of SIFE AUT who also happened to be a lecturer of mine told me all about it. I was half way through the 3rd year of my degree at that time and needed to find one extra paper to do with nothing really calling to me. SIFE at AUT University is unique in that students can get academic credit for their invovlement. So it represents a paper as well. Hearing it from my lecturer's perspective convinced me that I had finally found something awesome to do. I applied to be a member, was interviewed, accepted and so the journey began. After my first month in the organisation - I was hooked. I have volunteered ever since and was also fortunate to have been elected president in October last year. I ended up finding what really has turned out to be a dream job - managing a group of energetic, enthusiastic and passionate people who all share the same values and want to change the world!

Can you describe the Live Below The Line project you were involved in with SIFE?
SIFE teams have the opportunity to work collaboratively on projects. In New Zealand
there are three active SIFE teams with a few more coming on board this year. The teams had never worked together on a project before, so last year I initiated discussions and we created our first ever collaborative venture. We decided that we needed to strengthen the brand name of SIFE NZ here as a lack of recognition was a challenge. One of the members in the discussion recalled that the Live Below the Line challenge was happening two weeks away from the date of discussion. We decided to create a team together and participate in it.

The Live Below The Line challenge is set up by the Global Poverty Project and happens across USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand at various times of the year. In this challenge people live on food and drink that amount to their country's equivalent of the Extreme Poverty Line everyday for 5 days. In the case of New Zealand that is $2.25 a day. You then get people to sponsor your team for your efforts and collect money for one of the participating charities or organisations who work toward the eradication of extreme poverty. Our team raised funds for the Global Poverty Project. With about 15 participants we collected over $3000 and were the 3rd highest fundraising team in New Zealand. It was a humbling and amazing experience for all of us who were simply a group of university students. One of the team members actually went through the entire 5 days living on water alone. We never expected to achieve so much so shortly. It was certainly an eye opener and showed us how much we can achieve simply by taking action!

You also bake in your spare time! What inspired you to start baking and cooking?
Baking is as far as I get - cooking is this whole unexplored realm that I am nowhere near ready to step into! The cake making is something that just came up while I was home for summer in 2008. My dad is a baker by profession and he and I made a cake for my little cousin's birthday. It was fun and I discovered for the first time that I had patience for what is a time-consuming task! It took off from there really. Someone wanted a cake and then another person and another and I got plenty of practice with dad on hand with the tips and tricks. Eventually my friend thought I was good enough and paid me for an order and things have just gone from there. It's purely interest based and dependent on my free time, but I love the creative outlet it provides! Never knew I had it in me. I just enjoy making things look pretty - sounds rather strange when put it that way haha! The look on kids or even some of my friend's faces when they see their favorite characters or ideas come to life is priceless! It is the most exciting part of what I do, I reckon.

From left: Layered chocolate cupcakes with chocolate mousse filling, ganache icing and white chocolate drizzle; Strawberry & white chocolate gateaux

From Left:  Coffee flavored cupcakes with honey-roasted almonds & macadamias;  Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate mousse and roast almond sprinkles 

Do you have a business?

I say no, but my baking does look like a small business. For me though it's just that other thing I do and I can't conceptualize it as one. I would love to set up something of my own at some point, but I am yet to find that idea that I want to take further. Social enterprise is certainly something that would be my focus now after all this exposure with SIFE. Ideally I would like to combine my love of baking into something truly creative. Big dreams!

How would you describe your personal style and attitude?
My style is certainly more girly than not, but I am happiest in my PJs or high heels - a random combination, but I was going for a contrast there!  I feel the most confident when I am happy with what I'm wearing. I am a comfort-over-anything else kinda shopper. By that I mean I have to feel comfortable in the outfit for the day. I do believe clothes affect your mood and that is important to me. If I have a bad day, I look to wear things that make me feel amazing to just help. So sometimes weird, often conservative but always dictated by comfort and mood is the best way I can describe myself and my personal style. 

How has your customs affected your style and how you dress? Do you get judged for it or do people admire it?
I am a Muslim and my parents have always brought me up to dress modest. So for me no sleeveless clothing or short stuff. It's all about covering up. It's TOUGH to find that balance where I don't look like a grandma; am pleasing everyone that judges my outfits and  I actually feel good! Tights, cardis and blazers are my best friends, but sometimes I just get frustrated because I do think sometimes less is more and needing to cover up just kills some looks! However, it is the most satisfying feeling when I manage to pull together something that I am happy wearing and still get the tick on being modest and covered. It is still a FINE line though. I won't ever please everyone, so I've learnt to accept that and make the most of it!

What is/are the piece(s) in your closet that you consider a favorite at the moment?
Ooh that's a good question! I think it would have to be the tube dress I got for my friend's wedding in January as it can go from casual to formal just by changing what cardigan or blazer I team up with it! I also adore this black blazer I got for a bargain online but works awesomely with skinny jeans or pants or even dresses. The sea green and salmon pink pairs of jeans I just bought because I was so over black tights!! All my heels but my favorite is my Guess ones that I was dying to get for ages and finally invested in!!

How do you like to relax and spend your weekends?
With friends and family, baking or even just good books and movies. I love coffee or brunch dates and well , all things food! I spend most of my time bonding over food with friends and have some regular haunts. Sunny days are my favorite and just being in the sun will always be chillaxing for me!I do believe in 'me' time too, especially on those days where there's just so much going on! I like to then go for a walk, shop, take a drive somewhere and do something impulsive and 'treat' myself!

What motivates you?
Wow. I think it's people. Friends, family or even just those awesome people you meet or hear about every day. I feel like I always learn a little more from them that pushes me and gives me ideas and inspiration. I work to ensure that the people who matter to me and are close to my heart are proud of my actions. That is what governs and motivates me.

What are you most passionate about?
Right now it's my work at Students For Free Enterprise and the opportunity it has given me to make a difference. I want to keep doing that no matter I do. I want to keep giving back and being a changemaker. I have discovered that this passion drives me and will certainly look to pave a career path with this in mind.

Where would you like to be in five years?
I can't plan that far, nor do I think I have to. There are so many life-changing things that happen to direct people into something. I want to have my eyes open for that and not miss those opportunities by being too planned. But I think I want to always be at a point where I can be happy with where I am and what I am achieving. So even if I didnt know five years ago that this is what I would be doing, I can say that I would have liked to describe where I am today to someone as my ideal. I guess what i am trying to say is that five years ago if someone asked me where I see myself in the future, I would have wanted to tell them here, doing exactly what I am right now.

How do you sparkle and spice up your life?
By doing things I have never done before, pushing boundaries and testing limits. Which can also translate to - taking on too much, keeping busy and constantly working on injecting the right balance with friends and family.

Or just by wearing a fantastic pair of heels!

"There are many wonderful things that will never be done if you don't do them." -Charles D. Gill
I hope Afra's story inspires you to always keep your eyes and your mind open to opportunities. You might discover a hidden talent and a new hobby during a lazy summer.  A paper for a class may lead you in the direction of doing what you love as a career. All it takes is to keep looking for those opportunities, those moments which, if you seize them, will take you on a whole new journey in this road called life. 


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