Don't tell me the thought of studying in Qatar has never crossed your mind! An experience in the Middle East, from the unique perspective as a long term traveler or student, will give you access to historical context with real world implications. Don't just pass through, consider staying awhile - learning Arabic, getting to know the people. You may find that life there is not all that western media has cracked it up to be.Photo credit: Aih.
Doha: Home to Al-Jazeera’s headquarters and the stunning Museum of Islamic Art, Doha is the main city in Qatar. With over eighty-percent of the population living in Doha, it is the only metropolitan area in the country. The famous “Education City” is located in Doha and includes branches of American universities like Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, and Carnegie Mellon. Explore the undulating sand dunes of the south, take a camel ride along the beach, swim in the pristine Arabian Gulf, hop on a 50-minute flight to Dubai.
Language: The majority of the population in Qatar speaks basic English and almost all coursework is taught in English. At American universities, all classes are taught in English with basic Arabic courses available for non-native speakers. Qatar University offers several liberal arts courses in Arabic and English, including mass communications, literature, and international affairs. All science and engineering courses are instructed in English. In addition to the intensive Arabic for Non-Native Speakers program, Arabic courses are offered to non-native speakers in regular undergraduate programs.
Housing: Lack of public transportation in Qatar limits sensible housing options to the dormitories provided by the universities. Universities on the Education City campus are adjacent to the student housing. Qatar University dormitories are located between 15 and 20 minutes away from housing with regular shuttles going to the university for classes. Living in the university housing guarantees an incredibly diverse, multicultural experience.
Academic Life: Fortunately, both the American universities and Qatar University use the American system for grading and awarding credit hours. Midterms, research papers, and final exams often make up the entirety of the final grade. Class presentations are very common in all courses. Often times, the presentation will coincide with the research paper topic.
Immersion and cultural activities: With the construction of Education City, Qatar has a growing multicultural student population. At Qatar University, most students come from the Gulf region (countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). Local students are just as nervous to talk to foreign students, as foreign students are to talk to local students. However, breaking that initial barrier can lead to friendships that last a lifetime.
Socializing occurs both inside and outside of the home, usually over food and shisha (hookah). “Arab hospitality” is something that they take serious pride in. Most restaurants offer shisha and places like Souq Waqif are packed on the weekends. In the summer months, malls are also frequented by residents, both for the shopping and the air conditioning. There is also no shortage of football matches, concerts, tennis matches, or beach parties.
Universities in Qatar will initially provide students with sponsorship to enter the country on a 30-day visa. Upon arrival, residence permits should be obtained with help from the immigration office at the universities. A visit to the medical commission for a physical and blood work is required for all permanent residents. This process can take months; get started as soon as possible. It is impossible to leave the country during the application process, since passports will be taken by the Ministry of the Interior in order to issue residence permits.