Carnegie Mellon unveils new study abroad program in Qatar

On a snowy February morning, while sitting at the Carnegie Mellon Café sipping a latte, it may be hard to acknowledge that in another part of the world, it is not snowing at Carnegie Mellon.

There, temperatures are skyrocketing and desert sands are the norm.

A new Carnegie Mellon study abroad program offers students the chance to experience this other side of the world, at Carnegie Mellon-Qatar.

Through the Office of Student Development, students can travel to Qatar and work as paid course assistants for required classes in computer science, information systems, and business.

Students will be provided with free housing and transportation to and from Doha, Qatar. Course assistants are paid $12 per hour and car allowance is reimbursable up to $500 a month.

Sophomore business majors Hilary Smith and Megan Larcom traveled to Qatar last semester, before the program was an official option.

Smith and Larcom worked as course assistants in introductory business classes while also taking classes to satisfy their own business majors.

“It was incredibly rewarding,” Smith said. “Traveling to Jordan, the UAE [United Arab Emirates], India, and Egypt was beyond amazing. We saw Petra and the Pyramids and Sphinx — two of the seven wonders of the ancient world — in four months. The unique blend of cultures always keeps life interesting.”

When asked what she missed the most, Smith quickly responded: “Bagels.”

Smith and Larcom experienced temperatures much hotter than they were used to. They said it was often hard to go outside.

Smith and Larcom also bonded with the Qatari students.

They made numerous friends, some of whom came to visit the Carnegie Mellon-Pittsburgh campus before the start of the spring semester to experience Summit and see the campus with the hope of applying for exchange here.

“The relationships we established made [the trip] worth it,” Smith said.

Larcom played on the all-girls Qatari campus basketball team that traveled from Qatar to Bahrain, where the team played in a tournament of groups from all over the Middle East.

The Office of Student Activities had been hesitant to give the group funding. However, the funding paid off when the group, led by Larcom, the team’s star player, won the entire tournament.

Larcom played basketball on Monday nights with a co-ed group and with Qatar’s dean, who diligently showed up every week.

“Where else can you play basketball every week with a dean?” Smith asked.

Smith and Larcom also hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for their friends, both male and female. Since they were unfamiliar with the rules of their dormitory, which prohibited male visitors, the dinner caused a ruckus that caused university security to come to their door.

“Our friends were outside, about a foot from our first-floor balcony,” Smith said. “Security said that they had come because of a noise complaint but we thought the issue might have been that there were boys were near our apartment.”

The security guards also attempted to take pictures of the scene, an act that Smith and Larcom protested since in Qatar, a woman must give permission for her picture to be taken.

In addition to such cultural differences, they also had to deal with an extensive language barrier.
Smith and Larcom noticed this barrier in talking with the security guard that came to their door at Thanskgiving, and in many other daily activities such as looking for bathrooms and maneuvering through a Middle Eastern train station.

“At times, they wouldn’t speak to us in English even though we knew they knew the language,” Smith said, speaking particularly of the security guard at her apartment. “This made it incredibly hard to communicate since we did not understand a word of Arabic.”

Smith and Larcom lived in an apartment on the Carnegie Mellon campus, which was one of five encompassing the mega-campus of Education City.

Carnegie Mellon-Qatar, along with Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Texas A&M University in Qatar, and Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar, constitute Education City, a distinguished center of learning in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
These five universities work in harmony, sharing facilities, ideas, and student interaction.

The biggest cooperative of American schools overseas, Education City has developed to be the elite of Qatari education.

Smith believes the initiative of Education City is based on a concept of education that is progressively gaining support.

“In the Middle East, Dubai has a similar set up called Knowledge Village. The schools aren’t all American universities, but the fever is spreading,” she said in an e-mail. “And the whole point of Education City is to educate students of the region, so [residents are] supportive.”

Smith mentioned that the Carnegie Mellon name is steadily gaining a reputation in the Middle East.

In a New York Times article last week, Education City was even deemed an equivalent to American Ivy League schools in the Middle East.

Hanny Kamal, a first-year on the Pittsburgh campus and Qatar resident, agreed with Smith.
“In Qatar, the Carnegie Mellon name is associated with prestigious education and breakthrough research and advance,” he said.

Carnegie Mellon-Qatar is the first international branch campus managed by Carnegie Mellon University.

In August 2004, Carnegie Mellon-Qatar started making available its highly regarded undergraduate programs in computer science and business administration. This followed an invitation by the Qatar Foundation, a private, non-profit organization in the state of Qatar, founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar. The foundation is based on and guided by the principle that every nation’s best and most reliable resource is the potential of the individuals that comprise it.

Since then, Carnegie Mellon-Qatar has also developed a program in information systems.
Larcom believes that the Carnegie Mellon-Qatar initiative is slowly reshaping the Qatari mentality and challenging their traditional way of life for the better, benefiting all parties.

“The institution of Carnegie Mellon and the overarching structure of the Qatar Foundation are making great strides in education, facilities, and mindsets of the region,” Larcom said in an e-mail. “While some people might question the role of American universities in such a volatile region, I believe Carnegie Mellon’s relationship with Education City and the Gulf Region is beneficial for all involved. I certainly learned a lot, and I am sure that local students are benefiting as well.”

Students interested in studying abroad in Qatar can acquire more information in the Office of Academic Development on the B-level of Cyert Hall.