Tales from abroad: Doha
Studying abroad with your own university doesn’t really sound like going abroad at all, but it is when Carnegie Mellon has a new home in Doha, Qatar, continents away from our main campus in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Mellon is known for being a global university, making its mark in different parts of the world. Now it has done so once again by opening a branch in the Middle East, bringing Carnegie Mellon to a nation that is collectivist, diverse, and in the middle of revolutionary change. I feel as though I could not have asked for a better place to study abroad: the campus at Doha is so unique, but still so integrated with the main campus in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, or CMU-Q, along with five other universities, is part of Education City (pictured above) and is comparable to the university in the U.S. CMU-Q offers degrees in business administration, computer science, and information systems.
The size of the student body is only about 3.5 percent of the undergraduate population in Pittsburgh, and this small size gives you the feeling of belonging to a really huge family that is extremely close and where everyone knows each other, unlike Pittsburgh, where I still meet new people every day. Though the community on this campus may seem different, here, too, we are a set of motivated people out to make a difference in the world.
Qatar is a collectivist society and is ruled predominantly under Shariah or Islamic law. Due to Friday’s being a holy day, the working days are Sunday through Thursday.
Many people from Middle Eastern countries also reside here, creating Qatar’s huge expatriate community. This makes studying here really interesting since you meet people from all over the Middle East and can try to learn Arabic in all the different dialects. While living here you are not only able to learn about Muslim culture in general, but you also start picking up the subtle differences among the cultures of different communities.
Qatar is currently in a revolutionary period in its history, in which the government is taking steps to improve the education system, advanced research and development, and build a sustainable nation relying on the strength of its own people. Education is spreading and is taking higher priority, especially among women. Sheikha Moza, the consort of the Emir of Qatar, started Education City and brought the best universities from around the world to set up their campuses here. CMU-Q itself has a higher percentage of women attending the university than men. When coming from a society where seeing women in leadership roles is not so unusual, it is interesting to view women achieving higher positions in a society where they do not have equal standing.
Carnegie Mellon has integrated itself so well into this society that it is interesting to witness the blend between traditionalism and modernity. CMU-Q, while respecting the culture and the tradition of the people here, is at the same time opening the minds of the citizens, making them better educated to lead their country.
Even though all the Qataris are deeply rooted in their culture, you will find that they have welcomed foreign brands into the country. Although many dress traditionally, with women wearing the abaya and covering their heads with the hijab, and men wearing the thobe, the Qataris really value brands — much like New Yorkers — and cover themselves from head to toe in accessories from Chanel, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. This love is demonstrated by the many malls in Doha; one of them, named Villagio, even has a canal inside and gives you the feel of being in Venice. The locals love to drive expensive cars from the makes of Bentley, Lamborghini, and Rolls Royce. Driving here is a nerve-racking experience, as the Qataris are crazy drivers: They drive at very high speeds in their Land Cruisers and flash their lights at people who are driving too slowly in front them.
Despite being a small county, Qatar has many tourist attractions. The Museum of Islamic Art recently opened, showcasing Muslim art going back as far as 1300 years. Souqs — Arab marketplaces — are really popular, especially Souq Waqif, where people go to eat ethnic food and smoke sheeshah — known as hookah in the West — while playing cards. Cuisines from all over the Middle East are offered here.
If you thought the camel was only used as a form of transport, then you were wrong. People here drink camel’s milk and eat camel meat. One of the local fast foods is shawirmas, which is basically meat rolled inside pita bread. A popular drink is karak, which is spiced tea like the chai in America. Alcohol is illegal in the country, as it is prohibited under Islamic law. Arabian coffee is extremely popular, and is flavored with local spices and much stronger than regular coffee. For this reason, you don’t see people drink 12 ounces of coffee in the morning.
People take advantage of the desert for adventure sports. They drive their Land Cruisers and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) on the dunes. This is an extremely dangerous sport, as the dunes are steep and constantly shifting. Another popular sport is hunting with falcons, and people train extremely expensive falcons for this task. Qatar hosts a lot of popular sport events throughout the year. It hosted the Asian games in 2006; the golf season was kicked off in Doha in January this year; and international tennis tournaments take place annually. The citizens are fond of motorbike racing as well as horse racing.
Even though the Qatari campus may sound vastly different from Carnegie Mellon’s main campus, it is still Carnegie Mellon. The students here still value our Scottish heritage and still have their “hearts in the work.”