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Spring Break at NU-Q

Follow the adventures as Evanston students visit their Wildcat counterparts in Doha

Blog by Darcy Coussens, Communication '14

Sunday, April 1, 2013

Greetings from Chicago! Now that I have slept quite a bit and readjusted to Central Standard Time, it seems amazing how much we fit into just four and a half days of break. I am extremely fortunate to have been flown halfway around the world for spring break, and while my days in Doha included a lot of sightseeing and tours, I am glad it was not just a tourism trip. Besides the falcons, camels, and that cute puppy I got to hold at the souq, what stands out the most are the times I spent with the NU-Q students. We had a lot of fun and some great discussions, and what surprised me the most was how similar our student experiences are.

Sure, there are some differences. I don't see many thobes and abayas around campus in Evanston, and not many NU-E students own land cruisers. Evanston also definitely does not see as many eighty degree days in March.

Yet I found it fairly easy to adjust to life in Doha and Education City. After all, class is still class. Students at both campuses come from all over the world, work hard on film, theatre, and writing projects and have a lot of school spirit. We did not meet all 150 or so NU-Q students, but I found those we did get to know to be very open and energetic. Northwestern is much smaller in numbers over there, but combined with the rest of Education City, NU-Q feels like one community within a larger group of students.

Easily the most valuable part of the trip for me was having the unique opportunity to spend time talking with native Qatari students and expatriate students about all kinds of things. They were curious about American perceptions of the Middle East, and we were interested in their perceptions of the U.S. I have never so comfortably discussed democracy in a nation that is not one. Journalism students there have ongoing conversations about balancing Medill's teachings with Qatari laws, and their passion for a free press takes on new meaning given the various Middle Eastern and African countries most of them are from. 

Some of these discussions may not have come about in Evanston, nor would they have had the same context or diversity of background. I certainly returned home with a new perspective on America, Qatar, and the Middle Eastconvincing me that one must visit a place and talk to the people there in order to really understand it. It just would not have been possible to teach this experience in a classroom.

Doha is a really exciting place to go to college. So much change is happening there and it is easy to see: in the education system, the rapid growth of Al-Jazeera, and quite literally in the construction all over the city. Everything looks shiny and new, and in a way it was strange to visit a city that is younger than I am. The diversity of Doha is also visible in the variety of thobes, abayas, hijabs, jeans, and other clothes people wear. Qatar is rapidly moving forward and I am glad Northwestern is one of the universities that gets to be part of that.

On our final bus ride together from O'Hare Airport to the Evanston campus, the other NU-E students and I discussed our impressions of NU-Q and made plans to drink karak together soon. We had been briefed on a few legal and cultural differences before we left, such as advice on what to wear or where to avoid taking photographs, so we are curious about what they heard about us before we arrived and what they will be told before some of them visit in May. It surprised us all that we could get to know each other and the students in Qatar so quickly, but we are already keeping in touch and I can't wait to show them around Chicago.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not to sound dramatic, but today was probably one of the coolest days of my life. I am definitely not ready to leave but feel unbelievably fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to Doha. While touring Al-Jazeera today it hit me that what students are doing at Northwestern really could and probably will lead to important work, and that feeling is especially prevalent at NU-Q in this part of the world. 

AlJazeera GroupWe toured both Al-Jazeera English and then the Arabic station. The English office is large and we happened to enter the newsroom during a live broadcast about a Chicago story (fate?). It is very quiet inside but we were welcomed and even allowed onto the set! I learned a lot about the company as a whole and why it grew as fast as it did in the last decade and a half, also formalizing Al-Jazeera English as a network in just 2006. 

It is easy to see the parallels between the goals of Medill and Al-Jazeera in terms of journalistic integrity. While rumors sometimes arise that the network is restricted from reporting negative news in Qatar, our tour guide emphasized that Al-Jazeera is an international news network. Many local stories about Qatar simply do not make the cut in the editorial decisions, and if a story is not released right away it is only because not enough information is available. Their goal is to be the voice of the people, covering stories that aren't always covered, but it can be a challenge to get responses or interviews regarding sensitive topics from citizens. Journalism students at NU-Q have mentioned the same difficulty regarding their assignments for classes and The Daily Q. Free and quality news coverage is very important to Qatar, but in order to report the voice of the people, the people must be willing and unafraid to speak.

It was great to hear that Al-Jazeera has a close relationship with Northwestern, and we even got a "Go 'Cats!" from an employee as we were leaving the newsroom. The rest of the tour took us through Al-Jazeera Arabic, which hosts a very small newsroom but the same one that revolutionized news coverage in the middle east upon opening in 1996. 

That was perhaps the most exciting event of our sightseeing in Doha, but the day wasn't over yet. We exchanged cheers with NU-Q students at a pep rally and then set out as one group for a cruise through the Arabian Gulf on a traditional Dhow boat. We docked near Banana Island and jumped off the top level of the boat into the water. If I could remember just one moment from this week-long adventure, it would be floating in the waves looking toward the beautiful Doha skyline with friends from all over the world. 

Back on land we visited Souq Waqif one last time, where my friend Owais proved himself a bartering champion for me. We all spent our final evening together around a bonfire at the Pearl Beach, playing games, making smores, and listening to live guitar from a nearby musician. This will sound cliché, but I took a walk in the water (and got pinched by a crab), and thought about how far from home I was. NU-Q is pretty far from Evanston, but it's really not all that different. My friends here are some of my college friends now, and I definitely hope to return to Doha one day.

Darcy Owais Boat
Goodbye, Doha! Darcy Coussens and Syed Owais Ali on the Dhow boat. Photo courtesy of Darcy Coussens.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It may be spring break, but visiting campus wouldn't be complete without attending some classes here. I was lucky enough to sit in on an acting class taught by Ann Woodworth, whom I've heard so much about from NU theatre alumni. This class has seven students, making it considerably smaller than courses in Evanston, but it was great because all of the students got to do so much work in their scenes. I also chose to visit Debates in Comparative Politics, which is currently focusing on differences between Indian and Pakistani governments. Between a student presentation on Imran Khan and the upcoming election in Pakistan, and being included in a class discussion about the reasons the governments have evolved so differently, I learned a lot today! The diverse group of students at NU-Q come from Qatar, nearby nations, and outside the Middle East, so everyone brought something different to the discussion.

It has been interesting to talk about Qatar with both Qatari and non-Qatari students. I've learned that if you are not Qatari, you must have a Qatari sponsor in order to be here. Education is very important to the nation, and students from other countries are sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, an organization for education, science and community development founded by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. The students have also debunked some myths about Qatar for us. For example, the oil industry is largely credited for the general wealth of this dazzling city, but Qataris diversify their investments and involvement in other industries to ensure their future aside from oil. Gas is incredibly cheap here and most students drive to Education City, but we also learned that contrary to rumors we had heard, Qatari nationals do not each receive a land cruiser at age 18 (although many drive them).

Later we split up, with journalism students visiting a part of the city called Musherib with an enterprise journalism class, and the communication students taking a long-awaited trip to the desert. The ride was extremely bumpy but completely worth it! We were there later in the day so it wasn't very hot, and we caught a beautiful sunset and an enormous rising moon. While it was still light out, we focused on the main event: filming a falcon hunting birds. This was actually kind of gruesome so I won't go into detail, but we learned a lot about falconry and some students got to use RED cameras and other film equipment, for which they received training earlier in the day.

Once the sun had set, we bounced along the desert road back to Souq Waqif. We had some time to look around the stores and I had my first bartering experience! It's actually really fun. Some items have price tags, but for others you are expected to ask the vendor for the price and then haggle. The best way to go seems to be to suggest the total price you want to pay for two items together, instead of asking the price of each. I was surprised at how well it worked, because it was certainly a different shopping experience than in the U.S.

We have all been looking forward to tomorrow, even though I am disappointed that it will be our last day here. I would love to stay longer! There is so much to see, and I have had such a great time with the NU-Q students. Our final day in Doha will involve touring Al Jazeera and spending our last evening with our Qatari friends, though, so I'm sure it will be a great finale to spring break.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I could definitely get used to living here and going to NU-Q. All the Evanston students are basking in the sunshine and amazed by the campus. Besides the weather and palm trees, these buildings are incredible! Today included a tour of Education City, which is home to six universities. We went inside Virginia Commonwealth and Georgetown, and Northwestern currently shares a building with Carnegie Mellon while the new NU-Q building is constructed. The campus also includes Texas A&M and Cornell. Each university here has a different focus, so together there are lots of different types of students. Most students commute, but those who live on campus share dorms with students from all schools. Honestly, I wouldn't mind living in these dorms one bit!

One of my favorite parts of campus was the NU-Q studio. We looked at the facilities, the studio where students film the "Daily Q," and their equipment. I don't know much about film, but the Evanston students who do inform me that there is a lot of really great film equipment here.NU-Q studio

NU Evanston students Rayyan Najeeb and Ryan Lindsay pose as "The Daily Q" anchors. Photo by Darcy Coussens.

For lunch we participated in a "Gawah Chat," which is a sort of coffee hour to talk about different social issues. The NU-Q students asked how our perceptions of Qatar have changed since we arrived, and we filled them in on what we're involved in on campus.NU-Q Media Awards

We then had time to spend with students here, so I went to a speech class to watch my new friend Fatimah give a presentation and then to Souq Waqif with friends from both campuses. Souq Waqif is a really cool market with restaurants, shops and vendors selling all sorts of things. We drank Moroccan tea and smoked shisha (hookah), which is a popular thing to do in this region.

It's lucky that we're here during Go Wild Week, because there are some cool events going on. Tonight was the Media Awards, in which students received awards similar to Oscars for their film and journalism coursework. Everyone looked classy, and some Evanston students donned their brand new abayas! We danced, took photos on the red carpet, and then drove to Katara to hang out in the ampitheatre they call the Collosseum. It was a fun bonding night of telling jokes from up on the stage and drinking Karak, a Qatari version of sweet, milky tea.

Stay tuned for recent photos and an update on tomorrow's adventure: filming falcons in the desert!


NU-E students join NU-Q students in wearing traditional abayas. Photo by Ruba Shaath

Monday, March 25, 2013

WOW we did a lot today. The last two days feel like two weeks! Here's a few highlights from our tour of Doha, the Museum of Islamic Art and the infamous annual dodgeball game on campus:

Doha is such a beautiful city. The most amazing part is that 15 years ago, only a couple of these buildings existed! I didn't realize Doha was so new. Today we took a tour which first visited Katara, a cultural village with art, restaurants, a beach and a really amazing outdoor theatre styled after the Colosseum. Then we checked out the Pearl, a man-made island where you can buy Ferraris, Maseratis or Rolls Royce cars (casual). They did not let us take any for test drives.

We visited the national Mosque, and although we couldn't go inside, it is beautiful from the outside. There are 99 domes on the top, representing the 99 different ways to recognize God in the Quran. We also stopped at the tall, torch-like Aspire Tower and the giant sports stadium.

Our tour included visits to three different souqs: vegetables and produce, fish and the camel market. Rafi was so focused on a photograph he was taking that he didn't even notice a camel near him until it kissed his ear! The final stop of the tour was the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei to look like a woman wearing a hijab. You can see that the top looks like her eyes peeking out.Dodgeball

Finally it was time for the infamous dodgeball game. The faculty were pretty competitive but the Evanston students definitely brought our game. Although we were kind of confused about how it was working, we will admit that the faculty have got skills, and it was a lot of fun. Afterward we all watched some of the men's basketball game, and I can proudly report that we have an excellent team here between the Wildcats and some guys from Carnegie Mellon University--Qatar who play for our team as well. We missed the end but heard that NU-Q won…Go 'Cats!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I'm writing to you from a very comfy bed in Doha! It's amazing how far I've traveled in the last day. I didn't even know the other NU students from Evanston before we left for O'Hare, and we're already off to a great start. Something about 12-hour flights must be a bonding experience.

First of all, let me assure you that Qatar Airways does in fact live up to its reputation. Even better, my seat buddy switched with me so that I could see out the window as we approached Qatar. The sun was setting and it was a beautiful sight from above.

After we passed through immigration and got our bags, we were met by a cheering mass of purple! A bunch of NU-Q students came to meet us at the airport dressed in purple wigs and beads, waving giant signs and greeting us by name. Needless to say, I felt very welcome in Doha from the first time I walked outside.

We drove along the Corniche, which is like Doha's Lake Shore Drive, and admired the skyline. The drive through the sparkling, colorfully lit towers gave us a very impressive first look at the city and ended at Spice Market, our dinner restaurant. I don't really have words for the food...suffice it to say that we all ate way too much. Omer Mohammad, an NU-Q 2012 graduate, coached us through our meal and shared a lot about what Qatar is like. 

So far my impression of Qatar, Doha, and especially Northwestern students here is one of great hospitality and lots of energy. I am so looking forward to this week!

Arriving in Doha
The Evanston campus from above. Photo by Rafi Letzter, Medill '15

NU-Q students greet Evanston students
NU-Q students greet Evanston students at the airport. Photo by Bashayer Al-Saadi, NU-Q

Darcy CoussensDarcy Coussens and other Northwestern students ride from the plane to the airport in Doha. Photo by Rafi Letzter, Medill '15

Students at the Spice MarketEvanston students pose at the Spice Market. Photo courtesy of Darcy Coussens

Friday, March 22, 2013

Darcy Coussens

My name is Darcy Coussens and I am extremely excited to travel to Northwestern University in Qatar over spring break! I am one of 16 students from Medill and the School of Communication on the Evanston campus who will make the 14-hour flight to Doha along with two faculty members. I am a junior majoring in theatre at NU and I will be sharing what it is like to visit the Middle East.

We don't know much yet about what we will be doing there, but one thing everyone seems very serious about is an annual dodgeball game in which we will be joining the NU-Q students against our collective faculty. I'm not exactly a dodgeball star, but we have been told by students there that “history must not repeat itself,” so I think I'll need to step it up! We will be there during “Go Wild Week,” so I imagine there will be plenty of Purple Pride.

I'm really looking forward to meeting NU-Q students and learning how our college experiences are similar and different. So far they have been very welcoming over Facebook, and I'm honored to have this unique opportunity to make friends halfway around the world. I can't wait to share the sights, sounds, tastes and dodgeball games with everyone at home—stay tuned for a post-jet lag update!

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