Spring Break at NU-Q

Qatari flagPhoto by Syed Owais Ali

Darcy Coussens (Communication ’14) joined 15 other students from Northwestern’s Evanston campus on a spring break journey to NU’s campus in Doha, Qatar. This is the final installment of her blog posts documenting the group’s adventures in the Middle East. Read more posts here.

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.

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