Having finished my time in South Africa, I set off to India for eleven days. Before I arrived, however, I scheduled a 14-hour layover in Doha, Qatar. Why layover in Doha, you ask? Well, I’ve never been to the Middle East before and I thought it would be a great chance (albeit a minimal one) to experience this region of the world. Qatar has been relatively sheltered from much of the civil unrest impacting (for better or for worse) much of the region. I was also able to spend time with MSU alum, Jessica Young, who is now working in Doha with Education City, a network of universities that educate many domestic and international students. One of the first things I saw as we were driving into the city were camels walking along with the traffic. This was definitely a new world for me!
Qatar was recently announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup. Many were shocked and upset over the choice. Some objected due to the extreme heat which characterizes Doha in May/June while others considered Doha too small for such a global event. In the short amount of time I spent in the city I was able to see firsthand the rapid development taking place and the rampant waste that goes along with such unbridled progress.
Doha has virtually no natural sources of fresh water and has to desalinize most of what it uses for drinking and agriculture. Despite this I saw fountains spewing water for aesthetic enjoyment everywhere I went. Additionally, while the skyline of the city is impressive with skyscrapers that rival any major US city, it is only half-filled. Even with such low occupancy the country lights up most of the buildings. One can speculate that this is done to keep up appearances. Finally, I saw no clear signs of public transportation coinciding with the SUV’s and Mercedes that littered all the streets.
One positive development of the wealth generated by the oil in Qatar is the ruling family’s decision to reinvest much of the money into education. Education City is the brainchild of Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, one of the “first ladies” of Qatar. The complex comprises of nine American, international, and Qatari universities that serve mostly students from the region. The idea and hope is for the development of an educated population to tackle the post-oil future. My friend Jess showed me around the campuses and I was very impressed by the facilities and opportunities presented to students. On an interesting note, their student union was very similar to something you might see in the states, with pool tables, a bowling alley, basketball court, and movie theater.
It will be interesting to see how Qatar handles the responsibility of the World Cup in a little over a decade. South Africa managed to develop the infrastructure necessary in less than ten years, so I don’t doubt Qatar’s ability to do the same. The question becomes; at what environmental and opportunity cost? My ultimate hope is that perceptions of the Middle East and Arab world might be improved through firsthand interaction with those from the West coming for the event. Time will only tell.
I said farewell to Jess and Qatar late in the evening to depart for Mumbai, India, where I would soon be arriving at the opportune time of 3:40 am. Luckily I ran into a native Indian MSU graduate who helped me when I arrived. More on that to come…
Zach Tobin is a second-year graduate student in Student Affairs Administration at MSU’s College of Education. Zach was born in Seattle, WA and has had the privilege to travel throughout the world including stints in Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Along with traveling, Zach’s interests include higher education policy and Eastern European history and politics. Zach also serves as a Programming Intern at the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).