This Spring Break I traveled to Northwestern’s campus in Doha, Qatar. As part of an annual, University-sponsored trip, Weinberg, Medill and School of Communication students learned about Doha’s history and explored aspects of Qatari society. We were embraced and shown around Doha by welcoming NU-Q students, and they illustrated that we shared even more in common than I’d imagined: from a freshman who was always the first to start dancing any time “Juju on That Beat” played, to a girl who loved laughing at memes with us, to a graduating senior who shared his passion for producing original electronic and rock music.
On the final day of the trip, I talked with a sophomore communication student who explained her plans to leave Doha after college. Although other NU-Q students had expressed similar desires, she was the first I’d heard specifically refer to Doha as a “bubble” and reference that as part of the reason she was hoping to leave.
Living in the United States, and especially at a predominantly liberal campus like Northwestern, I often feel like I’m living in a bubble myself, surrounded by those with experiences and perspectives similar to my own. I was surprised, however, to hear that someone living in a region as culturally and ethnically diverse as the Middle East would view their environment as being a bubble, too.
Throughout the week, conversations with students like Noura demonstrated that despite outward societal distinctions, from Evanston to Doha, countless similarities exist between both Northwestern student bodies in terms of not only viewpoints, but also school pride and community. And as I learned more about NU-Q’s development in a region devoted to global research and education, while also gaining perspectives about matters on our own campus, I realized many seemingly Evanston-centric issues were just as pertinent in Doha.
In Evanston, unpopular initiatives such as the two-year live-in requirement have indicated a clear disparity between students and administrators in decision making. Similar problems at NU-Q — such as the lack of a cafeteria in their newly constructed building despite students’ appeals — illustrate that communication between administrators and students remains a common problem across campuses. While President Trump’s blatant challenges against U.S. media outlets continue to present possible challenges for journalists in and out of college, Qatar’s press laws, which discourage speaking out against bodies like the Qatari government, can also pose challenges for Qatari journalists, including students at NU-Q who study journalism and media.
Students at both NU-Q and Northwestern’s Evanston campus also face similar challenges navigating an international campus. When I spent the day with an NU-Q student who instructs a small English class to non-native speakers, I heard that many of her students are reluctant to make mistakes because of the perceptions about status that come with not speaking English, an experience that also affects students at the Evanston campus raised in diverse linguistic backgrounds.
Although the two Northwestern campuses exist under a similar name and colors, my experience at NU-Q helped me see how alike we really are. For me, this was the most rewarding aspect of my week in Doha. As Spring Break began I traveled to NU-Q with few expectations of what student life at our international campus would look like, but toward the end of our trip I realized I had held underlying beliefs that NU-Q would be markedly different from Evanston’s campus. More than 7,000 miles apart and with NU-Q’s student body consisting of fewer students than some of our introductory classes in Evanston, the two undeniably share distinctions. At the basis of the two campuses, however, are qualities and characteristics shared among Wildcats.
Moving forward, I believe experiences abroad are imperative in stimulating the development of greater cultural competence and a broader understanding of prevalent issues in other countries. And as my experience at NU-Q illustrated, the development of global perspectives can illuminate similarities between students in regions that are often viewed as having large differences from U.S. society and provide a glimpse beyond the narrow, limited “bubble” of Evanston’s campus.
Troy Closson is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.