Northwestern Qatar Comm Exchange students discuss newfound interests, isolation from Evanston students


Students at the NU Qatar Campus pose for a photo with Willie the Wildcat during Wildcat Welcome.

Fiona Roach, Daily Senior Staffer

The Northwestern Evanston Communication Exchange program allows 10 Communication students from NU’s Qatar Campus to study in Evanston for winter and spring quarter each year. For many Qatar-based students, the program provides an opportunity to both receive a minor or certificate not offered at NU-Q and connect with fellow Wildcats across the globe.

The program is organized through the Qatar Support Office, which helps coordinate logistics and plan social events for exchange students, according to Office Manager Taya Carothers. 

“The main focus is academics,” Carothers said. “But also, like any other exchange program, we hope that students have a nice cultural experience to get to explore a little bit about the culture of NU’s main campus, and also different cultural aspects of the Chicago area and the U.S.”

NU-Q students can apply to the Comm Exchange program during the summer and, if selected, travel to Evanston in December of their junior year. According to Carothers, the application process is competitive. 

For Communication junior Rhassan Rachdi, the program allows him to complete the Segal Design Certificate, which is not offered in Qatar. He described the classes at NU-Q as more “theoretical,” whereas courses in Evanston promote hands-on experience. 

Both Rachdi and Communication junior André Visperas said they have enjoyed opportunities the Comm Exchange program provides, both academically and socially. In Winter Quarter, Visperas joined Kaibigan, the Filipino student group, which they said has connected them with other students of Filipino heritage.

“I was looking for some sort of cultural community that I can bond with,” Visperas said. “I found (that) to be very important, especially because back on the Qatar campus there’s only like two Filipino students, and I’m one of them.”

Rachdi said he finds it easier to meet peers with similar interests on the Evanston campus, which has more students than the Qatar campus.

NU-Q is situated near many other universities in Doha, but the campus is housed in one large building.

“(In Evanston), I can sit in a group of people and just connect, based on our interests, because there’s just that many students,” Rachdi said. “Whatever your interest is, you’re going to find someone that has the same.”

Despite opportunities for connection, both Rachdi and Visperas said they wished Evanston campus students would reach out and be more inclusive.

While Rachdi said Evanston campus students are typically friendly when he initiates conversations, he feels “it doesn’t happen the other way around.”

“I would say there is a fair bit of stigma around the Qatar campus,” Rachdi said. “I don’t feel like people consider NU-Q people as Wildcats the same way (Evanston campus students) are.”

Rachdi said he feels like most students he has interacted with on the Evanston campus don’t even know about NU’s Qatar campus. 

To resolve this, Rachdi said he wants to interact more with Evanston campus students, even in casual settings. 

“It’s not about one group reaching out to the other or the other way around,” Rachdi said. “It’s just a community that everyone should be involved in, just be one university, because it doesn’t feel that way.”

Visperas said the Qatar and Evanston campuses have similar academic cultures, hosting “collaborative” students who are willing to help each other. 

All 10 Comm Exchange students will return to Doha after spring quarter to complete their degrees. 

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of this,” Visperas said. “Even though we’re like 7,000 miles away, we’re still Northwestern Wildcats, so we really want that bridge to connect.”

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Twitter: @fionaroach03

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