Like all proper overseas spring break excursions, our trip to Doha had us busy and moving the entire day. It was nice to take a real break from being on the internet all day- but I thought I’d post again after coming back to Houston to reflect on the whole experience and how much I learned about public diplomacy in the Gulf. These are just a few of my favorite pictures from the trip and I’ll explain the story behind each one!
Camel riding in the desert outside Doha
Since I’d never been sand duning or camel riding in the States or anywhere before this trip, I was super excited for this day. Before our group dove into the academic side of the program, we went outside of the city for adventures in the desert. The personal highlight for me was definitely sand duning- the Qatari drivers we had were ridiculously fearless. Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, so most Qataris just work in whatever field they find the most intriguing. Our driver was even nicknamed “Qatari wolf” so you can imagine how intense it was to drive straight down the dunes!
The Colloquium begins
Qatar Faculty for Islamic Studies (QFIS) at Hamad bin Khalifa University hosted us for the entire student conference. Every day from Sunday-Friday, we met in this beautiful building pictured above for our research presentations. On the second day there, we got a tour of the building where the architect explained how the building was meant to be half mosque and half academic study of Islam, which I found to be a breathtakingly beautiful design combination. The conference was organized into 4 days of student presentations focused on themes of education, energy/infrastructure, gender equality, and health. I presented on women’s political engagement in Qatar, with the chance to receive feedback from other students and scholars at HBK University. It’s definitely one thing to research gender in Qatar from the US, and quite another to hear from Qatari women leaders themselves about their experiences!
Sustainable farm visit
Visiting a farm outside of Doha was probably the single most surreal moment of the trip. Everything was incredibly green, flowered, and about the opposite of what you’d expect for the desert. I have doubts on just exactly how sustainable the farm itself was, given the constant AC and irrigation everywhere. It was also quite an experience finding it, as there are not real addresses in Qatar, more just postal codes and landmarks. As a result it took almost 5 hours worth of driving around Doha to find a guy who knew another guy who knew how to get to the farm! Honestly, some of the best memories for me will be singing karaoke with fellow students on the bus out of boredom.
Relaxation in Doha
Parts of the trip felt like pure vacation, which I badly needed! One morning six of us decided to get up extra early (I would usually never do this, but thanks jet lag!!) and go running along the Corniche. We met at 6 and had the incredible view of Doha’s skyline, green spaces, and flower-lined streets during our jog. That will be one of my favorite moments from this experience by far. Another highlight was on Friday where we had free time in the morning- so a few of us met in the hotel pool to swim. Swimming in the desert heat, followed by a spa shower= perfect spring break.
We also had the chance to visit the US Embassy, which of course was amazing for me but not really possible for pictures due to obvious security reasons. It was cool to see that not only the Cultural Attache, but also the Public Affairs Officer and the Ambassador were all women! Most of the diplomats we met were second tour officers, which makes me really want to bid on Doha as a post in the near future. I think I’d really love living in Qatar for a few years as a diplomat.
Our group left early in the morning (Doha time) on March 7th for a 16 hour flight back to Houston. Part of my body is still convinced we’re in Qatar, which is disconcerting for classes tomorrow. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to visit Doha on this trip and gain more experience for my future career in public diplomacy!