Opinion

Opinion

My life as a student in Qatar

Posted June 10

Seven years ago, I left the United States and moved to Dubai, where I went to high school and graduated with an American diploma. Now I go to college in Qatar, at Northwestern University's branch campus.

It's an uncertain time to be living here. Along with the other students at my school, I know that borders are being closed, airlines are rerouting flights, stock indexes are changing, troops are being deployed and world leaders are talking about what to do next. But what I don't know is if my friends can visit their family members in Saudi Arabia over summer break. I don't know whether there will continue to be meat available at the supermarket. I don't know if I should sit at home and read the news all day or forget about it and go about my daily life.

The actions taken by several Arab states toward Qatar have political implications, but so far, for the individuals I know who reside here, it seems the social repercussions have weighed on them more. Many of us are unsure of what to do or what to expect. It's not our fault though, because the current focus is on terrorism and oil prices, not on us. And the impact it has had on university students is important.

There are a lot of students in Qatar -- some from the United States, some local, some from all over the world. I live in Education City, an academic hub in Doha where five other American university campuses reside, including Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Carnegie Mellon University, Texas A&M University, Weill Cornell's Medical College and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The announcement of Arab countries cutting ties with Qatar came during our final week of summer courses. At the start, we were both panicked and curious about whether the changes would affect us. But as days went by, most of us grew less paranoid. However, for some students the fear hasn't worn off, because the cut ties will affect them in concrete ways.

One student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar told me she was supposed to fly home to Egypt after her summer course finished. But she canceled her flight in fear that if she left, she wouldn't be let back into the country to complete her studies. At the moment, she is waiting for the conflict to settle down before figuring out what to do next.

"It's hard because I don't know if I should leave or stay," she told me. "For now, I'm staying, which isn't that great, because my summer course is over and (summer) break has started, so I should be with my family. If (the conflict) continues, I will be spending the rest of the three-month break alone here in Qatar and without my family in Egypt."

On Monday morning, when the news initially came out, a fellow student at Northwestern got a call from his mother who urged him to stock up on groceries and get some cash. He managed to pick up the last few bottles of milk left on the grocery store shelves. Then he quickly got the money before the bank closed for iftar, when Muslims break their fast and have dinner during the month of Ramadan. Afterward, he spent the night distracting his mother from watching the news to calm her down.

"My mom's been in wars before here (in the Middle East)," he said, referring to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. "This is actually kind of reminiscent of that for her, so I try to get her mind off of it by talking about something else or changing the channel (on TV). She's worried that the crisis may escalate and she'll start seeing troops in the streets. If that does happen, I think we may leave."

In class, a Northwestern student who is from Qatar tells me he could not stay focused on his finals. Instead, he was busy frantically refreshing his Twitter feed to read the latest updates from the dispute. As he scrolled through the headlines, he grew more worried about the future of his country.

"Most of the time, I feel speechless," he said of the situation. "UAE is a home to me (and) I go there every once in a while, and Saudi Arabia is the land of the two holy mosques so I've been there before, and I have to go there for religious purposes. Not to mention, I also have relatives in both those countries who I can't see now."

I received messages from loved ones asking if I am OK because I'm in Qatar now and I have plans to visit my family in Dubai this summer. I am OK, I told them. My mother spoke to the US Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, changed my usual flight from Qatar Airways to Oman Air as well as called the Dubai immigration office, asking if I will be allowed into the country, which assured her I would gain entry when I arrive.

While living in this region, I've never felt uncertain about my future. Instead, I look forward to it, with all the opportunities I've been given here. As a journalism student, I've met different people when reporting, such as famous social media influencers and up-and-coming entrepreneurs. I've made Emirati and Qatari friends and others from all over the world, such as Mexico and Germany. I've been exposed to Arabic music, Islamic art and Middle Eastern cuisine, all of which I've grown to admire and appreciate. Yet now it's hard to be here, realizing that people I know have become uncertain about what's to come out of this political crisis.

Still, they are trying to pretend as if everything is OK and to find ways to cope. Nationals have put faith in their leader and printed stickers of his image on their cars and raised Qatari flags on their homes. Across the city, Ramadan festivities go on as usual, with restaurants full at sunset when people break their fasts and hookah bars are bustling past midnight as people enjoy their tea. In the meantime, we are anticipating the end of this issue so that our feelings can go back to normal.

And right now, the situation is only getting more and more confusing. We are experiencing the consequences of the conflict. Let's just hope this doesn't last too long.

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