•  ()
  •  ()
  • Print this Story
  • Email this Story

Travel Log: Northwestern in Qatar

Follow the daily reports of our correspondents on the road in Doha.

text size AAA
March 30, 2009 | by Alan K. Cubbage
March 26 - Doha Decompression
After a 13-hour flight from Doha to New York (or Washington, for the other half of the group) and a connecting flight back to Chicago, the visit to the Northwestern University campus in Qatar is now just an extremely pleasant memory for the 70+ students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees who journeyed to the Middle East for the campus's opening ceremonies.

There are plenty of stories to tell, and we have hundreds of photos and hours of video to sift through to share those stories with you. Check back soon for more in-depth coverage, but here is a quick slide show of photos from Monday's magnificent (and extremely purple!) opening ceremony and Tuesday's long-awaited visit to Education City. Northwestern students and faculty from the Evanston campus spoke about their work and interacted with their NU-Q counterparts. More to come!


March 25 - Home Again, Home Again
After a brutally early departure (5:30 am Doha time for the early bird group) the Northwestern contingent from Evanston began their homeward journey from Northwestern University in Qatar. The weather in Doha had turned cloudy and muggy, the start of a brief spring season when it is often humid with occasional rains. The weather coupled with the Mcmansion-style houses being thrown up along the roadways of Doha made the city look and feel more like the west coast of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico than a desert city on the Arabian Gulf.

As is often the case at a university, the stars of the entire trip were the students, both those from NU-Q and NU-E (as it's probably never been called before). The excitement and eagerness of the students in Doha at being "Wildcats" was truly heartening. And the talents displayed by the students from Evanston were, as always, remarkable. There clearly are many, many academic and logistical issues that remain to be worked out, particularly in regard to the Northwestern building on the Education City campus slated to begin construction in spring 2010. But if the University can continue to attract students as determined as the pioneers in Doha and as accomplished as those in Evanston and Chicago, the odds of success for the University's venture are good.

Come back for lots of photos in the next day or so and some multimedia shows early next week. Jet lag is setting in after 20 hours of travel time, with another 6 hours to go, but we'll be back with more!


March 24 - This Is the Place
When Northwestern's founders were looking for a site for their new university in the 1850's, legend has it that some of the founders traveled some 12 miles north by wagon from Chicago to a site on the shore of Lake Michigan, where entranced by the oak groves and low bluffs on the shore of Lake Michigan, several of them threw their hats in the air and declared, "This is the place." Today, a group of Northwestern students and faculty traveled more than 7,000 miles to Education City, an area of Doha, Qatar, and demonstrated clearly that this, too, was the place for Northwestern.

Presentations by five Medill School of Journalism students and three School of Communication faculty captured an audience of more than 100 Northwestern University in Qatar students, faculty and staff for nearly three hours. From the award-winning work of Medill senior Andrea Hart on her journalism residency in South Africa to Communications Professor Noshir Contractor's pathbreaking work on how communications networks function in the 21st century, the Northwestern students and faculty showcased Northwestern's strengths. At the break between the presentations by Medill and SoC, students from Northwestern University in Qatar, clustered around their counterparts from Evanston, exchanging ideas and, the best tradition of students everywhere, comparing notes on their professors and complaining about how much work they had.

The afternoon featured a tour of the vast grounds of Education City. Rising from the desert on the west side of Doha, the scale of Education City is staggering: the nearly 3,000-acre campus is more than 10 times the size of Northwestern's campus, covering an area larger than half of Evanston. Already in place are huge buildings for Carnegie-Mellon, Texas A&M and other institutions designed by internationally known architects, while planning sessions were held this week for Northwestern's new home now being developed. Across a busy roadway from Education City, the equally large Qatar Science and Technology Park houses massive new buildings that will house major international science and tech companies.

Later, a group of Medill students, faculty and alumni were given a tour of the headquarters of the Al Jazeera television network by Lauren McCollough, GJ04, a top communications official for the network, which is the largest Arabic-language network in the world and based in Doha. Now broadcasting in English as well as Arabic, the network's newsroom and studio are state-of-the art facilities, with live broadcasts going around the world 24 hours a day.

Today concluded the visit, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, to the new Northwestern campus in Doha. Under the leadership of Dean John Margolis, the faculty and staff have created the new branch campus from the ground up and were welcoming and gracious hosts to the visitors from Evanston. While many challenges remain, the consensus opinion among the pioneers is that for Northwestern, this indeed is the place.


March 23 - Northwestern Paparazzi?
There's been a running gag on this trip that the Northwestern crew (party of 70+) is a little bit like the paparazzi. As we behold each new Qatari sight, several dozen digital cameras of various brands and megapixel-dimensions are whipped out, and the Doha skyline is practically illuminated by the sheer volume of camera flashes. The new campus in Qatar isn't the only Northwestern history being made here. This also has to be the most-photographed trip ever taken in the history of the school...

To that effect, today we feature the fine photographic efforts of Jack Doppelt, a longtime Medill professor who also happens to be a fairly good point-and-shooter. Check out his handiwork below. Even the tricky nighttime shots are well-executed!


March 23 - Purple Reign
Northwestern purple turned royal Monday night when Northwestern University in Qatar was officially opened at a ceremony in Doha attended by leaders of the University, the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned.

The students, faculty, staff and guests who attended the event, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, entered the building through a replica of the iconic arch that marks the entrance to Northwestern's Evanston campus. Inside, the room was bathed in purple light while purple banners with the new "Northwestern University in Qatar" logo decorated the walls.

"A campus here expands Northwestern's global visibility and gives us a presence in a vital part of the world," said Northwestern President Henry S. Bienen. "Last August we began an important chapter in the story of NU-Q when we welcomed our first class of students. This evening we celebrate that milestone, in hopes of celebrating many more achievements in the coming year as our programs here evolve and grow."

The ceremony included videotaped interviews with NU-Q students, who voiced passionately their excitement at being part of the program and "becoming a Wildcat." In addition, students from the Musical Theater program performed songs after dinner while other students from the Bienen School of Music performed music beforehand. The NU-Q students, who are enrolled in Northwestern's School of Communication and Medill School of Journalism, attended the event.

Also speaking at the event were Abdulla Bin Ali Al-Thani, vice president of education for the Qatar Foundation, William Osborn, chair of Northwestern's Board of Trustees, John Margolis, dean of NU-Q, Barbara O'Keefe, dean of Communications, and John Lavine, dean of Medill.

On Tuesday, NU-Q students in the two schools will make presentations to the visitors from the U.S. Stay tuned!


March 23 - Islamic Religion and Art 101

For those of us whose knowledge of the religion and art of Islam was limited to survey courses in our undergraduate days, today proved enlightening. The Fanar Islamic Center in Doha offers a remarkably thorough intro to Islam, led by knowledgeable English-speaking guides (who were all abaya-clad women). From poster-sized diagrams of the family tree of Islamic prophets to samples of calligraphy and a brief explanation of the Islamic worship service, the Center provided great information on the religion that dominates the Middle East. Interestingly, when we arrived at the Doha airport, the call to prayer (which must be done five times daily) was being sounded from a nearby mosque.

After the Fanar Center, it was on to the stunning new Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, the striking new building sits on the edge of the Gulf in a dramatic setting accented by fountains and still-new landscaping. The museum just opened in December and features vast open spaces that allow natural light into the center of the building while the collections are housed in galleries around the core. The collections include antique rugs that would inspire collector's envy in any fan of Oriental rugs, beautiful jewelry and lovely glass and ceramics.

The official opening ceremony of Northwestern University in Qatar will be tonight. Check back later for more.


March 23 - Tonight's Festivities: Meet the Sheikha

It's another sunny morning in Qatar and we have another full day ahead of us!

While faithful blog readers in the United States are starting their week on this fine Monday, the Qatari work week actually begins on Sunday and runs through Thursday. Friday and Saturday round out the weekend, with Friday being the Islamic holy day. In other words, none of the Northwestern folks can claim to be suffering from "a case of the Mondays" today, because our week actually started yesterday.

Today's agenda begins with a trip to the Fanar Islamic Centre for a presentation on Islam and Arabic culture. This will be followed by a tour of the Museum of Islamic Art, housed in an extremely opulent and architecturally interesting building that I'm sure we'll post photos of later tonight.

But the most exciting event is scheduled for tonight: Our first trip to Education City and the formal Inaugural Ceremony with Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned. The program features a reception, a formal inaugural presentation, dinner and a performance by Northwestern Music and Theatre students.

It should be quite an event, so check back for a recap dispatch and more photos!


March 22 - Getting Grounded in Doha
In their first full day in Doha, the Northwestern University contingent strolled the narrow streets and alleys of the city's Old Town, including getting a hands-on look at falcons, and received a thorough grounding in the ways of the Gulf. So thorough that one group of students, faculty, staff and even members of the Board of Trustees found themselves grounded on a sandbar for more than an hour during a boat cruise in the Gulf. Fortunately, all passengers were transferred to another boat without incident or injury.

Doha is a testament to ambition - and the necessary resources to achieve that ambition. A massive opulent development on man-made islands in the Gulf is nearing completion and is expected to be the home of nearly 40,000 residents when completed. Downtown Doha is a chaotic knot of busy roads circling a minimum of a dozen skyscrapers simultaneously under construction. And on a prime site facing the Gulf is the ground for what is planned to be the world's tallest building, expected to dwarf even the 90-story building now going up next to it. For the pedestrian, though, Doha outstrips even LA as dangerous territory: no sidewalks, an obstacle course of construction barriers and cars constantly hurtling past at high speed. Fortunately, like Chicago, Doha has an expansive walkway along its waterfront, providing a safe passage for those on foot.


March 22 - Qatar: First Look
Today's agenda includes an extensive tour of the city of Doha, including dinner in the oldest section of the city. We will have many more photos to share after that experience, but here are a few images taken on the fly last night and this morning.


March 21 - Cloudburst in Qatar
A long day of travel to Doha, Qatar for approximately 80 Northwestern trustees, students, faculty and staff ended surprisingly Saturday night with a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, followed a few minutes later by a sudden cloudburst that sent fat drops of rain spattering to the dry pavement. The brief sudden shower provided a fitting end to a day of surprises for many of the travelers, who came to Doha, courtesy of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, to mark the official openining of Northwestern University's campus in Qatar. Fortunately, the logistics of moving 80 people across the world on several different flights went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the stellar advance work of the Northwestern University in Qatar staff and the gracious efficiency of Qatar Airways.

The first impression upon arriving in Doha at night is an immediate sense of contradictions: a simply designed mosque located directly across from the airport while the terminal road is snarled with an ORD-quality traffic jam; a tall minaret viewed from one side of the bus with the ubiquitous golden arches seen out the other window; and massive billboards advertising luxury housing developments just down the road from the serenely beautiful new Museum of Islamic Art, floodlit at night.

Twenty years ago when Atlanta was preparing to host the Olympics, local residents used to say, "Welcome to our beautiful city; come back when we're done." Doha creates the same sense of a city that is a work in progress. A forest of skyscrapers sprouts in the central business district and dozens of construction cranes dot the city skyline. The roadways change abruptly from smooth, broad pavement to sudden, bumpy detours. And even late on a Saturday night, the pneumatic whine and beep-beep-beep of backup warning devices from heavy equipment carry across the Gulf waters. So probably it's a good thing when the unexpected shower drives us indoors to rest before the official programs begin on Sunday.


March 17 - On the Road to Qatar
Here's the first of some short reports of the trip to Doha, Qatar by a group of Northwestern University students, faculty, staff and trustees sponsored by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development for the official opening of Northwestern's campus there. While courses in communication and journalism have been offered by Northwestern since last August, the official opening ceremony for the campus will be held on March 23, 2009. We'll be updating this blog over the next several days. Stay tuned!

Photos Stories Videos
Topics: University