Junior from Qatar campus reflects on two quarters in Evanston

One of the most important aspects of a Northwestern University in Qatar education is its focus on international experience and education. Students are encouraged to take a variety of learning trips abroad — whether it’s a service learning trip to Brazil, Tunisia or Tanzania, or an academic trip to Turkey, Italy or Switzerland focused on reporting on a particular issue.

Now, a group of Northwestern juniors has returned to Doha after pioneering NU-Q’s exchange program with Evanston. The program is open to juniors in the communication program who are in good academic standing.

Admission is competitive and only 10 students are accepted each year. To be chosen is quite an honor.

The experience has challenged these pioneering students academically, socially, and culturally. But each of the ten has stepped up to the challenge and successfully completed the semester.

We talked with Florent D’Souza about his time on the Evanston campus just as he was completing spring semester there.

NU-Q: You just finished your quarter in Evanston. How was it?

D’Souza: It has been quite a journey. Not just an academic journey, but an emotional and spiritual one as well. The experience of living and studying in Evanston has been amazing. I have learned so much not just about other people, but myself.

At first, the biggest adjustment was the cold. I was born and raised my whole life in Qatar. And to come here, in January, in the middle of the snow and rain and a record-setting blizzard was quite hard. But, I have gotten used to it. I just love this place so much. The people, the culture, the events, the organizations, the classes, the professors – everything!

What surprised you about the experience?

Over here, people take Wildcat Pride very seriously! Northwestern is a pretty darn big name. Sometimes, I feel like Northwestern Qatar doesn’t understand what a big name Northwestern is. Northwestern is definitely the best of the best. Over here, you really feel like you are a part of something big!

The Northwestern name and the pride we feel for it is an I’d-tattoo-it-to-my-head kind of feeling – that’s how serious NU is.

What was an average day like for you?

An average day for me would be classes all day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. usually. I work in Northwestern University Information Technology and that replaces class hours on the days I don’t have class.

In the evenings, I am usually in meetings with the various organizations I am involved with or at events. I am involved in the Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR), the Sheil Catholic Center, and NU Ballroom, Latin & Swing Team (BLAST). I try my best to go for as many shows and events as possible. I love the performance arts scene here at NU-E.  There are shows, plays and stuff of that sort happening all the time. Plus, many of my friends are theater, music and voice majors. And often I go and support them.

On the weekends, I go to the city maybe to a concert, hang out with friends or go to dinner at a restaurant. Chicago has awesome restaurants!

Have you worked on any special projects there?

I have worked on quite a few actually. I ran for president of Student Government at NU-Q from Evanston. In my campaign, I promised to work on projects like a book-swap and collaborative initiatives with the Evanston campus.

I am also working on bringing Purple Haze, Undertones, BoomShaka, NUDrumline and NUBLAST to Qatar for a show (they are some of the best and most popular performers at Northwestern – look them up on YouTube). So, a lot of my time has gone into meeting with the business managers of these organizations and coordinating and planning this show.

Other than that, I have been working on building a relationship between Northwestern Associated Student Government (ASG) and Northwestern Qatar Student Government. I have been meeting with ASG President Austin Young frequently.

I work with NUCHR for their publicity. And I am doing whole lot of fun stuff — like tonight I am actually helping to organize a formal for the Sheil Catholic Center.

How did your time in Evanston change your views on academics?

The first thing I learned about Northwestern in Evanston is that everyone here is super smart! And the professors treat you that way. People here are all double majoring and doing research and in organizations and all sorts of stuff. Everyone is very involved and active. And everyone is on top of the academics and very driven.

To me, the academics are pretty much the same here as they are in Qatar. Except that in Evanston, with the quarter system, classes only last nine weeks. At NU-Q it’s 15 weeks. Things are crammed in pretty tight over here.

The biggest difference to me though was the class size. Classes here are 10 times, sometimes 20 times bigger than classes in Qatar.

What was the best part of the entire Evanston exchange experience?

There are so many fun things about my time here that I cannot really point to one. But, definitely Dance Marathon was one of the best experiences not just in my time here, but in my life as a whole – dancing for 30 straight hours was an experience that can hardly be explained in words.

There is just so much to see and do here. The shows, the people, the activities, the organizations – there is just so much awesome stuff.

What would you tell a classmate who is thinking about the exchange program next year?

For a classmate doing an exchange next year, I would definitely tell him or her to check out as many shows as possible and get on as many listservs as they can. Meet cool students. And make sure you get know the professors.They are pretty modest, but they’re frequently some of the world leaders in their fields.

What classes did you take?

Last quarter I took Bargaining and Negotiation, Rhetoric of Popular Culture, Culture Industries of Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications. This quarter, I am taking Online Communities, Media Industries, Interpersonal Conflict and Social Network Analysis. I have had the chance to take some of these courses with professors like Michael Roloff, Irwin Rein and Noshir Contractor.

All of these courses are upper level courses and are pretty much exactly what I want to do when I graduate.

Anything else? What surprised you about the experience?

What surprised me is that I got to live a lot of things I have only read about before – free speech, free press, secular society, democracy – it is quite different when you ‘experience’ it rather than just read about it or talk about it.