Northwestern University students explore Middle East through its Qatar campus

November 20, 2017

Each year, several Northwestern University students studying at the Evanston, USA campus spend a semester at Northwestern University in Qatar. In addition to attending classes and living on campus in Education City, the students take a trip to a country in the region. This year the students will travel to Morocco.

“Cross-campus learning offers a unique opportunity for students from the U.S. to explore the Middle East region, meet and connect with fellow students, and strengthen the ties between the two campuses,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO.

Brendan O’Rorke, a Northwestern senior majoring in economics with a minor in Middle East studies, and Dawei Wang, a junior majoring in classics and political science, are in Qatar this semester as part of NU-Q’s Semester in Qatar program.

For O’Rorke – who grew up in Illinois, USA – the decision to study abroad was based on his interest in exploring a new region and enroll in courses that have a Middle East focus. “I found courses offered by NU-Q really interesting. I also felt that the being in the actual region would give me both a theoretical and practical way to learn about the history, culture, and politics of the region,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wang, who is originally from China, heard about the Semester in Qatar program through one of his classmates who had participated last year. “I’ve always been interested in the Middle East – last summer I spent two months studying Middle East politics at a university in Turkey.  After that, I became very interested in understanding the complexity of Middle Eastern culture and politics while being in the region – and NU-Q offered me exactly that,” Wang said.

Wang and O’Rorke have enrolled in courses across multiple disciplines including political science, history, ideological studies, and languages.

Though different in many ways, both O’Rorke and Wang found similarities between both campuses especially when it came to education. “First of all, the transition was very smooth because NU-Q is part of Northwestern, so the students use the same program to register for classes. This meant that we spent less time adjusting to a new system and more time exploring the culture, history, and ways of learning,” said Wang.

“The classes feel very similar to the ones I’ve taken in the U.S. – there’s no difference in quality, and they’re also similar in terms of structure and content,” said O’Rorke. “They also have the same amount of student-faculty interaction during class.”

The differences were mainly in the student body size and the relationships formed between the faculty and students. “The close relationships you get to build with your professors, and the fact that I’ve met the dean on multiple occasions, makes the experience in Qatar very unique,” said Wang.

Both students felt that the time in Qatar has added value to their personal and professional learning and development, allowing them to immerse themselves in an entirely new culture and make international friends, and they are already considering other opportunities to return to Qatar as full-time employees or to pursue a degree in higher education.

“People here are very focused and very passionate about what they are doing,” said Wang. “And, being surrounded by driven, passionate, likeminded people creates a great environment for media and communications students to really excel at what they do.”

“I would highly encourage my classmates to consider NU-Q as a study abroad option especially if they are interested in Middle East politics or learning the Arabic language,” said O’Rorke. “I also think any student from Medill or the School of Communication would benefit from the international experience in Qatar, especially given the significant role its media outlets –  Al Jazeera, AJ+, and BeIN – play in the region and the world.”

The Semester in Qatar program takes place each fall and is open to students from Northwestern's Medill School, the School of Communication, and Weinberg. The fall academic term at NU-Q is 15 weeks, with an additional one week for orientation and one week for post-program travel in the region. Interested students must participate in an interview with their appropriate school and submit an online application by February 24, 2018.