Georgetown in Qatar Students Prepare to Graduate into the Working World

09 May 2013

On May 11, 2013, 43 black-robed Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (GU-Q) students will take their final walk in a graduation ceremony where they will receive their diplomas, signaling an end to the four transformative years of their undergraduate education. They will join the 125 graduates who have already walked in the commencement ceremonies since the branch campus was established in Education City in 2005.

Currently offering a four-year liberal arts curriculum with majors in International Politics, International Economics and Culture & Politics, GU-Q has seen steady annual increases in the number of students seeking the same competitive degree offered at the internationally recognized university’s Washington D.C. campus. “This is what we are all working for - the students, the faculty, the rest of our staff, the families. Education is a team effort, but on graduation day, these young people are the stars,” said Georgetown’s dean, Dr. Gerd Nonneman, regarding the upcoming graduation of 27 men and 16 women representing a total of 27 countries. “In the Class of 2013 you will find the stories of so many excellent individuals who embody the foundational values of Georgetown: Academic Excellence, "Women and Men for Others", and Contemplation in Action, to name just a few of our core values.”

Four years of intense and rigorous academic studies was not the hardest part for some students. Malik A. Habayeb, graduating with a degree in International Politics and a Certificate in Arab and Regional studies, puts it frankly, saying “I faced a lot of challenges when I decided to attend a liberal arts university. My family and my friends were worried about my financial stability after graduation.”

The worry is not a unique challenge for young high school graduates choosing which university to attend while facing the cultural pressures to pursue vocational education. But for Malik, things changed dramatically in his first year of study. “In my Freshman year I traveled to China with the Community Engagement Program (CEP) program. I also joined the HELP program teaching English to Education City service staff as a way of giving back to the wonderful men and women who provide all of us with a clean,safe place to study. Through the programs and the course materials, my parents quickly began seeing the value of my education decision.”

As a senior, he would be awarded the prestigious Lena Landegger Community Service Award, which is given out to only twenty students from both the Washington D.C. campus and the Doha campus. And his commitment to helping others is also reflected in his participation in the Inspire Dreams NGO, where he worked with other Georgetown students in creating youth leadership workshops in Palestinian refugee camps in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus. They also conducted English tutoring for adults. “As a Palestinian, this is my dream - to help the Palestinian cause by focusing on the refugee issue, and the socio economic ones as well. I want to be part of the practical policies that will ensure the human rights of millions.”

But for some students, like Haya A. Al-Thani, the choice of a liberal arts degree was a no-brainer. “I had decided that I wanted to become a lawyer, and I was told that a prerequisite for law school was International Politics, so I chose it as my major at Georgetown.” Four years later, however, Haya has changed course in her plans for the future. “The way the professors taught the courses, the materials they covered-they awakened a real love of politics and policy making in me. Now, I hope to go to graduate school and focus on education policy in Qatar. Georgetown taught me about the world, and now I want to take what I’ve learned, and focus on our local history, and our local culture.” Her interest in her local community and culture was already manifested in her many extracurricular activities.

But despite her many accomplishments, her words of praise are reserved for the faculty who helped her make it possible. “I was stunned. The amount of work professors and faculty put into these projects and conferences, was tremendous, and all without personal credit for themselves. I think this was the most surprising thing about this university. It is a community, first and foremost.”

Many future students make their first contact with Georgetown in high school, through the Model United Nations (MUN) program that has been a longstanding tradition of the university since 1918. AlJawhara Hassan Al-Thani, a senior graduating with a degree in Culture and Politics, said “As a high school student attending Georgetown’s MUN conferences, I knew that that was where I wanted to go to school.” And later, as a Georgetown student, she continued to mentor high school, taking part in the MUN conferences for all four years.

But she cites her participation in the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace program as providing the defining moment of her education. “Through this program that sends students to regions that have experienced tremendous turmoil and genocide, I had expected to encounter downtrodden people that our work could help. Instead, we built houses with Habitat for Humanity alongside amazing survivors-people who were focused on living in the present and looking forward to a better future. It was a humbling experience as a student, and as a world citizen.”

Reflecting on life post-graduation, AlJawhara expresses concern about her job prospects, but for unexpected reasons. “The idea of picking a career path is difficult to think about right now, because I feel like I have the skills to do so many things.” But what is clear, is her confidence in her choice of study. “I was always interested in people, in the layers of systems in the world. I never really knew what that was and how to vocalize it, but these years shared with a diverse student body, and through a creative and dynamic curriculum,gave my ideas a framework. This is reflected in my senior honors thesis, titled ‘In a state of shifting culture: Qatar’s branding and the authorship of identity’.”
It is common for students to begin their university studies with one career in mind, only to find the experience of the education journey leads them to a completely different field of interest. However, Eilin Francis, who began her Georgetown career with one interest, and later discovered another, decided to combine the two, rather than sacrificing one. “ In high school I knew I wanted to work with international NGOs or have a career in diplomacy. Georgetown provided me with an education to pursue either. Once at Georgetown I found I really enjoyed economics. So, I will use my degree in economics to pursue international diplomacy.” Following graduation, Eilin plans to pursue a graduate degree in economics.

She got a head start in her interest to work with non-government agencies (NGOs), with her dedication to the One World Youth Project. This initiative partners with universities, such as Georgetown, to empower college students as cross-cultural facilitators to promote global life skills needed to succeed in an interconnected world. Following training, she worked in local schools to lead in global learning and promoting cultural competency curriculum on a regular basis.

Most recently, Eilin, along with classmate AlJawhara Hassan Al-Thani, was awarded the prestigious honor of being chosen as HBKU President’s Award recipients this year. The award recognizes only six Education City campus students, following a rigorous selection process, who demonstrate academic excellence and have made significant contributions to their communities. Both students will also be graduating with honors.

Asked if she’s prepared to enter the workforce after graduation, International Politics senior Lubna Sharab responds without hesitation. “Definitely. I am equipped with the knowledge, experience and drive to take on challenges, meet new people and take on the issues that affect society.”

Her confidence stems from the same unwavering ambition that brought her to Georgetown in search of a degree to support her interests in development and the policy-making field. “I briefly considered a degree in journalism, a field I highly respect. But I quickly decided that to understand how different players in governments, societies and organizations interact on all levels, I should pursue a bachelors degree in International Politics.”

She hopes to get a head start in these interests through post-graduation plans to join one of the many organizations in Qatar that specialize in development. “This is something I would like to gain experience in, working locally, before I pursue a graduate degree. Already, in preparation for graduate school, I took part in the International Politics Honors program involving rigorous dedication to research and writing, an invaluable introduction to the kind of work that will later be expected of me.”

A Palestinian-New Zealander, Lubna was born in Qatar, and spent her early education years in Doha schools. So she was quite surprised to find Georgetown Qatar had such a diverse student body. “I had imagined that most of the students would be Arab. But coming back from New Zealand, I found that this campus was incredibly diverse, both in the students seeking an education here from all over the world, and in the faculty. And through the CEP and Zones of Conflict Zones of Peace programs, where I had the opportunity to build houses with Habitat for Humanity for victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, that diversity took a hands-on approach, which had a tremendous positive impact on my university experience.”

For International Politics major Ghada Al Subaey, the issue of what to do after graduation isn’t really just about getting a job, it’s about making a positive social impact. “The course work, the class topics, the internships and the programs I’ve taken part in have given me the critical thinking and writing skills I will need to succeed. But what most surprised me was the way each department within the university-from the communications team, to student services, to the faculty, all worked together to send us the message that we have to own our lives. We have to take these skills we’ve learned seriously, and put them to good use.”

She has already put some of those skills to good use. While a sophomore, Ghada co-founded the Women’s Society and Development Club, with another senior student at Georgetown. “We wanted to do something to promote the issues of women’s development, and with unwavering support, we have seen tremendous progress in our fundraising activities, research initiatives, and increasing student awareness and involvement. This is an issue that is very important for the region-educating women about their options, their potential, as members of their communities.”

Based on her university experience, her advice to students who will be following in her footsteps is to stay focused on goals, despite their feasibility. “If you have a dream, just initiate it, start it, even if it seems impossible. Before you know it, people will join you, and as a group, you will reach your target. Just don’t give up.”

For these Georgetown students, and the scores of other Education City students preparing to take on the next important phase of their adult lives, the stress of the future challenges that life will present them is momentarily set aside, in the flurry of robes, graduation caps, and special celebrations. “We have prepared them for the world.” said Dean Nonneman. “Right now, we are all taking the moment to recognize their accomplishments of the last four years. However, I have no doubt that in the years to come we will encounter their stories again , as they emerge as leaders of their communities.”