A small peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf, Qatar is right smack dab in the middle of the Middle East, a dynamic region sure to continue to be a major world player. Qatar is the ideal (albeit unique) study abroad destination, with its emphasis on education, extraordinary surroundings, and diverse culture. If your life plans include learning Arabic, sand dune cruising, or watching the sunset over the desert in a country known as one of the most peaceful and stable on Earth, go to Qatar. Like, now! And catch a camel race while you’re there, why don’t-cha.
If you decide to study in Qatar, chances are you’ll set your roots in Doha. Almost 80 percent of the population lives in the capital, and it serves as the center of Qatar’s social, educational, and political life. Home to Qatar University as well as the innovative Education City, Doha has an all-star education scene. Some 2000 students study at U.S. and European university campuses in Education City, which was created by the Qatar Foundation to provide education to Qatari citizens. Although Qataris have priority, it’s open to all, creating a multicultural environment with small classes, sports teams, and cultural events. Studying abroad in Qatar will be like studying at your home campus with a twist, providing you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in Qatari life.
When class is done and it’s quittin’ time in Qatar, you won’t be heading to the nearest bar. Alcohol is haram, or forbidden, for Muslim Qataris. But that certainly doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. Take that clear head instead to the impressive Museum of Islamic Art or to the Souq Waqif to test your bargaining skills. A giant marketplace filled with street performers (everything from breakdancers to clowns to jazz bands), restaurants, and shisha lounges, the souq is a happenin’ meeting place and an all-around good time for all. Oh, and max 20 QR (Qatari Riyal) for that pashmina. Learn to ne-go-ti-ate.
If you tire of Doha (not likely), head south to discover the rolling sand dunes, gather with friends at the beach, or hop on a quick flight across the Gulf to Dubai.
Study Abroad Programs in Qatar
Although Qatar is an Arabic-speaking country, it remains “English-friendly”. Most Qataris speak at least basic English, and you’ll find coursework in almost any discipline represented in English. Nonetheless, Qatar is also a great place to strengthen your Arabic language skills.
Qatar is an interesting place to study business from a non-Western point of view. Super cool for journalism buffs: world news broadcaster Al-Jazeera's HQ is based here, which is a great demonstration of the nation’s open nature!
If you’re schtick is international relations or development studies, going to the heart of the Middle East will certainly help you understand the cultural context as it relates to regional and global politics. Courses in comparative politics, international affairs, or government are sure to have a focus on Middle Eastern affairs, and being there offers you the opportunity to understand the complexities first-hand. No matter your major, sign up for a culture course while studying in Qatar if you can. It will give you insight into daily life in your new home and help you relate to new people you meet.
Unsurprisingly, the American universities (but maybe surprisingly, also Qatar University) follow the typical American system of courses, grading, and awarding credit. Final grades are often comprised of midterms, research papers, and final exams. Class presentations and group work are common practice in most courses.
One word of caution: summer is humid and HOT. As in, up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, hot. Egg-sizzling-on-the-pavement, hot. Plan to hibernate in the shopping malls if you decide to study in Qatar in the summer. Better yet, head there in the winter, when it’s blues skies and a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scholarships & Costs
Qatar’s cost of living certainly reflects the fact that it’s about to surpass Switzerland as the richest country in the world. Making a budget, sticking to it, and finding the spots where the locals go are key if you don’t want to run out of money halfway through your study abroad program in Qatar.
Expect to fork over about $2000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center, and it’ll cost you $4.50 to get your daily cappuccino fix. There are some bright spots though. On average, it costs about $8 for a cheap meal, but if you try the street food and souqs, you can find some real bargains. Grab a chicken or beef shawarma (an Arab-style burrito) with a side of fries or a dig into a mutabal (a smoky, creamy eggplant-based dip). For the best in free entertainment, take a stroll on the Corniche, a boulevard along the coastline, for people-watching and snapping a shot of the Doha skyline.
Another bright spot to study abroad in Qatar is the plethora of scholarships available for international programs in this part of the world.
Accommodation & Visas
Most universities and study abroad programs in Qatar will have you covered when it comes to housing and visas. Nonetheless, ask questions and do your research to know what’s provided for your specific program or school.
Due to the lack of public transportation, it will be all the more important to live near your campus while studying in Qatar, making dormitories or residence halls by far the most popular housing option. You’ll easily be connected to all of the cultural activities and happenings at your school, enhancing your chance to get to know local students. Nothing builds community like accidentally using your dorm mate’s toothbrush. Mirroring your classrooms, typically dorm life will be a multicultural environment, where it’s super easy to make friends.
Your university will most likely sponsor you to enter the country initially on a 30-day visa. Once you arrive, you’ll need to obtain a residence permit. It’s ok to ask for help for help with this process, either from your university’s immigration office or your resident director. Applying for the residence permit requires a visit to the medical commision, where you’ll have to get a physical and blood work done. The whole process can be a long one, so start early, and know that you cannot leave the country until you get the residence permit squared away.
Be sure to check out GoAbroad's Qatari Embassy Directory for current visa application requirements before you study abroad in Qatar.
Benefits & Challenges
Since only about two percent of college students that study abroad venture to the Middle East (and even fewer to Qatar), prepare to stand out from the crowd for doing something different! Everyone studies abroad in London or Barcelona, but you might be the only one of your friends to journey to Qatar, meaning your stories will automatically be more impressive.
However, the novelty of international students also means that you may attract unwarranted attention while you’re studying in Qatar. Understanding and respecting cultural norms will take you far in helping you to fit in and gain the most from your experience studying abroad in Qatar. For example, it’s considered rude to show the soles of your shoes, so don’t do it! And leave that bikini at home, ladies. Prepare to dress modestly, meaning your knees, shoulders, and chest should be covered at all times.
One huge bonus of study abroad in Qatar is that you’ll easily come to know Qatari and other students from the Gulf region. Take that first step to talk to your local classmates, and you’ll surely experience the hospitality Arabs are known for. It may take some time to grasp the workings of life in Qatar, but the effort you put in is sure to pay off as you make lifelong friends and learn to see things from a new perspective.
It’s time to gear up for your Middle East study abroad adventure! Before you know it, you’ll settle in, find your tribe, and thrive in sunny Qatar.