OpEd: “Inspirational” Spring Break in Qatar
April 13, 2015
By Katherine Stein
Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
If I had to pick one word to describe my spring break trip to NU-Q and Education City, it would be “inspirational.”
It gave me the chance to have a lot of once-in-a-lifetime adventures (dune bashing!). I tried and enjoyed new foods (chapati and karak) and met some incredibly generous, enthusiastic and kind new friends.
Because I came to Qatar, I’m inspired to travel more and meet more people from cultural and educational backgrounds different than my own.
The trip also inspired me to cover issues related to poverty and economic inequality, and here’s how it happened:
The second-to-last morning of the trip, I awakened a couple of hours before the start of our scheduled activities for the day. Eager to see more of Education City and to get some exercise before the next day’s 14-hour flight, I went for a quick run.
Two things struck me as I ran. First, the desert heat: although it was only about 8 a.m., the air was sultry and the sun, scorching. And second, the large number of construction workers at work on buildings and roads throughout Education City.
Deciding it was too hot for me to run outside, I detoured to the HBKU student center, where I hopped on a treadmill and ran in the air conditioning. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the workers. All day, by economic necessity, they would be outside doing hard manual labor under the desert sun. I, in contrast, was laboring in the air conditioning, could stop whenever I liked, return to a dorm room nicer than that of many hotels, take a shower, eat a free, unlimited breakfast, and go on an all-expenses-paid adventure as part of my university education.
“Why,” I wondered, “am I so special as to have these privileges? What makes me different?”
There’s no simple answer to that question. Money, nationality, access to education—all these are reasons why I spent the week touring Education City buildings rather than constructing them.
But regardless of the reasons, I was and am extremely uncomfortable at the contrast between my week as a university student in Education City and the lives of the construction workers there. I’m particularly uncomfortable because, despite my curiosity about the workers and their lives, I certainly didn’t go out of my way to acknowledge them. I never even talked in any detail about them with Education City students or faculty members.
So, now that I’ve come back to the U.S. and had time to reflect in this column and in my blog about the trip, I’ve found new inspiration in the questions I didn’t ask while in Education City. I’ve been privileged to receive a fantastic education; now, I have a duty to put that education to use and ask hard questions of myself—and of us all.