As the new academic year begins, Qatar’s universities are welcoming a diverse cohort of international students, each drawn to the country for unique reasons.
A student from Uzbekistan, a young journalist from South Korea, and a Palestinian from Gaza — all have walked different paths, shaped by unique circumstances and dreams. Yet, as the new academic year begins, their roads converge at a surprising crossroad: Qatar.
The country, once overshadowed in the educational arena, has emerged as a beacon of opportunity, innovation and tradition for students from around the globe.
Doha News took the opportunity to speak to some of the new faces on campus, delving into their motivations, expectations and reflections. The narratives of the students offer a glimpse into the magnetic appeal of Qatar as an educational hub.
Opportunity immersed by tradition
For many, the appeal of Qatar lies not just in its modernity but its blend of tradition with world-class education.
Khasanbek Khakimjanov from Uzbekistan was drawn to the country by the “generous grants that Qatar Foundation provides, top-ranked programmes, and the fact that Qatar is one of the safest and Islamic countries.”
His awareness of opportunities in Qatar was sparked by fellow countrymen studying there, evidence of community connections that extend beyond borders.
For Khakimjanov, the Islamic character of Qatar was more than a cultural note; it was a decisive factor in choosing his educational path.
As a citizen of Uzbekistan, where a significant portion of the population is Muslim, Khakimjanov found in Qatar a familiar spiritual landscape that resonated with his faith and values.
Qatar’s reputation as one of the safest Islamic countries offered Khakimjanov a comfort level that bridged his transition from home to a new educational frontier.
Cultural transition and exploration
Embracing the rich Qatari culture was an essential aspect of the journey for many international students.
Juyoung Kim, a South Korean journalism major at Northwestern University in Qatar, encourages others to approach with “an open mind and with the mind of wanting to embrace an elegant culture.”
Meanwhile, Khakimjanov found the weather and food to be his main cultural adjustments, relying on online resources and student blogs to ease his transition.
The vibrant academic community and unique experiences offered by Qatar’s universities stand as additional attractions.
Khakimjanov spoke highly of the community at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar, praising the engaging and ambitious atmosphere. “So far it has been a great experience in the university and Education City itself. The atmosphere here is simply unique you can never find from somewhere else,” he told Doha News.
Kim also emphasised the privilege of studying in Qatar and the myriad of opportunities both within and outside of the Education City campus, a sentiment shared by other international students who find the academic environment in Qatar enriching and stimulating.
‘A way out of Gaza’
Amid the diverse stories, the experience of a Palestinian student from Gaza, Mohammed, pursuing his master’s in journalism at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, shines with particular resonance.
His education in Qatar represented not just an academic opportunity but a way out of the war and confines of Gaza, a growth he never imagined possible.
“I see journalism as a tool for truth, a way to shed light on the realities of Gaza. My education in Qatar is not just for me; it’s to equip me with the skills to tell the stories of my people, to make their voices heard.”
For many Palestinian students, the aspiration to study abroad is often thwarted by insurmountable obstacles, especially for those in Gaza.
The blockade imposed on Gaza has created stringent travel restrictions that often make leaving the territory an arduous, if not impossible, task.
For Mohammed, the Israeli occupation is not a distant political issue but a visceral reality that has touched every aspect of his life.
Even obtaining necessary travel documents or permissions can become an unattainable goal. The few who manage to navigate this labyrinthine process represent a small victory against a system designed to limit their horizons.
By studying in Qatar, he sees an opportunity to transform personal experience into a platform for truth-telling.
“The Israeli occupation has shaped the lives of everyone in Gaza, including mine,” Mohammed told Doha News.
“I hope to use my journalistic skills to provide an unfiltered view of what’s happening on the ground, to share the human stories that often get lost in political narratives.”
In his eyes, journalism transcends mere reporting, becoming a means to humanise a conflict that has defined his homeland, and through education in Qatar, he is preparing to take on this vital role.
For the Gazan student, the decision to study in Qatar was influenced not only by academic aspirations but also by Qatar’s consistent stance in supporting Palestinians.
“Qatar’s consistent support for the Palestinian cause wasn’t just a political stance for me; it was a symbol of empathy and solidarity, something we rarely ever find. I knew that here, my roots wouldn’t be a barrier but a bridge to connect with others.”
The master’s student was surprised by people’s initial reactions when they found out that he was from Palestine.
“This is not my first time away from home, but for the first time other people are embracing and celebrating my identity, and I never thought its something I would ever get to experience.”