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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

Explain Education City

What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • Quick list of what Education City is, why it exists, when it got there, and who started it

  • Quick list of the universities in Education City

  • Quick list of other places and resources in Education City

  • Quick list of what’s in the Student Center as of 2018

  • The feeling of community within Education City and the feeling that everybody knew everybody

  • Education City kitties


Education City at night, outside VCUQ

I studied for a semester at VCU’s Qatar campus. Contrary to the surprisingly popular mental image, though, VCUQ is not an awkward shack in the middle of the desert. In fact, it’s housed within a very modern, tech savvy, hella secure educational community called Education City.

So, where is Education City? Who is Education City? Why is Education City?

As terrible as my Avengers joke is, it’s strangely enough how I felt. Despite the brochures and Google searches, I had only a vague definition of what it was, where it was, how it got there, and why it was there at all. I knew that it held a few universities next door to one another, that there were sometimes community events, and that it was founded in the 90s, but I kept hearing something about “Qatar Foundation”, the name “Sheikha Moza”, and an odd story about the royal couple having an inspirational desert vision of the future. I didn’t understand how these pieces—and many others—fit into the definition of Education City until the end of my four month stay.

So you won’t have to wait that long for some clarity, though, let me break down for you what I learned:

  • Education City was opened in 1997 and officially inaugurated in 2003

  • Education City is not a real city; it’s more like a community within Al Rayyan. Al Rayyan is a real city on the outskirts of Doha (the country’s capital). When I say outskirts, though, they are more like next-door neighbors; if you’re from Richmond, compare it to the distance between Henrico County and Richmond City.

  • Education City (“EC”) is a part of Qatar Foundation (“QF”)

  • The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development—or just “Qatar Foundation”—is a government-run non-profit organization founded in 1995. They are responsible for an array of cultural, educational, and research-based stuff throughout the country. This “stuff” comes in the form of schools, international universities, research centers, debate-based events, art exhibitions, and a bomb ass national library.

  • The creation of QF and Education City was spearheaded by the Father Emir’s wife, Sheikha Moza (sometimes spelled Mozah).

  • To be clear, Sheikha is not her name, it’s just her title; “Sheikha” is to “Princess” as “Emir” is to “King”. The Father Emir was the king from 1995 until 2013 when his son took over; that’s why he’s called the Father Emir (because his son has the current title of Emir. Compare it to the idea of a Queen Mother).

  • I heard a story once explaining that Sheikha Moza got the idea for QF and EC while camping in the desert with the Father Emir (back when he was just the regular Emir). The sidra tree (the symbol for Qatar Foundation) may or may not have been part of the inspirational narrative. I can’t promise you that the story is true, but the fact it exists adds layer of magic to the whole idea of EC, right?

  • VCU was the first university to be a part of EC. They opened their arts school in 1998.

This is the VCUarts Qatar building

What universities are in EC? And what programs do they have? And when did they even get there?

Texas A&M

This is just one side of the new-ish Northwestern building.

It's gorgeous, isn't it?

A lot of people from VCU didn’t know we had a campus in the Middle East, let alone how long it had been there or what people could study there. So, for those of you looking for a bulleted list, here yah go:

  • VCU (Fine Art & Design) – 1998

  • Cornell (Medicine) – 2002

  • Texas A&M (Engineering) – 2003

  • Carnegie Mellon (Business, Science, & Computer Science) – 2004

  • Georgetown (International Affairs) – 2005

  • Northwestern (Journalism & Communications) – 2008

  • But note, they didn’t get their own building until 2017. Prior to, they occupied the 3rd floor of Carnegie Mellon.

  • University College London (Library Studies, Museum Studies, Conservation, & Archaeology) – 2010

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University (Islamic Studies, Life Science, Law, Engineering, & Education) – 2010

  • HEC Paris (Business Administration) – 2011

  • University College London (Museum Studies, Conversation, & Archaeology) – 2011

There are also a variety of K-12 schools, research centers, and Al Shaqab, an equestrian center for Arabian horses. Yes, there were pretty, pretty horsies down the street from my dorm at any given point in time.

But it's not just full of schools, right? What else is in Education City?

In no particular order:

  • World Cup Stadium - Okay, technically this won't be completed until 2022, but the ground was broken in 2016.

  • Rec Center – I heard it had a spa, a gym, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. I never visited it, though I probably should have.

  • Skate park – Though, I never saw a single skateboard in EC.

  • Qatar National Convention Centre – Technically it’s not in Education City, but they hold a lot of events there, including graduation. It’s a beautiful building . . . with a scary spider sculpture inside.

  • Ceremonial Court – They used to hold graduation here, but it’s outdoors and hella hot in May. Now they use it for other stuff, like the Farmer’s Market.

Ceremonial Court

  • Green Spine – A long, grassy, rectangular open space where events are often hosted. Be on the lookout for bouncy houses, bonfires, cultural fairs, food trucks, and a general abundance of free food.

  • Football (soccer) field – Right beside VCUQ

  • Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) Building – Some universities hold classes in there, but it also hosts classes and programs open to the public

  • Qatar Post – There's a branch somewhere in Education City.

LAS Building

  • Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – Starbucks is inside the LAS Building, and The Coffee Bean is inside VCUQ.

  • Playground – You know the self-lacing Nikes from Back to the Future Part II? The playground equipment gave off that sort of vibe—fun, familiar, but futuristic enough to make me do a mental double take. Where I expected staticky plastic twisty slides and callous-bursting monkey bars, this playground presented me with upside down nets, a tiny trampoline, rubber mounds peeking through painted tarmac, and an unsurpassable climbing rock that resembled modern art. Did I think the playground was cool? Yeah. Did I understand how to play on the playground? No, no I did not.

  • Education City Mosque – By far one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, inside and out. Full of symbolism, dramatic shapes, and minarets that look like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Education City Mosque, women's prayer hall. It's a wonky panorama, but you get the idea

  • Shamali and Janoubi – The female and male residence halls respectively. I know Shamali has a cafeteria, a café, and a lobby open to the public during the day.

  • Bicycles – When I arrived there were all these bike stands, but no bikes. Apparently, EC had initiated a bike share program, but it didn’t last long. However, there are still plenty of bike racks around EC and somewhere on campus are bikes available for rent.

  • Oxygen Park – It’s a beautiful place for both chillin’ and exercising, especially in the evening. There are plenty of lights, paths, hills, fountains, tarmac, gardens, and even a classroom.

Oxygen Park

  • Oxygen Park Gardens – They may have another name, but all I know is that I got to them after beginning my walk in Oxygen Park. I learned later that each garden has a different theme: There’s the sound garden, the scent garden, the play garden, the water garden, the shade garden, and the wind garden. I don’t know which is which, but I know there were flowers, canopies, sprinklers, fountains, and a playground that was genuinely pretty dang fun for a 21 year-old.

  • Historical sites – Yep, sprinkled throughout the ultra-modern, high tech, international campus are a handful of excavation sites that caught me completely off guard. Imagine walking through a brightly lit Oxygen Park, rounding a bend, and suddenly you’re facing a dark & eerie deserted mini village, complete with a black cat emerging from the shadow of a doorless home. Once I found out that place was simply a historical site and not a portal to the netherworld, the history nerd in me was overjoyed. Prior to acquiring that knowledge, though, I was scared to find out what the hell a ghost village was doing 10 minutes from my apartment; the last thing I needed was an otherworldly mystery to solve in the middle of my study abroad experience. Here, check out this link for a better understanding of what these ancient sites are doing in the middle of a college campus.

  • University cafeterias – I heard some of the universities had cafeterias. Are they only open to students and staff? I can’t say for certain; I only ever visited the one inside VCUQ, and I only visited it once. However, in the case they are open to everybody, they’re worth a mention.

  • Qatar National Library – You know that scene in Beauty and the Beast when Belle walks into the castle library for the first time? Yeah, that’s how I felt walking into the QNL. It is a bookworm's dream.

Three views of Qatar National Library

History, comics, travel, mythology, business, romance . . . any topic or genre you can think of, there's a high chance the QNL has something on it

  • Qatar National Bank (QNB) – Somewhere on campus is a branch of the national bank. I never had the need for it, but it's a worthwhile addition to EC, especially if you pick up a part-time job.

  • Qatar Foundation Building – Need to pay your housing bill? Want to eat at a café? Feel like getting stuck behind some high-tech security gates like a helpless puppy? Head to the QF Building. In all seriousness, though, it’s the headquarters of what makes the Qatar Foundation tick. Plus, it’s a pretty impressive visual landmark.

QF Building

  • A medical center. Compare it to a mini Patient First or MedExpress. It was attached to the Student Center.

  • A . . . finger print place – As an exchange student, I had to do many “legal resident” things, including get my fingerprints done. Why did they need my fingerprints? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that getting my fingerprints done was one of the easiest things to figure out because the place to do it was right on campus.

  • Student Center – Food, games, grocery store, stray cats . . . you know what, I’ll give it it’s own list:

Student Center

What’s in the Student Center?

Student Center

As of 2018:

  • Papa John’s

  • Elevation Burger

  • A fro-yo joint

  • A salad & wrap joint

  • A . . . cafeteria? I’m not sure what that was, but they had a hot bar and fresh fruit.

  • A kushari stand. Kushari—or koshari—is rice, macaroni, lentils mixed, tomato sauce, chickpeas, and fried onions. It’s Egyptian street food, an affordable option for a college student, and a very filling snack.

  • An ice cream donut stand. Not ice cream and donuts, I mean ice cream donuts.

  • A bowling alley

  • A mini arcade

  • A gym

  • An interior courtyard

  • An ATM. The closest ATM to my residence hall that actually worked

  • A tech store

  • A mini Al Meera. A grocery store.

  • A mini pharmacy

Bowling alley

The mini arcade which is, as you can see, directly beside the bowling alley.

I gotta tell you, though, it’s likely those lists are missing some bullet points. There’s a lot of EC that I didn’t see and a few things I probably I don’t remember, but if nothing else, now you’ve got a sense of what EC has to offer. What’s better is that everything I listed is within walking distance of each other—although—Qatar is hot as hades half the year, so you may want to rethink that whole “walking” thing.

The Community Vibe

Battle of the Bands, a yearly music competition for all students in EC

At VCU-Richmond, I spent my upperclassman years doing the same routine: Go to class, go to work, go home, repeat. The time I had to involve myself in extracurricular activities simply disappeared, as did my desire to attend seasonal fundraising balls, panel discussions, and movie screenings. I expected to see that same sort of college-experience burnout amongst students in Education City—and, granted, I did—but I also saw a lot of students who, well, showed up to stuff. Not just stuff like events, but also just hanging out at the park or the Student Center or the library . . . students were just around.

I know, seeing students around a college campus seems like a normal expectation, but I was genuinely surprised. I mean, it was one thing for me to show up to stuff; I was a jobless, on-campus exchange student only taking 14 credits worth of coursework . . . I had lots of free time to kill, little means to explore outside EC, and experiencing campus life abroad was the whole point of the exchange program. But the real students—the ones enrolled at VCUQ for longer than a semester—I just didn’t expect to see them anywhere else but school. The coolest part, though, is that it wasn’t just students from VCUQ who hung out around EC, it was also faculty, alumni, students & staff from other universities, and often their families. Seriously, between teachers, classmates, siblings, and cousins, there was always a high chance someone I knew would be hanging out somewhere in EC.

Call me dramatic, but it felt surreal. Seeing repeated faces around campus was simply not my norm at VCU-Richmond, primarily because VCU-Richmond is huge in comparison to all of Education City. In 2015, VCU had about 31,000 students enrolled, whereas all the universities in Education City had about 2,500 people, faculty and staff combined. At VCU, I had a hard time encountering other art majors, let alone people from other schools or universities, but (for better or worse) EC is like its own little bubble and created a sense of community that I didn’t anticipate.

World culture festival

That said, EC isn’t just a place for “college people”. Sure, at night you may need to flash a university ID to open a gate or unlock a door, but otherwise EC is very accessible to the local community, which means you will get to interact with people who aren’t students & faculty. I can’t tell you how many times I saw grass-stained children eating team dinners in the Student Center, or people coming out to the Saturday farmer’s market, and the coffee expos, and the film premieres. There were also gallery shows, career fairs, and on Sports Day (yes, that’s a holiday), Sheikha Moza led a community fitness event in the middle of EC.

Education City was just . . . cool. There were times where it caught me off guard and there were many things I had to adapt to, but it had an uncanny amount of resources that attracted both a variety of people and that was a cool experience. Although, there’s something else to be said about the EC community . . .

Everybody Knew Everybody

It was my second day in Education City and everywhere I went during the walking tour I encountered somebody I knew. Some of them I had met at a wedding the night before, some of them I had met in Morocco the year before, and some of them I had been emailing obsessively in the months prior to my arrival. The point is that I knew people and, to my surprise, all these people seemed to know each other too.

It was strange to have the 6 degrees of separation whittle down to 2 degrees. Between students, faculty, family, friends, and international excursions it felt like everybody in Education City knew everybody else.

Here, just take a glance at this to get a sense of what I’m talking about.

I met people in Morocco, those people knew students, those students had friends, those friends knew faculty, the faculty worked for different universities, each university had its own alumni, those alumni had siblings, those siblings dated other students . . . the connections never ended, and even though I was used to Richmond being pretty familial, Education City gave me a run for my money.

Oh, and one more thing:

Education City has cats . . . everywhere. Let's call them "Education City Kitties".


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