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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

High-class Halls

What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • An overview of the male and female housing situation

  • My favorite things about the girls’ residence hall

  • Things in the residence hall I had to adapt to

  • The lack of television and how it affected me

  • How rooms are assigned for exchange students

  • How to get a roommate as an exchange student

  • The residence hall’s affordability compared to VCU-Richmond

  • The complicated story of how I paid for the residence hall

  • Final thoughts on the mental & physical comfort the residence hall gave me


The busy urban sidewalks leading to my apartment in Richmond were replaced by long stretches of courtyard paths in Doha.

The student housing in Education City—then known as Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) Student Housing and Residence Life (SHRL)—were described to me as 5-star on campus hotels. I imagined this meant I’d encounter a reasonably spacious apartment, modern furniture, a new-ish mattress in the bedroom, and working appliances.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit minimal when it comes to the concept of “5-star”, but it’s all I was hoping for. I safely assumed it would be nicer than my moldy eight roommate freshman suite, and probably even nicer than my upperclassman apartment, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be too mind-blowing. I mean, c’mon, it’s a university residence hall, how 5-star could it really get?

Well, let me tell you, it can get very 5-star.

In this surprisingly long post, I’m going to lay out what I liked about the dorms, what I didn’t like about the dorms, the way these things affected me, how the housing selection process panned out, and how to pay for the darn thing.

But first the facts:

There were two residence halls in Education City: Janoubi (Arabic for “southern”) and Shamali (Arabic for “northern”). Shamali is the girls’ dorm, right across from VCUQ, and is on the opposite side of campus from Janoubi, the boys’ dorm. I never stepped inside of Janoubi, but it’s identical to Shamali on the outside (which occasionally confused the hell out of me and my Uber driver) and near identical on the inside from what I heard. This is important to know because, well, the gender separation and distance from VCUQ made a difference in my experience. Also, though Shamali and Janoubi offer many of the same things, everything said in this post is based exclusively on my experience in the girls’ dorm; anyone staying in Janoubi may receive a different set of surprises.

Alright, now let’s get to it:


In no particular order, here is a bulleted list of my favorite things about Shamali:

  • Across from VCUQ. The girls’ dorm was right across the street, which meant I had no need for the campus shuttle van, and I could sleep in every morning. Granted, I still had to walk through a bit of sand and construction, but the proximity was worth it.

  • Your own room and bathroom. Every student gets their own room and private bathroom, including freshmen and students with roommates. Options include:

  • Single room (no kitchen or living room)

  • 2-bedroom apartment (upperclassmen)

  • Studio apartment (upperclassmen)

  • 1-bedroom apartment (upperclassmen)

  • Excellent showers. Handheld showerhead, customizable water pressure, an overhead light, water that stays hot forever, and instead of a moldy shower curtain, there was a sliding glass door. The only downside is that if you like to soak in a bathtub, you’ll have to seek elsewhere.

  • The bathroom also comes with a hairdryer.

Yes, my matchy-matchy game is on point, and no I never put the toilet paper on the roll, but can you see the shower behind me? That shower was everything.

  • Multiple halls. The “halls” are actually entire buildings and the obsessive compartmentalizer in me thought separate buildings circling a gated courtyard was just . . . neat. Halls include:

  • Suduq Hall (housed Academic Bridge Program students, first-year students, and a handful of upperclassmen. This was the dorm all the Richmond exchange students were originally placed in).

  • Hekmah Hall (housed graduate students).

  • Iman Hall (housed upperclassmen students. This is where I stayed).

  • Janoubi had a similar setup with Karam Hall, Theqah Hall, & Sabur Hall, however, Janoubi also has Amanah Hall (for official HBKU guests) and Shuker Hall (for married students and students with families).

  • Free laundry. Laundry was free at VCU-Richmond too, and the washer/dryer sets in Shamali were the same high efficiency (HE) ones I used my freshman year, so . . . small world. The laundry room also came with an iron and ironing board, which was a godsend because all that cool-weather cotton collected some hardcore wrinkles after wash. The room only offered two washers and two dryers, but I never ran into a crowd. On one hand, great, I never had to remove someone else’s forgotten laundry, but on the other hand it was odd not to see any evidence of other residents.

  • Places to eat and sit. Sounds like the basic requirements of any living space, but Shamali really did offer an array of options. There was both a café and a buffet-style cafeteria on the first floor, as well as plenty of places to sit, study, or hang out (indoors and outdoors). Thing is, Shamali always seemed eerily empty; despite so many places to chill, I rarely saw people chillin’.

One of many hangout spaces. This one is in the courtyard.

  • Nice lighting. The windows were small, but wow could they capture some natural light. The lighting was good enough to photograph artwork (without having to step outside into the blistering heat) and there were windows in every room. When it comes to the artificial lights, well, evidently the bathroom lights are excellent for makeup application, but I wasn’t really a makeup person so . . . they were just lights. I will admit, though, that the lights sometimes put me in a weird brain space; I don’t know if it was the bulbs, the brightness level, or the shape of the lights, but sometimes they made me uncomfortable.

  • Also, for the first week I couldn’t figure out how to turn them on. Whereas I was fumbling for a light switch, I should have been messing with that touchpad on the living room wall. That thing controlled the lights and temperature in the apartment, but don’t worry, there were still manual light switches in my bedroom and bathroom.

I loved having so much light around, but you can't tell me those bedroom lights don't look like the Evil Eye.

  • A tea kettle. I had never seen a tea kettle that wasn’t shaped like Mrs. Potts, so that dull, black, skinny, electric contraption sitting on the counter didn’t strike me as anything useful when I entered the dorm. Turns out, it was actually called an “electric water boiler” and lots of people used them in Doha, so once I figured out how to use it, hot diggity, it was on and poppin’! My roommate could make coffee, I could make tea, and my 30 cent ramen noodles tasted as fresh as artificially possible without the use of a microwave. Even better, the kettle we originally had was on its last leg, so when Housing brought us our replacement, that thing was 3x as effective. My roommate could hard-boil eggs in it, and I was guaranteed a burnt tongue with my tea every morning.

  • But here’s a heads-up: Our first kettle had mad mineral buildup at the bottom, presumably the remnants of hardwater from the tap water boiled inside of it over previous semesters. It was still safe to use, and the water was still safe to drink, so don’t freak out too bad if you peak inside the kettle and find some rock-hard white guck that won’t wash out.

  • There was a serious commitment to sustainability. The emphasis on green-living was a badass fun fact that I didn’t find out about until months after I had left. I won’t quote the entire website to you, but some highlights include eco-friendly appliances, a “green kiosk” where you can track you water, waste, & energy use, and two graceful & absurdly quiet wind turbines that power either residence hall. I read that construction of both buildings produced zero construction waste (all the trash got recycled into something else) and apparently they were the world's first U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) certified LEED Platinum student residence hall and that they housed the world's largest collection of platinum buildings in one location. I don’t know how outdated that information is, but it still contributes to one hell of a resume.

  • Housekeeping. Once a semester, the staff deep cleans every suite. They ask that your room not be an absolute nightmare when they swing by, and that you make things easier for them by removing items off shelves but, yes, someone else will clean your room for you. That said, though, keeping the place clean on your own is pretty easy; at the bare minimum, Lysol wipes, paper towels, and a broom & dustpan will get the job done.

  • Cats. There were cats all around Education City, which included the residence hall. Shamali had a notable kitten population, and at least two litters were born during my four months stay. For 128 days, I was greeted (or, more aptly, startled) by mama, papa, and baby felines hanging around the courtyard path that led to my apartment. Students liked to leave out food and water for them, but there were rules about bringing them into your living space. The rule is: Don’t do it.

These pictures weren't all taken the same day, but there was essentially a cat at every stopping point on the way to my apartment.

Alright, now that I’ve gone through the cool stuff at Shamali offered, let me go through some of the things I had to adjust to:

  • No boys allowed. Shamali was not only an all-female dorm, but it was an all-female dorm that didn’t allow male visitors. Sure, they could hang out in the common spaces during designated hours, but by no means were they getting past the front desk. This rule didn’t phase me much because there weren’t any boys I wanted in my living space. However, even though I wasn’t bothered by it, the gendered housing is something to think about. I’m almost certain Housing bases housing assignments on the sex listed on students’ passports, which didn’t affect me as a cisgender female, but may affect someone else (especially coming from VCU-Richmond, one of the most queer-friendly universities in the country, appearantly).

  • Thing is, even though the dorm was female only, there were still male maintenance workers. When they had to come into the apartments, though, they were always accompanied by a female supervisor. I’d also like to note that prior to the construction of Janoubi, Shamali was coed.

  • Security is serious. First, the only way to enter Education City is through one of the gates and you need a university ID to get pass the gates once evening hits. Then, if its after midnight, you need an ID to enter the residence hall. Next, you need to scan your ID on the entry gates inside the residence hall. After that, you have to scan your ID to enter your hall, and then you have to swipe it to enter your room. After that, there’s a passcode on your bedroom door.

  • I never used the bedroom door passcode because neither I nor my roommate could figure out what the code was. Turns out it was written on the back of our temporary housing access cards.

  • I heard there’s a way to link your Student ID to your housing access, however, our VCU-Richmond ID’s wouldn’t sync up and none of us exchange students got ID’s from VCUQ. Instead, we were given temporary housing access cards, but their access ability eventually stopped (the keyword was “temporary”, after all). To remedy the situation, we had to get our card access reinstated, an easy process as long as you catch up with the housing manager.

That is the third of five locked doors I had to go through to get into my apartment suite. The doors stay open for a little while, then lock automatically afterwards. And yes, those are more cats.

  • The apartment doors don’t stay open. None of the doors in our apartment stayed open, neither the front door nor the bedroom doors. At first it didn’t bother me, but then I noticed that keeping my bedroom door closed all the time made me feel mentally stunted; I had a hard time focusing, motivating, and staying awake. I tried to prop my door open with an array of objects, but nothing was heavy enough. Eventually, I figured out a way to rig it with two worn out hair ties, connecting the back handle of the bedroom door to the front handle of the bathroom.

  • Couldn’t find the dumpster. Whereas I was looking for an oversized, distinctively stinky blue dumpster behind the building, I should have been looking for the trash room down the hall. There were two doors to the trash room, one of which had a women symbol on it, like the kind you see on a restroom door. Now wondering if I was standing before a trash room, a restroom, or a prayer room, I reluctantly entered with my bag of garbage. What did I find on the inside? A small, grey, nonstinky room with four cutouts in the wall leading to plastic bins for glass, paper, metal, and landfill waste. What was behind the other door? It was just the room for housekeeping to access the trash . . . you can see it through the cutouts in the wall.

  • It was cold. You know the way Helheim was portrayed in God of War IV? That’s how cold it was in the apartment. We were fairly warned—they told us to bring some winter pajamas and a sweatshirt—but I didn’t think it would be that cold.

An undershirt, fleece pants, a fleece nightdress, and fuzzy socks, later to be joined by a big white comforter and a fleece blanket. Pink is far from my favorite color, but it didn’t matter, because I was freezing in the desert.

  • Couldn’t work the oven or stovetop. The oven was a regular oven, except it didn’t have any temperature knobs, the temperatures I could find were naturally in Celsius, there were a ton of preprogramed cooking options (similar to the options on a microwave), and you could choose which type of heat you wanted (beyond baking and broiling). It also doubled as a multi-watt microwave, and a microwave inside of an oven was something I had never seen before. I ended up only using the oven once to reheat some fish, and when it came to cooking ramen or making spaghetti, my plan was to use the stovetop. Thing is, it was an induction stove—which meant it needed induction cookware—and neither I nor my roommate found compatible cookware during the madhouse that was our first shopping trip. After that, we got compliant and just used the microwave and electric water boiler; it was a bit limiting, but it covered the minimum requirements of cooking.

  • What’s funny, though, is that the woman who checked me out of the apartment in May determined that our stovetop had been broken the whole time, so even if we had found the proper cookware, we wouldn’t have been able to use it. I thought the stove didn’t get hot because induction stoves are cool to the touch, but turns out it didn’t getting hot because it was buggy.

  • Absent dorm community. I mean, there were other students, and there were RA’s, but compared to my experience in Richmond, they felt nonexistent sometimes. Living on campus back home meant regular invitations to meet & greets, “surviving finals” recharge sessions, movie nights, discussion panels, and 30-minute Sugar Shack donut parties. Did I always go? Heck no, but I was still always reminded of them via email, posters, or face-to-face confrontations with RA’s. Shamali, in contrast, felt a bit empty; there was usually at least one poster in the elevator advertising some sort of dorm event, and I attended one with my roommate (we did our nails and ate pizza), but it still felt a lot quieter compared to what I was used to.

  • (Optional) curfew report. Parents can sign up to have their child’s entry to the dorm documented based on when the student swipes their housing card. My parents weren’t interested, and I understand why some parents would be, but it was an amenity that surprised me. I still wonder what my experience would have been like if I had had a curfew . . .

Letting my day play out organically, even when it lasted until 2am, was a great part of my experience abroad. Here we have a nighttime image of the Doha skyline, the first time I had seen it from such a distance.

  • Television. This was a bit of a doozy, which is why it gets multiple paragraphs:

Both bedrooms and the living room in my apartment suite came equipped with flat screen televisions. From what I could tell, they got basic cable: Some news networks, a sports channel, and whatever channel played two episodes of Magnificent Century every afternoon. All the channels were in Arabic save for two, and I naturally felt like watching TV in a language I understood, so my plan was to just watch my American shows on their respective apps. Well, all the channels I watched in the U.S. didn’t stream in Qatar, a major bummer because grown-ish had just started, The Walking Dead was coming back in February, and I had a feeling Grey’s Anatomy would be back in March. And what about my cartoons? My docuseries? My intermittent cravings for Dateline and Mysteries at the Museum and Desus & Mero? I don’t watch a lot of television, but the TV I did watch I wanted to watch!

Well, I had heard about this thing called a VPN and, to my understanding, it was a tech thing that would allow me to access the web server of another country in a legal, non-suspicious way. I figured it was non-suspicious because I was told that VCUQ offers a VPN (because they have to access stuff from VCU-Richmond in the U.S.) and that students could use the VPN as well. So, I visited the IT department, asked about the VPN, and the room went silent; everyone stared until eventually someone directly asked why I wanted a VPN. Perhaps noticing my cluelessness, he asked it in a very lighthearted way that countered the air of suspicion the room was emitting. I told him I just wanted to watch my American TV shows, and all at once everyone in the room exhaled & got back to work. Long story short, I didn’t get the VPN, and I’m not even entirely sure if VCUQ offered one, because after that moment I just wanted to skedaddle. Well, come to find out, VPNs can also be used to privately access censored sites; VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and I can’t help but wonder if IT worried I’d use VCUQ’s (supposed) VPN to hack the Saudi government or access blocked news & porn sites.

I probably watched this window more than I watched TV. If you squint hard enough, it’s basically the same thing. Keep squinting . . . you’ll see it . . .

So, what did I do for television? Well, I didn’t watch much of it. I still had Netflix; my first marathon of the year was BoJack Horseman followed by Jane the Virgin . . . I know, very different shows, but you know what they had in common? They both made me with I'd brought an HDMI cord to project my laptop screen on the television I otherwise was not using. Thing is, two months into my stay I realized I was way out of the loop, including when it came to world news. I wasn’t an avid news watcher back home in the U.S., but when I did seek news, the television was my starting point. I know it was 2018 and a girl on the cusp of that Millennial/Gen Z situation should be a pro at getting her news through alternative internet-based means.

Thing is, for me it wasn’t; at that point in my life, I needed something like The Daily Show or The Late Show to give me updates about what’s happening in the world (and why it’s important to know these things) in a way that was funny, intelligent, and unintimidating. Shows like that were simple ways to get introduced to very complicated (and often emotionally draining) topics. They were my springboards into diving deeper into politics, science, economics, and world news—they were a part of my educational routine—and constructing a new routine in a new environment proved to be more difficult than anticipated (even with the internet at my disposal).

So, with that part of my routine temporarily out of service, I fell into a dead zone when it came to what was going on in the world. Every bit of news I got came weeks after it happened . . . the Hawaiʻi Island eruption, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the arrest of two black men for sitting in a Starbucks—these things were happening in my own country and yet news of their occurrence continuously slipped pass me. On one hand, it was peaceful living in a news-less bubble for four months, but on the other hand, I’m not inclined to be in that bubble like that ever again.

So, what was the point of all that? The TV situation in Doha had more of an effect on me than I ever anticipated, and when something effects someone them that much it’s worth mentioning.


Whew, now that we’ve gotten through that, let’s talk about the technical stuff.

Housing assignments and getting a roommate:

Can't you imagine you and your roommate sitting on these benches, getting to know each other over karak and personal pizzas from Papa John's? I mean, it wasn't my dream, but it could be yours!

Any student coming from VCU-Richmond has probably had a roommate at one point if they lived on campus. The years I was at VCU overlapped with the year they tore down GRC—a freshman dorm from the 80s—and students were mad stressed about finding a place to live on-campus (now that we were suddenly missing room for 1500 students). The fact this construction project coincided with the then largest freshmen class added more flavor to the stress parade because freshmen had priority when it came to housing selection (and they could now stay in some upperclassmen dorms while GRC was under construction). What did that mean for upperclassmen like me? It meant a whole lot of stress and competition, and that’s not even taking into consideration things like location, cost, and roommates.

In that situation, once I moved out of GRC as a freshman and got placed in an on-campus apartment, I stayed in there for 2 ½ years, renewing my contract so I wouldn’t have to fight for a new residence hall. The only reason I left was to move to Doha for the exchange program, and boy was I worried about finding a decent housing assignment. After all, I was a student arriving in the Spring Semester (which meant most rooms would still be filled with students from Fall Semester), a student applying for housing late (I applied in December for a January assignment), a girl applying for housing in the female dorms (Education City is predominantly female, which meant the girls’ dorm would probably be full), and I thought I’d be listed as a first-year transfer student (and transfers sometimes get treated with freshman privileges, for better or worse).

I thought getting a housing assignment in Education City was going to be just as stressful as it had been in Richmond.

Well, let me tell you this: I was wrong.

Sure, the Housing portal was essentially closed because we were registering so late, but our liaison got them to reopen the process for us exchange students. So, we filled out our information and a week or so later we were handed a housing assignment; we didn’t get to pick our own possibly because each Hall already had designated assignments for first-years, upperclassmen, and graduate students. We all got placed in Suduq, the most affordable housing choice, but it lacked a kitchen, something we were used to having and would make living expenses cheaper in the long run (since cooking is cheaper than eating out).

One of the students had the bright idea to request a room with a kitchen, but to cut back on costs, she asked me to be her roommate. How did we switch rooms after already being assigned one? The other student initiated it by emailing Housing, then Housing emailed me, then I emailed Housing, and eventually we were paired together in Iman Hall, the upperclassmen dorm with a full kitchen. The only hiccup is that our housing access card still said “Suduq”, which sometimes confused people at the front desk (especially during checkout or when we had to get our cards reactivated).

Otherwise, though, being tardy to the registration party didn’t screw me up or stress me out nearly as much as I had anticipated. Paying for that assignment, though, now that was a process that lasted a full nine months.

Paying for the residence hall

This is one of the lights in the courtyard at Shamali. Do you see that little shadow near the light? That’s some manner of lizard. It reminded me of a salamander, which reminded me of Richmond . . . a pleasant surprise in the desert.

I’ll cut right to the chase: The housing in Education City was not only fancier than housing at VCU-Richmond, but it was also cheaper. Let me run down my housing history:

  • Freshman year: A 4-bedroom, 2-bath, 8-woman suite with no kitchen or living room was $3,133 (including the $250 housing deposit) my first semester.

  • Sophomore/Junior years: A 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment with a full kitchen and living room was about $4,312 each semester.

  • Senior year (in Doha): A 2-bedroom, 2 private bath apartment with a full kitchen and living room (and three televisions with basic cable) was $3,361.65 (including the $549.29 housing deposit that is returned to you once you check out).

Not including deposits, the upperclassman apartment in Shamali was about $1500 cheaper than my upperclassman apartment in Richmond even though it had more amenities (and it was about $70 cheaper than my crowded freshman suite).

That blew my mind.

Ah, but a disclaimer: From what I understand, you only get the deposit back as long as there are no damages to the dorm, no outstanding fees with Housing, and only once you check out and have absolutely no intentions of returning next semester. I ultimately didn’t get my deposit back because I had some unexpected outstanding fees. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me walk you through the process that led up to that moment . . .

Sometime in December, after signing up on the Housing portal, I had to wire transfer Housing my deposit. Housing gave me the wire transfer information, but it was still a bit confusing and undeniably nerve-wracking because if I did it wrong, Housing wouldn’t get their money and I wouldn’t get it back either; I’d just be out about $550 and my only option would be to try again and hope it goes right.

Well, I went to my bank, met with a banker, and together we did the wire transfer. Lo and behold, it worked! I mean my bank took one hell of a fee in addition to my transfer, but it worked!


After that, I had to upload a receipt of my wire transfer to the Housing portal in order for them to confirm everything and, well, end of Chapter I. I hopped on a plane and moved into Shamali no problem.

But now onto Chapter II: Paying off the rest of the amount.

I walked pass this scene every day on the way to and from my apartment . . . that's why you're seeing different versions of this same angle so many times.

At VCU-Richmond, I am accustomed to seeing my entire bill—which includes tuition, housing, and miscellaneous fees—printed clearly online. It changes slightly (or dramatically) every semester depending on the situation, but that’s the beauty of the internet: When things change you see the exact change, down to the cent. Even better, when you need to pay things you have the option of paying them online.

Well, the thing about Housing in Education City is that they charge you separate from your university, as in to say, your housing bill will never show up on whatever online portal your university gives you (probably because the residence halls house students from multiple universities).

Okay, no problem, I thought to myself, let me just find the online Housing portal, then I can pay them.

Well, I couldn’t find an online housing portal for payment or even to view my balance. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find any manner of online view/pay balance portal. I asked some other students about it and, come to find out, I had to pay in-person. Alright, no problem, so where’s the cashier’s office? I thought. Some said it was in “the trailers” and some said it was in the QF Building. Well, these mysterious trailers were where the cashier’s office used to be, but they had made the switch to the QF Building around the time we entered the country.

Okay, no problem, I can pay at the QF Building . . . but what do I pay them? After all, I couldn’t find any link, document, or line of text that clearly stated what the housing cost for Spring 2018 was. The cost for housing at VCU-Richmond changes every semester, sometimes only by 50-cent, but a change is a change and that’s what I was used to. Thing is, the cost of HBKU Student Housing doesn’t change; each assignment has a fixed rate, so the prices I saw on the website from 2017 were still the same prices for 2018.

This blew my mind . . . again.

I found out about the pricing after asking the front desk attendant, who explained it all to me and kindly wrote down each rate on a seashell shaped sticky note and I took that sticky note with me right to the QF Building! Granted, I got a little lost because the building is a cube and every side looks like an entrance . . . and it had some high tech gates I couldn’t figure out how to get pass . . . and I went to the wrong floor a few times . . . and the cashier’s office was awkwardly down a hallway in an unmarked room behind a café . . . but eventually I found it!

I asked the two men in the office if this was where I was supposed to pay. They said yes, I sat down, and one man asked how much I’m paying. I said, “This much,” and pointed to my sticky note confidently. He said okay, he took my debit card, he swiped it through the card reader, and—woohoo—it got rejected!

Wait . . .

Why did my card get rejected? I thought. The cashier told me that I probably need a higher maximum on my card and that I’d have to call my bank.


The deadline to pay Housing was in 3 days and I did not want to deal with whatever came with having a late payment. How was I supposed to call my bank in a whole other country? How much would my phone service charge me for an international call? What if the bank needed my signature on something that I wouldn’t be able to sign? What if they gave me a higher maximum but it took 3-5 business days for processing?

Shit, shit, shit . . .

Alright, chill out, I told myself. I went back to my apartment and called my bank around 7pm. I explained to them I needed a higher maximum because I was studying abroad and had to pay my housing bill and, just like that, I had a higher maximum.

Yeah, it was that easy.

Two days later I went back to the cashier’s office, I paid my bill, I got charged one hell of an “international purchase transaction fee” from my bank, and I spent the next three months living on campus, no problem.

Ah, but are you ready for Chapter III?

My budget Sony headphones and my MP3 player, laying angelically by the window. I was comfortable. I was learning to use the appliances, the shower gave me weekly moments of joy, and Housing payments had been figured out. I was free to chill out with Red Hot Chili Peppers and get lost in the Hamilton soundtrack. Little did I know my time dealing with Housing was far from over.

I left Doha in May, but suddenly in September I got an email from Housing about an outstanding payment. I couldn’t figure out what the hell they are talking about, especially because I shouldn’t have been able to leave the country with any outstanding payments (outstanding payments get in the way of receiving an exit permit and exit permits are how expatriates are able to return to the country once they leave for a while). They said the outstanding payment was 90 QAR, about $25, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what manner of Housing expense cost me $25? Is there a meal I didn’t pay for? Did they charge me for the stove that never worked? Is it because I my room wasn’t properly pre-cleaned prior to the deep cleaning? Seniors were given an extra (free) week to stay in the residence hall during graduation week, but had I been mistakenly charged for one of those days?

I searched again for an online portal, a billing statement, a wonky receipt, anything to indicate what I was being charged for, but I still didn't see anything.

I contacted QF Finance but didn’t get a response. Then, I contacted Housing, but all they could tell me was that I owed them money and if I didn’t pay it, it would screw up my changes to apply for housing next semester (meaning Spring 2019).

Well, having that I was an exchange student, had already graduated, and didn’t have any concrete plans to live in HBKU Student Housing ever again, the penalties for not paying technically didn’t apply to me.

Thing is, I don’t like leaving loose ends—especially when it comes to financial biz—so I wanted to pay it off. Plus, I was planning on applying to VCUQ’s graduate program, and if I were to get in, I’d be staying at Shamali again (and I didn’t want any 2-year-old payments screwing with that process).

Alright, whatever, I thought. I’d just bite the bullet and pay the money even though I didn’t know what I was being charged for. Thing is, how was I supposed to pay it? With no detectable online system, the only option I could figure out was a wire transfer, and I was not going transfer a measly $25 alongside the transaction fee my bank would charge.

Well, thankfully, I had a friend still in Doha who offered to not only figure out the problem for me, but also pay them the 90 QAR they wanted. I sent him my student number and copies of my original housing receipts and he took it to the cashier. What did he find out? That 90 QAR was an outstanding payment dated December 2017, before I even entered the country. There was no other information save for the date, but I took an educated guess and figured it had something to do with the initial housing deposit, that first wire transfer. I don’t know if my bank took an extra fee, if the Qatari bank took an extra fee, if the international conversion rate was wrong, if the base deposit itself had been short—nobody knew, so it seemed—but at least now I could close the case.

Whew, good story, right? I hope no one has to relive it.


So in conclusion?

Shamali at night could be a pretty sight indeed.

I loved not being woken up by the 5am Tuesday trash truck. I loved the comfort of knowing that I could spend time with men outside my dorm, but as soon as I entered my apartment—poof—they were gone. I loved not walking into the kitchen for midnight ice cream and hearing my roommates having sex with their boyfriends. I loved being able to clean my own bathroom. I loved seeing birds at my window, even though they were a little creepy at times. I loved the natural light, I loved having a space to myself, and I loved that shower. And even though the quiet and lack of other students was at times maddening, at other times it was really nice; I learned to love it so much that the coping mechanisms I had built up over the years for noise tolerance no longer worked when I came back to Richmond.

Like at VCU-Richmond, the windows didn’t open all the way. At first I was bummed, but when birds started hanging around my window, I was glad they couldn’t fit through the gap. One of my favorite movies is The Birds and I did not want to live the Doha version of that. If you're wondering, these little spies are common myna or Indian myna, a type of starling.

Granted, HBKU Student Housing had a low bar to cross when it came to my expectations of a livable residence; I didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t expecting much based on all my living experiences in Richmond. Thing is, even with the payment problems, frigid apartment, high tech appliances, and various cat families, the housing situation raised the bar in a hundred different ways, most of them unexpected.

In that apartment I was comfortable, truly comfortable, for the first time in a very long time. I was more comfortable than I had ever been at VCU-Richmond, or even at my parents’ house, and that comfort ultimately gave me the physical and mental space to adapt to a ton of change. Being in a new country, being at a new school, learning how to take care of a space that was truly my own (even if it was just a bedroom and a bathroom), figuring out what to do with my time, figuring out how to cook in a kitchen I could barely work, learning a new routine . . . Shamali gave me room to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. I know, that’s a lot of praise to give to a dorm, and I didn’t anticipate it to have such a profound effect on me, but it did . . . And I suppose that’s why this post ended up being my longest to date.


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