May 5, 2010

There’s a Place Like Home

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Yes, this was Cornell, but really? The location, weather, student life and culture could not be further from our own, back in Ithaca. Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) enrolls about 300 students total, creating a warm supportive environment for the close-knit student body.

After coming from the freezing Ithaca weather, we were more than happy to settle into the warm, non-humid Qatari sunshine. Our drivers picked us up from the Movenpick each morning at 8 a.m. Qatar time — a.k.a. about 20 minutes late — and brought us to the WCMC-Q campus. Locals drive their Landcrusiers at top speeds through the crowded streets and roundabouts, which were originally designed to traffic a population about a tenth of the size it is today.

By the time we reached the university safely, we were already late for our jam-packed schedule of meetings. This trip was not all about fun and games; we had a goal to accomplish. We were here to present our proposal for a semester exchange program. Our mission: to formalize a spring semester exchange and have premed students switch Cornell lives for five months.

Half the time we were dressed in suits and oxfords and the other half of the time, we blended in with T-shirts and knee-covering bottoms. Jon, Frances, Allen and I were pleasantly surprised when we were invited out to Afghani food on the first night. These students, who had to finish their undergraduate premedical program in only four semesters, found time in their busy schedules to take us to the saok (Qatari market) and treat us to traditional foods. Schwarma, lamb kabab, tabule, dates and Chai Karak tea are only a few of the special foods we were introduced to.

Everything I came across impressed me — the fully equipped laboratories, the turf fields, the bright blue skies, the brilliant faculty and, of course, the brilliant students and the welcoming atmosphere. Cornell Ithaca has a lot to learn from this haven of learning and they have much to learn from us as well. Hence, the reason for our trip, to offer the other side a little of what they cannot provide for their own students by uniting the greater Cornell and bridging the gap.

Ithaca has over 12,000 students, seven schools, plantations, gorges and the like. WCMC-Q is built upon what once was a desert, but now offers a superb academic experience for those tough enough to take on the challenge. Dune-bashing is their alternative to gorge jumping, except you have seat belts.

We ca­reen­ed through the dry sand with deflated tires all while being driven by a student who was trying to convince us that he was deaf. Finally he announced after the drive, “Why on earth would I need a BlackBerry if I was deaf?” An interesting sense of hu­mor, I’d say.

One thing that the Qa­taris do not joke about is their camel racing. A camel can be sold for up to US$ 2 million. Dr. John Robertshaw (former WCMC-Q Asso­ciate Dean) and his wife Margaret took us to see the races. It is quite a sight. It’s too dangerous to use actual jockeys, so a robot is placed on the camel’s hump and is controlled by the owner who is driving alongside in his landcruiser.

I never realized how much the desert has to offer from exotic animals to oil and sacred customs. Qatar has become a melting pot for many Middle Eastern cultures. Some would say it is westernized as most people dress in modern clothing, but the culture, family centralization and nationalistic pride are all still very much present in everyday life. Students joke with each other arguing if Pakistanis or Lebanese girls are prettier. There is still a strict distinction as to where your parents came from but the beauty of having them all go to school together is to learn that they are not that different.

This is exactly our point; THEY ARE NOT THAT DIFFERENT. Having WCMC-Q students in our classrooms will make CU-Ithaca students realize that there are similarities we all share. We should not fear the unknown. We should embrace it. Cornell students are the leaders of tomorrow and, in order to lead efficiently, we must have a better understanding of the international world and increasing globalization. RLD

Original Author: Isabel Spyrou