The Grand Canyon is one of those places you have to see to believe. You can read books and look at pictures, but there’s no substitute for standing on the edge of a ridge and beholding the Colorado River more than a mile below your feet. The same goes for the School of Foreign Service’s campus in Qatar. Until you meet the students and tour the facilities, it’s difficult to appreciate the success of the project’s first three years.

Over spring break, we traveled to SFS-Q with Professor Edelstein’s Causes of War class. After spending a few days on the Doha campus, we were most struck by the high caliber of the students. They are some of the region’s brightest minds who otherwise may not have had access to an elite university education due to personal obligations to their faith and their families, which would keep them from studying abroad. And despite their geographic distance from the Hilltop, they have as much school pride as Joe and Jane Hoya. During the March Madness run last year, many of them met in a conference room at 4 a.m. to watch the game via satellite. This connection to main campus is vital because it allows Georgetown to play a major role in the formation of future leaders in the broader Middle East.

Georgetown professors are at the forefront of this process. All of the students we met in Doha said that, hands down, the best part of SFS-Q is the strong relationships they have forged with their professors. Having close relationships to Georgetown professors elevates the quality of education and also helps overcome some of the cultural rifts that have grown between the Middle East and the West in recent years. Actually knowing someone on “the other side” of an issue dispels uninformed stereotypes and draws people toward the middle ground.

While our time in Doha wowed us, SFS-Q has only scratched the surface of its true potential. The following are areas in which we feel can and will see improvement over the coming years:

A more full-fledged student activities program is one of these areas that needs improvement. For starters, SFS-Q’s small size and short history have allowed for only the most basic student activities framework to emerge. The current list of campus organizations comes to a grand total of 11 groups. Campus leaders have met two major obstacles in their struggle to expand available programming. The first is the fact that many students live at home, making it difficult for them to participate in campus life. The larger challenge, however, is funding. Roughly $40,000 is allocated to student activities at SFS-Q, but students have to battle with the Qatar Foundation to gain access to this funding. This is often a slow and painful process. But as student government continues its march forward, a more efficient budget process involving student input will likely take form.

Another area that needs to be strengthened is the selection of courses. Students from the class of 2009, the oldest at SFS-Q, have begun to complain about their campus’ limited course offerings; many are now bored with their class options. While it is unrealistic to expect Doha to provide the schedule diversity enjoyed here in D.C., the future does look brighter. More faculty are likely to teach in Doha as they are increasingly exposed to what it has to offer. In addition, the “Global Classroom” technology, which has enabled the intimate classroom setting in Causes of War, will also open more main campus courses to our SFS-Q counterparts. In Causes of War, six Hilltop and six Doha students share in classroom discussions in real time.

The divide between campuses is the final and most glaring flaw that Georgetown must confront in order for SFS-Q to realize its full potential. Closer relations are where the university’s investment will pay real dividends; personal interactions across campuses are the asset that future Hoyas will come to value most. To expand the benefits of this type of exchange, Georgetown must continue to invest in co-local seminar classes like Causes of War, using telepresence technology (the HD version of teleconferencing) to bring students literally eye-to-eye. Outside the classroom, service-learning trips offer another great opportunity for further interaction. For example, a group of SFS-Q students recently spent their spring break in Jordan building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Georgetown should allow D.C. students to apply for these SFS-Q service trips in the Middle East. Likewise, Doha students should be able to apply for main-campus service trips. Finally, whenever trips aren’t possible, student leaders should take advantage of the new video-conferencing technology and make efforts to plan cross-campus events. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be working with administrators on both ends to implement these recommendations and facilitate future interactions.

The unrestrained marketplace of ideas, which is protected by the safety and freedom afforded by academia, plays a vital role in this project. Yet, it can scarcely function effectively without a wide breadth of opinion. This is where students on both campuses must contribute. By gaining trust in each other, each group will be more willing to move towards a mutually acceptable common ground. The role Georgetown is playing here is the beginning of what should be a larger effort in international relations, one that works to debunk the myths and stereotypes created by dehumanizing slander. Where SFS-Q helped us most was to realize just how similar we all are. And when this idea spreads through our respective societies, maybe the conversations will change; maybe the hatred will ease, and maybe the violence will finally be abated.

Zack Bluestone is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and Matthew Smallcomb is a junior in the College.

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