Friday, January 15, 2010

Starting a new year - 2010

It's been a while since I blogged. The main reason is that November, December, and now January have been very busy. I spent Thanksgiving in the U.S.A., returned to Qatar for a couple of weeks, and then went back to Ohio for the Christmas holiday. I have a pause in my current activities to get back to offering comment regarding my pursuit of understanding leadership, a journey that has been underway a very long time.

We're presently hosting two delegations of graduate students from the University of Maryland and the University of San Diego. There are 27 in all, including the professors guiding each group, Dr. Susan Komives and Dr. Cheryl Getz. The idea of hosting these groups arose from correspondence over a year ago when each group inquired if they could come separately. Because they both wanted the same time bracket, we recommended they come at the same time and then created a study tour and Young Professionals Institute calendar to involve them with a variety of staff from the Education City universities, Qatar University, and CNA-Q. This group has been in Qatar for a week already. Tonight they are out in the desert on an overnight safari. The feedback has been unbelievable thus far and we anticipate even better things to come.

The Young Professionals Institute model is a first of a kind, as far as we know. The concept is based on service learning principles of deep engagement and reciprocity. What I've experienced over the last two years at Qatar Foundation is a parade of delegations from all over the world who generally come simply to observe, a helpful activity but shallow by comparison to what we are doing with Maryland and San Diego. The study tour design started with broad exposure for our guests, including trips to historic sites, arts and cultural events and centers, and engagement with Qatari and other Arabi students and citizens. This first part of the visit has been to prepare the 27 visitors to understand and respect Qatar so that they could eventually engage fully with us as informed and aware educators.

The Young Professionals Institute starts next Monday, 18 January, and pairs the 27 visitprs with 38 of our staff throughout our higher education programs, all of whom are involved in or do related work to student affairs. The Young Professionals Institute centers on six topics that we identified as critical to our future. We frequently struggle to have the time, the expertise, and the organizational wherewithall to deal with some of the issues that are not immediate to our daily work. The six topics include looking at the cultural differences and dynamics of the Arabian Gulf related to the role of families, independent living, serving commuting students, leadership development, student development, and the role of student affairs in a context as different as ours.

I will update my blog later next week after the Young Professionals Institute but the first half of our experience with the visitors is already paying off in wonderful ways. I don't think I've been asked as many questions as I've had this last week and the questions reflect a depth of curiosity and an eagerness to understand that is deeply gratifying. What we wanted to do was demonstrate to these 27 visitors that Qatar is an extraordinary place with an amazing vision that we seek to serve. We wanted these young professionals, who will over the next year or two scatter throughout North America and beyond and will become ambassadors for Qatar. They will be able to inform colleagues, students, and community members that the many stereotypes held of the Middle East have little basis and are for the most part very uninformed.