Whether they came to see the camel or to meet fellow students from 7,000 miles away, VCU students flocked in hundreds to the Commons Plaza on Tuesday for VCUQatar Day.
Hummus, couscous and baklava, henna tattoos, perfume, calligraphy and tables with cushioned seating provided a welcoming environment for students from VCU and its sister campus in Qatar to meet.
The event was sponsored by SGA in conjunction with Green Unity, the Muslim Student Association and Intercultural Festival.
“The whole purpose (is) to welcome our VCUQ family – our extended international family – and give students the chance to meet,” said Amanda Schutt, a graduate student studying environmental studies and co-creator of VCUQatar Day.
Adele McClure, SGA student body president and co-creator of the event, said VCUQatar Day reflects VCU’s commitment to diversity and cultural awareness.
“People come here every year from Qatar and nobody knows,” said McClure. “People don’t even know we have an international campus,” McClure said.
The mixture of two cultures led to some surprises.
“It is very interesting how a lot of people have come here and they want to know more about our country,” said Roula Elshazmi, a junior studying graphic design at VCUQatar.
Visitors from VCUQ found Richmond students very friendly and welcoming. “It is very much the opposite of what they tell us over there,” said Elshazmi.
Elshazmi was also surprised by the way that VCU students waited until she invited them to shake her hand before reaching out.
“It is really nice how people wanted to honor our gestures,” she said.
Shazia Aziz, a senior in VCU’s art history department, called the event a great opportunity for students to be exposed to Arab culture.
“I think its amazing that there (are) Qatar students to actually come here and talk to us,” she said. “It feels like we’re all together. We’re coming together.”
Last October, Schutt and McClure visited VCU’s Qatar campus to conduct leadership and sustainability training as part of VCU’s annual campus exchange.
On the first day of their visit they were treated to a day of camel-riding and “dune bashing” in SUVs. They also visited a desert camp made up of several small tents where they enjoyed Arabic coffee, played soccer, danced and slid down the dunes.
Schutt and McClure decided to recreate their experience for the wider VCU student body.
Re-creating the desert camp environment, the event included henna tattoos, calligraphy, perfume, music and – last but not least – a camel from Hanover County named Gobi.
Representatives from the Qatar Embassy, VCU’s Study Abroad office and faculty from VCUQatar were also available to speak with students.
“We live in this world that’s getting smaller and smaller and I think knowledge does brings good relationships with people,” said a representative from the embassy.
Hissa Algarni, Director of Student Activities at VCUQatar, said that they feel strongly like members of the VCU community.
“We didn’t feel that we are strangers or here from another world,” she said. “We just felt we’ve been away in another building and we’ve just met.”
“I think this is really valuable. We’ve been sending students here and bringing students from here to Qatar and I think both sides learn a lot from each others cultures.”
SGA has already begun setting aside money to host the event again next year.