VCU Qatar Day celebrates cross-cultural education

Falconry is one of Qatar's most ancient traditions.
Falconry is one of Qatar’s most ancient traditions. Photo by Casey Cole

The seventh annual VCUQatar Day was held on Nov. 1 at the Commons Plaza in hopes to inform VCU students in Richmond about the campus in Qatar and promote connections between the two groups.

“We used to come, I used to bring students here, and they would say ‘Qatar? We have a campus there?’ Nobody knew about it. Now, we actually get a sense of being welcomed,” said VCU said Valerie Jeremijenko, Qatar Assistant Dean of Student Affairs.  

This year, the entire Commons Plaza was filled with visitors for the duration of the VCUQatar Day, with many spilling outside the confines of the tent housed the event.

Photo by Casey Cole.

The students who ran VCUQatar Day were participants in the joint week-long exchange programs. In the first, students from the Richmond campuses traveled to the VCUQatar campus. In the second, VCUQatar students visited Richmond. The latter program lasted from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.

Some VCUQatar students feel Richmond students are not aware of the campus in Qatar.

“I don’t think many people know about the campus that’s over there,” said graphic design student Steffi Biaganza. “We want people to know more about us and the culture.”

Qatari culture is taken “really seriously” at VCUQatar, Biaganza said. Most student work is rooted in the culture of the region.

VCU’s Qatar campus opened in Doha’s Education City, a center that now houses six U.S. universities, in 1998. VCUQatar offers a master’s program in design and five undergraduate art programs: art history, fashion design, graphic design, interior design and painting & printmaking.

Elements of Qatari culture were presented at VCUQatar Day, including henna, Qatari food and fashion, with a fashion show featuring works from VCUQatar Fashion Design students. Also offered was Arabic calligraphy, which VCUQatar Art History student Hind Al Jaidah considers to be a defining factor of Arabic culture.  

“I can tell that they’re very into our culture, they want to know about where I’m from and where’s Qatar and how is it like there. That was really nice,” Al Jaidah said.

Summer Bateiha worked in the U.S. before becoming a math faculty member at VCUQatar. She accompanied the VCUQatar students on their trip to Richmond and feels that both groups were excited to connect with one-another.

“I felt very welcomed. I feel the students feel very welcomed,” Bateiha said.

VCUQatar Day is facilitated from their prospective campuses by Jeremijenko and VCU LEAD Director Jimmie Gahagan. The event, however, is oriented towards the student governments from both campuses.

“The events that we’re trying to host really showcase the collaboration between campuses, help to to make people aware of the hospitality that surrounds islamic culture, especially the Qatari culture,” Gahagan said.

Many students, like Al Jaidah and Biaganza, had not previously traveled to the U.S. and wanted to experience the country for themselves.

“People are more accepting over here,” Biaganza said.

She also noted the diversity found on the Richmond campus.

Biaganza said many VCUQatar students have found inspiration for their art upon travelling to Richmond and hopes this most recent group of students will have the same experience.

“It could be really anything. It could be the graffiti on the walls or looking at someone else’s work and getting inspired,” Biaganza said.

Other programs to connect the Qatar and Richmond campuses have also arisen, including longer exchange programs for art students and collaborations involving VCU GLOBE.

“I think there’s always room for growth,” Gahagan said. “We can often stay in our own worlds and forget that we have a campus across the world.”

Jeremijenko said the cultural environment of VCUQatar day are what initially attracts visitors, but the end result is much deeper.

“They learn about each-other, barriers are broken down, friendships are made and it has a long-lasting impact,” Jeremijenko said.

Georgia Geen, Staff Writer

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