Editor’s note: Today’s profile is of Dr. Molly McHarg, who was kind enough to share some of her experience working in Qatar.
The Writing Center (TWC) at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ) began rather organically. VCUQ opened in 1998, and, to the best of my understanding, there was an English faculty member who recognized the need for additional English language writing support early on. She, along with other volunteer English faculty members, provided supplemental writing instruction to students on a one-on-one basis. Fast forward to 2004, and the first Writing Center Instructor position was created. This instructor is still with TWC. Since 2004, there have also been a series of adjunct instructors hired to work part-time in TWC. Finally, in 2013, a second full-time position was created in TWC, a position which I currently hold.
My husband and I moved to Qatar in August 2005 — almost 10 years ago — when Georgetown University was just opening its branch campus in Doha. We were newlyweds and eager to embark on an exciting adventure abroad, so we jumped at the opportunity with plans to stay “for one year, maximum two”, at which point we planned to return to the U.S. Ten years later we are still here and loving it! We now have three children and have added two advanced degrees to our resumes. Qatar is an incredible place with many opportunities, both for work and personal development. I think it is one of the best places in the world to raise children; there are also endless opportunities to travel, and research and other professional development opportunities abound.
In addition to professional tutors, TWC employs Peer Tutors. The Peer Tutor program began in 2010. The umbrella organization under which VCUQ is housed, Qatar Foundation, had a work study program that allowed us to hire and train undergraduate students as peer tutors in TWC. Unfortunately, we were just notified recently that Qatar Foundation funding for work-study students will be permanently terminated at the end of April, so we are actively seeking ways we can continue to fund our peer tutor program.
The three professional tutors (including myself) have our own very small offices in different parts of the building. My office actually used to be the janitorial closet 🙂 The peer tutors all work at the back of the library circulation desk on the complete opposite end of the building.
VCUQ was originally a female-only institution, and I believe it became coeducational in or around 2009. The vast majority of students are still Qatari female, and almost all the students at VCUQatar are multilingual. All of our peer tutors are multilingual (see link above for more information about the peer tutors). The peer tutors have been absolutely fantastic and really contributed to the growth and prestige of TWC. I hope we can secure more funding to continue their wonderful work and development of TWC.
Today, VCUQ is just one of many branch campuses of American universities in Qatar. The contractual arrangement between these universities and Qatar Foundation essentially demands that curriculum, services, and student support replicate that which is offered on the home campus. That being said, our center is very different in many ways (e.g., almost all of our students and all of our tutors are multilingual).
I never expected to be here for so long, but I have no regrets and could never have imagined a better life. There are certainly frustrations to living in Qatar — as there would be anywhere — but, in my opinion, I think the positive benefits and outlook far outweigh the negatives. One thing I just love about Qatar is the country’s overall goals, aims, and attempts to develop. This is a relatively new and developing country, and there are inevitably challenges to overcome and unexpected issues that arise. Nonetheless, you can always see an effort to move things forward and improve at all levels.
You asked about my first thoughts when I arrived, and it inspired me to re-visit a long-lost blog that I used to maintain. The months in 2005 provide a brief snapshot of my first impressions in the initial months. Honestly, I don’t think there is any adequate way to capture life in Doha in words; people just need to experience it! And, hopefully with the 2022 World Cup being hosted here, many more people in the world will have that opportunity.
For me, the academic and personal journey of moving and staying here for so long have gone hand-in-hand, as my professional and personal friendships and networks often overlap. I understand that it is often difficult for people to understand or fully appreciate what it means to live in the Middle East. In my opinion, having people visit and see it all for themselves is the best. I warmly welcome anyone who would like to come for a visit and will gladly give tours!
Have a question or comment for Molly? Comment below!