Qatar Day: Crossing cultures for the young and old

Annual Qatar Day highlights visit from Qatari students, prepares Richmond students for Qatar visit

Share this story

At Virginia Commonwealth University, you’re never too young to start learning about other cultures.

That’s why Marilyn Alston and other preschool teachers from the VCU Child Development Center brought some of their older “students” — aged 3  to 5 — to the fifth annual Qatar Day held Sept. 30 on the Commons Plaza. Alston said an important part of the center’s program is multicultural studies.

“Since they have this event, we bring them over and we may let them taste something,” Alston said. “They get their names done in Arabic calligraphy. The idea is to expose them to cultures so they know there’s more than one group of people in the world.”

The kids are always excited to see the camel and hear the music, Alston said. Although one child, Sophia, found the music too loud, she did like the camel.

“I like the hump and the babies come from the belly,” said Sophia, sharing what she had learned. She also tried some of the food — chips, which she liked. “I like fruits and veggies, like this carrot.”

Her classmate Dexter noted that “the camel eats stuff,” while another child said, “I like about seeing the camel. It has the little hump and a big hump.”

They’re not the only ones thrilled to see Tully the camel back. Organizers heard a number of complaints last year when Tully could not attend because she was sick.

As has become the custom, this year’s event included — in addition to Tully — henna tattoos, authentic Middle Eastern food, Arabic calligraphy, music, a fashion show — this year featuring the work of Hisham Dawoud, a 2014 fashion graduate of the VCU School of the Arts in Qatar — and the opportunity to dress in traditional Qatari garb for a professional photo.

The annual event strengthens the relationship between the Qatar and Richmond campuses while providing each campus’ students and faculty with an opportunity to learn more about each other. Each year,  VCU Qatar students and faculty members travel to Richmond from their campus in Doha, Qatar, for a week of cultural activities, including Qatar Day, tours of the campus, city and Washington, D.C. Plus, organizers try to build in creative studio time in partnership with VCU School of the Arts. This year, the visiting students worked in the letterpress studio and then participated in a class at the MoB studio space — a collaborative studio shared by students and faculty from the fashion, graphic and interior design departments.

Since the focus of the trip is student leadership training, the Qatari visitors also attend meetings with the VCU Student Government Association, Emerging Leaders, VCU Globe, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the School of the Arts. Similar challenges facing student governments on both campuses include transportation/parking issues, adequate lounge/recreation space, student engagement, inconveniences/changes caused by construction on campus, balance and wellness issues and building programs so that students and faculty collaborate across disciplines.

This year, the cultural exchange is working both ways, as seven Monroe Park students will travel to Qatar on Oct. 11-18.

Not all of the students are from VCU School of the Arts. For instance, Holly Whitt is a full-time graduate student in the School of Education’s Teaching and Learning Department who is getting her master’s degree in teaching with a focus on elementary school.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” she said. “I’m doing a practicum this semester with the School of Education, and I’m with a third grade classroom, so I’m really excited to be able to come back and share my experience with my students. It’s going to impact me as a teacher and an educator for the rest of my life. So I think that having that experience is going to be the best.”

While in Qatar, the Richmond students will meet with student governments from the other six schools in Doha’s Education City – which is the home of VCU Qatar and branch campuses of other American universities, among other educational initiatives – to discuss principles of leadership and how their generation of future leaders will lead in a global society.

“I hope this is something that continues,” Whitt said. “I think one of the things that we want to focus on is not just going over there and having these experiences and building these connections, but really being able to bring back our experiences, what we learned and to bring back those leadership skills to the university. It is going to be important to get our message out.”

VCU School of the Arts’ Qatar Day co-sponsors are the Division of Student Affairs, University Student Commons & Activities and the Global Education Office. This year, VCU Globe is developing an alternative spring break program for Globe students who would like to visit Doha. The SGA is instrumental in developing the event and continues to support it financially and through volunteer participation.

Follow along with the VCUQatar Leadership Exchange at


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter.