On the Hilltop, it might be unusual to see the flags of Macedonia, Iraq, El Salvador and Kenya flying side by side. But on Georgetown’s campus in Qatar, these flags hang together – the latest additions to the Hall of Nations, representing the home countries of the student body and the international diversity of the school.
Administrators at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar reported growth this year not only in the size of this year’s applicant pool, but also in the diversity of its prospective students.
While Charles Nailen, director of public affairs at SFS-Q, said that 40 percent of the student population is Qatari, the rest is made up of students from 27 other countries, representing Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe. Four of these countries were added with this year’s new students.
“If you think Georgetown in Washington is diverse, you haven’t seen anything,” Nailen said.
In April 2007, officials at SFS-Q began to discuss strategies to increase the diversity of the student body. The aim of these talks was to demographically expand the application pool to include more students from Qatar and the other Gulf States, which at that time made up less than 50 percent of the student body. Administrators said that the local education system in Qatar was not yielding enough qualified applicants, and that enrolling more local students would require working to improve education in area.
“The solution lies in the reform of K-12 education in Qatar, which can and should produce more qualified high school graduates,” SFS-Q Dean James Reardon-Anderson told THE HOYA in April.
According to Nailen, as the total number of applications increases – by 6 percent this year alone – the diversity of the applicant pool is steadily climbing as well.
Despite the school’s reported increase in diversity, Liz Kepferle, director of admissions at SFS-Q, said that the school’s short history makes growth and expansion difficult to quantify and measure.
“We are still too young to be able to see real trends in the different nationalities applying to SFS-Qatar, though with each incoming class, we have steadily added representative flags in our Hall of Nations,” she said. “We have been working to recruit the very best candidates from across the Middle East and North Africa, and we’re seeing the results of those recruitment efforts with students arriving from Kenya and Jordan.”
“One of the things we learned . is that one’s nationality and one’s passport don’t necessarily match up,” Nailen said. “For example, we have Egyptian students or Bangladeshi students that were born and raised in Doha, but are citizens of Egypt and Bangladesh and not Qatar. . We have students that are from Jordan, but are really Palestinian.”
On Georgetown’s main campus, international students comprise 12 percent of the student population. At SFS-Q, the number of international students from outside the Persian state is 60 percent. Despite a total enrollment of only 145 students, the Doha school draws from over 27 nations among its student body, ranging from El Salvador to Kenya, from Macedonia to the United States. Four more nations were added to this list from the Class of 2012 alone.
When SFS-Q opened in 2005, the first class was comprised of only 25 students. While the application rate and class sizes incrementally increase, administrators have said that class enrollment will eventually be capped at 50, for a total student body of 200.
Even beyond national diversity, Kepferle points out significant diversity in religious and socioeconomic spheres. Women also outnumber men in both the applicant pool and the student body, according to Kepferle. Sixty percent of students at the school are female, compared to 55 percent on the main campus, a ratio that has remained consistent since the school’s first year.
Kepferle said the unique composition of the study body allows for a unique brand of on-campus dialogue.
“Students have the opportunity to practice real diplomacy every day,” Kepferle said. “From the classroom to the student lounge, our students have different views and certainly take the opportunity to discuss conflicts, but that is the best way to build a global understanding.”
Students in Doha said that living and learning in such a diverse community has been beneficial in their academic lives.
“We are proud of the diverse backgrounds of our students … and we believe that due to this diversity we end up learning a lot from each other, and become more aware of the global current events that affect our friends,” Umair Dogar (SFS ’12), who is from Pakistan, said. “It is more interesting for us to learn of these issues from our fellow classmates than it is to read out of a textbook.”
Other students are quick to point out that living in such a community can be disorienting for a time.
“In some ways, it is stranger than high school because a lot of people don’t have the same cultural background that you do,” said Kim Fernandes (SFS ’11), a student in Qatar who went to a high school in India.
“But in some ways, it’s just more exciting to learn about different places,” she added. “And it’s really astonishing how fast you become good friends with these people . and how fast you forget most times where they’re from.”