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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Math professor soaks up culture

One professor had the opportunity to influence his students at Texas A&M University at Qatar through education during his three-year tenure, but he did not expect they would influence him through perseverance and determination.
During summer 2004, David Manuel, a senior lecturer in the math department, spoke with Greg Kline, a fellow math lecturer, about his experiences at Qatar. Kline said he would not be returning to Qatar after the ensuing year. Manuel talked with his family, then jumped at the opportunity.
Being the only Math 151/152 professor, Manuel met most of the Qatar students, as it is a required course.
The incoming freshman class is usually about 100 students, and a math class consisted of 25-30 students, which allowed Manuel to know students and meet individual needs.
“One of the nice things there was I enjoyed being able to walk to class and say ‘Hi’ to everybody by name,” Manuel said. “People are friendly here, too, but you do not know everybody by name. You are lucky if you know two or three people walking [across campus].”
Manuel said that while he was most impressed with the students over there, they are not that different from the students here.
“They do not have Northgate to go drinking at on Thursday nights, but they have their own distractions and hardships,” Manuel said.
Manuel said two groups of students really stood out to him: students from war-torn and conflict driven countries and Qatari female students.
Manuel talked of two Lebanese students, Kareem and Danni, who especially stood out to him because of their extreme perseverance during hardships at home and with their families, all the while managing to maintain their studies.
Another student who had an impact on Manuel was from Iraq.
“There were times you could see the impact of what was going on [in Iraq] in him, but he is persistent and has done very well,” Manuel said. “I expect him to be an outstanding leader somewhere down the road.”
Initially, it was rough for the Manuel family; it would be six months before the entire family was adjusted to life in the Middle East, but they loved their three years abroad.
“The first night we were there, we were given a cell phone to call home with (that did not work), our Internet was not working properly, one of the kids broke a bed by jumping on it,” Manuel said. “We did not get off to the most auspicious of beginnings. But after a little time of adjustment, we all enjoyed it.”
The transition was easier after the first few days.
They were given allowances from the University to buy vehicles and it was there that they met the man who would introduce them to one of the things Manuel said they miss the most.
This man worked with Qatar petroleum and knew several other couples from around the globe living in the region, and Thursday nights were their hangout nights. These nights would typically include going to someone’s home, playing pool, volleyball and grilling.
“It was really good to meet different people from different industries and from all over the world too, not just from the University,” Manuel said. “That’s one of the things we miss a lot, being able to hang out with people from all different countries.”
In a culture where women were once not allowed to seek an education, this A&M campus actually has more women on campus than men.
“[I was impressed] especially by the Qatari female students because they have a lot of expectations at their homes,” Manuel said, “so being able to do that while at the same time being able to pursue their educations is a true testament to a lot of the Qatari female students and their cultural expectations on top of the university studies.”
A challenge for some of the students at TAMUQ is learning in a language that is not native to them. The curriculum is taught in English, and at the same rate as courses in College Station.
Manuel said the idea of the University is to give the students an education that is comparable to the one they would have gotten had they studied here for four or five years.
“I have become a lot stronger advocate of tolerance, of other peoples, of other ideas and things like that,” Manuel said. “Living in a Muslim country, you are around all kinds of different people, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. You learn that these are people too, desiring a lot of the same things I desire.”
The Manuels said they never experienced anti-American or anti-Christian sentiment while living in Qatar, and that the Qataris are very open people.
“There are extremes in all peoples and it’s a shame that a lot of times that is what gets focused on in the media. It tends to be a lot better there than the perception you get watching the news,” Manuel said. “Not everyone there is walking around with bombs strapped to their chests ready to go off any minute.”
The Manuels’ ultimate decision to leave Qatar and come back to the U.S. was made for the sake of their children, not because they disliked life there. They wanted their children to grow up in the same high schools and they chose the U.S. school system.
“They have semester programs so I encourage my students to check those out, to get to know and learn another culture too,” said Manuel. “I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would love to go back over there or somewhere overseas sometime in the future.”

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