Walt Schubert, Ph.D., expected to experience culture shock when he accepted a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in Qatar. But on the first day of classes at Qatar University, his students were the ones suffering from culture shock.
Introducing himself on the first day of class, Schubert, a professor of finance at La Salle, nearly started a mini-revolt among his new students when he said that the textbook would be used just as a reference for the course. For students accustomed to courses in which the textbook was the material, the idea of a professor teaching from his own expertise was disconcerting at best.
“I told them that I was going to be teaching them essential things to be competitive globally,” he said. “They weren’t used to learning how to think about things—they were used to reading a textbook and trying to memorize it.”
Before long, however, the 97 students in his two classes on markets and investments were fully on board with his approach.
“They struggled with my teaching style at first, but I never had students come so far in such a short time,” Schubert said. “My experience was just wonderfully gratifying.”
Schubert and his wife, Suzann, spent nearly five months in Qatar, a country on the Arabian Peninsula that is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Most of Qatar’s 900,000 residents live in the capital, Doha, a city that is growing and modernizing rapidly thanks to wealth earned from the country’s vast natural gas resources.
Schubert’s first impression of Doha, however, was not of the glimmering new buildings rising out of dunes on the shores of the Arabian Gulf—it was the heat.
“That’s your introduction to Qatar—125-degree heat,” he said.
Once the initial shock of the weather had passed, though, Schubert said the transition was smooth. He and Suzann lived in a complex that housed visiting faculty members at Qatar University and their families, mostly Westerners. The families bonded over the shared experience of living in a culture so different from their own.
“From day one, the camaraderie among all the families was fantastic,” Schubert said. “We all took care of each other.”
At Qatar University, which has separate campuses for men and women, Schubert’s students were all women, mostly from Qatar, with a small percentage from other Middle Eastern countries. Schubert caught on quickly to local customs regarding interactions between men and women in the Islamic country.
“I could meet my students one-on-one in the lounge or even in my office, if they were comfortable in that setting,” he said, “but if we ran into each other in the mall, we could not interact.”
While Schubert was busy with teaching and pursuing his ongoing research into sovereign wealth funds, Suzann, a nurse who also holds an MBA in finance, made friends through the American Women’s Association, a nonprofit that provides social, cultural, and volunteer opportunities, and was invited into a Muslim women’s group to share her perspectives as a Christian in an predominantly Muslim country.
They also benefited from the Qatari government’s sponsorship of high-profile athletic and cultural events to lure in tourists and cater to its large population of international expatriates. Tickets were offered at rock-bottom prices for professional tennis tournaments featuring Venus and Serena Williams and Roger Federer, a Doha edition of the New York-based Tribeca Film Festival, and events put on by the Qatar chapter of the Brookings Institute, a public policy think-tank.
While Fulbright fellows are only permitted to spend 15 days outside of the countries to which they are assigned, Schubert was able to explore the Middle East on trips to Dubai, Oman, and Egypt
The chance to see that part of the world was part of what enticed Schubert to apply for the Fulbright Fellowship in Qatar.
“There were also fellowship options in Vietnam and Cambodia, but I had made several trips to Southeast Asia, and I had never been to the Middle East,” he said.
It was not just the location that appealed to Schubert, however.
“I have always wanted to do some time abroad,” he said. “I had spent some time away from Philadelphia during sabbaticals and leaves in the past, but that’s different from living and having a job somewhere else. I always wondered whether I could be comfortable living and working outside of the country, and this experience proved that I could.”
While he saw a new region of the world and made progress in his research during his fellowship, Schubert said his time in the classroom was “the jewel of the experience.” At La Salle, he mostly teaches upper-level MBA courses, so he relished the chance to introduce a group of students to the subject matter and to a new way of learning.
“In a paternalistic sense, I fell in love with these students,” he said. “It was wonderful to watch them learn and grow in my classroom.”
–Marian Butcher, M.A. ’08