Qatar is a small country on the East coast of the Arabian peninsula. It has the world's fastest growing economy and among the highest GDPs per capita thanks to an intelligent exploitation of its natural resources, initially oil and now mainly natural gas. Although its proven hydrocarbon reserves are expected to last well over a century, the Qatari leadership has made the diversification of its economy and the creation of a knowledge-based society two of its primary goals. Visible signs of this strategy have included substantial investments in research and education. Its government committed 2.8% of Qatar's GDP to research, in line with the top industrialized countries.
Under the leadership of the current Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar has been integrating modernity and economic development within its cultural tradition, resulting in a country that is optimistic, forward-looking, and tolerant. It has a diverse population of 1.7 million inhabitants and counting. Qataris, proudly wearing the national dress, live and work together with a large expatriate force hailing from nearly all countries in the world. While Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken and is de facto the lingua franca among its diverse population.
Qatar has been playing a growing role on the regional and international scene as a catalyst of high-profile diplomatic efforts. It is also the home of the Al-Jazeera television network.
Qatar is a desert peninsula jutting out in the Arabian Sea. For six months of the year, it has a pleasant, California-like climate. The other, extremely hot six months are mitigated by universal air-conditioning.
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Doha, Qatar's capital, offers all the amenities of a vibrant modern city, and much more. It is pleasant and safe, family-friendly and comfortable, tolerant and cosmopolitan. Its elegant blend of tradition and modernity is epitomized in its impressive architecture.
Doha makes it easy to feel at home and also to brush with the exotic: its international grocery stores offer the standard selection of multinational brands together with goods and produce from all parts of the world. Its upscale shopping malls host recognizable international stores as well as distinctive boutiques, but for the truly local experience, head for the many traditional markets, or souqs, which recreate feelings of centuries gone by. The dining scene is equally diverse, going from five-star restaurants to yummy hole-in-the-walls.
Free time is enjoyed in Doha very much like anywhere else in the world. When it is hot outside, social life tends to center around coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls. When it is cooler, Doha offers unique outdoor spaces, such as the Corniche, a 7 Km long park lined with palm trees along the Arabian Sea, immensely popular with joggers and picnickers alike, or Souq Waqif, a delightful glimpse at old Doha lined with coffee shops. Sports enthusiasts will find associations and informal groups regularly engaging in any kind of activity. Culture buffs should head to the Katara cultural village, attend a concert by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, visit a museum, or seek out some of the many events taking place on any given day.
Doha's liberal and cosmopolitan attitude also transpires in the array of schooling options available to the children of its residents. These go from elite private schools teaching the national curriculum of over a dozen countries to public schools. With its high-quality health-care facilities, Doha is seeking to become a center of medical tourism, which its residents experience as internationally-staffed hospitals and clinics.
For such a small country, there is a lot to do in Qatar. For many, the sweeping sand dunes of the Inland Sea constitute a major attraction, an adrenaline-filled roller-coaster in a 4-wheel drive invariably capped with a few hours playing on the beach. Sand and surf can be enjoyed even without the duning, as the entire coast of Qatar is peppered with pleasant beaches.
Another way to enjoy the outdoors is to visit archeological sites and ancient forts that constitute the heritage of Qatar. Or join the Qatar Natural History Group to discover first-hand the geology and ecology of the various habitats of Qatar.
The mild winter climate makes Qatar an ideal place where to launch the season for a multitude of sports. Whether your interest lies in tennis, cycling, golf, motorcycle racing or all of them, attend the inaugural tournements for a chance to mingle with the atheletes themselves. Qatar is big on sports: not only was it the host of the 2006 Asian Games and of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, but it was awarded the privilege of hosting the FIFA 2022 World Cup of soccer.
Qatar's cultural offerings do not stop at archeology and sports. It has an impressive (and growing) array of museums, in particular the Museum of Islamic Art by acclaimed architect I.M. Pei, the extensive Sheikh Faisal Museum and a recently opened Arab Museum of Modern Art. Movie buffs will definitely enjoy the Doha Tribecca Film Festival which takes place in the late fall.
And for the times where you need a bigger backyard, Doha International Airport has direct flights to over 100 destinations on 6 continents.
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is located in Education City, a conglomerate of educational and service institutions on the Western outskirts of Doha. Education city is administered by the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organization with the mission of promoting education, science and community development in Qatar and beyond. There are currently seven universities in Education City. Six are branches of American universities, each specializing in a particular field: Texas A&M (engineering), Weill Cornell (medicine), Georgetown (international affairs), Northwestern (media and communication), Virginia Commonwealth (design), and Carnegie Mellon (computer science, information systems, business administration and biology). One is the home-grown Faculty of Islamic Studies (public policy and finance). Two additional Western universities, HEC Paris (MBA) and the University College London (museum studies), will soon be breaking ground. More universities are expected in the coming years. Altogether, Education City universities currently have about 1,500 students.
As well as universities, Education City offers a K-12 school, research institutes, a museum, campus housing, a radio station, and recreational facilities: soccer fields, basketball courts, a swimming pool, and gymnasiums to name a few. There are intercollegiate sports leagues, student organizations, and plenty of social events.
Qatar Foundation, the umbrella organization that oversees Education City, comprises other institutions such as the Qatar Science and Technology Park, a free-trade zone that hosts the research and development efforts of both multinationals (GE, Microsoft, Shell, EADS, etc.) and startups, the Sidra research hospital, the Qatar National Research Fund, Qatar's main research funding agency, and a multitude of other ventures — it even has a stake in the Barcelona Futbol Club. Qatar Foundation is chaired by Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Emir's consort.