Start of the Academic Year: a ‘Brilliant’ Week

Welcome to Qatar University and the Foundation Program Department of English!

This week was the start of the academic year at Qatar University (QU). Foundation Program Department of English (FPDE) staff and instructors had a week of mandatory meetings and presentations to attend. As a new hire, I spent the first couple days sorting out human resource matters: I still had to get fingerprinted before I could submit my documents to receive my Qatar ID card so that I could finalize my contract. Technically, until I sign my contract, I am not yet an employee at QU—and once I sign my contract, I would be a probationary instructor until I passed all the requirements of new FPDE instructors. It will be some time before I am clear of all the set up steps for living and working in Qatar!

How I visualize the steps that I still need to complete in order to live in Qatar

Still, I looked forward to my first introduction to the FPDE, my professional home for—hopefully—the next three years. At the start of this year, there were nine new instructors, including me, hired to join the FPDE. Of the nine, I was the only US citizen; four of us, however, were North Americans—the other three just happened to be citizens of Canada. The remaining new hires were from the UK, Turkey, Tunisia, Oman, and Hungary. I was part of a very diverse cohort that was about to join an even bigger group of diverse instructors.

At the first mandatory meeting for all FPDE instructors, around 150 instructors were in attendance; there are more instructors in FPDE than there were international students at my previous university of employment! And, these instructors come from many different countries. At another QU welcome meeting, a vice-president said that faculty members from 70 different countries work at the university. A majority of those nationalities are probably represented in the FPDE by its instructors. While we all speak English in the FPDE, there are many different Englishes spoken by the instructors. For example, Dhafir, a colleague of mine, and I have had many conversations in our downtime about the differences between American English and British English. Takeout food or takeaway food? Overpass or flyover? Mobile home or traveler? Even amongst the English speakers, I must listen carefully to the accents and word usage in everyday conversation.

Can you find my mailbox?

The FPDE has three levels of English instruction: foundation, embedded, and post-foundation. Foundation courses are for students who apply to QU but do not possess the minimum English proficiency for full entry into the university. Students who are placed into the Foundation program must take up to two semester of full-time English courses or test out of the program early. Embedded courses are for QU students who are admitted into the university, but as part of the requirements for their college, they must take a certain number of English courses. For example, one of the business English courses that I will be teaching this semester is an embedded course that many students in the College of Business and Economics must take. Finally, the post-foundation courses, I believe, are courses with a focus on fine tuning academic reading and writing. These are courses that help students understand different genres of reading and develop formal writing abilities. The reason why there are so many FPDE instructors is because each year about 400 students are placed in the foundation courses, while around 6000 students enroll in embedded and post-foundation courses.

View of the QU campus mosque
Example of a building where I will be teaching. However, B05 is an all male  building.
In order to get from building to building at QU, covering is essential during days when it is 100 degrees. Also, I have been told to wear a hat to prevent skin cancer.

By the end of the first week, I had a better idea of what I would be teaching during the Fall 2017 semester. Tentatively, because course loads are subject to change up until the last day to add/drop classes, I would be teaching three courses: one section of ENG 250: English Language Communication I and two sections of ENG 252: Business Communication. Since the campus and many classes at QU are segregated by gender, only one section of my business course is all male students; the other two sections of my courses are all female students. Additionally, I would have about 18 contact hours per week with my students and teach everyday of the week Sunday through Thursday (remember: the weekend in Qatar is Friday and Saturday!), but, so far, none of my classes are scheduled before noon.

While this week has been a whirlwind of new faces and information about the FPDE, I am excited to begin teaching tomorrow. I have only one class that meets on Sunday, so I have plenty of time to ease my way into my first class at QU.

Unrelated to the focus of this post, I finally bought a new phone for use in Qatar. I bought my previous HTC phone around 5 years ago, so I was probably overdue for a new phone.

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