By Mark Anderson
Reprinted with permission from the Cape Breton Post
Jason Rolls is dean of language studies and academics at the College of the North Atlantic in Doha, Qatar. Born and raised in Sydney, he is the eldest son of Fabian and Carmella Rolls, who are residents of Lingan Road
Q: What made you come to the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar? What has kept you here?
A: Working in Qatar is my second international experience. In the late 1990s, while employed with Cape Breton University’s Centre for International Studies, I had the opportunity to live and work in Gambia, West Africa. Gambia’s technical training institute was an initiative of UCCB. I was there working on development projects being implemented by UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture) and the World Bank. This experience really opened my eyes to living and working abroad in the area of international education.
After returning to Canada, I took a position with the College of the North Atlantic. I realized that I was missing the experiences and the adventures that came with living as an expatriate. It was while I was at CNA in Newfoundland that the Qatar project became a reality. In June 2002, I moved to Qatar “for a year.” Eleven years later I am still a resident. My parents have given up asking how many more years I will remain in the Middle East.
I have witnessed the city of Doha grow from a population of 450,000 to one close to two million in just a decade. A team of less than 20 people who arrived in the summer of 2002 to open College of the North Atlantic-Qatar has metamorphosed into a staff of over 600 Canadians and their families living and working in Doha. Our small office has transformed into a college campus with 22 buildings, 2,500 full-time students and 2,500 part-time students.
The country has embarked on a massive transformation to support the growth — new neighborhoods, shops, skyscrapers, hospitals, schools, etc. It is a different city from when I arrived. I find this exciting.
Q: Did you find it difficult to adjust to life in the Middle East? What have been your three biggest challenges?
A: When experiencing any new culture or environment for the first time, your senses are initially overwhelmed. I arrived in June to temperatures of 50 C, hearing the call to prayer five times a day and working a different work week (Sunday-Thursday). In North America I was driven by the clock. I was a person who was not only on time for events, I was the one who was early for everything. Living here you frequently hear the locals use the word inshallah (Arabic for God willing) when asked about a time or a deadline. Deadlines are merely a suggestion. I found this a difficult adjustment. Now 11 years later I don’t even wear a watch and, like the locals, I defer to inshallah when asked when I will do something. Bukara inshallah — tomorrow God willing!
Another challenge was actually finding businesses or places in the city. Directions in Qatar are driven by landmarks and not addresses. There were no real street names until a few years ago and I still don’t know the real name of my street. We use more descriptors: “The shop is near TV roundabout,” a traffic roundabout near Al Jazeera Television network. If I get in a taxi I tell him I live near Gharrafa Stadium rather than a specific street. This can get complicated for a newcomer to Doha.
Q: You went from being an instructor to being dean of language studies and academics in just over 10 years. How were you able to do this?
A: In 2002 I joined CNA-Q as its first chemistry and math instructor. I taught for two years and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the classroom. The Qatari students were great to teach and I learned most of what I know about their country and culture from them.
However, I love challenges and change and I get bored easily. As a part of the college’s start-up team, I was presented with many opportunities to work on other projects to develop the institution. As a consequence of this work, I was made chair of the science department and then dean of language studies and academics. I have held this position for the past seven years.
I think I have thrived here because Qatar is a great fit for me. Its rapid development has been under the guidance of His Highness the Emir’s Qatar National Vision 2030. This plan defines a strategic and ambitious approach to the development of the country. The Emir and his wife, Sheika Moza bint Nasser, wish to develop a knowledge-based economy that will sustain the nation beyond its carbon resources. Things move at an incredible pace here, with generous budgets from the state. We have the latest and greatest in terms of equipment and resources. This allows us to create the best educational experience for all learners at the college. I am happy to be involved this process.
Q: What do you like best about living in Doha? What do you miss about Canada?
A: There are many benefits to living in Doha. The city has a wealth of things to do: hanging out in the local souq (traditional market), dining in five-star restaurants, camping in the desert, attending musical concerts, watching world-class sporting events. These are just a few things you can do here. Whatever your interest there are activities and events to keep you engaged. It has truly become an international city. I love the vibe Doha has developed in recent years.
That being said, what I like the most about Doha is perhaps not Doha itself, but its location on the map. Travel is a personal passion of mine and living in Qatar provides a brilliant opportunity to explore this passion. I often spend weekends travelling in the region — Dubai, Muscat, Manama, or Beirut. They are all interesting cities for weekend getaways. In six hours or less I can be in Europe, Africa or Asia. I have had the opportunity to visit over 80 countries since I moved here.
I am fortunate to get back to the island every summer to visit family and friends — this is what I miss the most about living in Canada. My work also brings me back a few times a year for business purposes. This allows me to experience seasons. I do miss fall weather in Cape Breton. Winter, not so much.
Q: Why do you think so many Atlantic Canadians come to work here? Do you see this link between Qatar and Atlantic Canada growing in the future?
A: Atlantic Canadians share a number of similarities with Qataris. Both cultures are very hospitable, welcoming people with roots in small fishing villages. We both have emerging oil and gas sectors which are now shaping and changing our economies. We can really relate on this front.
People come here from all over because Qatar is booming. There are many opportunities for Canadians across all sectors of the economy. If you take up the adventure, you are certain to meet another Cape Bretoner along the way! Six years ago I was on a holiday in Goa, India. Late one evening in a beachside bar, I was approached by a guy asking where I was from … he had recognized my accent. He quickly narrowed me down to Sydney and then introduced himself as being from North Sydney. He was an English teacher in Asia. We exchanged emails and kept in touch. A year later he joined CNA-Q in Qatar. It really is a small world, and you never know where you will see a Caper.
Mark Anderson is a freelance writer living in Ingonish.