When cultures collide, people connect:

7/6/2011 10:59:20 AM

The story of College of the North Atlantic in Qatar
By Tanya Alexander

If you had heard a decade ago that Newfoundland and Labrador’s public education system would be teaching the labour force of an Arab nation to process oil and natural gas, you might have thought you were dreaming.

There’d have been no doubt that College of the North Atlantic (CNA) is aces at providing accredited, accessible, industry-linked training for its own province and country in Engineering, Business, Health Sciences, Natural Resources, and so much more… but to deliver oil and gas, banking and security training in the Persian Gulf to one of the richest countries in the world? That may have seemed a little too ambitious for any educational system.

But just as CNA’s graduates are in demand throughout the globe, whether it be with Voisey’s Bay Nickel Com-pany, Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks in Hollywood, the RCMP, or the United Nations, it makes sense that the reputation of the college would follow. And indeed it has.

CNA made history in 2001, securing the largest international education contract ever awarded to a Canadian educational institution (US$500 million), when it was chosen by the Middle East State of Qatar above all other educational systems in the world to establish a world-class technical college in its capital city of Doha.

Now, as CNA approaches the 10-year anniversary of this union, its progeny has grown far beyond expectations. Since opening its doors in 2002, College of the North Atlantic-Qatar has gone from initial student enrollment of 300 to 3,000 and from a staff complement of 50 to well over 600; has expanded to add a number of programs custom designed for the needs of the State; and has generated more than $45 million in revenue for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, which was reinvested back into the public education system. In addition, CNA-Q employees are in essence CNA employees and continue to pay their provincial and federal taxes back home, to the tune of $2.2 and $7.5 million respectively.

The Qatar Experience
More so than producing substantial benefits to CNA’s provincial operations, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole, and indeed, the country, this experience – the Qatar experience – goes deeper. This melding of cultures has had particularly significant consequence for individuals – both the students of CNA-Q and those Canadians who staff the campus and their families who have accompanied them to the Middle East.

There are young single people, married couples, families – the whole gamut –drawn to this beautiful place called Qatar. Canadians are getting married and having babies there, travelling to exotic locales they never dreamed they’d see, and gaining international teaching experience that will serve them admirably in future professional endeavours. And, as many will tell you, Qatar has come to feel like home.

Keith Bonnell taught mathematics at the campus for five years before returning to Newfoundland in 2009. It wasn’t long before he and his wife decided to go back to Qatar, returning in September 2010. He thinks back to their initial interest in the opportunity and refers to the “collective of pleasant anticipations and expectations” that draws many people there, such as the attractive package of pay and benefits, the opportunity to immerse self and family in a new exotic country and culture, world travel, escape from the harsh Canadian winters and the value of a career in international education. He adds that the experience goes far beyond all those enticements, though, and perhaps explains why they and so many others can’t stay away.

“There is no doubt that initially we were lured by the opportunities and attractions…but over time many of us realized that what brought us here was becoming a very small part of what was keeping us here,” says Bonnell.

“We had fallen in love with the soul of the place, with its very essence… as time passed, our day to day experiences on campus and in the city and country were in some incomprehensible way subtly weaving themselves in the fabric of our very being. These experiences and this place were actually becoming an integral part of who we are and how we define ourselves. And for most of us these changes have been overwhelmingly positive, welcomed, and have enabled us to grow and mature both individually and as a collective of professional colleagues at our college.”

CNA has brought some 1,000 Canadians and their family members to Qatar since the beginning of the project. This number nearly equals the population of some communities in Newfoundland and Labrador such as Baie Verte, Clarke’s Beach, Irishtown and St. Alban’s. As you read this, there are 500 Canadians and their families working at CNA-Q and availing of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work and live in another culture. They are developing a global mindset that will broaden their horizons and open doors for the rest of their lives.

Julianna Deveau was three years old when her parents decided to take jobs at CNA-Q. They were among the first group of CNA employees to head over to the new campus (CNA-Q was first completely administered by CNA employees – payroll and support staff, faculty and management). In the five years they were there, Julianna and her younger brother Alex had the opportunity to travel with their parents to many exotic places such as Egypt, Kenya, Belgium, and Germany. Julianna, now 12, recalls some of her favourite travel experiences.

“In Africa we went on a safari and got really close to lions and crocodiles,” she says, her eyes lighting up, “and in Egypt, we walked into a pyramid right to the tomb… I thought I would see a mummy!”

The family lived in a villa in Doha, inside one of several gated communities CNA-Q arranges for its employees with families. Julianna talks about how great it was to have a pool, gym and playground in her community, along with the After School program, where she could hang out with her best friend Mackenzie. Her mom Mary remembers how relaxed an atmosphere it was, and how ideal a place to raise her family.

“The kids had so much freedom in the community – bike riding, swimming, back and forth to friend’s houses,” says Mary. “We had to teach them about safety when we came back here to Canada!”

Sharing of Cultures
From the Qatari perspective, this project has effected significant change not only to the landscape of that country’s education system but also its very culture. For example, CNA-Q is the first: 1) international public education Institution in Qatar, 2) co-ed Institution in Qatar, and 3) foreign institution with predominately Qatari student body. These are no small feats in such an ancient culture.

It also brings very real benefits to the country such as long-term economic diversification and sustainability, the opportunity for Qatar’s youth to remain in the country to study, the specialized North American/English language-based training for their specific programs, and the fact that they are gaining social and cultural savvy and sensitivity that will make them desirable job candidates at home and abroad.

Though there are over 30 nationalities of students at CNA-Q, the majority of the student body is Qatari. And though our cultures don’t appear to have much in common on the surface, these youth have similar issues and anxieties shared by students world-wide. Most wear traditional garb, but you will see a variety of fashions – many dress just as our youth in North America. What they find at CNA-Q, and a key to why the State of Qatar chose CNA to bring education to their young people, is at the core of what one finds in Newfoundland and Labrador – respect and warmth.

“The teachers give students great opportunities to learn,” said Mariam Al Mairza, while she was taking the third year Marketing stream for her Business Management diploma. “They’re hard teachers, but they make learning a fun experience. And at the same time, it’s intellectually challenging. I think the best thing about CNA-Q is how the teachers and students respect each other.”

The sharing of cultures became even more reciprocal when, after several pilot activities, CNA had the opportunity to invite Qatari students to the province. A series of exchanges was formalized this past summer that brought 18 CNA-Q students to CNA campuses in Newfoundland and Labrador and sent 18 CNA students to Qatar. The Middle East students adjusted surprisingly well and found many things to love about our province.

CNA-Q student Sheroz Kulkarni spent three months living in Stephenville and working at CNA Headquarters in the IT department. The exchange gave him hands-on practice to accompany his IT diploma in Internet Application Developer and the cultural and personal experience was something he’ll never forget.

“It was the best time I ever spent in my life!” Sheroz says. “My homestay hosts treated me like family. The hospitality and friendly nature of people here have created some kind of bond between me and Newfoundland.”

The ripple effect of this project is beyond measure. The benefits to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canada, are staggering and far-reaching.

To mention a few: it created a fresh focus for Newfoundland and Labrador as a tourist destination; the reputation of the province grew as CNA became well known for best practices in international education, resulting in partnerships and articulation agreements with universities in the UK, US and the Caribbean, and potential partnerships with other countries, such as Australia; accrediting bodies such as the Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Technology Accreditation Board have, for the first time, expanded their accreditation services to include CNA curriculum abroad; through partnerships with CNA and Qatar, Canadian colleges and universities are able to access substantial funding for applied research; and myriad untapped business opportunities exist for Newfoundland and Labrador firms in the area of oil and gas and import/export of goods and services, as the majority of the goods and services used in Qatar are imported.

With the collective strength of Newfoundland and Labrador’s burgeoning industries in oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, and now in education, these currents of change are bound to carry us to every shore in this global village we call earth.


For more information contact:

Tanya Alexander
Public Relations Specialist, Qatar Project