Recently I just returned from a summer lab rotation in the middle eastern state of Qatar, at Weill Cornell’s campus. It was my first time in the middle east and it was quite the eye opener.
For people who don’t know too much about the area, it’s basically a flat peninsula of sand, dirt and oil jutting out into the Persian gulf (or Arabian gulf, depending on who you’re asking). Geographically there is very little to do in terms of the hiking and climbing I often enjoy, and in fact I’ve only ran outside three times here because the daytime temperature during the summer is literally too hot for physical activity of any kind. One thing which has kept me very interested, however, is consistently meeting new people in a place which feels as ethnically diverse as NYC despite a very different attitude towards freedom of expression of culture.
A million things could and have been said about the culture and economy of Qatar and the middle east in general, but one of the main benefits of Qatar is that you meet people from literally everywhere in the eastern hemisphere. I think a very important thing for everyone to do is to travel to other cultures and get a first hand look at the world. In 2011 only 37% of US citizens even had a passport (http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppi/stats/stats_890.html), and in 2012 there were less than 4 million visitors to the whole of Asia, a tiny number when you consider that many of those were certainly asian expatriates.
That being said, being in the middle east had not failed to be an eye opener, both in terms of hearing from and simply giving a more personal face on the people who inhabit these strange desert lands. I would certainly suggest anyone with the time and money go and explore the safer areas in the region. You really don’t need 6 weeks to experience Doha (though I really liked the weeks I had), and if I went again I would more thoroughly explore the Levant and the mountains of Oman as well.