Two students sit at a small table next to a bright window cut in half by a thin string of red, green, and blue lights.
Outside is Asian Town, an enclave built for migrant workers in Qatar, the country with the highest per capita income in the world and where about 90% of the population is temporary. Inside, across the table, one of these foreign workers shares his experiences as a labor migrant over lunch.
The interaction is one of a handful of mealtime interviews arranged for students while visiting Qatar as part of this spring’s Migration and the Global City course, taught by Professors Andrew Gardner, sociology and anthropology, and Robin Jacobson, politics and government. Offered as a Connections course—part of Puget Sound’s core curriculum that aims to help students develop their understanding of how different disciplines, methodologies, and subject matter relate—the class investigated the intersections of politics, culture, history, economics, education, and society.
“I don’t want to sit in a classroom and tell [students] what they need to understand and what’s important,” Andrew says. “I want to take them and stick them in front of migrants and have them explore the city to see the segregation and enclaving and all the other urban processes that divide and organize foreigners in Qatar. I want them to see and experience that themselves.”
In addition to the two international trips (Qatar organized by Andrew, and Amsterdam planned by Robin), the course involved readings, lectures, discussions, guest speakers, and excursions around Tacoma and Seattle. But getting out of the country was key.
Qatar is my home away from home. Being the exploratory tour guide for these students actually brought it alive again for me."
– Andrew Gardner
“We thought we could go to two different cities with students and compare how migrants fit in the contemporary city and in the history of these cities, and thereby give students some empirical basis for comparison,” Andrew says. “Part of our interest in that endeavor was to really nudge students’ focus out of the U.S.” He believes that seeing how others—and other communities, cities, and countries—are working through these issues in their own ways can teach us. “We can learn from difference,” he says. “So we wanted to carry students to some of these different places in the world and have them explore these very same kinds of frictions through others’ experience.”
The value of others’ experiences was seen within the class, as well. About a third of the students in the course found it through Robin or the politics and government department, and another third through some connection with Andrew or a sociology and anthropology class. “And then there’s that wonderful other third,” Andrew says, “which was a fascinating amalgamation of students, including some from the sciences and one from communications. They brought real, valuable, intellectual contributions to the class, in part because of their different backgrounds and interests.”
For Andrew, the course was rewarding on a personal level, in addition to an academic one. “Anthropologists are solitary creatures,” he says. “We fly off to distant places alone and meander around in foreign cultures until we’re relatively welcome and at home. Then we write about it. But to bring 17 students and a colleague with me into the place that I’ve been studying and returning to three or four times a year for a decade now… I was a little anxious about that. But it ended up being fantastic. Qatar is my home away from home, and being the exploratory tour guide for these students actually brought it alive again for me.”