This week in DUBAI PROFILE NEWS (DPN), Jon Truby a talented academic person who is experienced the life in the Middle East, is sharing with us his experiences and dreams.
DPN: Jon you are a really talented academic person living the last year of your life in Qatar. Tell us some things about your profession.
It is a constantly self-improving profession that requires a great deal of enthusiasm. Gone are the days when old lawyers would ‘retire and teach’. The law is a cutting-edge field and students must be ready for that, so their professors need to have the skills and motivation to keep up to date. Teaching is however only part of the job. A lot of the profession is made up of other University projects, administration, committees, and constantly looking for ways to improve education.
Perhaps the most crucial part of any academic profession is research, and the law is no different. At Qatar University College of Law, we have just launched a new journal called the International Review of Law. It is a fresh new publication for legal discourse from any legal field and from any jurisdiction. Importantly, it is open-access and bilingual (English and Arabic), to maximize our readership. We’ve attracted some great names to publish with us and serve on our editorial board, and we’re making every effort to ensure the journal is of the highest quality as its credibility is of extremely high importance to us.
DPN: You live the last years of your life in Doha, Qatar. What does this city means for you? Is the Middle East the place you were thinking before you came?
The city is a centre of opportunity and probably one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. It is an ever-expanding development that is at its most pivotal point in history. It is a high quality and interactive place that has met and exceeded my expectations, for I live a very happy and social life here. I have made some lifelong friends, have got to travel to a great number of places in the Middle East and beyond, and am experiencing new delights each day.
DPN: Before you started teaching in the Qatar University you were in the Newcastle Upon Tyne University in U.K. How much different is the “teaching experience” between the two countries and why? Are there any similarities?
I have adapted my teaching style to the local environment, where the learning style here is in a transitional phase towards self-learning and individual research away from an older style of purely taught-learning. This is important in any academic institution and the College of Law is putting large efforts and resources into ensuring teaching methods are up-to-date and of international standard, and the University at large is focusing substantially on ensuring there are the research resources to ensure that the University can reach its potential of being a research establishment. I admire the student’s capabilities to learn law in a foreign language, not an easy feat! This requires lecturers to slow down and ensure the students are following, and to concentrate on ensuring the fundamental points are understood. As in the UK, teaching is becoming more interactive and a technology-based, with a heightened focus upon online teaching to compliment the classes.
I have also needed to research local laws in order to teach it here, namely Qatari business law and Qatari environmental law and regulations. This has been extremely interesting to compare and enabled me to understand further how laws are designed and operate in Qatar. Lawyers in the UK are accustomed to having instant access to any law, legal case or policy document detailing how the law is made, and researching here has been more challenging since that information is still in the process of being made publicly available – though there are now concentrated efforts by a number of providers to do so. There are difficulties in the translation of laws, and the way laws are drafted differs since it is based upon French and Egyptian law rather than English common law. However this has made the research all the more interesting and I have managed to publish on issues of GCC environmental laws. One of the subjects is teach and research is the environmental law of Qatar, and it is a very exciting place to do so because of the differing environmental issues here, the understudied nature of the subject, and the possibility of making a real difference by both educating people about environmental concerns, and actually recommending amendments on environmental regulation to policy-makers which can make a real impact in a country in the transitional process of developing its environmental code and with a will to achieve environmental objectives.
DPN: In Doha you are a resident of the Pearl Qatar, which is a quite new development. May you tell us some things about it?
The Pearl is a modern luxury development on reclaimed land and an entirely privately funded island. Porto Arabia is both a residential and commercial area, with numerous high-range fashion outlets like Armani; a small number of grocery shops such as Spinney’s and franchised restaurants including the likes of Gordon Ramsay’s. Viva Bahriya is the ‘second island’ which is more residential and still largely under construction. It all has a very modern and amenable atmosphere that makes it popular with expats who can enjoy having a gym, swimming pool, spa and often private beach in their own apartment complex. The location within Qatar is fantastic as it is close to many of the hotels, restaurants and West Bay. It is conveniently close to the University, allowing me to get to work within ten minutes’ drive. It is the best place I have found to live and enjoy to wake up with a coffee and a sea view, plus the West Bay skyline in the background at night is quite spectacular. The Pearl is becoming steadily more popular but is still not attracting enough customers to its shops or restaurants which seem to be loss-leading and now even more so after recently making news in the Wall Street journal after a local licensing issue; this must be worrying for investors. The Pearl though retains a very upmarket whilst comfortable feel to it and is a must see for any visitor to Qatar.
DPN: Qatar is about to host one of the greatest worldwide events, the Football World Cup in 2022. How successful you do believe it will be?
The official line is ‘expect amazing’, and I have no doubt that it will be. Once Qatar puts its mind to something, it can achieve anything, and this is going to be one seriously glitzy 5-star World Cup. Just imagine an entire country being built for a football event that will be Qatar’s crowning glory, the final jewel in a string of big successes. The entire nation is under construction and a $25bn metro system is being constructed to reduce the traffic and dependence on driving before it starts. As an environmental lawyer I am very excited to see how Qatar meets its innovative and high-tech intentions of achieving a carbon-neutral World Cup. Hosting the World Cup in the winter months would be a much better experience for the fans and enable them to enjoy Qatar, with all of the outdoor arenas available to visit that they simply could not in the summer. I cannot see it being too much trouble for FIFA to organize with ten years to go, and would save English footballers from playing in the snow in the winter! We all hope the organizers learn from the past sporting events and ones leading up to 2022, so that it can be the best possible event. There have been problems reported in the local news from previous events such as the Asia Cup when fans turned up with tickets from Australia and Japan to watch the cup final, only to be turned away because the organizers had let spectators in with no tickets which reportedly led to the police turning violent on them. There also needs to be enough taxis and transport for fans, recently many fans of a major tennis tournament had to wait outside in the heat for hours for a taxi as they are often difficult to come by. These hiccups cannot happen in 2022 and I am extremely positive that it will be the best sporting event the world has seen.
DPN: One of your hobbies is travelling. May you share with us some of your travel experiences? What is the most unique one for you and why?
I do have a real passion to see the world and have spent a lot of time doing so, backpacking, meeting other travelers and I enjoy seeing the sun set in some of the interesting and often less travelled places in the world. My last trip was to Iran, which I found to be a particularly hospitable country with tremendous cultural opportunities for travellers. It has some fabulous sights to see and probably the best Islamic architecture and historic sites such as Persepolis, an excellent public transport system, is very cheap and has very friendly people who enjoy talking to the few tourists who make it. Of course, there are difficulties for travellers such as the inability to withdraw cash because of international sanctions, unusual and often antiquated hotels and a lacking nightlife, but it is all part of the experience.
If you keep travelling you live experiences you could never imagine and are often difficult to describe how you got into that situation! A few spring to mind, such as feeling the joy of being the farthest from civilization one could ever imagine on the Allepy Backwaters in Kerala, crossing the border from Rwanda to go to a treehouse night club in DR Congo called ‘Zebra’, swimming beside sharks and giant turtles off Kecil island in Malaysia, gate-crashing a College frat party in Virginia, sleeping in a cave and getting bitten by leeches and giant ants whilst avoiding wild elephants as I trekked and kayaked Aboriginal country of the Malaysian jungle, chartering a light aircraft to and landing in the perfect Zanzibar, seeing the beauty of an active volcano spew into a turquoise crater after a day’s intense climbing in Lombok, and travelling by a UN armed convoy across the Western Tanzanian ‘bandit country’. I think my most memorable experience would be sitting about 2 meters from an enormous silverback mountain gorilla in its habitat, one of about 700 left in the world, an observing one another and his family for an hour that I’ll never forget, after one of the most exhausting and stimulating journeys of my life across Uganda and through the rainforest.
DPN: Qatar is a country with a big number of expatriates. How interesting is to deal with different people from different nationalities and culture in your daily life?
I love the international atmosphere and find it of continual interest to meet people from the entire world. There are always things to learn from each other and stories to tell, but it is always interesting how much people have in common! As well as Western expats, I have made many Middle Eastern friends. One of my major ambitions here is to learn Arabic so that I can interact and understand the culture more.
DPN: Before you moved in Qatar you lived in Tamil Nadu, South India on a tsunami relief project in a wrecked fishing village where you spent time rebuilding. Share with us your experience there.
Despite the tragic events that preceded it and the emotional difficulty of working in such a place, this was the best time I ever had and completely changed my life. It was humbling, exhausting and saddening, but I became so engaged with the project and in wanting to help the local families that I loved volunteering there and put my heart and soul into the rebuild. I had never been to India and moving to this southern state which is much less developed and considerably more traditional than the north, required me to completely forget about ways I had learnt to do things from communicating to eating, and instead embrace how local people did things. The trauma the villagers had gone through was horrific yet they were determined to recover and retained a proud sense of positivity that was inspirational to all of the volunteers on the project. I worked as hard as a I could beside local skilled workers, and tried to engage as much as possible in village life. I made some of the finest friends there I could, both volunteers and locals. I was happy when one of the local children decided to go to school and my friend and I had a uniform made for him. After a tough week of working in basic, dirty and extremely hot conditions, the volunteers would take a weekend break to a ‘local’ city or resort (usually meaning an 8-10 cramped and hot bus ride) where we would relax and sight-see. I will never forget my time there and I think it helped me to see what the world had to offer and realize that I enjoy being an expat and wanted to live more of it!
DPN: If a young fellow would like to come and work in the Middle East what would you advise to?
Search out reputable employers and perhaps make a visit here as the personal touch works much better that emailing in the Gulf. Focus on why you want to get the job, what you have to offer, and concentrate on what skills you have the will make you suitable for the job. Be prepared to be adaptable and flexible, things can change here at a moment’s notice and it’s important not to get stressed by that. Take everything in good humor. When you get here: respect and try to understand the local culture. Be a sociable as possible; don’t turn down any invitations especially at the start, as you need to make friends here to enjoy it. Try to get out and about as much as possible to enjoy your new life!