Fabian Kopp enrolled at Mercer with an interest in international affairs, but he wasn’t sure how he would gain real-world experience in his chosen field. Getting involved in a University club opened the doors he needed to go through and landed him an all-expenses paid trip to Qatar in November.
The junior – a Macon native majoring in international affairs and minoring in ethics, leadership and service – was among 20 students and faculty from across the United States selected in 2018 for the competitive, one-year Qatar Exchange Fellowship sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.
Participants had to be nominated by their professors and previously involved in the Model Arab League, a diplomatic simulation program sponsored by the National Council that gives students insight into the Middle East. Kopp, a member of Mercer’s chapter of the program since his freshman year, said the club piqued his interest in the Middle East and pushed him to take his knowledge of international affairs further.
Kopp is the sixth Mercerian to be chosen for fellowship programs of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the third Mercer student selected specifically for the Qatar program, said Dr. Eimad Houry, professor and chair of Mercer’s Department of International and Global Studies.
“Fabian is a very intelligent and perceptive student. I consider him one of the top students in the international affairs program,” said Houry, who nominated Kopp for the fellowship.
The Qatar trip included about 10 students from colleges such as George Mason University, Texas A&M University, George Washington University, Northeastern University and the University of Utah. Kopp already knew some of the students from the Model Arab League summer internship program. The travel group also included several faculty advisers and representatives from the Qatar Embassy and National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.
The Nov. 15-24 trip began with an orientation in Washington, D.C., to give participants a broad overview of Qatar, its issues and challenges. After a 16-hour flight, the group arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, which became their home base for the week. Over the next several days, the fellows got a comprehensive, in-depth understanding of all things related to Qatar during a full schedule of excursions.
“I consider myself very lucky to have been selected and to have been able to take part in the fellowship,” Kopp said. “It was an absolute whirlwind of a trip. We got to see everything from cultural highlights of the country to political to defense.”
They met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Defense; U.S. Embassy in Qatar; and Al Shura Council, Qatar’s legislative body. They also toured the Qatar Financial Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Museum of Islamic Art, Al Jazeera newsroom, Qatar National Library, Qatar Foundation, Al Shaqab equestrian center for Arabian horses and Baladna dairy cow facility. They even went for a drive in the open desert.
A huge soccer fan, Kopp said his favorite part was visiting the headquarters of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is coordinating the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Another highlight was seeing “the economic heartbeat of the country,” the Ras Laffan Industrial City.
“Qatar has gone through absolutely stunning change over the past 15 years,” Kopp said. “They’ve been able to dramatically improve their infrastructure, drastically change their skyline and really open up themselves as a hub for the region.”
As part of the fellowship, the participants now are tasked with spreading their new knowledge of Qatar in their home communities. Kopp said the goal is to “build those relationships and dispel any preconceived notions that people might have about the Middle East or Qatar itself.”
He wants to share his experience with Mercer’s International Affairs Organization, Model Arab League and any other clubs that are interested. He hopes to publish an editorial piece in The Cluster student newspaper.
In addition, he’s been in touch with the Bibb County School District, and the Academy for Classical Education is interested in having him speak to a geography class. He has also reached out to the Islamic community about sharing his perspective.
“I had very limited exposure to Qatar beforehand, but coming back, I can talk about Qatar for hours now,” Kopp said. “We got to talk to so many different stakeholders, a complete cross-section of the entire country. That has really helped to improve my knowledge of the country and helped me to help others gain a better understanding of Qatar and the Middle East.”