Hoya Citings: Georgetown student brings Bible Belt to Persian Gulf

Vox is trying out a new series, “Hoya Citings,” where we feature Georgetown students doing research, publishing work, or engaging in other interesting educational pursuits. First part of our series starts with a student on the SFS-Qatar campus.

sfs q 2The title of Nikhil Lakhanpal’s (SFS-Q, ’14) blog, “Southern Fried Kabob,” takes globalization to the next level. Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Lakhanpal never thought he would end up in the Middle East until the School of Foreign Service flew him and his family out to Doha, Qatar, offering him a scholarship and the opportunity to study for four years in Education City. “After that weekend visit, we decided as a family that if anything else, the story of a Hindu-Indian-American from the Bible Belt of the United States studying at a Jesuit University in an Islamic Country would be a worthwhile experience. And I think it has, thus far,” Lakhanpal wrote to Vox.

Earlier this month, an article he wrote was published in the Atlanta-based Indian-American magazine Khabar. In the article, Lakhanpal describes three different perspectives of South Asians in the Middle East: the laborer, the privileged, and the student. He weaves together a narrative that juxtaposes the life of a hardworking, humble migrant laborer to the privileged and comfortable elite. His stories pull elements from the characters he has encountered throughout his time as a student and during his travels around the region. “This hasn’t been your typical study abroad,” Lakhanpal writes in the story. “This is my college experience.”

Qatar’s questionable treatment of South Asian migrants struck Lakhanpal as a divided debate. “My observations are that Gulf governments are not to blame for any inconveniences and issues that the laborers face; that the fault may be with companies or with home governments,” he wrote to Vox. “In other words, do the Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi governments do enough to protect and advocate for their citizens working abroad? I don’t think so, and the Gulf governments may not be under immediate obligation to do so.”

Reporting and exposing migration issues in the Gulf states is no easy feat, and some journalists have faced severe consequences for attempting to delve too deep in the subject. Recently, activist Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was deported to Thailand from the United Arab Emirates for lobbying on behalf of the thousands of people in the state without legal citizenship.

While Lakhanpal recognizes the importance of addressing these controversial issues, he does not seek to preach a particular message. “I do not know if it is my place to make comments on a country that is not mine; I am just a guest in Qatar. My Qatari friends who visit the United States took the same approach when they saw things that could be objectionable to their way of life, ‘This is your country. Who am I to call things as good or bad?’ I have tried to adopt this mentality; that I can offer an objective sentiment while I am here.”

Lakhanpal often reflects in his blog on the various cultural battles he faces in Qatar. In one entry, he talks about his struggle to portray Americans in a positive light in a country where many feel antagonistic towards its foreign policy decisions. “Being here, I’ve tried my absolute hardest to build bridges between my part of the world and this one- but it seems that most of the time, I’m just trying to keep the existing bridges from collapsing,” he wrote in the blog post.

Lakhanpal is currently drafting a project proposal on Migration Labor Cycles to potentially complete in his last two years on the Qatar campus. He marks some hesitation, however, in the pursuit of this topic. “I do not know…if I will continue working on this project, as I consider it to be more about observations,” he wrote. “I do, however, do my best to try and bridge the three communities I have come to appreciate- Arab, Western, and South Asian. With the advent of this mega-university project in Qatar, I think this is beginning to happen.”

Photo of SFS-Q campus from SFS-Q Flickr Account

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