January 2012 Issue
The Fence
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Long Distance Relationship

It’s dinnertime, and Meghan Nahass (DC, MCS’12) plans to eat with some friends. She heads to Resnick Hall’s Doha Room, just off of the first-floor cafeteria. The room features stained-glass windows, carpets, and arches similar to the university’s Qatar campus building. Nahass, who is from Montgomery, N.J., finds a group of about three dozen students already in the room feasting on pita bread and hummus and other Middle Eastern foods, while chatting noisily.

Some of the conversation is directed toward classmates who are around 7,000 miles away. Those dining companions are in the Pittsburgh Room at Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus. That room is decorated with Pittsburgh memorabilia, including Carnegie Mellon pennants and a map of the Pittsburgh campus.

These two rooms, separated by an ocean and then some, have a continuous video conferencing link to promote cross-cultural experiences between the two sites. With a big-screen TV in each room, the two groups can be in a virtual dining room together, even though the 7-hour time difference makes dinnertime in Pittsburgh tomorrow’s wee-hour snack in Qatar.

Nahass, who is majoring in biology as well as policy and management, sits down, ready to join in the transatlantic conversation. She visited Qatar for 10 days last year through the university’s IMPAQT program, which stands for Initiating Meaningful Pittsburgh and Qatar Ties. It was founded in the fall of 2008 and enables students to travel between the campuses during spring break with the idea that it will strengthen the bond between the two campuses. The video conferencing link is a way for students who become friends during IMPAQT to stay in touch as well as a chance for all students from both campuses to interact on projects and courses or to simply hang out together.

During Nahass’ time in Doha, she made friends with Afnan Fahim, a junior who is majoring in computer science at the Qatar campus. She hopes to spot him on the big screen and dine with him. Unfortunately, he’s nowhere to be found.

Instead of accepting the disappointment, she decides to take action by grabbing her smartphone and sending an instant message to him about the gathering. He gets it and, after some cajoling by Nahass, agrees to head over to the Pittsburgh Room. Moments later, he shows up on the screen, and the two friends smile and wave and begin to catch up, as any friends would do.
Jonathan Barnes (DC’93)

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