Although my parents are Dutch and American, for most of my life I have lived in Japan. Belonging to an international community and my travel opportunities over the years have opened my eyes to global perspectives from different countries. While a lot of my travel has been in western countries, I have been on a few trips to other Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. One trip that I found very interesting was my visit to Qatar in ninth grade, as it was my first visit of an Arab country, and there were several aspects that differed from Japan.
I went there to visit one of my friends that moved to Doha after middle school, but while there I did some sightseeing with my family as well. One of the most notable differences between Qatar and Japan is its religious association. As the majority of Japan’s population is non-religious, it was a new experience for me to be in a country whose population is predominantly Muslim. While in Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism are tied to traditional culture, this is not that obvious in the modern city setting of Tokyo or Yokohama. However, it was clear from my visit that in Qatar, Islam plays an important role in defining the country’s culture. For example, it is expected that foreign female non-Muslim residents and visitors respect the cultural expectations regarding clothing by wearing garments that cover both the shoulders and the knees. While some of these customs may contradict my personal views about freedom of expression, it was interesting to see what an integral role religion and culture can play in uniting a nation and experience this firsthand.
Qatar, with the highest GDP per capita in the world, is a very rich country due to its oil resources. This means that most natives of Qatar are economically privileged, and while this is also the case in Japan, which has the 24th GDP per capita, Qatar’s is more than three times the amount of Japan’s. As a result, there was a noticeably high consumption of luxury goods in Doha, with high-end clothing stores and amusement parks in the shopping malls, for example.
Another aspect that I found drastically different between Qatar and Japan was safety. Japan has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, and I have cherished growing up in an environment in which safety is not an issue. On the other hand, my friend in Qatar lives on a compound which has very high security and is constantly monitored by guards. Her family also said that it is unsafe to trust all taxi drivers or go to places on foot as teenagers, so they always contact one driver that they know well and trust. As a result, I feel like the safety in Japan allows me to have more power over where I go, and I am lucky to have that privilege.
Despite having visited several countries prior, I feel that my trip to Qatar especially opened my eyes to a part of the world I had never before visited. My experiences and observations allowed me to compare the country to Japan, which in turn made me recognize some of the privileges of everyday life in Japan that I had overlooked. This trip gave me a lot of respect for cultures that differ drastically from my own, encouraging me to understand before making judgements. I really enjoyed my visit to Qatar, not only because I got to see my friend, but also because it gave me a broader perspective of the world than what I had already been exposed to, even in an international school.