In some ways, teens in Qatar are like young people everywhere. Outside of school, they hang out, drive around, listen to music and eat.
But for those growing up outside of their home countries, things are also more complicated than that, thanks to factors such as homesickness and different cultural norms.
To help illuminate some of the pros and cons of living in Qatar, a group of teens has recently launched a YouTube channel about their lives.
Expat Shella (expat squad) is the brainchild of mostly high school-age students from Italy, Australia, India, Scotland and Lebanon.
The series of first-person videos that focus on different aspects of “teenage life” in Qatar launched in October, but was recently in the limelight after being featured on popular Facebook group Humans of the Middle East.
Earlier this month, the teens told the group:
“Many teenagers don’t have a choice about whether or not they want to come and live here. They usually end up here because their parents have moved here for work.
We would have loved it if we had been able to have a glimpse into what life is like for a teenager before we came here, as it would have helped relieve any anxiety and nerves we had. Being a teenager here looks a little different to what it does in the countries where we come from, but it still has its great points that we want to share with other people.”
A collaborative effort, the videos are usually shot via GoPro by Valeria Mazzei, who along with friends Abdullah Javed, Aayah Dowdar, Josh Hillan and Sabrina Atat vlog as they go around Qatar.
Vlogging, or video blogging, is a fairly nascent concept in Qatar, though its popularity elsewhere in the world has been growing.
Throngs of teenagers and young adults often use the method to share moments of their lives on Youtube, as well as offer makeup tutorials, DIY hacks and other segments.
The activity can take one of many forms, with practitioners often using sarcasm, humor and satire to talk about their lives or take on current world issues and trends.
Growing up in Qatar
Co-founders said part of the reason they started the vlog was because of a dearth of recreational activities geared toward their age group in Qatar.
Speaking to Doha News, 16-year-old Lebanese expat Sabrina Atat said that growing up here has been especially hard due to strict cultural and religious norms.
“Living a teenage life in Qatar can be very difficult especially since it has a different…culture. We all try and make the most of it.
On weekdays we all go to school except Aayah (who is homeschooled) and Abdullah (who is in university). Josh and I go to the same school and are in the same class so we get to hang out at school but it is hard because of the segregation rules that we have to follow,” she said.
The idea to start creating videos, she added, soon became the main focus of their hangout sessions, and offered the group a productive option over the usual weekend mall outings.
For Mazzei, who has only lived in Qatar for a year, moving to Doha meant giving up a lot of the things she had enjoyed at home.
“In Italy, a teenager’s life is full of freedom and fun, but it is not as safe as here in Qatar. One of the things that I miss the most is walking on the street from a place to another any time of the day.
When I used to do it, sometimes it seemed annoying, but when I realized that here I would not get to do it, I felt like a piece of my freedom was taken away.
Though Atat hails from Lebanon, where there are some cultural similarities to life in Qatar, being isolated from the rest of her extended family and missing out on their weekly gatherings does make growing up in Qatar more difficult.
Still, both teenagers said that living with the restrictions imposed by the country made finding a special group of friends all the more worthwhile.
“(We basically) do three things here: (drive), (listen to) music and (drink) karak. It is something that makes us feel free and to be honest it is funnier than spending the afternoon between the walls of a mall.
Everybody likes being with friends, but here it is one of the most important things because if you have friends, everything seems amusing and you have (a better experience),” Mazzei said.
The tone of the videos are conversational and offer a peek into the few youth-centered entertainment options in Qatar. The footage includes quips about local customs and culture, combined with a few pranks and challenges.
In one video, for example, the group tours Souq Waqif, talking about the decor, sights, and sounds, before explaining what sheesha and karak is. In another, the team highlights their take on “compound life.” The video ends with the team covering Javed’s car in post-it notes as a fun prank.
Other clips hope to dispel stereotypes of the region being oppressive to women or unchanging in the face of modernity, as the teenagers tackle the issue of the hijab and perceived language barriers in Qatar.
According to their debut video, the group also hopes to interview other expats living here, with the hope of offering the outside world a preview of life in the burgeoning Middle Eastern country.
The weekly videos take some five to six hours to edit, and several more to shoot, said Mazzei, adding:
“We take it very seriously, but at the same time we have fun and we want to show our happiness. Currently, we (try to) upload once a week, but we’re trying to start to upload more than one video per week…We have so much (more) to give to the people.”
So far, the team has received moderate response, with an average of 1,000 to 1,500 views per video, and have garnered over 300 subscribers.
Marketing for their content is largely low key, and is done with help from Mazzei’s mother via the members’ social media channels.
Though the group agrees that the paucity of relevant entertainment options and social activities does hinder regular “teenage life,” there are upsides to growing up in Qatar.
(It’s) is not the best (thing) that could happen to someone – growing up here – because it’s a very strict country and it’s hard to find some entertainment,” Mazzei said.
“But, (we do get) an international education, the opportunity to meet people from all around the world, all in a safe environment. It’s important to appreciate the things that have been given to us and be thankful every day to our parents that are letting us live a big opportunity.”