GoAbroad Interview

Bayan Jaber - Study Abroad Advisor & Social Media Manager

Bayan Jaber - Study Abroad Advisor & Social Media Manager

Bayan’s life has been international to say the least. She graduated with a master’s degree in global journalism from the University of Sheffield in 2014, after earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a diploma in media and communications from the American University of Beirut (AUB). Now working for the Office of International Programs at AUB, Bayan offers study abroad advising sessions to students and promotes study abroad through the office’s social media platforms. Through her work, she encourages and assists students in gaining a global perspective and a unique academic experience.

You were born in the U.S., spent your childhood in Gabon, and later moved to Lebanon. How do you use your early international experiences to relate to international students at AUB?

I think that the biggest challenge of being an international student anywhere really, is “fitting in” or figuring out where you belong in a new community. Moving from one place to another equipped me with proper adjustment and adaptation skills, which is something we try to facilitate during our international student orientation.

Rafting on the Assi River in Lebanon
Office of International Programs rafting trip at the Assi River

Why do you think early international experience is valuable in the world today?

Think of it this way, having an early international experience is like a being a good lawyer who can take two sides. Getting exposed to different cultures, religions, and mentalities at an early age allows you to gain different perspectives and this becomes intrinsic to your personality. You are less likely to have a prejudiced attitude towards others or practice social categorizations of “us” and “them”, even when people adopt different views from you.

Instead of finding these differences threatening, you see beauty and make positive associations based on places you’ve been or people you’ve met. This is especially valuable in a world where racism, intolerance, and bigotry are infiltrating young hearts and minds. As Mark Twain said:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

As an AUB graduate yourself, how do you use your experiences as an AUB student in your current role?

Having studied at AUB myself makes me better able to relate to students. I know what concerns and challenges they face and, more importantly, I understand how confusing things may be when venturing into a new educational endeavor. As such, I try my best to facilitate the study abroad process; an encouraging smile makes all the difference!

Also, I studied abroad myself while earning my bachelor’s degree at AUB. I participated in the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, spending three weeks studying in the world renowned Schloss Leopoldskron, the movie home of the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music. My participation in the Salzburg Academy in Austria allowed me to meet students from Argentina, Bahrain, China, Hong Kong SAR, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Switzerland, the UK, and the U.S. Spending three weeks in this summer program allowed me to form long-lasting friendships and take part in challenging debates. More importantly, the courses I took sparked my interest in the field of media and motivated me to pursue my master’s degree in global journalism. 

International Student Orientation Day at the American University of Beirut
International Student Orientation Day

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

The day passes by quite quickly because there’s always something going on at the Office of International Programs (OIP)! I deliver study abroad 101 advising sessions and promote study abroad opportunities to interested students. During the exchange recruitment process, my day is typically spent processing exchange applications, following up with students, interviewing, and nominating AUB students for exchange programs. I also assist in the planning, delivery, and evaluation of the International Student Orientation.

How cool is it that part of my job is being on Instagram and Facebook? By managing OIP’s social media outlets, I get to share experiences and testimonials of incoming and outgoing students with the AUB community.

England, Austria, and Beirut are all extremely different, and yet you’ve spent time studying in all three countries. What makes Beirut a great place to earn a degree abroad in?

You can’t really concentrate on your studies without a good meal can you? Beirut guarantees a mouth-watering experience when it comes to getting your daily calorie intake, and then some! Whether you grab a quick bite in the bustling streets of Hamra, indulge in authentic Lebanese cuisine, or try out organic produce from Souk el Tayeb, the food here will capture your heart.

On a more serious note, I think every study abroad experience is unique. The history, diversity, and creative chaos of Beirut are guaranteed to challenge you, making Beirut an excellent place to earn a degree abroad.

International students at dinner in Beirut
Office of International Programs’ Lebanese dinner

What is your best piece of advice for students interested in studying abroad in Beirut?

I have many! Be it your courses or extracurricular activities, make the most of everything, because it will be over in a flash!

  • Explore, explore, explore! This is NOT the time for you to stay in your cocoon or lock yourself in your dorm. Whether it’s studying in the library, taking a stroll around AUB, or attending events, try to do as many things as you can.
  • Join the OIP trips! They are wonderfully planned by OIP mentors. I often join in on these trips myself and feel like a tourist in my own country!
  • Don’t skip your morning classes! No one likes waking up at 7 a.m., but GET UP and GO.
  • Do an internship! If you are interested in learning more about public policy and international affairs, I highly recommend interning at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute. IFI internships can range between two and three months and there are several programs to choose from. Also, working inside IFI’s angular concrete building designed by the late Zaha Hadid will prove to be a memorable experience.
  • Volunteer! Volunteering in Beirut is a great way to learn about the local community culture and needs. AUB won the International MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship in recognition of its Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS).
    The rumors are true, Lebanon does have power cuts and crazy drivers but that’s all part of the experience and looking back, it will make your stories here all the more interesting!
Farewell reception for international students at the American University of Beirut
Farewell reception for visiting and exchange students

You believe education and travel go hand-in-hand. How does AUB allow students to bring travel into their education naturally and effectively?

Yes! Saint Augustine spoke my mind when he said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read the first page.” The more you do, the more you know! Exploring a foreign environment removes you from your comfort zone and forces you to deal with new situations. This makes you more creative, well-rounded, and better at problem-solving!

AUB, which has made it to the list of top 200 most international universities in the world, is a cultural hub that combines travel and education rather effectively. With 18 different sects and a rather complex political system, Lebanon is bound to take you on an interesting first hand journey of politics. I’m not just saying this because The Magic School Bus was my favorite book growing up, but first hand experiences which expose you to a country’s history or politics are the most effective way to learn. More importantly, forming international connections is pivotal to one’s learning experience.

What is the biggest misconception students have about study abroad? How do you overturn this misconception?

“It’s expensive”. It can be, but studying abroad could actually be cheaper than studying at your home university. Moreover, living expenses in another country and the tuition fees of many reputable universities may in fact be cheaper than your own, and there are many resources for students to learn how to budget and plan a semester abroad. I recommend that students research their options and meet with a study abroad advisor.

Bikers on the way to Bekaa Valley in Lebanon
Trip to Bekaa Valley

What do you love most about your job?

I feel immensely proud to hear the positive experiences students recount after coming back from a semester abroad. Many students thank OIP for facilitating this opportunity. I often recall how anxious and nervous students are before they go. It’s truly inspiring to see how one semester abroad allows a person to grow. I’ve seen the before and after with my own eyes; many students return with a different attitude, oozing with confidence, and it’s tangible in the way they carry themselves! I always look forward to the post study abroad gatherings where students share their inspiring experiences and adventures, and this rewarding experience is what I love most about my job!