I grew up in a village in Wisconsin where it is pretty easy to stay disconnected from and unaware about the rest of the world. As I learned more about other cultures and started traveling, I got hooked and continued to study abroad. Once you venture out and see a little of the world, it’s hard to not want to see more. I've studied abroad many times already, so I had plenty inspiration from previous wonderful experiences.
Why did you choose to study abroad at the American University of Beirut?
I had heard great things about the American University of Beirut and the city itself from many friends, so it was a pretty easy decision. A bunch of students from my university had previously studied at AUB and always talked highly about it. I visited AUB the previous year and loved the campus and the students that I met, which made me very comfortable with choosing it.
Something that stood out to me when I first visited was a group of professors having tea with some students; it was a portrait of how professors really care about the students and proved to be true. I study Arabic in college and had to pick a place that spoke the language, so after that visit, going to Beirut was an easy choice.
What was your favorite part about living and studying in Beirut?
Listening to stories is my favorite part of living abroad and I had the opportunity to learn a lot from the friends I made at AUB and around Lebanon. There is a rich, vibrant culture in Lebanon and a long history. Talking to my professors after class and people I met in the many cafés around Beirut added a lot to my experience. Everyone has something to share. I feel like I learned equally in and out of the classroom because of how welcoming people are around Beirut.
What made your experience studying abroad at AUB unique?
The breadth and depth of the education at AUB stood out to me. My professors were engaged in the material, were part of the wider Middle Eastern scholarly community, and loved debating the issues of the day. The library staff were incredible and the collections held by AUB are spectacular, from some of the oldest scholarly texts in the Middle East to old propaganda posters to the first printed Palestinian newspaper. As a wider campus, the environment is conducive to studying with friends, reflecting on lectures, and relaxing with a view of the Mediterranean while writing essays. All of this combined leads to a stellar educational experience.
How did the local staff support you throughout your program?
The Office of International Programs went above and beyond to make sure students were comfortable, happy, and having a valuable experience. The staff always had their doors open with a smile to greet you and help you out in any way possible. The student mentors that assist the office were instrumental in introducing students to the campus and community. Mentors were supportive and went out of their way to welcome the international students. They organized trips around the country that helped provide a fuller picture of the history and culture of Lebanon.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
There are a ton of speaker events and conferences around Beirut and at AUB, and while I went to several, I wish I would have gone to more! AUB brings in a lot of world-renowned individuals in their field, so there are unlimited opportunities to learn, even something from a new discipline. Based on the events I attended, I highly recommend that you pay attention to what's happening on campus and make sure to attend some of the fabulous events that the university plans.
Describe a typical day in the life of an international student at AUB.
I woke up every day to a view of the campus and the Mediterranean, so it was easy to start every day off right. Generally, I got some coffee and a quick bite to eat for breakfast from one of the many shops on Bliss Street right outside the campus gates and headed to class. In between classes, I hung out with friends and studied in a local café. At night, I explored the city; there were always tons of different cultural and musical events happening around town. The weekends were great opportunities to go on longer trips around the country and to even visit some of the neighboring countries.
What was your favorite thing to do in your free time?
I love meeting new people, so I often went to a new coffee shop and practiced my Arabic or French (or sometimes even another language) with some of the other customers. I spent my time doing my favorite thing, listening to others' stories. The best stories often came from the cafés frequented by octogenarians, where I got to hear firsthand accounts of Lebanon's past and some advice for the future. I also simultaneously learned a lot about coffee, tea, and essential Lebanese snacks!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in an off-campus apartment right next to the university and really enjoyed it. Having a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean is hard to beat and was definitely my favorite part. It was very easy to find housing options before I even arrived, and I was definitely happy with my decision.
What is one thing every participant should know before studying abroad at AUB?
It's really important to prepare before you get to Beirut. There is so much to do or get involved in when you arrive, so I suggest looking into all the ways you can spend your free time in Beirut. If you walk into international student orientation with a good idea of what you'd like to do, the student mentors can easily help direct you. You can help out in the refugee camps, go explore music festivals, hike the mountains, research with a wonderful professor, and much more. Because there is so much to do, if you can prepare, you'll be able to try a bit of everything or get super involved in a cause or activity about which you're passionate.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Beirut impacted your life?
I miss Beirut basically every day. The people I met, the experiences I lived, and the knowledge I acquired in Beirut will be unforgettable. It's easy to confine yourself to a bubble and not study abroad, but after a few months at AUB, you could gain invaluable wisdom about the world. I strongly believe that the more diverse people and experiences you encounter, the greater your perspective becomes.
Would you recommend studying at the American University of Beirut to others? Why?
If you're interested in learning something new that is worthwhile, you will accomplish that a thousand times over by studying at the American University of Beirut. It is by far the best educational institution I have encountered in my time in the Middle East.
The university goes beyond just educating; it challenges you to think differently, mature in ways you haven't considered, and explore your passions.
After studying the Middle East for four years and hearing a lot about AUB in scholarly journals and essays along the way, the university definitely lived up to my expectations. Beirut is a city with a resilient beating heart and AUB helps you explore every crevice of it.
Andrew is currently pursuing a dual degree through the Huntsman Program in international studies and business at the University of Pennsylvania. His interest areas revolve around the Middle East, Arabic, management, and social impact. Andrew has studied abroad extensively throughout the world and is impassioned by the intersection of cultures, languages, politics, and social good.