Christina Tkacik - 2014 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international degree program?

I had never studied abroad as an undergraduate, and wanted some experience living in another country. I was also looking to jumpstart my career in media, so an international media program sounded like just the ticket.

Why did you choose the American University of Beirut?

The American University of Beirut had the best reputation of any school in Lebanon, and a beautiful campus. Additionally, I was offered a graduate assistantship that would cover my full tuition.

Students exploring the American University of Beirut campus

On a trip to the Chouf with some new friends I met during AUB's MDLAB 2013, where students from across the Arab world came to AUB to learn about media literacy

What made your degree program unique?

The professors were so interesting and came from a much more liberal background than I was used to as an undergraduate. I got exposed to ideas regarding cultural studies that were entirely new to me, and are becoming more and more important in my field.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Local staff were available at their offices for support during regular business hours, and held multiple orientations and seminars to help international students get acquainted with life at AUB.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Very easy! Most of the people where I live are much more approachable and ready to chat than anyone in my home city. When it comes to language, at least in Hamra where I live, everyone speaks English, which actually can be a problem if you want to improve your Arabic.

What surprised you most about Beirut?

Beirut is full of surprises, but one thing that surprised me is how pervasive American and Western culture is here. My friends here grew up watching all the same TV shows as me and seeing all the same movies.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

When I first moved to Lebanon I lived in a terrible apartment in Hamra that was very stressful because I didn't know what my other options were. I wish I had lived in a campus apartment instead.

Student working on a video project at the American University of Beirut

Working on a video project on AUB campus - notice the beautiful Mediterranean Sea!

Describe a day in the life of an international graduate student at AUB.

There was no typical day, since as a graduate student I only had class once or twice a week. But my days were spent working with my department on whatever project I was assigned to, and then going to class and doing research and writing for my classwork.

What was your favorite part about Beirut?

The campus is incredibly peaceful and beautiful. You're in the middle of the city, but you feel like you in an oasis.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

I participated in the MDLAB each year I was at AUB, which was two-week long conference on media literacy for students and faculty from around the Arab world. Both times it was an amazing opportunity to meet students and faculty from all over the Arab world, and researching topics I'd had only minimal exposure to.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad in Lebanon?

Things in Lebanon don't always go as planned, and I think this is the most difficult thing for anyone to adjust to. The electricity cuts out, sometimes there's a garbage crisis, the water might go out. You have to learn to be flexible and to make your own sense of comfort.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

After living in a horrible apartment my first semester, I moved into a nicer furnished flat close to campus. My favorite thing about it was it had a strong generator, so that I was able to work (and run air conditioning, lights, etc.) during the daily rolling blackouts.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Beirut?

Bring durable shoes since you tend to do a lot of walking and the streets will wear out your shoes quickly. Waterproof boots and a solid raincoat will come in handy for the rainy season. If there are special toiletries you like (dry shampoo), bring them in case you can't find them in Beirut.

Students after graduation at the American University of Beirut

With some of my friends at AUB graduation

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Lebanon?

It's a very expensive country to live in. Consumer goods like towels and things that are very cheap in the U.S. have a high import tax here. It's hard to find a good pair of shoes for a reasonable price, for example. I didn't bring many clothes with me assuming everything would be cheap if I needed replacements, but I was wrong.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

There are so many benefits it's hard to quite put into words.

It teaches you to look at the world with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, which is the most important thing.

How has earning your degree abroad impacted your life?

I stayed in Lebanon and have continued to live and work here since the end of my program in May. So I guess we'll see!

Would you recommend the American University of Beirut to other students?

Of course! Anyone would be lucky to study here. AUB is one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world, and the faculty are amazing. The professors I know here are so intelligent and courageous, and have strong principles. The students are very inspiring and come from fascinating backgrounds; everyone has a story. You can see the sea from almost any spot on campus.