After having lived in several different countries, I acquired a love for travel and new experiences. I was lucky enough to be able to have had Arabic offered in high school, and go on a State Department sponsored summer program in Morocco my junior year of high school. I fell completely in love with the language and the region.
Why did you choose the American University of Beirut?
McGill requires its students to go to four year accredited universities when abroad, which meant that I could not do an American program like CIT or Middlebury. AUB was the best option possible. It has a long history and is well-known for its diverse and highly accomplished staff. I also couldn't help but be drawn by its natural beauty and beach front property.
What was your favorite part about Lebanon?
I read recently, "if you think you understand Lebanon right, somebody explained it to you wrong"; this is what I loved most about Lebanon. Everyone I met had a different explanation of what was happening around them and what their country meant to them. Lebanon is a melting pot made up of a diverse and complex group of people from a myriad of backgrounds that make Lebanon a unique, hidden gem in the Middle East.
What made your experience of study abroad unique?
I tried to immerse myself in the culture and language. I think a lot of people who go abroad do so to travel to as many places as possible, instead of staying put and building a life in one city. Lebanon is a more obscure country to go to abroad, which makes it unique in itself, but it gives you more opportunities than most countries. I was able to join an Arabic-English language program. I volunteered at a school that taught Syrian children whose families had fled the war. I took both Lebanese dialect and Arabic classes every day and I tried to travel in Lebanon as much as possible.
My two absolute favorite travel experiences were going to Jeita Grotto, and Zahle to visit the wineries. The grotto is unbelievably beautiful and I could have stayed there all day. Zahle was wonderfully planned by the Office of International Programs and I've spent a decent amount of time in French vineyards, so it was really great seeing the similarities and contrasts in Lebanon.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff was incredibly supportive. Whenever I had any questions, I could walk right in and someone would be there to answer my questions immediately.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish that I had spent more time with native Arabic speakers and made myself only speak Arabic.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would wake up and make breakfast with my roommate. Most days we both had early morning classes. I would go to my early class and then walk to a language school nearby to take Lebanese dialect classes. I would then go home or to a store and grab something to eat, and then to the library to study. Typically, I didn't have a lot of work to do so we would often go out at night for drinks or to explore Beirut.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Traveling around Lebanon, working with Jusoor, a Syrian NGO working out of Lebanon, and spending time with other international students who I became close with during my stay in Lebanon. Jusoor is also based in Dubai and New York and was started by Syrian expats. They offer scholarships to Syrian students to study abroad. They have computer science "boot camps" and then they have their Lebanese school.
I loved the school because they made sure that all of their teachers were Syrian, creating more jobs for Syrians living in Lebanon and ensuring the students felt comfortable with their teachers. Their focus was to get students to be strong enough with English and other subjects so they could join Lebanese schools and still do well. The school was one big family and parents were often invited to join in class.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
To figure out why exactly you are coming to AUB. Is it to study Arabic? To learn more about the country or the region? Or to simply learn more about yourself? Find something you want to focus on and do as much as possible to understand more of whatever it is you want. You might get to Lebanon and want to do everything, but a semester or even a year is not enough time in Lebanon, so pick one thing and go for it.
Now that you're home, how has your time studying in Lebanon impacted your life?
It has impacted me immensely. I'm much more aware of who I am and the vast differences that exist in different cultures. The impact of religion made me realize how different people live and how much our cultures impact how we think and who we are. I have also found a career path that I hope to start once I graduate in May. In Lebanon, I worked with an NGO called Act for Human Rights (ALEF) and I realized that I want to focus on public policy and human rights.
Would you recommend the American University of Beirut to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend my program; it was incredible. I go to McGill University that is so large that it can be quite difficult to get to know your peers and professors. AUB was a totally different experience. I knew my professors on a first name basis and quite a few AUB staff members and my peers. They made me feel at home and I know that I have a second family whenever I decide to go back.
Gaby is a French-born American who has lived in Belgium, Czech Republic, Washington, D.C, and Bethesda, Maryland. Currently a senior at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, she is majoring in international development, with a focus on the Middle East, and minoring in Modern Standard Arabic. Gaby is McGill's Editor-In-Chief for the International Development Studies Student Association's academic journal, "Latitudes," and is on the executive committee for McGill Student Refugee Alliance.