Genevieve Wenger - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I was studying Arabic on the side while living in Amsterdam, and decided to make language proficiency a full-time goal. I knew that the best way to do this would be to live in a native-speaking environment and I loved what I had seen of Beirut from a short visit there the year before.

Why did you choose the American University of Beirut (AUB)?

I chose AUB based on the location and the rigor of the intensive summer language institute, which offered a combination of FusHa (MSA) and Amiyya (Lebanese colloquial).

Mzaar Kfardebian ski resort in Faraya, Lebanon
Snowboarding at the Mzaar Kfardebian ski resort in Faraya

What was your favorite part about Beirut?

There are so many aspects of the city which continue to amaze me, from the natural beauty to the nightlife, but my favorite thing about Beirut is the sense of community. It is very normal to get to know your local produce seller, pharmacist, cafe owners, etc. Overall, it is an incredibly social and welcoming city.

What surprised you most about Lebanon?

I was surprised by the diversity of the landscape in Lebanon. From beaches, to beautiful forests and mountains, Lebanon really has it all. I was also happily surprised by the liveliness of Beirut. Especially at night, but also during the day, there is always something going on, and the energy of the city is unlike anywhere else.

What made your experience abroad unique?

In addition to its level of intensity, the AUB CAMES summer program is unique in that it offers optional tutoring hours after class, as well as weekend cultural trips both in and outside of Beirut. One day for example, we visited the majestic Jeita Grotto, took a télépherique trip in Harissa, and toured ruins followed by a dinner on the sea in Byblos/Jbeil. Another day, we walked through downtown Beirut, making stops at Martyr's Square, the Al Amin mosque, and the church of St. George.

View of Beirut from the Corniche
Views from the Corniche in Beirut

How did local AUB staff support you throughout your program?

The AUB CAMES staff supported us by arranging movie screenings, lectures, and trips, which both made the program more exciting and complemented the Arabic in-class learning.

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

I would go to even more Arabic events. I think that it is so important to take full advantage of the native-speaking environment when you are in Beirut. Speak with your service/taxi driver and insist on Arabic, participate in a language exchange, volunteer at an NGO school (e.g. Jusoor), watch movies and shows, make Arab friends! Finally, although you will progress so much with the summer intensive program, one summer is simply not enough. I ended up staying on longer and am very happy I did.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Days at AUB CAMES are very long. Most days I would wake up around 7:30 a.m., grab a zaatar man’oushe at the cafeteria or on Bliss street, go to class from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and to tutoring hours, and then a cafe (Urbanista was a favorite) to do homework until nighttime. Any extra energy I would spend at the AUB gym and beach, or going out with friends.

The American University of Beirut track at sunset
The AUB track at sunset

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I loved running on the AUB track or on the Corniche by the sea at sunset. I also really enjoyed day trips out of Beirut on the weekends, particularly weekends spent hiking. My favorite hiking spots were Qadisha Valley, full of monasteries and waterfalls, and Chouwen, where I would recommend anyone to go swimming in the freezing but beautiful turquoise lake!

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Over the course of the summer program I lived in dorms on-campus. Although I appreciated living in an apartment off-campus after the program had ended in order to get more of a real feel for the city, I enjoyed the dorms because of their convenient location after the very long days spent in class.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in the AUB Summer Arabic Program?

It's hard to pick just one! Here are a few things I wish someone had told me: firstly, you will likely hear fireworks and gunfire, especially in the summer. Don't worry, this is celebratory and normal! Secondly, be sure to pour fresh water over your head to protect your hair after you shower. Thirdly and most importantly, if you are lost or have any question, big or small, just ask. People are incredibly friendly and willing to help you.

Lake Chouwen in Lebanon
Taking a break, looking out over the lake in Chouwen

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

Through the AUB program, I transitioned from struggling to order breakfast in Arabic upon my arrival, to having full length conversations with locals as I progressed. Aside from AUB's high level of education, living in Beirut also offered an opportunity to see and understand first-hand the many challenges that Lebanon is currently facing (i.e. the refugee crisis, garbage crisis, unclean water, etc.) as well as the huge amount of resilience and innovation of locals in response to these issues. This ranged from local non-profits working to educate and empower Syrian children, to activists working towards building a solid recycling program in Lebanon, and so on. These types of activities were truly inspiring to see and be a part of, and have left me with a sense of global understanding and commitment to service that I will take with me for the rest of my life!