Lorena Vergani - 2014 Program Participant

Baffa House interior with Lebanese art
The Baffa House had a great interior design and was full of Lebanese art. It got featured in l’Officiel Lebanon the month I arrived. I was their first long stay customer.

What inspired you to go abroad?

I had been learning Arabic with a private teacher since 2009, and I wanted to be immersed in the Arabic culture to improve my language.

Why did you choose the American University of Beirut?

I chose the AUB because it had the reputation of a great Arabic summer course and the campus looked just great, in terms of the architecture, the view on the sea, and the greenery!

What was your favorite part about Lebanon?

My favorite part about Lebanon is the amazing hospitality Lebanese people have and the gratefulness they share when foreigners visiting. For instance, on my plane from Paris to Beirut, I happened to be seated next to one of the Lebanese ambassadors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We engaged in a conversation and I explained to her my reasons for visiting Lebanon. During the flight she naturally gave me her contact number and the first week of my stay in Beirut, she picked me up with her sisters and friends every evening and we would all go to have dinner together. They always offered their help in case I needed something. This is one of the many examples I encountered during my stay in Beirut. People are naturally welcoming, ready to help you out, and every time I told someone I was there to study Arabic, they thanked me for having chosen their country for it.

What made your experience abroad unique?

The program was very well organized, and that made it unique. I also had the chance to be immersed in the country’s culture, talking in Lebanese Arabic every time I could, as I spent my time with Lebanese people.

Cedar mountain region in Lebanon
An image of one of my favorite AUB trips to the cedar region

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff was very supportive; I had the feeling they really cared about us. They were very empathetic with our problems and concerns, and were willing to help us anytime.

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

I think I had a perfect time there. I just wished I had stayed longer to be able to travel around a bit more. I really wanted to visit Batroun, Bekka, and Tripoli.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

After having taken a local cab (a serveece) to AUB, I used to arrive just in time to the class (as classes were quite early). After a four hour class, I used to have lunch at AUB or at one of the local restaurants next to the university with one of my colleagues. In the afternoon we’d either have more classes or a workshop, like watching a Lebanese film, learning how to dance the local dance (dabke), or visiting a local orphanage or a museum.

Sometimes I stayed later to get some help on my homework or subjects I had problems with understanding in class (mainly grammar). Then I would take a cab back to Mar Mikhael, have dinner, and continue the homework (as we had a lot), while having very interesting conversations in Arabic with the owner of the guest house I lived in. From time to time, I would go out for dinner with some local friends.

American University of Beirut building designed by Zaha Hadid
The building designed by Zaha Hadid at the AUB Campus was my favorite one to look at every day.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Honestly, I was studying so much that I didn’t have so much free time. But I loved to discover new restaurants in Beirut and meet interesting Lebanese people, like the great fashion designer Sandra Mansour, the smart journalist Ricardo Karam, or the beautiful ambassador Mira Daher Violides. I even took tennis classes at AUB while talking with the teacher in Arabic.

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

I had an amazing accommodation--the brand new Baffa House in Mar Mikhael, Ashrafieh. What I liked the best was the area, the big room I had, the great interior design, and that I was able to speak every day Arabic with the very fun owner of the Baffa House, Samer.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

They should be aware that it’s a serious, hard program. They are not there for holidays, but to learn seriously.

Colorful steps in Beirut, Lebanon
I used to take these beautiful painted steps from Ashrafieh down to Gemmayze.

Now that you're home, how has your time in Beirut impacted your life?

Every time someone is abroad, it impacts his/her life, and even more if you spend quite a long time, like in my case with 40 days there. It was very positive, because I learned so much about a foreign culture. I know this is because I spent time with locals and I was open to learning in an unfamiliar environment.

After returning to Paris, my time in Beirut impacted my life in terms of understanding even more the history of Lebanon, its concerns, its politics, and its people. It also helped me to convince my friends and my family that Beirut is not a dangerous city. It also impacted my life in terms of feeling of independence and self-assurance.

Would you recommend AUB to others? Why?

Without hesitation. The campus is just one of the most beautiful in the world, the weather is just perfect the whole year round, the program is interesting and hard, and the university staff is great. A very important recommendation is not to be hanging out all the time with your same country’s fellows, because it narrows down your “real” experience in the country. So meet locals, speak Arabic, and immerse yourself in the culture. Don’t be afraid of being open to what the city has to offer to you.