Michael Avanzato - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program? 

I've always been interested in the Middle East, and I wanted to gain more proficiency in Arabic. I had never lived outside the United States before, and I wanted to see a new country!

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

I have a couple great friends from Lebanon, and they really encouraged me to apply to the American University of Beirut (AUB). It has a great reputation in the Middle East, and is located centrally in Beirut, the country, and the region. The application process was also refreshingly simple; it was nice talking to a real person throughout the process, she helped me out big time! (shout out to AUB Enrollment Advisor Megan Scanlon!). I was also told tales of the delicious food and awesome people of Lebanon, and that could not have been more true!

Street in Tripoli, Lebanon

This restaurant in Tripoli, a city in North Lebanon, had maybe the best food I've ever eaten

What was your favorite part about the location of the university? 

This is a pretty tough question, as I loved Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, so much. It has a rare combination of being a venerable cultural center, uncommon destination for foreigners, and epic party central at the same time. Every part of Lebanon I visited (and I visited every city from Tyre to Tripoli) was fantastic and welcoming. Beirut in particular was a great location. AUB is positioned right on the Mediterranean coast, and I was able to eat lunch with friends every day looking over the ocean.

What made studying abroad at AUB unique?

I have many friends who have studied abroad, and none of them appreciated their program as much as I appreciated mine. Most study abroad programs stick you with dozens of other foreigners (mostly Americans). I was just like any other student at AUB, most of my friends were Lebanese, Syrian, or Palestinian. I now have so many friends from the country I've studied in, unlike friends of mine. The campus at AUB was also absolutely incredible. I've visited a ton of campuses throughout the U.S., and never seen anything like it.
Stairs to a monastery in Beirut, Lebanon

I stumbled on this incredible monastery on a hike in the East

How did the university staff support you throughout your program? 

I always felt super supported by the staff at AUB. They helped me find housing, and planned a lot of trips around Lebanon. They also organized several cool events. Most importantly, they helped A TON with visa/residency issues, and any problems that arose for the exchange students. The Office of International Programs (OIP) took care of a lot of the bureaucratic issues and paperwork.

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

Honestly, I would have spent the entire year at AUB, and studied more Arabic beforehand (not that you really need to know Arabic in the city). Also, I might now venture out of my comfort zone and live a little further from the university (I could see AUB's gate from my apartment).

Describe a day in the life of an AUB student. 

On a typical day, I would wake up and grab a coffee outside my apartment, then go to class. I'd grab lunch with a couple friends at a shawarma place on Bliss Street (just outside AUB) and then we'd eat on campus overlooking the ocean. After school I would hang out with some friends on campus, and then go drink some coffee at a cafe while I studied or did work. On the weekends, we would go out to some pubs in Beirut, or we would take trips to the mountains or to the South.

What was your favorite thing to do on your free time? 

I loved relaxing at the cafes in my area. Grabbing some small Lebanese bites, some coffee, and some hookah, and de-stress after a week of hard work. That's something I really miss being back here in the States.

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

I lived in an apartment off campus. I really loved how much freedom it gave me. Having my own place so close to campus, and still overlooking the ocean, was really almost unbelievable.

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

This program has without a doubt changed me permanently. I'm applying to grad school at AUB, and really feel like I have to get back to Lebanon as soon as possible. I absolutely fell in love with this country, and with AUB, and know that anyone thinking about applying should go for it! I'm sure you'll love this country as much as I did.

Overlooking the rolling hills of South Lebanon

This is a view overlooking some rolling hills in South Lebanon

What are the most important lessons you learned while studying in Beirut?

Honestly, and this may seem exceedingly cliché, the most important lesson I learned was to step outside my comfort zone.  At first, during my first week or two in Beirut, it was very easy to hang out with other international students. I quickly learned I had no interest in being friends with Americans (no offense, but we can be the worst), so I spent more and more time with my Lebanese friends. I travelled all across Lebanon, and forced myself to speak increasingly more Arabic. I would tell everyone to live off campus, find some roommates, and stay outside!

My other lesson would be to shed any preconceived notions of a place or area.  The media sometimes makes Lebanon seem like a dangerous place, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Are there problems in the country? Yes, like in every country. I, and many of my female friends, felt safer on the streets of Lebanon's glistening capital than on the streets of our own in Washington D.C. 

Break out of the mold, live a little, and come to Beirut.