Globalization is occurring very rapidly. Through social media and Google, we see different parts of the world at the touch of our fingers. Seeing my friends’ photos from Germany, Italy, and Spain and their study abroad experiences made me realize that there is a whole world that I was not experiencing. Studying abroad opened my mind to new cultures, broadened my views, and ultimately made me a worldlier person. Some researchers say that it can make you a better person because you are exposed to a different world out of your comfort zone.
I’ve always loved traveling, and I’ve always wanted to stay in Lebanon for longer than I usually do. Over the summer, I wanted to visit Lebanon to see family and explore. A lot of my relatives attended or attend the American University of Beirut (AUB) and spoke very highly of it, so I decided to spend two months in Lebanon and take classes at AUB.
Why did you choose the American University of Beirut?
A lot of my relatives speak very highly of AUB, and the area around the university is easily accessible. In addition to this, there were opportunities to volunteer outside of class, which is exactly what I was looking for. I could only commit to studying abroad in the summer because of my heavy coursework, but if I could have, I would have spent an entire semester!
What was your favorite part about Beirut?
Beirut is exciting and spontaneous, but also quaint and reserved. It is open and progressive, yet conservative and traditional. Lebanon is a country of contradictions, and that is why I love it.
In Hamra, I walked on the Corniche at sunset, which was right behind the university, and watched the sky turn from a bright blue to a rich pink. I also loved going to the Mediterranean Sea, and sunbathing while reading a good book. Outside of Hamra, Lebanon has museums, shopping malls, and unique boutiques, all with some European or Emirati influence.
One of my favorite things to do is hiking. This year I went to the Chouf Cedar Reserve, where large cedar trees decorated the mountains, which is very different from New Jersey’s vegetation. I enjoyed my time in Lebanon, and I can’t wait to go back.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Studying at AUB was a wonderful and unique experience. The landscape of AUB was very different from what I am used to. Coming from New Jersey, I’ve never been to a college campus with so many palm trees and cats located right on the Mediterranean Sea! Along with palm trees, the campus is garnished with all different kinds of trees from all over world with nice little plaques explaining their origin. Around the trees, cats wander and sleep. Living in a city also made my experience abroad unique because I was able to walk everywhere, eat many different types of meals, and still admire the beauty of nature from the AUB campus.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff was very helpful during the whole process. Everyone was very nice and welcoming. For example, I had issues enrolling into classes and making an AUB account, but the AUB staff fixed it for me and enrolled me right away.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I explored Lebanon more and tried more of the restaurants around AUB. There are so many things to see (and eat)!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would wake up, have a manousheh (zaatar and olive oil baked on bread) for breakfast, and walk over to class. I lived in an apartment building a few blocks away from AUB, so everything was walking distance. I would go to class from around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., come home for lunch, or pick up a delicious shawarma sandwich from the many vendors on the way back to my apartment.
Afterward, I would go to the AUB beach and read my assignments there. If I wasn't at the beach, I was out and about exploring in Lebanon. I usually saw my relatives for dinner. Once a week, I volunteered at St. Jude’s hospital from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and walked to class from there.
How did you spend your free time?
I loved going to the beach, looking at the stores in the Hamra neighborhood and downtown Beirut, sightseeing, hiking in the mountains of Lebanon, and especially enjoying all of the food!
What did you like best about your accommodation?
I liked how everything was walking distance in Hamra. Also, Hamra is very close to other interesting places in Beirut, like downtown Beirut and Achrafieh.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Make sure you bring your appetite and sun screen. On a more serious note, don’t stay inside! Make sure you go out and explore Lebanon, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. There are so many things to see and experience, but not so much time, so use your time wisely!
What’s an experience you had where you took yourself out of your comfort zone?
During my time abroad, my uncle asked me if I wanted to go hiking with a group people from his hometown (that I didn't know). I felt very uncomfortable going, but I went and I did not regret it! The hike was amazing, and I'm glad I didn't stay in Beirut. I got to see a different side of Lebanon with a nice group of people.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I learned some Arabic in Lebanon and I try to speak to my parents in Arabic every so often. Along the streets of Hamra, there were many Syrian refugees; many of them were children who should have been in school, but instead were begging for money on the streets. I keep this with me and remember how hard it is for some people to live and how privileged I am to be able to go to university. I am more aware of how people live in other countries. I feel more sympathetic toward refugees, and this experience also impacted my thoughts on political issues regarding Syrian refugees.
This coming winter break I am studying abroad again, but this time in Haiti. I am more open to new experiences, I want to travel more, and I am more confident and courageous. The Lebanese people are very generous, good-hearted people. I always take this with me.
Would you recommend the American University of Beirut to others? Why?
I would definitely recommend attending AUB for a semester or a summer/winter program. I had an amazing experience in Lebanon and Lebanon is truly something to see. Everyone who goes there loves it.
Hailing from New Jersey, Serina is a junior at The College of New Jersey, where she is majoring in applied math and minoring in public health. After studying abroad in Lebanon, she has her heart set on studying abroad in Haiti. One unique thing about Serina is that she has performed piano at Carnegie Hall in New York and Cité des Arts in Paris, France.