Confront difference while living by the sea May 22, 2022

By (International Relations, Davidson College) - abroad from 08/08/2019 to 12/23/2019 with

American University of Beirut: Beirut - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Perspective, cultural competence, empathy and some mad defensive skills on the soccer field.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

There is no better place to learn Arabic than AUB as a non-native speaker. I took two Arabic classes at AUB 1) MSA and 2) Amiyya Lebanese dialect and both classes pushed me to be a better speaker writer and reader of the language. My instructors were well prepared and experts at teaching Arabic as a second language. Both also made extra efforts to meet when school was canceled for two weeks in November 2019. Particularly my Lebanese Arabic instructor Salwa would meet us at coffee shops and over dinner to practice. In many ways Beirut was also my classroom as I tried to rely less on English and more on the vocabulary I'd learn in class to continue practicing, especially as my Arabic instructors encouraged me to do so.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

If you need questions answered about your stay, people are very nice and helpful at ensuring you know what you are doing.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Our housekeepers and landlord were extremely kind and helpful at solving any maintenance issues that came up. These instances were also few and far between as well.

* Food:

Frankly I credit a lot the changes in my diet to my time in Lebanon. I moved from primarily meat based diet to primarily lentil, legumes, chickpea based diet after eating so much great food in Lebanon. I don't think there was a single thing I ate that I didn't like and I was able to learn how to make staples such as fattoush, mujuddra, tabbuleh, musahbha, and fityar. I cook using a lot of the same ingredients I learned about in Lebanon, so I can say that I would eat a lot differently if I hadn't traveled to Beirut.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

As a Black American in Beirut, it was a fascinating experience of culture shock/cultural challenge that I found extremely valuable for my growth as a person. Often did not see myself identifying culturally with anyone I met or interacted with, including other international students. The initial cultural adjustment was tough (1st month or so) namely due to realizing how different my life in the states was as compared to my life/experience in Beirut. One aspect I appreciated was that the interactions I had with locals had an air of genuine intrigue about who I was and where I came from. I enjoyed the conversations with my local store owners, Al-Fakhani as they were Syrian born with Lebanese relatives in Beirut (i.e how they were able to immigrate and establish themselves) as they would often ask me about how Lebanon compares with home. The truth is it doesn't. To me, life moves at a more appropriate speed in Lebanon than in the US. People make time for each other and seem to create spaces for dialogue across cultural lines. Does saying all of these mean that I had nothing but positive cultural experiences in Lebanon? No, as is the case in the US, cultural ignorance is a reality and I often found myself frustrated when faced with instances of my own cultural incompetence and cultural incompetence of others I met, but when faced with situations of cultural ignorance I found myself seeing them more as opportunities for dialogue / demystifying cultural stereotypes. One thing that helped with my own cultural immersion journey in Lebanon was learning how to speak Arabic and trying to rely on my Arabic speaking to make connections. Language and cultural heritage are so connected in Lebanon so being able to use words in Syrian or Lebanese dialect when communicating with people I think helped to begin bridging gaps. Although English is common, it was much more fun/ rewarding to use Arabic to communicate with most people. To other PoC or Black Americans considering traveling to Lebanon, I highly recommend as it is a place where I found myself challenged productively by cultural difference. Its a skill/knowledge base that I cherish/ think we as global citizens should continue to grow.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I didn't have to go the hospital much. Though another student from Davidson visited AUBMC and didn't seem to have any issue.

* Safety:

I personally found Beirut to be extremely safe from day to day. I never felt as if I was in any immediate danger during the day or at night. Some nights I would stay out pretty late with friends but in most cases I was not scared something would happen I would advise traveling in small groups if you plan to go out late as with every city with an active nightlife, anything can happen. I'd also just say that generally getting a sense for the well-lit routes and common routes throughout Beirut and Ashrafiyah is a good idea as its always something fun to do, it just might not be in the most well lit of areas so you want to know how to get places safely. To me, a native of Chicago, this is pretty common knowledge for all cities. I will preface this comment with the fact that I am a taller man so my physical privilege may have played a role in my feelings of safety as well but I generally never felt like I was in much danger walking around town or traveling across the country.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

It was the best decision I've made so far in my life. I met nice kind people from all backgrounds, learned a language more intimately and confronted my own foreignness / the natural conflict that comes from dealing with difference. I was challenged in the best of ways, i visited basically everywhere, and I learned as much as my brain could fit.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Everything is much cheaper in Lebanon and usually the produce and ingredients to make food were not expensive.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? 120
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? cook! ingredients are not expensive so don't rely on just eating out. Also more money for travel.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

all the time

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Arabic as a foreign language 2 years
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Make mistakes. It's okay to get frustrated and work through the difficulty of learning a new language. Be a sponge and never cut yourself off from being teachable. Learn in stores, restaurants, the library, everywhere

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The people and the conversations
  • practicing Arabic
  • Taking a much needed break from my home institution and learning from a somewhat comparative model. Technically still an American -style university but still much different student population
* What could be improved?
  • Communication between my home university and AUB
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I should've known where to look where to live. It was fine living with other Davidson students but I didn't look too hard for housing when I could've been more particular

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!