Why I decided to study in Lebanon rather than in US for my semester abroad?
“Mom, I am going to Lebanon…” — “Wait, we need to talk!”
Every time I tell someone I am going to Lebanon, most of them have the same reaction: “Be brave” — “Have you been forced?” — “No, seriously?”
Here some reasons why I decided to study in Lebanon.
GO BEYOND PREJUDICES
Before arriving, I did not know anything about Lebanon. My only reference was L’As des Falafel (a Lebanese snack/restaurant very known in Paris). As I mentioned above, there is a lack of knowledge about this country. Last time people have likely heard something about Lebanon was documentaries about conflict with Israel (2006) and Lebanese Civil war (1975–1990).
« I have never felt safer in Lebanon than in Paris »
No, Lebanon is no longer at war. Karim is my hairdresser, Ahmed is my vegetable seller, and Omar runs a little shop down my home and are all Syrians living here. I went to cities close to Israel and Syrian border without getting any trouble. Mom, I am fine. Take a step back when watching the media. You will find checkpoints everywhere but to be honest, I have never felt safer here than in Paris.
Of course, we need to be aware of the instability of Middle-east. Tensions are running high between Hezbollah (a Shia political force which is considered by EU as a terrorist party) and Israel. Hezbollah is involved in the Syrian conflict supported by Iran. Iran is not in a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, which supports the Sunni (another Muslim branch and Lebanese political party). But Israel is allies with Saudi Arabia to face Iran …and blablablabla.
Anyway, it’s a pretty big mess but this is why it is so interesting.
GET OUT OF YOU COMFORT ZONE
Going abroad is the greatest opportunity to take risks and getting out of your comfort zone. You might go to a Western country where the culture could be more or less similar and enjoy your stay. But is it not more exciting to discover something different? Despite Lebanon is somehow occidental compared to other Middle-eastern countries, you might be surprised by several things, such as daily electricity cut, salty tap water, trash crisis… Again, If you truly understand the circumstances, you will enjoy your stay rather than complain.
GO DISCUSSING WITH PEOPLE
This is the main reason why I am enjoying so much my stay. Lebanese are known for their conviviality, friendliness and hospitality. I have been to many places in Lebanon and a lot of time, I discussed and have been invited to take coffee with them. They want to show you the best of their country and make your stay unforgettable. Moreover, Lebanese are English — French — Arabic speaker which makes it easier to discuss.
With more than 10 religious’ communities, I met people with different beliefs and opinions, talking about Palestinian situation, Syrian refugees’ crisis, American involvement, Israel tensions, Lebanese community … It’s not about debating but trying to understand their perceptions.
For the story, I heard shocking racist assaults on ethnic minorities. And even I have been a victim… I tried to understand why. In my opinion, the Kafala system, which still exists nowadays, would have likely been considered in Western countries as modern slavery. Basically, a family can “adopt” a domestic help — mostly coming from Ethiopia or Philippines. Meaning that ethnic minorities are condemned to occupy low level jobs, which can also explain a certain condescend, mostly in a country with high inequalities. Still interesting.
EXPLORING DEEPER THE HISTORY
When walking through different districts of Beirut, you might see different types of architecture. On numerous old charming buildings, bullet impacts remain visible from wars. However, the history of Lebanon dates back to more than 4000 BC. For people who remember their French middle-school history class, current Lebanon is situated in the Fertile Crescent, and many civilizations has gone through there. Phoenician and Romanian heritages are still visible in some parts of the country.
“GOING TO USA WILL BE MUCH MORE APPRECIATED BY RECRUITERS”
Let’s be honest. I believe recruiters know very well how the life is when studying abroad. Travels, exploring, parties and studying… Of course, Middle-East, as a business student, is not the favorite destination. The majority of international students I met here study politics, journalism, history…
But understanding how Lebanese take risks for running business in order to make a living is still fascinating. For such a small country, Lebanon has also produced many successful figures worldwide and we cannot ignore the fact that Lebanese have a business sense.
MY LOVELY LEBANON
It is hard to describe in few words how this country is amazing to explore: the food, people, historical places, hiking, skiing, sea … There are a bunch of things to explore and to say. I mostly want to show that going abroad is an adventure and you shouldn’t only choose your destination based on few prejudices and quality of life.
Wherever you go, there is something special to explore, you just need to find it.
Nam Ngo, November 2018