Beirut, Lebanon is a city with a beating, breathing soul. It’s a city of culture, a muse for the arts, and thousands of nooks and crannies to be discovered. “Set el dunya,” it has been called, which is an Arabic phrase that roughly translates into “wise lady of the universe.”
After experiencing a beautiful semester abroad last spring in Denmark, I’ve come to realize that studying abroad is one of the most fulfilling and self-improving experiences one can go through. When I got back home, to Beirut, I started to see the city from a new perspective. Some imperfections I started seeing as qualities, and some positive assets as defects of the city.
There is only one thing I can claim with full assurance: Beirut will never cease to surprise you.
Beyond that, here are some of the things that make the crowded narrow streets of Beirut my home, and also reasons why you should consider study abroad in Beirut.
Why Study Abroad in Beirut?
1. Friendly Locals & Foreigners
Meeting new people in Beirut is a piece of cake. Whether on or off campus, Lebanese people will never fail to be amicable and make you feel like you are right where you belong. Although most people already have a clique or group of friends they hang out with on a daily basis, a five-minute conversation with a stranger will automatically lead to weekend plans with them and their friends. Having local friends will make your experience studying at one of the universities in Lebanon all the more memorable, and will make you want to come back to Beirut sooner than you could’ve anticipated.
[Insider Tip: If you are looking for universities in Lebanon, the American University of Beirut is home to students from 75 countries, and it has a vibrant campus that is a reflection of the city’s cultural diversity.]
2. Everything is within walking distance
Although most of Beirut’s inhabitants prefer going from one place to another by car, walking in the city gives you a great opportunity to explore all the city’s curiosities and secrets spots. While Beirut is not yet well-equipped for pedestrians or cyclists, walking and biking is a growing trend in the city. On the bright side, you can save major gas or taxi money, considering that the city is small enough to walk from almost any one point to the other.
Whether you’re after groceries, bookstores, a good place to eat or drink, or unknown antique shops, you’ll be able to find it all within walking distance from your dorm or other housing.
3. Delicious, Affordable Food
Beirut has a significant food culture. Almost all local gatherings involve food in one way or another, as we often consider eating a means of coming together and socializing. You’ll surely be invited to feast on traditional Lebanese mezza – unlike anything you’ve ever tasted in Westernized Lebanese cuisine – on several occasions while studying in Beirut.
[Insider tip: On regular university days, you can grab a two-dollar sandwich from any of the multiple shops on Bliss Street for a lunch that I can guarantee will keep you full until it’s dinner time.]
An obstacle that almost all study abroad students face is having fulfilling experience on a relatively low budget. Food costs constitute a very big chunk of monthly spending, and having the possibility to eat according to your monthly or weekly budget is a big responsibility – one that we all have failed to meet sometimes. Beirut gives you the chance to choose for yourself how much you want to spend on food, most of the time without having to make major compromises on quality or taste.
4. Spots for quick vacations across the country
While the city itself lacks public green spaces, other spots around Lebanon will not disappoint students in offering beautiful scenery to get their minds off deadlines and heavy workloads. Lebanon is so small that you can go skiing in Faraya and then head for a lunch on the shores of Jbeil, all within a single day.
In most countries, escaping the chaotic city center to reach a calm and soothing destination is a hassle. On the contrary, long train or bus rides does not come in the way of a spontaneous “bolt for freedom” for those studying in Beirut. Even the furthest destination you might want to reach will barely be a two-hour car ride away! However, taking such short trips accompanied by a local would probably be best, especially since the most beautiful areas are sometimes small and isolated, hence lacking real directions or signs.
5. Vibrant Nightlife
Every day, in any weather, from sunset to sunrise, Beirut is famous for its nightlife.
The local nightlife caters to all, whether you’re looking for a raving party or a quiet place to grab drinks with soft music playing in the background. Small pubs and bars welcome customers from morning to night, offering food all day, providing students with a quiet place to study in Beirut. You never know what’s awaiting you, because the same quiet space you had coffee in after lunch can slowly turn the volume up, dim the lights, and start serving cocktails when the sun sets.
[Insider Tip: Clubs open their doors every weekend, hosting different local or international DJs. Hamra and Mar Mikhael are home to varieties of inexpensive pubs and bars that’ll help you unwind with good music and food. Keep an ear open for local musicians, and an eye open for local paintings hanging in these places.]
6. Beirut is not a warzone
Mainstream media depict Beirut as a dangerous city with terrorist headquarters all over the capital. All you need for any stereotypes and misconceptions to be dismantled is to spend one day in Beirut.
Although some areas in Lebanon may be experiencing conflict right now, such areas are very remote and disconnected from Beirut. The capital itself is very safe (and the American University of Beirut specifically has been historically known as the beating heart of liberal thought in the capital). Beirut is home to many different student born and bred clubs that allow each and every student to meet people who share the same interests, and students are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas with one another.
7. Be exposed to a diverse, dynamic place unlike any other
Cosmopolitan cities around the world often have similar vibes. It’s not strange to visit a place for the first time and feel like you’ve been there before. Beirut, while it sounds cliché, is truly unlike any other place in the world. Beirut will surprise you with its religious and cultural diversity. You could see a church and a Mosque standing side by side. You’ll get to hear Sunday church bells ringing while a Mosque calls for prayer.
Beirut brings different people together, and an all in all ambiance of ‘organized chaos’ that you have never witnessed anywhere else.
Every little flaw you see while studying abroad in Beirut will make you want to stay longer, and fix it. Every barely noticeable detail in Beirut will be engraved in your mind. Every small thing you might initially dislike about Beirut will end up growing on you and make you love it a little bit more in the end.
Convinced yet? Find opportunities to study at universities in Lebanon now.
This article was contributed by the American University of Beirut (AUB), an institution offering over 100 degree programs open to both local and international students. Founded in 1866, AUB follows the American liberal arts philosophy of higher education, making it an incredibly unique place to study abroad in the region.