“I never thought I would enjoy it this much. I came with doubts but the next day turned my frown upside down. It is a very cool experience!” Jude Hammami, 15 years old, is talking about the 2019 SPAAC Summer Program, three weeks of classes, cultural activities including visits to historic and archaeological sites in Lebanon, and opportunities to get to know and work with refugee students. Jude, who traveled to Lebanon from the US, is one of 21 students who participated in SPAAC this year. For some SPAAC students, it was their first time in Lebanon. For others, like 16-year-old Soha Ramadan, also coming from the US, it was a chance to learn more about Lebanon, a country that they have visited before and heard a lot about—often from family members. “SPAAC introduced my country, Lebanon, to me through a new lens. I discovered who I am and where I come from. I am lucky to have made friends for life,” she says.
In his welcoming remarks on July 2nd at the reception for students, parents, family, friends, and staff in West Hall, AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri noted that all three of his children were SPAAC alumni and had enjoyed “the type of wonderful experience” that Jude and Soha are having this summer. “We expect SPAAC participants to come, meet, and learn about their own culture. We expect them to become close friends, but it’s always special. We become a family over the summer with memories that last forever,” says Abboud Assio, long-time SPAAC program coordinator, who accompanies SPAAC students on all off-campus activities.
AUB’s Alumni Relations Office and Continuing Education Center (CEC) organize the three-week summer program that includes courses in Arabic, Lebanese studies, Middle East history, archaeology, drama, and Lebanese traditional folk dance (Dabke); day trips to a half-dozen sites in Lebanon; and an extensive social program. What many students most appreciated though were the activities that AUB’s award-winning Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) organized with Al Maymouna Association to offer SPAAC students the chance to work with refugee students on projects. “We collaborate with many departments, offices, and units across AUB whose staff members support this great program,” explained Marwan Al Orabi, CEC programs manager. Another highlight of the SPAAC program was the chance to meet and get to know other SPAAC participants. “Despite all the classes, the other activities are really fun and interesting. The most fun times are at night when we all get together and spend time together,” says Mila Haffar, 14 years old, coming from the US. Fifteen-year-old Alya Khoury, who also lives in the US, agrees. “I am extremely happy to be surrounded by people who are all different but share the common experience of living in the US with Lebanese parents” she says.
AUB began organizing SPAAC in 2002 to provide the children of AUB alumni with an opportunity to learn more about Lebanon and also their parents’ alma mater. Interest in the SPAAC program both in the USA and globally has grown. The program is now offered to all students 14 to 18 years old, not just children of alumni.
“We registered my son and his cousin for one week and thought this would be enough for two 15-year-old young men. They loved the program from the first day though and insisted on extending for an additional two weeks. We highly recommend SPAAC!” said Rami Habli, father of SPAAC student Danny Habli, who lives in Kuwait.