Ola Alhaj-Hassan - 2017 Program Participant

​Why Beirut? Why AUB?

That’s what my friends from high school would ask me, as we all packed our bags to leave Jordan and start our journeys abroad for university. Many of my friends went to the United Kingdom, and a few went to the USA; they were all flying so far away from home. I was the one who took only an hour’s flight to reach my destination, yet I got asked about it the most.

I simply chose Beirut because I regarded it as a destination where life would be very much possible for me. The city is a vibrant hub for arts and culture in a way that speaks a lot to my interests: I always wanted to be in a place that adds to my educational experience merely by virtue of living in it. Living in Beirut is by itself an ongoing extracurricular activity that supports my understanding of humanities and social sciences, which I am fond of studying at university.

Beirut Is Considered A Non-Traditional Destination. What Does Non-Traditional Mean To You?

I don’t think that any place on earth is unusual or non-traditional per se; the traditionality of a destination is a subjective matter. Everyone’s comfort zone is shaped uniquely; everyone has things they find logical and reasonable, despite the fact that their neighbour right down the street could find these things unbelievable or bizarre.Our own neighbourhoods or hometowns could sometimes make very little sense, and yet we learn to adapt to them and to make sense out of them. That being said, every place has people who find it very usual and traditional, whether it is the people who originate from it or those who comfortably choose it as a destination that they can come to call home.

Where I saw myself was very different from where my friends saw themselves; an hour flight for one person can be more unusual than a ten hour flight for another, and vice versa. It all depends on the person that you are, or the one you would like to become!

What Is Beirut Like? What Can Students Expect?

Beirut is not spared from generalizations and stereotypes: “it is all about the nightlife, it’s the Paris of the Middle East, it’s a fashion center, it’s expensive, it’s not safe” the list goes on. Even in my case, where the geographical distance between my hometown, Amman and Beirut is short, and lots of Jordanians, myself included, often visit it for a good vacation, many people I know have unrealistic expectations of Beirut.

The truth is that nobody knows Beirut like those who live in it: those who sit in its busy cafes and hunt for its cheap restaurants, those who know the perfect spots for celebrating its noise or for hiding from it.

One does not need to fit a certain formula to be able to enjoy Beirut. It is a city equally enjoyed by so many different, if not opposite, types of people.  There are those who drench themselves in its modernity, and others who criticize it.  There are those who party until dawn, and others who wake up at dawn to jog by the sea.

As a student living in the city, prepare yourself for a somewhat hectic lifestyle. You will probably spend lots of your time in areas filled with university students, which means that you are almost never alone and can always find company. However, this also means that you will need to recharge your social battery more often if you happen to be an introvert like me.

Beirut’s streets are busy with cars, and its sidewalks are busy with people, so you should expect to cross-paths with others very often, and to share your space with them, both literally and metaphorically. That being said, be ready to have your eyes opened to the fact that sharing your life with others means sharing time, place and resources, in addition to sharing stories and experiences.


What Advice Do You Have For Prospective Students?

Come to the city with an open mind, and promise yourself to try the different ways of life that appeal to you, until you feel ready to choose your own. This is what I’ve done, and this is exactly what threw me out of my comfort zone at first, but eventually taught me the greatest lesson I could ask for. Don’t worry, Beirut will not pressure you into adopting a certain lifestyle, but it is still going to overwhelm you with all the possibilities, and that’s how it makes you grow.

What Made Your Experience Studying Abroad Unique?

Beirut taught me the true importance of identifying my coping mechanisms in life. Every one of us has certain things that help them survive their day, and which they often take for granted. However, once we distance ourselves from the familiar places and faces, we accept that there must be several other ways to survive the day, and we begin to look for them. In learning about our coping mechanisms, we learn a great deal about ourselves, about our passions, our aspirations, our likes and dislikes.

 What Did You Enjoy Doing In Your Free Time?

I realized in Beirut that I am someone who likes to embrace my surrounding environment, both sonically and visually. I do not like shutting the world out with earphones or walking with my eyes focused on a mobile screen. Instead, I listen for clues in street noise and I stroll around with an eye for detail and take photographs of buildings, trees, and the sea.

I also feel very liberated when I take long walks on the corniche, where I enjoy the sight of people indulging in simple pleasures, like fishing, cycling, smoking cigarettes or hookah pipes, or eating some nuts or cotton candy.

Other than that, social media and local newspapers make it easy for me to keep an eye for different events taking place in the city, these range from poetry performances, to art exhibitions, theater shows, and film screenings followed by discussions. Attending these events makes me feel alive and surrounded by people who have interests similar to mine.

What Is Your Favorite Part About Beirut?

I learned that to love everyday routine, I need to break it, and to love Beirut, I need to leave it. This is why I sometimes choose to spend weekends exploring other places in Lebanon, hiking, or camping in the mountains!

Being in Beirut felt like meeting myself for the first time. Despite holding a lifelong reputation for being introverted, I found myself engaging in interesting conversations with strangers at a bar, with those who shared a servees ride (taxi) with me, with the vendor at the grocery store, with the baker from whom I buy my manoushe, or with the barista who knows my order as soon as I walk in.

"Beirut fascinates and entertains me everyday."

What Were Your Accommodations Like? What Did You Like Best About It?

I lived on-campus for two years, then I moved to an off campus building owned and operated by the University. Generally speaking, my favorite part about the different rooms and halls that I tried was definitely the social life; I met a lot of people who soon became like family; we would always plan group outings and celebrate holidays together.

Other than that, the best thing about on-campus girls’ dorms is that they are very close to the sea, and some of the rooms have beautiful views. The off-campus building is strategically located on a lively street that is only a five-minute walk from that University’s main gate.


How has your time abroad impacted your life?


I discovered all the little things that get me through my days, and leave me satisfied by the end of each day. I know that I will miss these things when I go back to my hometown, and that things will not be the same in the next city that I choose to live in after I’m done with my undergraduate studies. Yet deep down, I know that if Beirut taught me one thing, it’s that things are not supposed to be the same anywhere or anytime.

Beirut, with all its mood swings, taught me that the only constant in life is change. It also taught me that there are so many ways to cope with change. Our comfort zones are often more flexible and less rigid than we think they are, and bit by bit, we can define our boundaries and explore the edges of the uncharted territories within ourselves, and we can find ways to reconcile the blurred lines in between.​