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Posts tagged ‘aub’

What if Humanistic Education = Scientific Education ?

If you ask someone what they would do if they could change any one thing in the world the responses usually range from world peace to ending hunger and stopping wars. So, imagine my surprise when, amongst a room-full of recent Lebanese engineer graduates, I hear repeatedly: If I were a dictator…. I would give more money to art education and make it so the humanities were as respected as the sciences and creative jobs would be just as well paid as those in the scientific arena.

If only this group of friends knew that education reform is one of my greatest passions!

I than had a conversation with one friend who could have been my mirror: she remarked on how she feels that university made her into a robot. For four years, her brain served as a hard drive and was forced full with theory, which she would have to regurgitate onto exams. Basically, she toiled for four years of intense study of formulae to achieve a piece of paper. And now what? She needs to get a job as soon as possible to pay off her loans.

Does this story sound familiar anyone? For some reason, stories like this keep following me wherever I go and they continue to push me to reevaluate my educational path.

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Lebanon: A Harmonic Clash?

Even though everyone told me that Beirut was the most unique and progressive city in the region and the “Paris of the Middle East” (and here I have even heard the “Prostitute of the Middle East”) I still could never have imagined that this would be one of the most oddly liberal cities I have ever visited.

While many people here distort what they think is “progressive” into an obsession with consumerism, in hopes of becoming something they are not (trying to become American/European), and thus disregarding all tradition and heritage, I am quite lucky (thanks to a dear friend of mine) to have seamlessly slid myself into a group of friends who have somehow  managed to maintain a sense of respect for themselves and their culture while embracing the 21st century world we live in and everything that comes with our generation.

This unique group of friends, although all University graduates (mostly AUB), come from an array of backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions. Druze, Christian, Sunni, Shia. Although  I realize it is not that common for a group of people with such different lifestyles to be such good friends (thus the group as an entity is not the norm) I have found it fascinating to see each individual’s opinion on social and spiritual issues molded by their family and their university environment.

First of all, while playing Truth-Or-Dare, I would never have guessed how open my Lebanese friends were in divulging details about their intimate lives. I learned things about these new friends that even my best friends in the U.S. would never speak of. What does this say about Lebanon and what does this say about the U.S.? Before, I had an American media-skewed mind that gave me a blanketed picture of Arab countries as being sanctuaries of modesty and sexual repression but, after playing Truth-or-Dare for hours I began to wonder if people in the U.S. are actually the ones being subconsciously brainwashed into some sort of Protestant ideal. Maybe the oxygen of our thoughts is being removed without us knowing it because we live under the (false?) pretext of residing in the freest country. Thus, since we really do believe in our socially superior position in the world we have become idle in questioning the status quo.

While the majority of my friends in the States and I have similar views on social topics, such as abortion, immigration policy and the death penalty, I have found it so wonderful that this group of friends in Lebanon have a wide range of ideas and opinions in regards to these often unspoken topics and are not afraid to share their thoughts. Last night, at an Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fast) in the Bekaa Valley, we went around the room and voiced how we would change the world if we were a dictator. Gay rights, chocolate mountains and Shakira came up, as did the death penalty. And so the debate began. There were two main separations at the table: those that believe that there should be capital punishment and those that are against it. What was most fascinating was to see the reasoning behind each person’s stance. It was beautiful to see how even though people’s voices would rise, hands would fly and stark differences would be revealed, at the end of the day we were all the best of friends and it did not matter that we had just been at each other’s throats in talking about issues we really care about. I am embarrassed to say that I have never had a close friendship with someone that thought so differently than I on social issues. That this group of friends is so comfortable with each other to be themselves  further increases my extremely high regard for them all.

When the topic of abortion came up the fire was lit again, but this time I would say there was more agreement in the group and I was the odd one out. The general opinion was that abortion should be legal and allowed in cases of rape and incest but that it was an over-used form of contraception. While abortion here is formally illegal it is widely practiced. I continued to staunchly support the right of choice and it was interesting how, as per usual, the men had a stronger opinion on abortion than the women (I am still confused about why, no matter which country, men seem to care SO much). One of the arguments against abortion was “Why kill babies when so many people who want children cannot have babies, i.e. gay couples.” My response: “Orphanages are spilling over with kids and the world is over-populated for God’s sake!” While others, who do not support the death penalty, stated that aborting a fetus is killing a life. Opinions on abortion also depended on religious upbringing and, according to their certain book and belief, the time at which the soul enters the body. For example, the Druze believe the soul enters the body upon birth.

Honestly, I have had the most interesting conversations in this country and it never ceases to amaze me how similar we all are.

Top 7 MOST surprising things about Lebanon

So, I have been here five days so far and have picked up on many cultural curiosities. Here are just a few in no particular order!

1)    Everyone wears Jeans!!!

Always classy!
notice the awesome heels

Even though it may be 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humid everyone seems to wear jeans!* Lebanese wear jeans for many reasons.1) They are considered modest and a good option for Muslim women 2) They give less chances for men to be crass. One of my friends said: “I won’t wear shorts in a service (group taxi) since you never know who you will be seated next to 3) they are a fashion statement, of course!

You can almost single handedly pick out foreigners from the crowd by just looking to see if they are wearing jeans.  When packing for my trip I only packed dresses, shorts and skirts in response to the high temperatures I foresaw. So, third day in Beirut I was off to buy jeans at the Beirut Souks. The Beirut Souk used to be the old market place before the war  and so developers have built a beautiful outside mall with old Arab influences in the architecture. You can find anything from H&M to Dolce Gabbana here and it seems like a good place for people watching—as is every other place in Lebanon as plastic surgery is rampant!

*I have not yet been to the beach and am sure that jeans are NOT worn there.

2)    Great Water Pressure!

There is better water pressure in my dorm showers than in my dorm in California!!! I think this is most likely because I am staying at the American University of Beirut but, even though Lebanese say the country is a third world country, it really feels much more like a second world country! Electricity goes out often so I guess it needs some time to become “first world.”

3)    Lebanese Love American Food!

There are American restaurants everywhere!!! From pinkberry, dunkin’ donuts, McDonald’s and burger king to Applebee’s! The supermarkets have all the newest American hair products and house goods. And the thing is that Lebanese love all this stuff! McDonalds does not have the reputation it has in the states as being for those that cannot afford better—it is a fun “cool” place here.  A Lebanese owned American diner-style restaurant called “Roadster” has also opened up and there are lines out the door at their many locations!

4)   Lebanese LOVE sushi!

Out with friends eating Sushi!

Other than American food, Lebanese LOVE sushi! There are sushi restaurants everywhere! Last night I ate at a wonderful conveyor belt sushi place with a dear friend! So delicious! Ps. For dessert at a different restaurant I drank an avocado mango drink! Delicious!

5)    There is no civil marriage.

One thing that I found quite curious was the fact that there is no civil marriage in Lebanon. On your ID it says your religion (passed down from your father) and two people are obligated to marry in the specific church or mosque. A couple then lives “under” that sect’s law in regards to testimonies, divorce laws etc. For example, Marionite Christians have very strict divorce laws which can take up to 10 years to resolve and some wills will be passed down only to the primogeniture.

So, I asked the question what if people from two different religions want to get married? The answer: Either, one of them converts OR they fly to Cyprus and have a civil marriage.

Since weddings show the status of a family—the more people you invite and the grander the ceremony, fireworks etc. the better the reputation—weddings cost LOTS of money. Some families are ok with having their children elope as it won’t cost them as much BUT, the wedding is still a highly engrained tradition which if not done “right” could create a bit of a scandal.

6)    The country is so small!

I never realized just how small the country of Lebanon is! If there was no traffic it would take about two hours to drive around the gorgeous land. People talk about different towns as if they were far a way, or as if a neighborhood was THAT difficult to get to but honestly I could walk around Beirut’s entirety in a few hours! That, to me, is awesome!

7)    Lebanese are the friendliest people EVER!

They are the most warm and hospitable people I have ever met! While some of my classmates get annoyed that the shopkeepers won’t talk to them in Arabic (Lebanese are generally tri-lingual: Arabic, French and English)  a friend of mine told me the true reason: They just want to make it EASIER for you! They want you to feel more comfortable.

I was graciously invited to a wonderful evening dinner party on the first night I arrived in the country. My host, his family and all his friends could not have made me laugh more, smile more or feel more at home! Subsequently, I have been taken out to see the city by the people I met that night and I am always being checked up on. Everyone wants to make sure I am having a good time! And don’t worry: I LOVE IT here!

Note: Dear lebanese readers: if you think I may be wrong in any of my points please correct me! Merci!

Right off the plane I was whisked away to an amazing Lebanese feast in Amioun, a small town north of Beirut

Up In The Air Lebanese Style

Lufthansa is the most reliable, on-time, predictable, exact airline. I had booked my flight on the German carrier because 1) it was the most inexpensive and 2) I know it relies and works on strict time. All this is true, I have learned, until the Lebanese arrive!!!! My layover was in Frankfurt, the hub of orderliness but this time around was different. I had never seen a check-in more chaotic in my life! People scrambled, screamed, clumped. Babies cried. My God, there were so many kids!!!! After we all finally got checked-in we were sent to board buses! Yes, I thought, I was back in Europe. The bus slowly made its way all over the airport until arriving at our small plane. By this time we were at least 30 minutes late. As my mama would say, Oy Vey.

Once on the plane the misunderstands began: The German flight attendants not speaking French and many Lebanese not speaking English. 1-2-3 call Nett in as a translator. I was asked to move seats three times before take off, by this time back in my first seat.

Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a very sweet (initially) Muslim woman carrying her 2-year-old son (well, I thought it was her son until he started crying for mama later in the flight and I found out he was the woman’s 17 year old daughter’s baby). This woman’s older son had downs syndrome and would scream throughout the flight.  I remember saying to my papa: “The flight from Frankfurt to Beirut is only 4 hours! That’s not bad at all.” He responded, “Well, you are going to be so anxious and excited and those four hours will seem like forever.” Boy, was he right. To make this woman even more intriguing I noted in my journal:  “We are trying to speaking in Arabic-English.  She just told me she has 10 sons and 4 daughters—after asking me if I have a man.”

The flight would ensue with babies crying EVERYWHERE (It seemed like all the Lebanese expat babies were on board), the woman furiously eating MY portion of the Lufthansa meal (is she eating for two again?), bottles flying, and a flight attendant apologizing to me with a box of “special sweets”: “This is not what Lufthansa is like. This is not our usual state. Please come fly with us again we will make it up to you.”

BUT, aside for the long tedious flight across oceans and seas, the most important thing is that I am here safely and am SO happy to be doing exactly what I had wished.

Today, in Arabic class at the American University of Beirut, the teacher asked us which city we would like to visit. In the past, I had answered with “Beirut” and for the first time I didn’t have that carnal desire to leave and go somewhere else. I am here and, as cheesy as it may sound, I am creating my own path for my destiny!!

Skills, skills, skills

As an article in the Atlantic magazine said today: “For an education to be worth anything these days, it needs to impart skills.” Reading these words solidified the WHY I am leaving higher education for an alternative path where my goal is to become a skill-gainer. I fear that after four years, although I would have a diploma in my hands, I will not have learned any tool that I can use in the “real world.” No wonder 53% of all newly graduated college students are unemployed or are working jobs which are way under their supposed skill level as BA holders.

Language fluency is a skill. That is why I have embarked on the journey to learn Arabic. (Yes, I think the language is beautiful as well!). Painting and art are other activities that, in my mind, are tools. In the fall, I am planning on taking an EMT course in hopes of getting certified. Who wouldn’t want a person who is qualified in saving lives in their vicinity? And I hope one day to be able to code, among other aspirations. Now, let’s see how this all unfolds…

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