Sorry for the late notice. I just got my internet up and running here in beautiful Beirut, Lebanon!!

After 32 hours of intense traveling, and the scariest flight I ever experienced, I have arrived. I’ve been in the city for three full days now and have been spending my time exploring the city with my new found friends. The first hours after my arrival were slightly daunting, I knew no one and had no access to the internet, which meant no access to my world in Portland. I never realized how attached I was to the internet and technology until I was without it. What a wake up call! I have to break this ridiculous addiction to technology!

Anyways, I eventually made friends with a lovely Syrian-American named Lena and we decided to hit the down. The city is incredibly open and welcoming. Most dress like Westerners and the neighborhoods surrounding the university are incredibly safe day and night. While some Lebanese were surprised when a pale redhead attempted to speak Arabic with them, everyone seemed willing to help me out with my language skills.

On to the excitement! Below I’ll break down some of the sites we (my friend Lena and I), saw in bullet form. I figure the simpler the better, because I could write for hours about my first few days here.

  • We visited the Blue Mosque (مسجد الامين), but we have yet to go inside. In the picture below, you can see some old Roman ruins as well. I’m not sure what the site is called or what the ruins are, but it’s pretty cool to see the ancient history.

    Blue Mosque

  • We walked the boardwalk and visited the chic Zaitunay Bay.
  • I had the best burger EVER, in a restaurant called Classic Burger Joint
  • We ate at a Lebanese staple: Barbar (بربر). I had the shawarma, of course.
  • We witnessed a massive wedding full of diplomats and politicians.
  • We visited the head quarters of Elie Saab, my favorite designer! Dream come true.

    Elie Saab

  • We explored Hamra (شارع حامرة), which is full of shops, nightlife and restaurants
  • Finally, we visited Rafic Hariri’s mausoleum.

    Rafic Hariri's Grave

As mentioned above, I have had some delicious food in the city. I’m staying away from fresh fruits and veggies for a few days so my digestive system can adjust, as per the recommendation of my program. I look forward to devouring the mangos and giant watermelons I have been seeing. I want to try everything I can. I also figured it was fine if I get sick of eating authentic shawarma, because I’ll never find it’s equal in Portland.

I’m glad I arrived a few days early so I could soak in the city before classes start. After spending three days exploring the city, reality is starting to hit, however. While my Lebanese is improving everyday and I am becoming more comfortable testing the waters of speaking with locals, I have a long way to go. We had our first Arabic class today, which began with a massive (25 page) placement exam. I find out in a few hours what level I placed in, which is making me rather anxious. Tomorrow we have our first formal Arabic lecture and begin our studies. All of the instructors seem lovely and have made us feel comfortable, a characteristic key in any language instructor. We will have class every morning of the week for about five hours. It will be a combination of MSA and Lebanese. Each weekend, there will be an optional excursion to places around Lebanon. While many have been canceled due to safety concerns (Damascus, Tripoli  Sidon), there are still a number of places we are able to visit. I’m especially excited to visit Byblos next weekend.

I’ll keep you posted on my future adventures and my class schedule as everything begins to unfold this week. Today is my birthday, so my friends and I will most likely explore a new neighborhood and find some delicious Lebanese treats to celebrate. I’ll make sure to post some pictures of my findings!



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Allison Swaim

About Allison Swaim

Allison is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. On her 22 birthday, she will make her first trip abroad to Lebanon. While the emphasis of the trip is to expand her Arabic skills, she is excited to experience the culture of Beirut. She is interested in post-colonial political movements, nationalism and conflict analysis. Having strayed very little from the Pacific Northwest, Allison is ready for a new adventure. While she has prepared as much as she can for her journey across the world, she accepts that she has no idea what she's getting herself into.

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