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Is it safe to study abroad in the Middle East? Chances are if you are studying Arabic this is a question you (or your parents) are asking. We have helped thousands of students study abroad in Lebanon and their experience with safety has been overwhelmingly positive.
Here’s a few examples about traveling to Beirut that you might find surprising:
It’s comfortable for women
Our female students who have spent time in other Arab countries frequently comment on how life in Beirut as a single woman is a lot more hassle free than in other places they have been – not to name those countries.
In general, Lebanese are used to different styles, seeing more skin and interacting with members of the opposite sex. This means men won’t frequently stop what they are doing to stare at you or say things to you – if you don’t send the wrong signals.
What are the wrong signals? Honestly, the way you dress and how relationships look depends on where you in Lebanon and what you are doing and we will cover that in class. At ALPS Beirut we are passionate about helping you learn Arabic and build relationships here and a big part of that is being able to understand and relate to the people you are spending time with.
It’s a big city
Beirut is a dense urban city and even though the people are more welcoming and talkative than in large cities in Europe or America so you want to use the same, basic precautions you would use in any city. Things like:
- Always have your cell phone
- Don’t get in a stager’s car
- Don’t go out alone at night
- Have a trusted taxi company’s phone number on your phone before you go out
- Call ALPS Beirut anytime if you get lost or in a tough situation – we are here to help.
- Don’t try to break a $100 bill in a taxi – carry small bills
What about bombs?
Unfortunately terrorism is a global threat that can strike anywhere, anytime. We’ve seen this in Beirut, Paris and Boston – just to name a few.
We can’t promise that you will be safe studying abroad in Lebanon, another country or even at your home university. That’s just the reality about life. However, we can confirm that we’ve never closed ALPS for security reasons during the last 9 years, neither in Hamra nor in Mansourieh.
What Parents Say
We have had parents here when a bomb has gone off – and have been surprised by their reaction – cool, calm and not worried. However, those same parents when they saw something on the news 100 miles away got nervous and called. Once parents visit they are surprised by 1) the traffic and 2) how Beirut looks nothing like what they pictured from the news.
How to Decide if it is Right for You
Which brings us to our last point – it’s best to talk with people on the ground who have experience before you make a decision. Talk with students who have studied abroad, email a few places or give us a call.
If you have questions, doubts or concerns we can talk on the phone or Skype before you book your plane ticket. But, in the end, we like to tell students if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s best not to come.
You don’t need to bring too much cash with you when you come to Lebanon. If you have an ATM card that works internationally you can get cash here when you arrive. Bigger stores accept credit and debit cards, but for many transactions it’s easier to use cash – including paying your rent.
There are ATMs in every neighborhood and you are able to withdraw either US Dollars or Lebanese Lira at most ATMs. You can shop or eat at a restaurant with either currency and you will get your change back in US Dollars, Lira, or both.
Note: One US Dollar is fixed at 1,500 Lira.
Note: this post is by Andrew and is based off of his experience with airbnb. ALPS Beirut cannot endorse or guarantee airbnb listings.
Have you tried airbnb yet? This can be a great option if you are looking for short term lodging and are staying in Beirut for a month or less. There are also some renters who will give you a discount if you are staying longer. It can be a little intimidating to use airbnb the first time, but here are a few tips I have learned when using airbnb in different countries.
1. Decide if you want to share an apartment or have your own place
If you are looking to practice your Arabic by staying with someone Lebanese, sharing an apartment can be a good option. Make sure to look closely to see if you will be staying with other foreigners or with someone Lebanese.
Here I am looking for a private room in Beirut:
If you want more time and space to yourself you can easily search and rent an entire apartment in Beirut.
If you have any questions about neighborhoods or how long it would take to get to ALPS Beirut please email us. ALPS Beirut is a private Arabic Language Center located in Hamra near the American University of Beirut.
2. Look at the number of reviews
I personally never stay at a place with less than 5 reviews. If an option has only a few reviews it means they are either just getting started or for some reason no one is staying there. Either way, I don’t want to take the risk and that’s why I only book with people who have proven experience.
Which place would you rather stay at?
3. Read the comments carefully
Because airbnb is a personal experience most people are hesitant to give anyone lower than a 4 star review. In fact, about 95% of places listed on the site have 4.5 or 5 star raitings. It is true that airbnb does provide a consistently good experience, but I don’t think the star rating is the best signal that this is a good apartment for you. Instead, take a look at the comments.
Comments should be specific, long, and give details about a great experience. This means the host and the place are remarkable and you will have a better chance of getting what you expect. A lot of short and general comments can mean that the experience was less than expected and the reviewer is just being polite.
Safety: Lastly, it’s easy to use the airbnb app to chat with someone before you book a place to make sure you get a good vibe from them. No matter where you are staying, it’s aways smart to bring your mobile phone and get a data plan in Lebanon as soon as possible in case there are any emergencies.
If you want to book a place with airbnb make sure to go to the site from this link to get $25 off.
Want to become a host?
airbnb is still pretty new to the Middle East and hopefully each month there will be more listings. If you are Lebanese, and are interested in hosting with airbnb, use these tips, make sure to provide an accurate listing, and then do a little extra something to increase your chances of getting good feedback so that your listing can stand out.
Arabic is the official language of 22 countries, stretching from the Arabian peninsula up to Syria, and across North Africa, and is spoken by over 200 million people. These peoples and countries use Modern Standard Arabic in news broadcasts, legal documents, official speeches, books and newspapers. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is also taught at universities around the world because of its standardization and academic use.
However, no one in any of these 22 Arabic speaking countries uses Modern Standard Arabic in daily conversation. Instead they use the spoken dialect, the language of relationships, to communicate and connect with family and friends. The spoken dialect varies within countries and across the region. However, the countries of the Levant: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, share a common dialect of Spoken Arabic. When you study with us in Beirut you be learning the Levantine Arabic. This means within the Levant, people will say you sound Lebanese and everyone in the Arab World will be able to understand you.
However, once you get outside of the Levant the spoken dialects have a lot less similarities with Spoken Lebanese, as a result people in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Morocco will be able to understand you, but you won’t be able to completely understand them at first. This is true even if you have studied MSA because the words and phrases that are used most often in conversation vary the most across countries. If you have a MSA background and want to learn the dialect, you’ll be able to use your knowledge of the Arabic alphabet as you adapt to the spoken dialect. Then, once you have a foundation in day to day conversations you’ll be able to use those bigger words you have learned in MSA (like United Nations and political science) because they are more often used in the spoken dialect as well.
The material for Lebanese Dialect does not overwhelm the student, and it is a good thing that I could learn practical things from my teachers Nadia and Rima.” — Satu
The answer is…it depends.
Yes if you are a lady
There is a consensus among our female students that it is more comfortable to live in Beirut and study Arabic compared to countries like Egypt or Jordan. In general, the men will take less notice of you here and there is such a variety of styles in Beirut that you won’t have to change your wardrobe to fit in. Since Beirutis are used to interacting with the West, foreigners are less of an attraction here.
Yes if you like variety
Lebanon is the most colorful country in the Middle East with a spectrum of religious confessions, styles and opinions and this means getting to know people here will usually have a few surprises. In Lebanon, when you meet someone new you have no idea about his or her religious beliefs, opinions, family life or values. In addition to the diversity of the Lebanese, Beirut also has Palestinians, Syrians, Kurds living and working in the city and welcomes Gulf visitors for the summer.
Yes if you are coming to the Middle East for the first time
When you are in a new country, especially a country that is much different from your own, there are a lot of things to get used to. It takes more energy learning a new language and living in a new culture and because of that your brain can never be in auto pilot. The stress that comes from this varies significantly from student to student. Since Beirut has always been a middle ground between the East and the West when you need to take a break and find people and places that feel a little closer to home you can.
No if you only want to hear Arabic 24/7
Like we mentioned, Beirutis are comfortable with foreigners and they are even more comfortable with foreign languages. In general, Lebanese speak English and French more frequently and better than other parts of the Middle East. This means that if you are in certain neighborhoods or restaurants, people will most likely begin talking to you in English first. There are a lot of people here who would like to speak Arabic with you and it just takes a little motivation and intentionality to find them.
-How long do I want to stay in Lebanon?
-Do I want to stay near ALPS in Hamra, where it’s more comfortable and has a more Western feel? Or do I prefer something cheaper and less Western?
-How much am I willing to spend?
There are reasons why we don’t provide accommodations or make housing reservations for
students: 1) Beirut is a very diverse city. Just walk 10 minutes and you can feel like you are in a completely different town. Often times, students end up wanting to switch accommodations and areas once they get to Beirut because of this. 2) There isn’t a one size fits all solution. Different students have different wants and needs, and that’s why we want to help you find a place that is right for you so you can make the most out of your time in Lebanon. Take a look at our tips below and contact us if you have any questions:
How long do I want to stay in Lebanon?
If you are staying for 2 months or less it may be best to get a student dorm, hotel or share an apartment with someone looking for a roommate. If you are staying longer, a furnished apartment will save you money and be a good option.
NEST Student Dorms
These dorms are near ALPS Beirut in Hamra and it is best to reserve a room before you arrive. You can contact Ms. Maruzella Abboud by email at email@example.com or by phone +961 1 34 99 01 extension 106
Join this Facebook group to find a roommate or a furnished apartment for rent. This is a good option for you to check out no matter how long you are staying. It is updated daily with rental options and foreigners looking for roommates. Feel free to post what you are looking for to the group.
Do I want to stay near ALPS in Hamra, where it’s more comfortable and has a more Western feel? Or do I prefer something cheaper and less Western?
Some students like staying in Hamra and others don’t like it at all. Living in a foreign country and learning a new language takes a lot of energy, so it can be helpful to have a close and comfortable place to stay.
If you live further from ALPS, you will save money on accommodations and be in a neighborhood that uses more Arabic and feels less Western. In exchange, it may take you longer to get to ALPS and you may not be able to use your AC all day and night due to the lack of electricity outside of Beirut. If you find a place or neighborhood you are interested in, talk to us first and we can tell you what it is like and how long the commute will be in Beirut traffic.
Here are some good things about staying away from Hamra:
-Speak Arabic on the bus or in a service on the way to ALPS
-Get out of Hamra and experience the diverse neighborhoods in and around Beirut
How much am I willing to spend?
Beirut has variety in everything, and housing options and pricing are no different. In general, the closer you are to downtown or Hamra the more expensive the room. Below are some options listed from cheapest to most expensive:
2. Share a dorm or apartment
See the links above or ask us if we know of other students at ALPS looking for a roommate.
3. Rent a furnished apartment
4. Get a hotel
This is your most expensive option. However, it can be very helpful to book a hotel for a week or two while you get to know the city and look for an apartment or roommate.
A site with a lot of news about what is going on in Beirut and a listing of cheaper accommodations.
Is “A practical guide to Lebanon” with excellent general information in addition to hotel and furnished apartment listings.