All of my life, or at least since I can recall, I have wanted to travel abroad, but specifically to Beirut, Lebanon. Having found myself in a situation to apply to an internship for World Youth Alliance (WYA) at their Middle East regional office, conveniently located in Beirut, I knew I had to send an application and accept the outcome no matter the decision. After making it through the interview, during which my screen froze, I was delighted when staff extended an invitation to join them in Beirut. For so long I had dreamed of going to Lebanon, the country from which my great-grandfather left to come to America, and now I was presented with the decision to accept or decline.
Naturally, having been given such an opportunity, I accepted the position. Prior to leaving my home in America I had made a few promises to family and friends, those distant and near, to stay safe, have fun and learn from others during my first international experience. In addition to the promises that were made to my family and friends, I had made a few promises to myself: to experience the culture and take back what I have learned to my graduate work and daily life.
The situations I have found myself here in Beirut are completely different than in America. To start, prior to this travel experience, I had only known certain words such as how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Arabic, which can only get you so far. Now I find myself learning how to say “girl,” which I believe is “bint,” “party,” which is “sahar,” as well as other words that have seemed to escape me.
Another situation I have found myself to be in quite frequently over the past couple of days is making friends at coffee shops. Two examples of this happened on Wednesday at Starbucks while I was waiting for some of the other interns to watch the Spain/Chile game. The first was with one of the male baristas who sat to have a conversation with me during his break. Learning about his life, or as much as we could discuss during his break, was extremely wonderful. The second was with a grandmother and her grandchildren, which proved to be a difficult yet rewarding situation. I say difficult because of the language barrier but it was rewarding when I played peek-a-boo with the children. Playing peek-a-boo with the children was the most fun experience, I had at that point in my trip, and it didn’t matter that there was a language barrier because laughter is universal.
While I find myself in these situations daily, which are interesting at times, I am extremely grateful for my fellow interns and the WYAME staff who get me through each day due to their helpfulness, supportive and friendly nature, and for making me laugh. Had I gone another day without meeting these wonderful people, I do not know if I would be so positive about my travel experience. I know that I have just met these people and I have so much to learn from them, but it seems like I have known them for years and I am constantly amazed that their wisdom is beyond their age.
I know that the first week of many has come to a close, but I have learned so much during this week that I will keep as a reminder for not only the rest of my time in Beirut but for the rest of my life. As the American comedian Kevin Hart says in his sketches “You gonna learn today,” yes, I am going to learn today and everyday for the rest of my life.
Hilary Ferencak is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.