n this blog series, we're focusing on the stories of Lebanese who have left the country and who have moved back. We want to share their experiences of transitioning to and from Lebanon, including the challenges and the joys, and then leave you with some of their advice.
This week, we had the honor of talking with Tala, an AUB graduate, who pursued a masters in the U.S., and then chose to come back to Lebanon to develop her skills at a UN agency in the country she calls home.
Did you have to come back or did you choose to come back? Why?
I chose to come back to Beirut from the States after completing my graduate studies. Staying abroad was an option, but I chose not to pursue it at this stage, partly because the practice I chose is very much place-based and every city is a learning opportunity on its own. I'm very passionate about the city I grew up in and I always thought that I needed to come back and immerse myself here with my newly-developed “expert lens” and learn from this city. It wasn't an easy transition at first as I didn’t know what was awaiting me here and I was uncertain for how long I'd be in Beirut, but it eventually worked out. At some point, you need to start building yourself up somewhere and despite the many challenges here, it is worth giving it a shot.
How have you implemented what you learned abroad into your life here?
Moving back here wasn’t really an interruption of what I learned abroad; the learning process continues and becomes more adaptive the more time I spend here. Living abroad was a milestone that definitely helped me grow as a person, and that process is far from done (does it end, really?). Getting things done on my own was one of the key things I learned abroad; I kept that momentum as I came back to Lebanon and I still deal with any issue as if I had no guidance/support. I also still cook! My biggest learning curve was during my studies and I still use the tools, skills and resources that I cultivated in grad school in my work in Lebanon, helping me take major leaps in my projects. It was a challenge to adapt skills and methods imported from abroad to our Lebanese way of doing things, but I’m glad to have that reference always there in the back of my head.
How do you make the most of living in Lebanon?
By being fully present here, looking at the glass half full and getting out as often as I can. There’s always something to do here, whether alone or with your friends, so getting bored and/or uninterested is really a personal choice. I keep on coming across hidden gems, and this city/ country has plenty. It certainly helps to stay off social media!
What is one of the biggest challenges of living in Lebanon after living abroad?
Aside from the basics that ought to make your day-to-day life so much easier (ease of access/ mobility/ affordability…), it's how slow things generally get done here, and fishing for motivation to keep going. Also, the struggle to find and collect (accurate) DATA!
How do you deal with these challenges?
I don’t think I (or anyone) have really figured a way to deal with those challenges yet, aside from living with them and making the most of what you can actually do at the moment. I’m still learning to cope, even if that sometimes means going the extra mile to get what I need.
What are some of the sacrifices you have to make living in Lebanon?
The sense of independence & living on your own terms, found in living alone abroad, is great, and it's something I had to give up initially. But that can be transferred here once you’re able and willing to move out of your parental nest. A small salary cut at first, too, but not too significant, as it’s a financially draining struggle to be a graduate student in the US. You don’t come close to faring well until way after you start work - but so is the case in Lebanon, I hope.
I'm yet to get back to using my bike as a primary mode of transportation. So nothing too major, at the end it's all about your priorities and what you’re willing to trade off.
What’s one of your favorite things about living in Lebanon again?
Beirut is my all-time favorite place to be. Some people I know don’t get my infatuation (it comes and goes, of course - have you tried driving here? or paying rent?), but it’s where I find a sense of permanence, purpose and community. And of course friends, family, and plenty of mom's food!
What would your advice be for other returnees?
Be patient and not too picky. Focus on what you're able to control and/or change, and don't dwell too much on the inconveniences, because you’ll have them everywhere. Be fully present, and not one foot in and one foot out, because you need to make a lot of effort to be able to give this place a chance and it's the least it deserves. Finally, don’t expect to be returning to a rosy place, to spare yourself the disappointment. You can control the way you perceive being here and that makes all the difference.
TOG Team ft. Tala