Megan Scanlon ’05 is working to make Lebanon an up-and-coming place to study abroad. “Study abroad in Beirut is a game changer,” she writes in a recent article at www.goabroad.com. “Beirut is the city of all cities to light up your brain, let surprise tether you to the moment, and see for yourself the power of wonder and awe that comes with exploration.”
Scanlon is the North American Representative for the American University of Beirut (AUB), a position she has held for nearly seven years. “I advise and recruit North Americans and promote AUB in the study abroad world,” she says. Although she has worked with Canadians and Mexicans, the bulk of her audience is U.S.-based.
The work can be complicated. The U.S. State Department has a travel advisory for Lebanon, due to the potential for terrorism and armed conflict along the borders with Syria and Israel. Scanlon says that because of this and perceptions of the country stemming from the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, it can be a challenge to find students with an interest in traveling there. The students who do go, though, are fascinated by the region, Scanlon says.
“The unique thing about U.S. students in Beirut is that they are gung-ho, there is no ‘on the fence.’ The interest is statistically small but the depth and breadth and quality of the interest coming from the small numbers is remarkable,” she says.
According to the Institute for International Education, says Scanlon, roughly 332,000 students from the U.S. study abroad each year—about one of every 10 American-based undergraduates. “Of that number, two percent go to the Middle East and North Africa,” she says. She has worked with hundreds who are now attending AUB.
Scanlon says there is much to be gained by taking the plunge and traveling to Beirut for study abroad. “Our understanding of the world is shaped by the culture we grew up in, and when we spend time in a new and different culture, our perceptions are disrupted,” she writes in the GoAbroad article. The vibrant city, she says, offers culture off the beaten path, countless opportunities to learn both in and out of the classroom, and a chance to grow both academically and personally. “There’s something to be said about knowing that the world is full of surprises, and by being out in it, we can always surprise ourselves.”
At HWS, Scanlon majored in English, minored in International Relations and studied abroad in Vietnam.