During my senior year of college last year, I was walking on the cobbled brick streets of Ohio University when I received an email on my phone that read, “Congrats Kaylyn, you received the funding to go to Lebanon.” I remember the day like it was yesterday. Like any college senior, I was planning my life after graduation. I knew there was a possibility that I may go abroad because I was taking a foreign correspondence course as my capstone class, and at the end of my class, three students were chosen to spend 90 days pursuing journalism in the country of his or her choice. I had never been abroad before and yearned for the opportunity of exploration and self-discovery; I wanted to report on the same topics that some of my favorite journalists were reporting on.
Fast forward to September 19th where I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport with two suitcases and my stamp-free passport.
This day didn’t come without prior skepticism from family and friends and even self-doubt on my part.
The next day, jet lagged and filled with excitement, I touched down in Beirut, Lebanon. I honestly couldn’t believe I was actually here; I was in the Middle East! A region that my own government was directly involved in, and a country that continues to be misunderstood and misguided by foreign interests for oil and the fight against “terrorism.”
When I arrived in Beirut, I knew only one person and I had a ticket back to Ohio in three and half months. I had met my roommates on Facebook several months before, however over the course of my travels I would move several times, acquire odd jobs and meet a network of new contacts.
My original plan was to stay in Lebanon for only three months, because in reality, that was all my funding could cover.
However, as each month went by, I found more reasons to stay.
I was on my own, completely independent and building my life according to my own rules. I was constantly discovering something new; even a ride on the bus filled with migrant workers on the way to the red light district was a new experience. When the time came to go back to my humble home in Ohio, I panicked. Not because I didn’t want to see my family and friends, but because I knew staying here in Lebanon would help build my career as an international journalist. So I stayed.
One year later and I’m still here. I picked up freelance gigs and worked at a wine bar pizzeria in the capital.
Living and working in a foreign country has taught me invaluable skills that I would have never living in my parent’s home in rural Ohio.
See the thing is, working and living abroad has given me freedom to learn about myself and grow as a 20- something journalist with out any distractions. I don’t feel pressured to find a full-time job, I’m not thinking about my retirement plan or 401k, and the furthest thing from my mind is putting a ring on my hand (although the pressure to find a wife or husband is far more intense in the Middle East).
When you live abroad, you have to fend for yourself or else you’re out on the streets. Networking is almost as important as having the right skills for a particular job; the person you meet at a small weekend gathering in the mountains could know someone at a company that you want to work for. Also, new contacts can be an important support system when living abroad. Behind each person I meet here, I find a story – a commonality between the two of us and a glimpse of inspiration. I’ve interviewed individuals from all walks of life whom I never would have met staying in the US.
Despite the borders and bodies of water, traveling enables you to see beyond the barriers created by governments, the media and societal stereotypes.
In a year’s time, I’ve seen first hand the effects of the neighboring Syrian War, various marginalized communities struggling to get by, and the growing gap between the rich people driving range rovers and the poor picking scrap metal out of a dumpster. I’ve seen the creativity that Beirut breeds and the opportunity it gives to both young and old individuals to build something new.
I’ve seen many disturbing things: children shoe shiners roaming the streets at night, physical discrimination towards migrant workers and the aftermath of suicide bombings. But I’ve also seen many beautiful sights such as the warmness and hospitality from the Lebanese people, the green forests and Levantine styled villages that cover the mountains, I’ve felt the first frost of winter and the energy that living by the sea brings.
Beauty is deep and engrained into the Lebanese culture, from the old Phoenician buildings to a homemade bowl of hummus and fresh Tabbouleh.
Through traveling, I have been able to experience firsthand stereotypes cast over a country. I am grateful, now more than ever, for where I was born and the country I grew up in, but it’s every traveler’s duty to share the observations, experiences and the truth about people, a culture and a country. As I establish myself in a country where I will always feel and be treated like foreigner, I remind myself what I sacrificed to pack up my life in two suitcases, my small amount of savings and leave my friends and family –all in the name of passion. Traveling may be expensive, but if you can save the extra cash and allot some time to travel, then you will save yourself a life of dreaming and curiosity.
You can’t take money to the grave, so go and explore.
Eat new foods, experience new things. If someone is negative about your decision, trust your gut and don’t ever give in.
Yes, my decision to go abroad with the purpose to pursue a career in journalism in a unpredictable region is a move many consider a risk, but for me, if you’re being pulled in the direction of your path in life, then that is always a risk worth taking. Always.