Lebanon News

Reflections from a floating university

(Photo courtesy of Dergham SARL)

BEIRUT: Liliane Angela Daou recalled her mother telling her “You’ve changed” after she returned from a four-month voyage at sea, where she studied and traveled to 11 countries around the world on a ship.

Daou, who wrote about her experiences on a floating university in 2017, told The Daily Star she named her book after her mother’s observation when she returned from participating in the Semester at Sea (SAS) program.

Daou’s book “You’ve Changed” begins where her voyage ended, at her final destination in Germany when she disembarks the ship. The book is mainly a conversation between the author and her mother, where she goes through journal entries that reflect on her journey.

“You’ve Changed,” published by Dergham in December, chronicles Daou’s travels during a study abroad program that took her to San Diego, Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and finally, Germany.

In the SAS program, students take university courses for almost 100 days on a seven-deck, 590-foot ship, which docks in various countries throughout the semester.

Daou said she decided to do the program after she completed her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the American University of Beirut in 2017.

She said her book aimed to shed light on the importance of traveling by showcasing her formative experiences abroad. “I saw the way it changed me - I wanted to highlight it in my book,” Daou told The Daily Star.

Daou stressed that part of the significant of travel was not just in booking a ticket or visiting museums. “The real meaning of traveling,” she said, lay in “discovering how countries around you function, how people think and what their culture is.”

Daou said she was the only Arab in her cohort of 600 predominantly American and European students.

“I feel like in the Middle East the concept of traveling and exploring isn’t as common as in Europe and the U.S. ... I wanted to spread this message that people should go out and explore and that it’ll change you and broaden your mind and horizon. ... We’ll be better people and want to give back to the community around us.”

The 24-year-old said her travels changed her in three ways: “First, through knowledge and education, discovering things I didn’t know about. ... Second, I became stronger and more independent because I was alone in unfamiliar situations.”

But the third change she went through was the most prominent, she explained. “I become more sensitive and more aware. I came back wanting to become more of a humanitarian. ... It was one of the biggest changes that I did not expect.”

Daou said that when she came back, she was overwhelmed by her experiences, which pushed her to take action in her community and volunteer at various organizations, like children’s cancer center Saint Jude and Foodblessed, a local NGO that combats food waste and hunger.

“As a Lebanese person I came back and looked around at my community and thought about what I could do to improve it. I didn’t used to be proactive in it. When I came back from SAS ... I wanted to make sure people around were getting at least 1 percent of what I had been given in my life,” Daou said.

When asked about what experience impacted her most on her trip, Daou said that although comparison was difficult, her time in India resonated on a different level.

“I experienced India in a very local way, which allowed me to experience their culture and their different traditions. I witnessed extreme poverty but I saw a happy society where people are satisfied with their lives. It grounded me and my six days there were eye-opening,” Daou said.

On why she decided to write a book about her experiences, Daou said she hoped it would inspire people to challenge themselves in the same way. “I did something very rare that other people don’t usually do. When I came back I didn’t want my experience to go unnoticed. I wanted to share this impact and encourage people to do the same.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2019, on page 3.




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