In the past installments of the “How to Meet People Abroad” series, we’ve discovered how to break into the social scene of busy Londoners, how to overcome language barriers to meet locals in the small Central American town of Lake Yojoa, Honduras, how to meet the multi-cultural locals of Dublin, and how mate can be your “in” to meeting people in the capital city of Córdoba, Argentina. Today we head to the Middle East to Beirut, Lebanon, where guest blogger, Linsday Manzella, lived and worked for the past three years.
Beirut may be a city of less than 2 million, but most of the time it feels more like a small town where everyone seems to know each other. This is great news if you’re new to the city and trying to meet people. It just takes a few contacts to get your social network started, and before you know it you’ll feel like you know everyone in Beirut, too.
Beirut is an ideal city to meet people since most Lebanese tend to be very outgoing and sociable and are willing to accept new people into their social circles. Also, most Beirutis speak English (along with French and Arabic) so you won’t find that language is a barrier to meeting people.
Here are my six best tips to help you meet people and build your social network in Beirut. (Hint: Many of these tips work well in other cities too!)
1) Check out the local Couch Surfing community: You may already know that Couchsurfing.org is a great way to meet people while you are traveling, but what you might not know it that it’s also a great way to meet people while living or studying abroad. Beirut has a lively Couch Surfing community and it’s not all about hosting travelers or finding a “couch” to sleep on. In fact, in Beirut most people don’t host travelers since they either don’t have the extra space or live with their parents (as most Lebanese do until they get married), rather, they plan activities, cultural events, and outdoor excursions to get travelers and locals together. By getting involved with the Lebanese Couch Surfing community you’ll put yourself in touch with a large circle of people who are not only open to meeting and welcoming foreigners, but looking to engage in cultural exchange. Connecting on Couch Surfing can also be a great way to make initial contacts before moving to Beirut so you’ll have a community of people ready to welcome you to the city when you arrive.
2) Get active on Twitter / social media / blogging: A lot of young Beirutis are very active in social media and you should be too. The internet is a great way to start engaging with locals and making connections.
• Start by setting up a Twitter account (if you don’t have one already) and search for people to follow who live in Beirut. Reading tweets from people living in Beirut is a great way to start to get a sense of what’s going on in the city and what people are talking about. Start a conversation by replying to someone’s tweet, or talk about events that you’re attending or places you are visiting, adding in a hashtag (such as #Beirut, #Lebanon, etc.) so that people can join in your conversation. Often Beirutis on Twitter will host “Tweet-Ups,” open to all, where you can meet and mingle with others and get to know those profile pictures live and in the flesh.
• Read blogs by Lebanese bloggers. There is a big blogging community here in Beirut, and just like Twitter you can use blogs to get a Lebanese perspective as well as to find out what’s happening in the city. If you’re up for it, start your own blog! The blogging community in Lebanon is very welcoming and you’ll find that if you comment on others’ blogs, they’ll come over to check out yours. If you happen to be writing about Beirut there’s a chance you could even become a local personality.
• Use Facebook and websites such as Beirut.com and Time Out Beirut to search for local events. There are events happening all the time in Beirut such as live shows, art exhibitions, TEDx events, and more. These are all great ways to meet people.
Of course, you want to make real, in-person connections with people, not just online, and these tools will help you do just that. As I mentioned before, it’s all about networking, and by making connections online you’ll find that when you do attend events you’ll already know people and feel like you belong. Better yet, people will already know you.
3) Find interest groups: Another way to build your social network is to find interest groups. Think about what sort of activities or clubs you would be interested in back home and chances are you’ll find a similar group here in Beirut. Just as an example, I’ve made friends with locals in Beirut through common interest groups such as running (Elite Running Club and Nike Running Club), photography (Beirut Street Photographers), and sewing (The Old Fashioned Way). Through each of these groups I’ve made meaningful and lasting friendships with both Lebanese and other foreigners.
4) Get out of the city with a hiking group: Lebanon is full of natural beauty, but at times it can be easy to forget that when you’re immersed in the chaos of Beirut for an extended period of time. The best way to recharge and relax is to get out of the city and into nature. The easiest way to see Lebanon while meeting new people is to sign
up for an excursion with one of the many local outdoors groups. Every Saturday or Sunday you can find a group making a day trip to the the Cedars in the north, Jezzine in the south, or anywhere in between. If you’re not too keen on strenuous hiking, never fear as the trips range from easy to advanced and are always listed as such so that you know what you’re getting into in advance. There are also trips for rafting in summer, and snowshoeing in winter (yes, we have snow in Lebanon!), and many other activity-based trips.
Why are outdoors groups such a great place to meet people? Well, you have the bus ride there and back, plus the activity itself, to chat and get to know the other group members. Outdoors trips tend to have a good mix of Lebanese and foreigners so there are plenty of people to meet.
5) Take a Language Class (Arabic, French, or otherwise!): As I mentioned before, English is widely spoken in Beirut so it’s not absolutely necessary to learn either Arabic or French to get around in Beirut, but still you may want to learn some of the local language in order to be more aware of your surroundings, engage in polite exchanges, and understand the culture better. So you may be thinking, how am I going to meet locals by taking a language class in the local language?
Isn’t that just for foreigners? Well, generally, yes, but as I said, it’s all about making connections and building your social network.
Language classes tend to be small, intimate classes and students get to know each other pretty well, so it’s not uncommon to make friends with the other students in your class. Making friends with other students is likely to get you invited to parties or events, which will put you in contact with their network of friends, both Lebanese and foreign. And, since Lebanese tend to be dominant in one of the three languages, it’s not unheard of to find a Lebanese in an Arabic or a French class along with you.
If for whatever reason, you’re inclined to take a language other than the local language (Italian or German, anyone?), you’ll be sure to find a class populated with Lebanese. (I once took French classes while living in Italy and met plenty of Italians while getting a fascinating insight to the differences of learning French from the Italian vs. English perspective, so don’t discount it!)
6) Plan your own get together!
Now that you’ve worked on building your social network and know a few different people from different groups, why not host your own get together? This could be anything from a cocktail party, to a barbecue, to a brunch. Invite everyone you know and tell them to bring a friend, if they like. You’ll be surprised at just how many people know each other or have common friends.
Another idea is to start a book club with a few people that you’ve met. Rather than everyone reading the same book, have each person bring a book that they’ve read in the past month to talk about and then swap. You can have rotating hosts with everyone chipping in for food and bringing along a beverage to share. This format is great as it allows people to come when they can, yet they aren’t pressured to read a particular book. Keep it as an open invite so that people can bring along a friend and there will always be new and interesting people to meet.
Whether you’re headed to Beirut or somewhere else, try out some of these suggestions to meet locals abroad. It only takes a few contacts to start building your social network.
About the Author: Lindsay Manzella is an international educator working at an international school in Beirut, Lebanon. She lived in Italy and then Brooklyn, NY prior to moving to Beirut, and has traveled to over 30 counties. She holds a B.A. in Italian and a M.S. in TESOL.