Since 2019 Lebanon has been in a deep economic crisis which has pushed approximately 80% of the population below the poverty line. Even those privileged enough to be university students feel restrained by the lack of opportunities, ongoing economic crisis, and unstable political landscape. They dream of a future in their home country, but most of them won’t stay after graduating.

Yara Abdul Sater, psychology student at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, visits the famous ruins of her hometown, Baalbek. Growing up in Baalbek, which is often portrayed as an underworld of drug dealing and gun violence, she has always been aware that her dreams may not be achieved there. Her mom used to compare their town to a grave in which all dreams and potential die. And even though Yara doesn’t want to leave Lebanon, she thinks that applies to the whole country.

“I want to finish my master’s degree abroad, hopefully in the US. Because as much as I love it here and want to live here, I also don’t want to be stuck here. I want to live here because I chose to live here. Right now, everyone in Lebanon is tired and the youth is at this critical period where they need support from others. Their parents, their friends, their loved ones. But when everyone is drained, they don’t have the energy to give. It’s common among youth around the world to try to figure out what they want to do. But here in Lebanon it’s not about what I want to do next - because I don’t know what’s going to happen to the country tomorrow.”

Rim Abdallah, graphic design student at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, on her way to class. Rim was born in Lebanon, but has lived in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Malaysia and Bulgaria. Her family moved around a lot because of her father’s work. Still, she feels a strong connection to Lebanon.

“Lebanon is my identity, it’s my roots. I am connected to it. But it’s to a certain extent. How can you feel strongly patriotic in a country that doesn’t really care about its citizens and can’t provide the people with their basic needs? I worry about the state of the country, the people, and my parents. I expect from myself to continue growing so I can eventually start providing for both and repay their efforts as much as possible. Whether it’s through education or creating work that highlight the issues going on in Lebanon. I want to provide the upcoming generation with as much information and hope as possible.“

Elie Awad, a recent graduate in civil engineering at the Lebanese American University in Jbeil, in his childhood home. The furniture in the living room tells stories of better times, when the economy was stable and their lives simpler. Him and his family rarely spend time in this house anymore. It’s expensive to maintain and Elie’s parents lost most of their savings due to inflation and Lebanon’s banking crisis. They now live in an apartment.

Elie is passionate about solving his country’s problems. But first, he must solve his own.

“I’m going to France in two months to do my masters. Right now I want to help Lebanon but at the same time I don’t want to lose my career and myself, helping a failing state. The last six months I applied to hundreds of jobs in Lebanon. I’m still unemployed and I’m not helping the economy. I’m just spending my parent’s money and I feel bad. I don’t feel accomplished.”

“I would say 75 to 80 percent of my classmates just left. A lot of my friends were traumatized from the Beirut port explosion. And their parents don’t have any work. A lot of people lost their business due to the financial crisis. So they emigrated. When a lot of people are asked, they don’t plan to come back. And that’s sad because a lot of generations just get erased here.”

To Mariella Mansour, a recent graduate in Industrial Engineering at the Lebanese American University in Jbeil, family is the main reason she will be staying in Lebanon as long as possible.

"I would find it very hard to leave even if I had to because I’m very connected to the country with my sister and mother living here. So I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. I just graduated and found a job online, so I can work remotely from Lebanon. I’m definitely not at my best potential here, but I know I’m okay. I’m a part of the small percentage in Lebanon who has their finances sorted out. However, it’s really sad how most of the people of my country are suffering. Not only due to finances, but also due to the lack of access to basic rights such as health care and education. I volunteer in an NGO, and we support public school students with their educations. Because many of them are dropping out to work and support their families.” 

Nour Ammar,  creative writing student at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, in her new apartment which she shares with her partner. By moving out of her family home, she feels like she is being true to herself, because most of her family does not accept her sexuality. But moving out makes her economically burdened. Her parents still support her financially, but to make ends meet Nour works as a barista and a florist beside studying.

“Work opportunities are very few and university is insanely priced, so it’s really hard to find independence. I don’t know if I will be able to afford university next semester. But it’s even harder to still live with my family because our mentalities are different. The Lebanese youth is more woke than before and most of us are more accepting than our parents.”

"My parent’s expectations overwhelm me sometimes. I feel like my mom expects me to be financially present for the family. Emotionally present for my brother and for her. And physically be at home a lot of the time. Because she has cancer, and she is going through treatment. She wants to feel that I’m next to her, but I can’t provide that all the time. Lebanon to me is freedom, but it’s also suffocation. I need to leave at some point. Maybe I’ll come back later. But I need to leave to broaden my views on life.”

Gabriel Bitar, a graduate from the American University of Beirut, has become a part of the Lebanese diaspora, as he currently studies medicine in Phoenix, Arizona. He likes to come home at least once a year to visit friends and family. Although, in the past couple of years most of them have left. He doesn’t blame them.

“I spent 20 years of my life mentally exhausted about everything that’s been going on here. We always want to change but no one acts to change. Maybe in the future I would like to come back and fight for it. Because I feel like it’s our responsibility as Lebanese people to make this country a better place. But you do need a break from all that, and to put yourself first.” 

“My mom is here in Lebanon, my sister is in Europe pursuing her masters, my dad is working in Africa, and I’m in America. I’m always thinking: Will we ever be in the same place again? Will my parents grow old next to me? If our country gets better, I will ideally come back and live here. But will we ever be able to all come back to Lebanon?”

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