Fulbright Scholar Prepares to Return to Lebanon

May 15, 2007

When Sahar Saba deplanes in her native Beirut, Lebanon next week (about the same time Mary Baldwin University graduates process onto Page Terrace for Commencement), the air may not feel too different from that in Staunton, where she has lived since August 2006 — forecast high temperatures are about 80 degrees for both cities. But Saba is far from unchanged by her first American experience.

She arrived at her room in the residence hall for students in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin as new and returning students flooded onto campus. By her 22nd birthday a few weeks later, Saba was already part of the college family, and was treated to a party and gifts as she celebrated her first milestone away from home. It symbolized one of many outside-the-classroom lessons: Americans typically waste no time showing their welcoming spirit, open arms, and thoughtfulness.

“I have never been away from my family for so long, so I am very excited to see them and my friends in Lebanon, but it will not be easy leaving the people I have become close to here,” said Saba, adding that she hopes some of her acquaintances at Mary Baldwin will travel to see her. Saba was pleasantly surprised by the close bonds she formed with several professors at the college, who are her friends as well as mentors.

Saba left Lebanon in the midst of a 33-day bombing assault by neighboring Israel. Although the area where her family lives was not directly targeted, the psychological impact of hearing and feeling nearby explosions was nerve-wracking. Frequent conversations with her family — at least once a week — comfort her with news that the country is decidedly calmer today, reconstruction is taking place, and tourism is expected to return to the city this summer.

Sahar Saba (left) enjoyed hiking with students in the PEG program, and is pictured here with PEG Director Elizabeth Connell '93 (center)Saba does not expect much to have changed in her native country since her departure, but she realizes her perspective on many things has been altered throughout the year. As the teaching assistant in Arabic language classes, she was right away impressed with Mary Baldwin students’ interest in and grasp of the ancient language. Working alongside Yusri Zaro, adjunct professor of Arabic at Mary Baldwin since 2004, Saba believes Mary Baldwin’s Arabic students are acquiring an important skill, particularly for those in this year’s classes who are cadets in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership.

Saba made the most of living in the PEG Center. Early in the year, she helped organize a successful “Lebanese night” in the building featuring its food and culture. She spoke to attendees, followed by a question-and-answer session. She also represented Lebanon in the campus-wide COSMOS International Festival. During her downtime, she attended events at Blackfriars Playhouse and caught a few movies at the Visulite and The Dixie theaters, both in downtown Staunton.

Saba was also a student at Mary Baldwin as well. She completed three classes in the Master of Letters program in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature, broadening the foundation built by the bachelor’s degree she earned in Lebanon in English language and literature. “I look at Shakespeare differently now that I realize his works are not only literature to be read, but plays that attain their full life when performed,” she said. The coursework solidified her plans to work on a master’s degree in English literature and teach English to young students in Lebanon. When she completes her master’s she plans to look for a PhD program in the United States — convinced by her year in this country that she would like to return for additional education.

Mary Baldwin University will welcome next year a new Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Arabic, Ibtihaj Al Arami of Oman, but Saba will not soon be forgotten.

“What was very refreshing and special about [Sahar’s] presentations is that she focused on current issues of interest to young people like herself and our students,” said Associate Professor of Spanish Ivy Arbul