Alumni Spotlight: Dana Visalli


Dana is a professional botanist, an organic farm-to-market grower, and an environmental educator.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to participate in the Excellent Center's program because it provided a base from which I could explore and learn about Palestine and because it offered a group of Palestinians and internationals to work with a team. I had traveled numerous times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Syria, studying the impact of US foreign policy on other countries.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The Excellence Center provided room (a sort of a dorm room for males, typically home stays for females), most of the food needed, and a project to work on while in Hebron (teaching English and writing). I had a lot of free time, and began to identify and learn about the plants I was seeing in and out of town. I took trips to the Natural History Museum of Palestine and to the village of Nabi Saleh (where the Tamimi family lives, including Ahed Tamimi, although she was in prison at the time) on my own.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Working with the Excellence Center, it is best to be self-motivated and be comfortable with loose scheduling. If there is something that you want to share, the Center can set up a presentation or a workshop with college students and/or local citizens.

Palestine in general and Hebron in particular is under a lot of controlling pressure by Israel, and therefore schedules can be hard to keep.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

My dorm building, which was actually a house, was about a mile from the Excellence Center. There is plenty of public transportation, but I always walked to the center. Breakfast was at about 8:30 – you see a lot of hummus and pita bread! Typically, I would have a teaching assignment in the morning or in the afternoon, so I would have the other time slot somewhat free. They also wanted me to write quite a bit. They are very flexible, and you can actually plan how your time is spent if you wish.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I didn't have any particular fear, and in fact, Hebron felt very safe. I had the interesting experience of taking a taxi to the nearby natural area Wadi al-Quff; the Palestinian driver was very friendly and out-going, which is actually normal, and invited me to his home to meet his children and have a meal.

What does or would a sustainable society look like?

It does not look like the one we have; war and oppression of large numbers of people will not be part of it. The Palestinians I met – notably including 'Janna Jihad' (you can look for her on YouTube), who at 12 years old is one of the youngest reporters in the world – suggested, "how about a society in which everyone was equal?" Now what would be wrong with that?

I am attaching a photo of Janna Jihad, studying wildflowers in the spot where Ahed Tamimi was arrested for trying to get Israeli soldiers out of her front yard.