My name is Mie and I am 21 years old . I live in Denmark and went to The Excellence Center during my second gap year. I finished the Danish ‘gymnasium’ (equivalent to high school) in 2016 and have worked as a substitute teacher since then. It was my work with children and my interest in art and travelling that lead me to The Excellence Center. I applied for the Art and Music program in the hope of teaching art here in Palestine.
The moment I walked inside the center I was welcomed by the other volunteers. My trip here was not as smooth as I expected, so it was nice to be welcomed in that way. As I sat in one of the chairs in the reception I heard volunteers speaking fluently with the staff – and I was speechless, I thought that if they all are fluent in Arabic I will be left behind in the social life at the center. This turned out not to be true, and at every activity and the everyday life at the center, English will always be the main language, especially when your Arabic is lacking or non existing, as it was in my case.
As you probably could guess from the text above – I DID NOT KNOW A WORD OF ARABIC. I knew the word for ‘dog’ and ‘animal’, but I learned from and Iraqi, which means that even those words were a different.
My very intelligent and sweet teacher Raghad learned me everything I know now from scratch. We started with the common greetings and during each class she would teach me five new letters. At first I didn’t see the use of learning the alphabet, but it will help me continuing my studies at home. She adjusted the classes to my needs, so I learned the different colours (to make my art class easier for the children and myself) and the numbers so I could go shopping and hackle with the prices as you are supposed to.
I quickly received many classes at schools and got my own class at the center. They do not have art at the schools, so no matter what kind of creative class I broad it was an improvement. The way of seeing art classes was also different: I was asked to choose the best drawing but refused – art is for me a place where judgment is put aside and it is more about the act of creating and the process than the product itself (especially when we are talking about children). It is the same reaction that art can bring children no matter the geographical place. Their smiles are the same in Denmark and in Palestine.
I also had drawing classes three times a week at the center, one for children and two for adults, who would also learn something about drawing techniques.
I was very fortunate and got the opportunity to travel around Palestine during my stay, even though I didn’t expect this when I planned my trip here. I have been to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, The Dead Sea and Jericho during my five week stay and I have travelled both with friends I have met at the center and staff from the center. Seeing more than just Hebron has broaden my view on what Palestine is and what it is like living in Palestine. I have met different Palestinians living different lives both in Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, this have helped me colour my view of what it means to be Palestinian.
I lived at a host family with another Danish volunteer for the first 3\4 weeks of my stay, and to have her as a link between the new and the known has been a big part of my positive experience in Palestine. There will always be some adjustments when you travel to a new place and live at a family, but to be honest it wasn’t hard. There is the language barrier – but one of my host sister was excellent in English and the other children spoke it okay as well, so it was only in my conversations with the parents that I needed help. The most different thing when it comes to food is how the Palestinians loves their bread, hummus and oily food. My skin bears the clear signs of the oily food (which tasted good but my body had to get used to all the grease). I have eaten grey food, and it tasted just as you might imagine, I have also eaten yellow rice, so much that I think I am going to stay away from rice when I come back home, and I have avoided all the neon pink pickles (food should NOT be neon pink!) – but dear Lord if eating falafel and hummus was a sin, I would be deemed to hell. I have had falafel for breakfast, lunch and dinner and tried many different falafel spots, but I must admit that I got the best falafel in Jerusalem.
I can only recommend coming to Palestine and volunteering at The Excellence Center. Prepare yourself to have very busy days that feels overbooked and very slow days where you (seemingly) have nothing to do. Be open-minded towards the staff, the Palestinians, their culture and the other volunteers – they will make you feel sad when you are leaving if you open yourself up to them. Say yes to new things such as wedding invitations, trips with the center, time with the family, grey food, and no when you feel like everything is a bit too much. I will definitely come back. Or as they say it down here to make sure that you know that their promises and plans can change any minute it should be (also when you have arrived) INSHALLAH