The Excellence Center in Palestine

The Excellence Center


The Excellence Center was established in June 2011 as a youth initiative to offer educational and community services to its diverse group of internationals and Palestinians. It is located in the main heart of Hebron on Ein Sarah street which is under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority.

The Excellence Center invites internationals year round to come to Palestine to volunteer, intern, visit or study Arabic. The Center organizes educational, cultural and community activities to introduce international interns, volunteers and students to Palestinian culture and daily life. Participants in the international programs have the opportunity to meet the local Palestinians who will share their lives and culture. Since the beginning, the Excellence Center has hosted over 250 international volunteers, interns and students from every corner of the world.

The Excellence Center is fully licensed as a cultural and educational center by the Palestinian Ministry of Education.


Ein Sarah Street across from Al Hussein High School
Palestinian Territories


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Two weeks wasn’t long enough. I really enjoyed my time in Hebron and at the Excellence Center. I was very apprehensive travelling to the West Bank due to the fact of being a Muslim with a Pakistani background and with my passport full of stamps from Islamic countries. After the shenanigans at the airport (over 4 hours of waiting) the journey to the West Bank was very straightforward.
Throughout the 2 weeks I travelled to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa and Bethlehem and I felt very safe. In Hebron itself, it felt like being at home. The people are so welcoming and friendly.
At the Center the staff and students are amazing. I supported within lessons and I also taught lessons. Introduced the Countdown game to the students and this went down really well. I also had the opportunity to teach at a school in a village. I could read and write Arabic and this helped me throughout my time here.
The fellow volunteers were amazing and I have definitely made some friends for life. We (male volunteers) stayed at the apartment of Shykh Abed whom is very gentle and friendly man. The laughs and banter at the apartment were priceless.

During our free time we visited the local people, drank alot of Arabic coffee and enjoyed the food.

The visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque and to the Old City was an eye opener and very moving.
This definitely was a like changing experience and I am already planning to come again.

Yes, I recommend

Hello, my name is Caroline, I am a 22 years old French Canadian and am about to finish a ten weeks stay in Hebron after graduating from a bachelor’s degree in communication and political science.
During my stay here, I have participated in the TESA program (Teach English, Learn Arabic), meaning that would teach three English classes twice a week to Beginner to Intermediate groups of Palestinians students aged from 8 to 40 years old, as well as learn Arabic in a one one class setting three hours per week.
Although three hours of thought lesson is not enough to master a difficult language such as Arabic, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a wonderful Palestinian host family for which most members spoke enough English for me to communicate with them, but who were also eager to help me develop my spoken Arabic skills. Living with a host family was then amazing to practice the local dialect, but also to fully be immersed in the culture and the daily local life. In that sense, spending the last two weeks of Ramadan here in Hebron was probably one the best part of my trip, as I got to experience the practice of fasting, iftar, sehoor, and Eid with my host family and their extended relatives. Keeping from eating and drinking during the day to the sides of my Palestinian colleagues during the day and breaking fast with my family at night was a very fulfilling experience, I have learnt so much about myself as well as the Palestinian/Muslim way of life.
My lovely time spent with my host family being said, the people I have met at the Excellence Center have also contributed to the positive look I have on my stay in Palestine. The Center’s permanent staff was more than welcoming and helpful throughout the whole time I have spent here, my students were amazing and eager not only to learn English, but also to invite me into their thoughts and lives in Palestine, and last but not least, my fellow volunteers became my closest friends. Together, and many times with the permanent teachers of the Center, we have visited multiple places in Hebron, such as the municipality, the Chamber of Commerce, the plastic factory, the old city and the Alfawar refugee camp, as well as other cities around the West Bank, my favorite being Bethlehem.

Yes, I recommend
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My name is Lucy, and I’m a History of Art student from the UK, living in Hebron as a volunteer English teacher for a month. As my time at the Excellence Centre draws to a close, I can reflect back on the amazing experiences I have had, as well as the friendships and understanding I have gained along the way.
Primarily, I spent my days teaching beginner English classes, both as a teaching assistant in the Excellence Centre itself, and with another volunteer in a village on the outskirts of Hebron. These classes, whilst daunting at first – never having been faced with a classful of young student with limited English before, blossomed into hours spent with young people who not only had an appetite for learning that I’ve never experienced before, but were also eager to engage in conversation about their lives and culture outside the classroom; whether when walking me to the bus back to Hebron, or giving me directions when I bumped into them in the street.
The atmosphere at the centre really gelled the experience together – the kitchen at the centre of the building was rarely empty, and the mountain of bread and hummus provided for breakfast never failed to help the volunteers recover from the late Palestinian bedtimes (complete with regular coffee breaks at 1am if you’re brave enough…).
Not only are the staff at the Excellence Centre overwhelmingly welcoming, they provide an excellent insight into Palestinian daily life, and the politics of Hebron. I attended a tour of the Old City by a teacher at the centre, and was lucky enough to not only visit the Ibrahimi mosque, but also a house of a local living in the Old City, and hear his stories about the occupation, and a true taste of what Palestinian life in Hebron involves.
Every weekend I made it my mission to travel somewhere new in Palestine; and have amassed a series of barely believable adventures from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea, and will leave the Excellence Centre with not only photographs and souvenirs, but also lifelong friendships from all over the world.
I could not have wished for a better host family to spend the month with – from being welcomed into their home as family from the first day, and taken to graduation parties and picnics, and treated like a true ‘Khalili’ (Hebronite). They made sure that the Arabic lessons I had at the centre – which provided me with the grammar and language I needed to get by in day-to-day life, was enriched by daily vocab lessons from my various host siblings – meaning that I can now talk about football, food, and cats in great detail…but not a whole lot else.
The one thing I will miss most about Hebron, other than the friends that I have made, is the attention I received on the street. Not negative attention in any way, but the locals that go out of their way to welcome internationals, and find out more about where they are from through genuine interest – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been invited into shops or homes, or given coffee on the street, by people genuinely wanting to get to know me, and help me have the best experience possible.
I would recommend the Excellence Centre to anyone who wants to see Hebron, and Palestine as a whole, from a genuine local perspective, who is willing to immerse themselves completely in another culture – and definitely anyone who is up for an adventure.

Yes, I recommend

My name is Maria Agustina Mansilla and I came from Argentina to do the Medicine and Healthcare program during two weeks in the Excellence Center. We organized a coursed with midwifery students of the Hebron University with a total of 4 workshops where we talked about medical vocabulary, pregnancy physiology, communication skills and bioethics. It was an honor for me to share with each other our knowledge and it was a very interesting and enriching experience. I shared with them my knowledge but at the same time we encouraged ourselves in our careers, we shared details of us, we got to know each other and we enjoyed together discussing clinical cases and medical ethical dilemmas.
Concerning my program I also had the chance to visit the Al Ahlil Hospital in Hebron where the staff kindly showed me their work place and they introduced me in the medical situation of Palestine. Also I had the chance to visit the Hebron University where I specially visited the laboratories, the library and the amazing Media college where the students have the opportunity of learning journalism with real radio and television studios.
Apart from my volunteering I had classes to improved my Arabic with the kind, patient, creative and interesting Ahlam. With her I didn’t only learned Arabic but also learned about Palestine, the life here, their culture, costumes, flowers, food, etc. She is an example of the strong, educated and kind women that live in Palestine.
Every day I came from my host family home to the Old Center to do my activities. Located near the city center of Hebron, every morning we start our day by having traditional breakfast together with “shai”, bread, hummus, cheese, olive oil and spices. But the Center is not only the volunteers and the staff, every day while being in the center we have lot of conversations with all the people that is around, students, mothers of students, local teachers, friends, etc. In the Center everyone is welcomed and being here we get to know a lot of citizens from the city and near villages.
In my two weeks here I visited Bethlehem with two volunteers and one day I took my day off to go the beach in Jaffa. The last Friday I went to Ramallah and the Dead Sea with my host family and staff from the Center. We shared a barbeque steering to the Dead Sea, we swam, we heard to music, we went to Arafat's Museum and to the Mahmud Darwish Museum. And we ended our day steering the magical city of Jericho from the high mountains near the Teleferic.
During my visit here I stayed in a village called Bait Ummar near Hebron with the family of Ibrahim and Fatina. Them and their sons and daughter Shuruq were my family for two weeks. I got to know their family, I ate Fatina’s amazing arabic food, I ate the figs from their garden, I talked in Arabic with Iusef and I played with the amazing little Mohamed. Also we shared long conversations with shisha, tea and music every night after our work.
Palestine is a beautiful country, the landscapes are stunning and the energy is unbelievable but what truly embellish the country is the people. I made friends in the Center and in Bait Ummar that made every minute an absolute amusement and joy. They opened their houses and their heart to make my days absolutely special. Here it's impossible to go to a place and not be received with the phrase: Ahlan u Sahlan fy Falestine.
Concerning to the safety, even if Palestine has a lot of problems I never felt fear. I think that as long as fear does not reign in Palestine, it is impossible to be scared. Also everyone took care of me as if I were from their family.
I arrived to Palestine without any expectations and I didn’t know what I was going to see here but I have to say I have been surprised by an amazing country with a lot of potential to grow with happy, generous, welcoming, educated and with a lot of love and dedication to their country people I expect to never forget how amazed, welcomed and happy I was here.

Yes, I recommend
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I am a Ph.D. candidate and teacher educator, and I have wanted to learn Arabic for several years -- not for academic or employment purposes, but simply for fun and to be able to communicate with Arabic speakers in my city. I came to the Excellence Center to study Palestinian Arabic in an immersive environment. I chose the Center over other programs because of the flexible start and end dates, the personalized individual courses, and the opportunity to live with a host family. I also appreciated that the foreigners at the Center represented a range of countries, backgrounds, and ages.

When I came here, I could read and write the alphabet (very slowly), but I had no ability to communicate, and I don’t think I could write a single sentence. I was fortunate to have a teacher with whom I “clicked” and who was very good at teaching a beginner. I found that she was very perceptive about my needs and preferences as a learner. After just a couple of days, I started recognizing words she was teaching me when I listened to conversations around me. Now, after five weeks, I have made significant improvements in listening, speaking, reading, and writing Arabic. While I still have a long way to go, I now have a much better foundation. When I return home, I will be better able to engage the Arabic speakers around me in conversation. (I evaluate language teachers for a living, so I am pretty difficult to impress.)

I was lucky to live with two different host families, as my first family had a logistical issue when some members came home after living out of town. While I didn’t want to leave them, I really enjoyed getting to experience two different lifestyles (and I still got to visit them). It’s difficult to express how open and welcoming my families were. They included me in all of their activities and always made sure I had anything I needed. Members of both families enjoyed teaching me about Islam and the Quran.

Beyond your host family, you will meet friendly people everywhere you go in Hebron. For example, I was walking to school one morning during my first week when a car stopped and the woman in the passenger seat asked if I wanted a ride; she felt that it was too hot for me to be walking. [Though I was here in the summer and it was certainly hot, it wasn’t unbearable. I generally wore linen pants, t-shirts with ¾ sleeves, and a scarf. (Make sure your clothes are made from breathable fabrics!)] While getting in a car with strangers would be very unusual and certainly not advisable in my home country, I accepted her offer. I then learned that she and her husband were Palestinian Americans who were here visiting family in Hebron and Halhul. I went to a relative’s home with them to pick up their daughter, met their little nieces and nephews who all wanted to shake my hand, then was driven right to the door of the Center -- but not before they had stopped to get falafel for me, because they were concerned that I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast.

Life here is very easy for foreigners, and Hebron is much more than what you will see on YouTube or Twitter. To answer everyone’s question, yes, it is safe. Don’t go walking around the border between H1 and H2 after Friday prayers, but I can’t think of anything else to warn you about. I look forward to telling people back home about Palestine and especially about Hebron. After leaving Hebron to visit other cities like Bethlehem and Jerusalem, I was always happy to return “home.” I had several conversations with other foreigners at the Center about how comfortable we feel here.

Some recommendations for a successful experience studying Arabic at the Center:
* You will get the most out of your intensive Arabic study if you review and practice each day. Find time and space to study -- which may not be possible at home.
* Don’t neglect informal learning opportunities like attending weddings, meeting extended family, and so on. Just as people will want to practice their English with you, they will also be happy to help you practice your Arabic. Adapt as much as possible to your family’s schedule, diet, and so on. Stay in Palestine as long as your schedule allows; let yourself have time to “just hang out”.
* In terms of interacting with the other foreigners at the Center, you can be as social or independent as you want to be. However, you are likely to find some good friends and/or travel buddies here!

I will miss the people of Hebron terribly, and I plan to return to the Excellence Center in the future. I would be happy to answer questions from any prospective Arabic students about my experiences here.

Yes, I recommend


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