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The Excellence Center

Why choose The Excellence Center?

The Excellence Center/Engage in Palestine was established in June 2011 to provide educational, cultural, social, and community services to its diverse group of international students, interns, and volunteers, as well as to Palestinian children, refugees, women and youth in Hebron, West Bank, Palestine.

The ongoing success of the center has pushed us to continue our work in Germany, specifically in the city of Halle. The Excellence Center in Germany started to offer educational and community programs to both locals and internationals in 2018. Both Centers have had a great impact on refugees, children, migrants and members of local communities as well as on the internationals who come from different countries and backgrounds.

The Excellence Center believes strongly in the fundamental role that education plays in the lives of the Palestinian and German communities. To this end, the center will continue to develop and create new programs and activities that further this role.

Impact

Ethical Impact

With all our Arabic courses and volunteer programs, we aim to make a long term difference for the Palestinian local community through the exchange of ideas and “walking in each other’s shoes”. Our programs and courses foster shared learning, for both our community and you. During your Arabic course, you will get to learn so much more than just the language. You will also get to learn a lot about Palestinian culture and customs and the political situation in Palestine. Additionally, you will have many opportunities while outside the classroom to practice your Arabic in a natural and authentic way while navigating your new life in Hebron. Your time with us in Hebron will also provide you with many opportunities of cultural exchange and mutual learning, both with local Palestinians as well as with our other international participants.

Reviews

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Flynn
4/5
Yes, I recommend this program

three week stay with the Excellence Center

being with the Excellence Center helped me a lot in many ways. with coming here, i hoped to get in touch with many palestinians, see many places and learn about the ongoing conflict. the Excellence Center made it possible for me to do all that and opened new doors. focusing on journalism, the Excellence Center introduced me to multiple journalists who could teach me about the situation and work of journalists.
within the Center i always felt comfortable. the staff as well as the other volunteers made me feel very comfortable and at home already after very few days.
to my surprise, i felt very safe. the Excellence Center made sure to minimize possible dangers and taught us about what to do and what not to do or where not to go. there are dangers of course, it is a conflict area, but the staff makes sure you don't get in trouble. i felt safe all the time.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
join the program and come to this place with an open mind, be open towards the people in the center and in Palestine and faster than you can realize you will feel home and make many new friends.
Pros
  • the feeling of community
  • the feeling of being taken care of
  • the interesting and enriching program
Cons
  • the language barrier (which isn't really a con because there is always someone helping out)
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Muhammad
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Safe as Houses

I really enjoyed my time at Excellence Centre. I came from London and was a bit wary of how safe it would be, but upon getting here all my worries disappeared. Hebron is a really vibrant city with lots of nice shops, big mosques, and really friendly people. The call to prayer resonates beautifully around the centre where I teach as well as the apartment where I am staying.

The centre itself is really clean and well laid out. All the teachers were really friendly and keen to know more about me. It was really easy to get into a daily schedule of first, breakfast with other volunteers, then me teaching an English lesson to some delightful students. I liked the fact that the schedule allowed plenty of free time to plan lessons as well as do anything I wanted to leisure-wise.

I also really liked how the centre gave us a tour of the old city and the visit to Ibrahimi Mosque. The community dinners were amazing.

The apartment was really clean and nicely laid out. I enjoyed the experience of sharing it with other volunteers. That turned out to be a real highlight of my experience.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
A beautiful Palestinian man at the mosque invited me to his house. He gave me a popular food which is a vegetable like aubergine stuffed with rice. It was nice.
Pros
  • Well organised
  • Accommodation provided
  • Really friendly staff
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Albert
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

The Beautiful Heart of the Palestinian People

My name is Albert Kim. I’m 39 years old. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and have lived in the New York City area since moving there at age two. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Technological Entrepreneurship & Management from Arizona State University. I’ve worked in tech, pastry arts, tutoring, and as a traveling monastic. I participated in the Volunteering with Refugees program in May of 2024.

Palestine was a life-changing experience for me in many ways. Number one, I was able to experience first-hand some semblance of what it’s like to live as a Palestinian. The plight of the Palestinian people has been dear to my heart for many years. To actually be here on the ground with the people, be immersed in the culture and in everyday life, to listen to people’s stories and struggles and to participate in these struggles myself at times was an honor and a blessing. My perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli situation has been imbued with much richness and depth.

I lived in a nicely-appointment apartment in Hebron, roughly thirty minutes walking from the Excellence Center. I regularly encountered friendly and curious locals who inquired into my origins, the reason for my stay in Hebron and so forth. The Palestinian people, in Hebron in particular, are the most welcoming and loving I’ve come across in the twenty countries I’ve traveled to. I lost count long ago of the number of complimentary coffees, teas, sweets, dinners and other gifts I received simply for my presence.

I was typically told by others to be careful when mentioning my trip to Palestine. Very sensical response especially in the current climate. However, I found myself feeling safe and secure in Palestine overall, whether in the touristy parts of Bethlehem or in the back alleys of late-night Hebron. Highlights of my travels outside of Hebron include the Wall in Bethlehem and Martyr’s Square in Nablus.

The Excellence Center is well-run by Osama and Marwa, offering numerous programs to suit the different needs and desires of prospective volunteers and students. I appreciated their flexibility in tailoring their programs for each volunteer. I found the tours and visits I participated in to be valuable. My visits to Al-Fawwar Refugee Camp stood out as particularly noteworthy. I had the most delicious Palestinian food during a visit with a refugee family there, then was guided on a tour of the camp and its history. I was also able to teach English to women and children at the girls’ school on a few occasions which I enjoyed.

Coming to the center everyday at 10am for group breakfast was a wonderful part of the daily routine. Everyone had the chance to mingle, bond, and plan their day together before going off on their individual schedules. I enjoyed swapping stories and perspectives and working and playing together with my cohort of fellow volunteers and students.
My Arabic tutor Duha was very competent and professional. I was able to hit the ground running, speaking with locals in Arabic on the day of our very first lesson together. When she asked whether I wanted the lessons to focus on the alphabet or conversation for our twelve hours, I replied “both”, and she accommodated well, providing me a foundation on which I feel confident learning on my own. I’m now able to read and write Arabic and have basic conversations.

Osama and Marwa are friendly and loving and helped make my stint with the Center a fruitful one. There’s a real family feel to the place, with friends and relatives regularly stopping in, saying hello, sharing meals. Frequently while speaking with locals around town I mentioned the Center and people were familiar.

The students I taught English to were so great. They were such enthusiastic learners, especially from someone like me! It was cool to be greeted by a student speaking Korean to me. My interactions with my students were likely my favorite part of my journey here. There’s so much life, love, joy, hope, and wonder in them. They are the future of Palestine and I believe this future will be bright. I’d like to stay in contact with them — helping them with English, maybe improving my Arabic, hearing about their lives, supporting them where I can.

I was asked if I’d return to Palestine one day. I do my best not to make promises I’m unable to keep. However, after my experience here — and especially with the children of Palestine — I can say that if I had to return to one country I’ve visited, Palestine would be near the top of my list. The hearts of the Palestinian people are open and my heart is open to them.

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Siraj
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Excellence Center lives up to it’s name

My time in Palestine at Excellence Center was very insightful. I volunteered with teaching refugees and had a lot of fun with the kids, they were keen to learn and were very excited to meet new people from overseas.

Other than teaching, the center took us on tours to historical parts of the city and also some local factories.

Throughout the trip I never felt like I was in any danger. Hebron feels just like an average city in the Middle East except the people are even more welcoming.

Overall it was a great experience and I hope to come back one day, god willing.

Default avatar
Victoria
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Unforgettable Experience in Palestine

I had such a wonderful time at the excellence center. It is hard to put into words how amazing this experience has been. Even though I only visited for a short time, it was such an incredible ten days. The Palestinian people are unlike any others; their generosity and compassion is beyond anything I have experienced. It was amazing to volunteer and meet the kids here too. They are so smart and fun and very eager to learn English. The opportunities here are endless and there are always ways to help and learn about the country.
Although international news and governments advise against travel due to safety, I have had no issues whilst being here. Please do not hesitate to come and visit and see this beautiful country!

What was your funniest moment?
My funniest moment might have been when I met someone in a shawarma shop and then got invited to his friend's wedding. It was so surreal but was such an incredible evening and I felt so lucky to be apart of the celebration. It shows how being open can lead to wonderful experiences.
Pros
  • The people
  • The place
  • The food

Programs

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Nicholas Lecchi

A volunteer who went abroad after studying for an English teaching certification for a little over a year. Is slated to do a History Masters' Program in NYC during the fall of 2023.
Nicholas Lecchi

Interview

Why did you choose this program?

I wanted to gain experience tutoring, and I wanted to improve my German (which I have studied on and off for 5-6 years). I ended up selecting the Excellence Center in Halle, furthermore, because I wanted to base myself in a city/region of Germany that I had no experience with. The fact that Halle was in the former GDR, which is an area of academic and historical interest to me, made it a particularly appealing choice.

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

My program was not done via a university provider but by direct payment to the Center. In return, the Excellence Center's staff provided me with a place to stay for the duration of the program, as well as German lessons, and breakfast every Monday through Thursday. The other payments were down by cash I carried on hand or by card.

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

I wish I had known to memorize some German phrases related to purchasing food or asking for directions ahead of time. More than once, I found myself not knowing how to phrase pretty basic questions and, in those circumstances where the person I was speaking with didn't know any English, it led to me feeling really lost.

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

Because the volunteers set their own schedules vis a vis the lessons they teach, there is a lot of variability in the average week, but there are a couple of constants.

Breakfast began every day at 10:00 AM from Mondays to Thursdays.

For once a week for about 90 minutes, sometime between 8:30 AM and 9:30, the center held a communal soccer game.

Classes, be they the language courses that volunteers did in German or Arabic, or the courses that volunteers taught as tutors, almost always lasted 90 minutes.

On occasions when the Center wanted to bid farewell to a volunteer whose time with the program was coming to an end, we would do a communal breakfast or dinner to send them off.

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

My biggest worries pertained to my ability to actually effectively teach English to lower-level speakers, as I lacked a language in common with any of my students that I felt I could comfortably default to without a ton of written prompts for guidance. I was, as such, very worried that nothing I taught would actually be conveyed sufficiently.

In truth, I don't think I ever fully "overcame" this worry, so much as that I accepted the fact that, given that the students kept coming to my lessons of their own volition, they were getting something out of their classes, and this helped me worry less about making sure that every single facet of a given lesson plan went perfectly.

Do you have any additional tips for our GO community?

-Be sure to have plenty of cash on hand when you travel. Many shops in Halle don't accept credit/debit card.

-The town's park is very nice, and regularly hosts small music festivals and the occasional street market.

-The Marktplatz near the big church also has various good lunch options.

-Halle is close to a variety of very good tourist spots (Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Berlin, et.al) that are easily accessible by train. Be sure to invest in a membership pass with Deutsche Bahn if you can.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Ibrahim Zahda

Job Title
English Teacher
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Many people who come to the Excellence Center with the goal of volunteering to teach English are curious about the teachers.

We thought it would be a good idea to sit down with one of the English teachers at the Excellence Center and ask him a little bit about himself, in order to give those thinking about studying at the Excellence Center a chance to learn a little bit more about the teachers they will encounter and work with in Hebron.

Meet Ibrahim Zahda, who started teaching at the Excellence Center as an English teacher 3 years ago.

What’s your daily routine like?

I split my time between the Excellence Center and a local public school. I’m an English teacher at both locations. Once I finish at the public school, then I head over to the Excellence Center.

How do you like working with Palestinian students?

I really like working with them. These kids have something to tell the world. I want to give them the tools they need to deliver our message to the world. That message is simply that we are here and we believe in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

How about foreign volunteers?

They help me a lot as teaching assistants. The help they provide basically falls under several levels. First, they empower the idea of volunteering to the students. Second, they help the students with their pronunciation and expose them to the way English is spoken by native speakers.

The cultural aspect of their presence is also important. Volunteers come from all over the world and bring new ideas and concepts to us. It helps the students learn about the ways other people think about problems and give them new perspectives with which to face their challenges. It’s not just the students, teachers also learn in this way from the volunteers.

What’s it like working with Marwa, Khitam, and the other staff members?

The working relationships at the Excellence Center are really great, everyone is kind and everyone is eager to help each other out. The people I work with feel more like family than coworkers.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

You'll mostly find me playing football and computer games, I’m actually addicted to computer games (laughter).

What do you wish foreign volunteers knew before coming to Hebron?

I think the administration has provided a lot of good information for future and potential volunteers on their website. I would urge them (the volunteers) to learn about the center and its mission.

Most of the volunteers I’ve worked with have had a good idea of that part. Learning about the Palestinian culture beforehand would also be helpful.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for Palestinians trying to learn English?

There is this stereotype that English is an impossible language to learn. That really puts the students at a disadvantage so I try to break that stereotype and tell them that English is just like any other language. It is fun and can be learned.

Another challenge is that public schools in Palestine tend to focus on traditional teaching methods. In fact, newer methods which teach English in a practical way are needed. This is what the center is for, it emphasizes the students' speaking and listening abilities so that they can use English in the real world.