My name is Ines, I’m 21 years old and I’m from the north of Spain, but I live in Madrid now. I study International Relations and Sociology there, and this year I’m starting a degree in Law too. I decided to come to the Excellence Center in a volunteer program, teaching English and attending Arabic lessons too. I ended up staying in Palestine for three weeks during the summer.
Once in the Excellence Center, Fridays were my free days, and I usually had another free day apart from it, so I was able to travel around. Also, staff, teachers and students are very flexible, so it was super easy to get to know such a wonderful country!. I usually had three hours of Arabic lessons each week, divided in two days. My teacher and the Excellence Center staff were very flexible with this too, so I was able to change my lessons if they didn’t fit right in my schedule. Apart from that, I usually had English lessons every work day. I worked with two wonderful Palestinian teachers, and some days we did oral exams too. Sometimes, I was with other volunteers in the lessons, so it was super nice to see how other people work with students and learn from them.
I really enjoyed my Arabic lessons. As they were private lessons (just me and my teacher), I always felt listened, and I was learning at my pace. I got to learn a lot of things: in just three weeks, I can introduce myself, ask for the price of things, talk with the taxist, say numbers and days of the weeks, and even read some words. It is a very good start if you want to keep learning Arabic in your country, as you have the opportunity to talk with native people here!
Anyway, my favorite part of the experience was the environment of the Excellence Center. I got to know such amazing people from all over the world, and I made super good friends. I really enjoyed staying at the center until its closing time, just studying (tables, books and computers are always available for us), or chatting with people. I have great memories of having coffee with the staff and some Palestinians students, and I can’t wait to come back here. Also, I got to visit the old city of Hebron with them, and it was a super nice experience, as they explained interesting things about the situation there.
As I wanted to visit the country, I asked for some free days and I went to visit Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerico, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. They are all amazing cities, and I especially liked Bethlehem, which is nice, because it takes less than an hour to get there from Hebron, and it’s super cheap too! It was very nice to swim in the Dead See too, and the landscape is just amazing.
About Hebron, I think it was the best place to stay. It has one huge street, and the center is right next to it, so it’s super easy to get there (most of the taxis go there). Also, there are two nice coffee shops just one minute away from the center. As it is not very touristic, Hebron is a very cheap place, and I loved the old city: it isn’t very big, but it’s probably the most interesting one, and people there is nice too. I always got free coffee and good conversation. As a woman, I was staying with a host family, and that was super great too, as I got to get involved in culture, and I met quite a lot of new people related to them. I also enjoy playing with children, and I got to be with two little girls at home.
Also, there was another volunteer staying with the same host family, so we spent a lot of time together, went to the center or to visit other cities together, and we became good friends. It was a very good way of getting to know Palestinian people, Palestinian culture, and, in my case, Japanese culture too.
When I decided to come to Palestine, I was a bit scared about safety, but here I was feeling as safe as in Europe. At first, it was weird and quite scary to see Israeli soldiers or to pass through checkpoints, but I didn’t see any conflict, and the only contact I had with them was they asking for my passport in the old city. In fact, they are only in some points of the old city and in the roads, so you might don’t see them at all if you don’t go specifically to those places. Routine and day to day life is very similar to European or American life, just normal people going to school, to work, having coffee of going shopping. Also, the main street is quite crowded, so it’s super safe to walk on it (I liked to go back home walking everyday, and it was about half an hour). The other reason why I was feeling safe during my stance here were the Palestinian. People here is super welcoming, always ready to help you (I got lost on my first day and I ended up with five or six people walking me to the center, and about another four or five sharing with me their phones or internet).
So, in general, I felt as safe as in Europe, during the daytime even more (people is definitely kinder and more welcoming here) and at night I just took the normal precautions (avoiding walking alone, but nothing that I wouldn’t do at home). Actually, most of my volunteers friends were also girls travelling alone, and none of us had any important problem. Catcalling wasn’t remarkable at all, better than in other countries I’ve been alone.
To conclude, what I liked more about Palestine was the hospitality of its people, I made a bunch of new friends, and I felt at home in every place I went. I got tons of free coffee, free tea, interesting conversations about the situation here, presents and discounts…every new person I met seemed like a distant cousin who really wanted to get in touch. I feel like I have a second huge family here!. This sensation is stronger in the Center, as every person I met there, staff, volunteers, students or just friends, was extremely friendly and made me feel completely at home.
I absolutely recommend coming to Palestine, and especially to the Excellence Center! You will get to visit a lot of wonderful cities (probably super different than the ones you have visited before), and I also recommend talking with every new person you meet. At the Center, you will get to meet amazing people, learn good Arabic and improve your teaching skills (or, as in my case, discover that you have them!).