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.