My experience with the Excellence Center in Hebron

Rating Value A
Rating Value B
Rating Value C
Rating Value D
Rating Value E

My name is Sam Halton, I am originally from San Francisco Bay Area, and I am both an Irish and an American citizen. I have a BA in Political Science from the University of California and a Master’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London University in Near and Middle East Studies. I volunteered with Syrian refugees in Turkey and I felt that a future career in the region would require me to learn Arabic. Because of this I wanted to find an Arabic program in the Levant (Bilad el Sham). Additionally, I have always been interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I have always dreamed of volunteering in the Occupied Palestinian territories to witness the politics of the Occupation first hand.
During my stay in Hebron I studied Arabic and volunteered as an English Teacher. The Excellence Centre made teaching very easy. Teachers are gradually weened into teaching by initially working side by side with a Palestinian teacher. I did this for a short period before eventually teaching my own classes at the centre. Initially I was worried that I would not receive enough Arabic because of my volunteer schedule but this was not the case. I received about an hour a day. My Arabic teacher Marwa Shantir, was incredibly helpful and was very good at fitting my Arabic courses in with my volunteer schedule. Though male students are not generally kept with a host family the accommodation for male volunteers is in the centre of a lively Palestinian community. Our neighbour and friend Sheikh Abed Hijazi lives directly above us and socializes with us on regular basis. The Hijazi family treats us like one of their own, and the frequent visits and socializing not only made me feel at home here in Hebron, it has also helped me with my Arabic. Our close friendship with the Hijazi family allows us to learn new words and use our Arabic on a daily basis.
Many people from the United States and the United Kingdom are concerned about whether or not living in Palestine is safe. I can personally say that I feel much safer walking around Hebron at night then I do in many parts of the San Francisco Bay area or parts of London. The Occupation is a reality, but living in H1 it is very easy to forget about the political issues that plague the Occupied West Bank. The hospitality and kindness of the Palestinian people is beyond words. Given the current leadership of the Trump administration and Americas lopsided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am often ashamed of my American nationality. The Palestinian people are directly affected by American policy, most often negatively. Because of this one would assume that Palestinians would rightfully hold some negative feelings towards Americans. Despite Americas policy toward the Palestinians I have found that Palestinians are more capable of separating the actions of the U.S. government from its citizens then many people in the United States are when judging other nations. It does not matter if I tell people that I am Irish or American. I am always politely welcomed and treated with respect, kindness, and hospitality.
The excellence centre is a fantastic way for any individual studying Middle Eastern politics, Human Rights, or Arabic to experience the region firs hand. The staff are extremely helpful and have become very close friends. The excellence centre can be as hands on or hands off as volunteers wish. They have been extremely helpful in connecting me to local human rights groups and Universities and have even helped me in my job search in Palestine. They know people are here to learn and make connections and they are happy to help volunteers in this endeavour. My time at the excellence centre has been amazing I feel that two months was not enough. I fully intend to return as soon as possible and I have recommended the excellence centre to all my friends studying Arabic in Europe and America.

Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would
Year Completed