Marhaba! I am a bilingual (Spanish) 5th grade teacher from San Francisco, California, USA. I came to Palestine for the first time in 2015 as the recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in teaching. During my three-month stay, I focused the bulk of my three months on an inquiry project, and unfortunately didn’t have much opportunity to study and practice Arabic. Because of my love for this country and its people, (and my strong desire to return), I decided I would try to come back, but this time to focus on Arabic language acquisition. The elementary school where I teach has seen a recent increase in refugees from Yemen, so I requested a grant to come to the Excellence Center to study, in hopes that I'd gain the skills necessary to better be able to connect with Arabic speaking families at my school.
I feel so privileged to have been able to return to Palestine and participate in a language course through the Excellence Center! As soon as I arrived, I was given a very warm welcome by staff and volunteers in Hebron. Later that day, I was taken to meet my host family in the nearby village of Beit Ummar. Immediately upon arrival, I was happily greeted by a room full of women who were in the midst of making delicious ma’ mool (traditional cookies during Ramadan), which came to be one of my favorite treats.
It has been such an incredibly rich experience living with a host-family. I am very fortunate to have such a great placement. I have learned so much more about Palestinian culture and traditions living with a family than I could have living in my own apartment. I am also very happy that I chose to arrive during Ramadan, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy Iftar (breaking of the fast) with my host-family, as well as the three days of Eid celebration. My host-family ensures that I participate in as many traditions as possible, so I have also had the chance to attend a couple of weddings, which has been so fun!!
My Arabic instructor, Shaymaa, is so knowledgeable, lively, funny, kind, and most importantly, patient. I am trying to learn a third language rather late in my life, and I know that I am not as speedy of a student as Shaymaa is used to, but she has been so flexible and understanding, making adjustments to lessons in order to ensure that I understand. There have been moments when I have felt very frustrated with myself, and that I have made little progress, but then I review my notebook and I am reminded of all that I have learned. My host-family is also very encouraging, and always makes it a priority to assist me with my homework as needed, or answer whatever questions I might have.
The Excellence Center offers a variety of outings in and around Hebron, but since this is my second time in Palestine, I instead used my free time to travel and visit friends in Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, and Ramallah.
It has been a different experience living in Area B/C, compared to Area A during my first visit. (If you are not familiar with what that means, you'll quickly learn upon arrival.) I do feel extremely safe in Palestine. I am comfortable walking around my village, traveling by public transportation (called "service"), but there is always some discomfort that comes with witnessing the strong soldier presence around the village, and throughout the West Bank, for that matter. I believe that it is extremely important for outsiders to witness the daily injustices Palestinians face living under occupation. I feel that it is my responsibility to share what I’ve witnessed and the countless stories I’ve heard with as many people as possible in my own country, so that we can all fight to end this oppressive system.
Despite the unjust and difficult conditions under which Palestinians live, as a “people” they are so very welcoming and generous; we all have so much to learn from their strength and resiliency.
I am very sad to have to say goodbye to everyone who I’ve met during my stay. It has been such a privilege and honor to be here. I thank Marwa, Rafat, & everyone at the Excellence Center, especially my beautiful teacher, Shaymaa! I also feel deeply indebted to Abu Youssef, Fatin, Shoruq, Sultan, Bayan, Anas, Ameer, Youssef and the entire extended family in Beit Ummar for their magnificent hospitality. They all have a very special place in my heart.