My name is Matthew and I am from the USA, where I study music and theatre at Indiana University. I have spent the last two months doing the Teach English Speak Arabic, or TESA, program at the Excellence Center in Palestine.
As part of this program, I taught English, took Arabic lessons, and wrote articles. My main teaching duties were in Kharas, a nearby village, where two other interns and I taught two five-week courses to students aged eight to eighteen.
I came here knowing almost no Arabic. My Arabic lessons here were fast-paced and informative. I started out in lessons with one other student, then had one-on-one lessons later. Arabic is a difficult language that will probably take me years to learn, but this summer got me off to a running start.
The Excellence Center is a wonderful environment to work in. The staff are friendly and helpful. Working at the Excellence Center provides the opportunity to get to know not only Palestinians, but internationals from all over the world. After my time at the Excellence Center, I have friends in Sweden, the UK, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Greece, Italy, Canada, and South Africa.
The Excellence Center provides free tours for internationals a few times per week. During my time here, I have visited a leather factory, a glass and ceramics factory, a keffiyeh factory, Ibrahim’s Oak, a nearby refugee camp, Hebron’s Old City, the Ibrahimi Mosque, and al-Shuhada Street.
On Fridays and other days off, there is plenty of time to make trips around Palestine, which internationals sometimes organize in groups. I have visited Jerusalem several times, and all of the major cities in the West Bank at least once: Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, and Nablus. I have also crossed the Green Line and visited Nazareth. Before coming to Hebron, I spent time in Haifa, Akko, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
I lived in an apartment with other male internationals, rather than with a host family. However, Hebron is a large and friendly city with endless opportunities to interact with locals. Palestinians are extraordinarily eager to make friends, especially with foreigners, so I experienced plenty of cultural immersion.
I did not feel scared or unsafe during my stay here. Hebron is not usually a violent place, and crime is not prevalent. Near the end of my stay here, there were some demonstrations by young men and boys over Israeli restrictions and alterations on the al-Aqsa Mosque. Demonstrations typically result in clashes with the Israeli army involving tear gas, stun grenades, and sometimes bullets (usually rubber or rubber-coated). While Palestinian demonstrators get injured and sometimes even die in these clashes, you as an international will definitely be safe as long as you don’t put yourself in the middle of these. They most often occur on Friday afternoons and evenings within half a kilometer of the Old City. They did not make me fear for my safety and you can usually tell ahead of time when they will occur if you follow the news.
My favorite aspect of my time in Palestine was the people I met here; both the internationals working at the Excellence Center and the Palestinians I got to know. It has also been extremely rewarding to work with my students in Kharas over the past five weeks, befriending them and watching them make progress.
One of the most interesting experiences I have had in Palestine was touring Ibrahimi Mosque, the Old City, and al-Shuhada Street, which is in H2, the part of Hebron controlled fully by the Isreali army rather than the Palestinian Authority. The Excellence Center hires tour guides who can give you information about Hebron and their firsthand experience. It was sad to see how part of Hebron has been turned into a ghost town where the Palestinian residents live under constant harassment from settlers and soldiers, as well as the threat of having their homes stolen. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience to visit this area.
I loved my time in Palestine and I absolutely want to come back. Palestine is a fascinating country with an extremely kind people. The TESA program at the Excellence Center was the perfect way to spend my time here. I now have a foundation on which to build my Arabic skills, as well as the confidence that I am able to teach English. I would certainly recommend the Excellence Center to anyone interested in coming to Palestine, studying Arabic, teaching English, or even just having a unique cultural experience.