My name is Javier Trescoli, 24 year old political science student from Valencia, Spain. I participated in the Teach English, Learn Arabic (TESA) for two months, March and April. My main interest was being somehow useful, start learning Arabic and to see first hand the reality of the Palestinian -Israeli conflict. I will leave in a few days with recious memories, new friends and the promise of coming back.
The experience has been brilliant, far better than expected. I didn't have many expectations to be honest, as I simply did not know what to expect! But taking in account where I was going and what I was doing it was unavoidable to have some kind of idea of what it could or should be.
My arrival did go a bit off. Oblivous me decided to use the Israeli bus line to Hebron becuase it was cheaper instead of following the clear instructions that Rafat sent me and that were there for a areason. I'll just say I was stuck in Israeli Hebron for a few hours. But thanks to Marwa and Rafat I got out of there (the IDF wouldn't let me pass the controls). I was happily received by Sheikh and thus, the real adventure in Hebron began.
From day one, the Center helps you adapt to the rythm and activities, which is constant and dynamic. It's simple to feel good vibes from the very beginning and this helps you be energetic and creative! The sense of community and belonging starts with the daily breakfast and the Center and it reinforced once I got a regular schedule. The fact the staff were so welcoming and predisposed to make you feel comfortable and the students get so excited when a you walk in class, makes it really easy to adapt quickly and enjoy fully the experience! As a volunteer, I understood I belonged to the organisation and adapted as soon as possible to its pace. Nevertheless, Marwa, (the boss who likes joking!), was ready to listen to my issues or complaints and was flexible about picking free days, which improves the experience itself.
As a volunteer, my activities were many and varied at the beginning, from assisting one of the teachers in their classes, leading a class myself, organising a workshop for a business and a English Club. Each one had their own challenges and I remember everything being kinda chaotic in my head. Everyday was a different adventure and you were constanty in new situations, which personally, was pretty exciting for me. But after a week and a half later, I got a more stable schedule. I began teaching with a fellow volunteer three different levels on a weekly basis and participated in their lessons with fellow teachers. It is rewarding to spend six or seven weeks teaching the same class because it deepens the relationship with the students, making the classes far more enjoyable. Of course, there were a few kids who made teaching difficult but this proved useful to develop class managemnt skills, a quite relevant aspect of teaching and one I had not needed as I had always been a private tutor back in Spain.
As for my Arabic, it wasn't only an enrichening experience from a knowledge perspective but also from a cultural and personal point of view. I was specially lucky with my teacher, Du'a, who was very encouraging and quickly saw my particular style of learning and adapted herself to it. Thanks to her, I can say that I will leave Palestine with the my initial objective accomplished with Arabic. Sadly, I feel because of my university work and a lack of disicipline I wasn't able to make the most of learning the language. If you systematically practice and work at home, it can be very easy to progress. Nothing like living in a country to learn the language.
As for life in Hebron it can be quite conservative, even for Palestinian standards, as you will notice when you visit other towns in the West Bank, such as Ramallah and Bethlehem. The change can be very drastic if one lives in a never sleeping city from the West. There is no such thing as nightlife and anything associated to it, but don't worry, you won't need it! I lived in a house with other male volunteers which is rented to the Excellence Center and it has developed into a great bro community and I leave Hebron hoping to see them again. Any issue that was house related was diligently taken care by Abbot Sheikh. He also makes whatever is possible to make your life as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, inviting you to his house for shisha and tea, specially during important football games. His smile never fails to cheer me up.
One of the main concerns, if not the most worrying, for any volunteer might be the Israeli Occupation of Hebron specifically and Palestine in general. This is a reasonable concern as Western media and general public perception portray the situation as highly unstable and risky. Nevertheless, this is not the case.
Don't get this statement wrong. The Occupation is a real issue and affects the daily lives and routine of every Palestinian in an unjust and unfair manner but it never gets to affect the daily lives and routine of the volunteer themselves (unless you did something wrong). The Occupations does not affect directly the Western volunteers. We have no problems crossing checkpoints, the laws that rule Palestinians don't affect us and we are even considered as individuals that must be protected by Israeli authorities. Hebron itself, (aside from H2, the Israeli occupied part) is safe for any volunteer as I soon noticed arriving there.
The best of Palestine are clearly, without doubt, the people. All of this would have been a completely different experience if the Palestinians would have had a different attitude towards me. From the butcher who invites you to tea and the baker who asks where you are from and gets excited when you respond in Arabic; to the driver of the minibus who makes sure you arrive safely to your destination and the random strangers who will do their honest best to help you in any way possible; to lastly, the students, especially those who put real effort to learn english and invite you to their homes to meet their families aswell as the teachers and staff, who are always helpful and genuinely concerned about you, which with time made me develop a feeling of connection and belonging to the Hebron community at large and to the Excellence Center in particular.
I did not travel around Palestine, which will be one of my objectives for the next time I come back. Because I enjoyed so much the small community of the Excellence Center I preferred to stay there the last week and enjoy furthermore the experience. I personally reccommend the experience to anybody ready to live what it is to be an English teacher in Palestine. I t may seem redundant what I have just said but what I'm really talking about is the mindset. Your mindset can make a total difference between a great experience and a forgettable one. I look forward to coming back to the Excellence Center in Hebron. Inshallah!