Adjusting to Palestinian Culture Most of our volunteers have traveled thousands and thousands of miles from home to come and volunteer with us at the Excellence Center. Coming to Palestine is such an exciting and one-of-a-kind journey. The new smells, scenery, lively streets and language are so stimulating, especially upon first arrival to Hebron, Palestine. Though it is far from a negative experience, a period of adjustment sits on the horizon for every new international volunteer. Our volunteers have noted several key points from their own acclimation to life in Palestine as well as some helpful information to be aware of.
You Will Never Go Hungry
Volunteers tell us of how their host families always have an array of food laid out for them. Whether it is upon waking in the morning before coming to the Excellence Center, after returning home from volunteering, dinner time, right before bed and really any other downtown you spend at home with your host family. At first this can be overwhelming but it is just a cultural sign of welcome and care. Making sure guests are well fed is an important part of Palestinian hospitality. One volunteer tells us, “Eat what you can, I always attempt to at least try a bit of what has been set out for me, however if you are full it is always ok to tell them ‘thank you but no’ in a grateful and kind tone.” The plus side of all of this is getting exposed to amazing, delicious, traditional, home-cooked meals that our volunteers would not otherwise have the opportunity to taste. It is truly a once in a life time experience.
Sense of Time
In most Western cultures the concept of time and of being somewhere exactly when you say you will is fairly rigid. You will find this idea to be much more fluid in Palestine. One of our volunteers who comes to us from the USA says, “I generally add about 10 minutes on to any stated meeting time. I am constantly ‘early’ to things. It took me a week or so to adjust, but once you relax and get a feel for the rhythm of life here it is easy to navigate.”
In addition to constant offerings of food, and even more so, you will be invited to drink tea or Arabic coffee in many arenas of your daily life. One of our volunteers from Australia smiles and tells us, “In Palestine there is coffee or tea before and after everything.” This wonderful part of local Palestinian culture allows you to take moments throughout your busy day to stop running through your schedule, sit and connect with others, even if just for a few minutes. Our international volunteers are often stopped on the street and invited into shops and store fronts to take tea or coffee with the store owners. At the Excellence Center we always greet our international volunteers in the morning with a traditional breakfast followed by tea. Any visit to a Palestinian’s home will be filled with offerings of tea and/or coffee. When possible it shows cordial to accept. If you do not have time or do not feel comfortable of course turn down the offer. However, especially at your host family’s house it is kind to accept even if you are not in the mood as the cups are very small.
The information given above from our international volunteers highlights some differences between local Palestinian culture and that of the West. They have pointed out customs that at first may seem confusing or overwhelming to new arrivals. However, conversely the situations described above are also some of what makes Palestinian culture captivating and engrossing.