Arriving in Palestine might seem daunting at first; the whole country is proably nearly opposite what you are accustomed to, but within a short time you will fall in love with all of the things that make it different.
The drive from Tel Aviv to Hebron is spectacular, and once you get close to Jerusalem you will find yourself among steep, rocky rolling hills. The road to Hebron winds between hills and valleys, passing olives groves and grape trees and little homes tucked away, speckling the hills as far as you can see.
The city itself is beautiful, residing on and between several hills, the houses and shops are connected by a web of steep and narrow streets. Once you learn to trust the taxi drivers who manage to squeak between cars and effortlessly drive around tight corners and narrow streets, you will be able to easily get around the city. Here, the cars seem to have an unwritten contract of courtesy. They honk a lot (constantly), but always let other cars in or drive around the ones that have stopped in the middle of the road to talk to a friend they’ve spotted. From the outside it may look slightly chaotic, but you will realise that traffic always seems to be moving here and the cars and people share the space on the roads. As you walk down the street people will smile at you and you will constantly hear “welcome”. Welcome to Hebron, welcome to Palestine! The people are always so happy to see internationals visiting and enjoying their country and love to make everyone feel welcome.
All of the white stone buildings wear a uniform grunge that has collected over time. The Excellence Center sits on one of the main roads, on the second story. The atmosphere is pleasant, people constantly chatting with each other and others coming in and out of the classrooms. The kitchen is the heart of the Center, tea or coffee is always being made and shared, and conversation always being exchanged in Arabic and English with enthusiasm.
Laura from Australia who is studying Arabic said, “My first impression is that Palestine is much safer than it is portrayed. People here will help you out if you need anything and are very hospitable!”.
“I’ve never seen such beautiful rolling hills before. The mix of greens and browns with a white rock makes the land unique”, explains Justin from the USA who is Teaching English and Studying Arabic. “My first impression of the people here was how polite they are, and how kind they are to each other. You don’t find them talking about their cars or watches, they are very down to earth people”. He adds that you should know the call to prayer is sung out five times a day throughout the city on loudspeakers. Once at sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sundown and once in the evening. “It is completely normal and something you will get use to, maybe even come to enjoy”.
Itzel from Mexico who is volunteering teaching English said her first impression was the familiar hustle and bustle of the city “You have to learn how to cross the street by walking with purpose, if you wait the cars will never stop for you to cross, you have to be careful and learn to walk out on the street when there is a gap in the cars and the ones approaching will slow down or stop for you to cross”. At her host family Itzel said she is always being fed, “delicious food is always available, my host family is always offering me something to eat!”. Give everything a try and if you are full make sure to politely refuse.
It may be a bit of a culture shock, but you will surely feel at home during your stay in Hebron!