Cara VanDusen is a volunteer from America, who spent about one month teaching English and learning Arabic at the Excellence Center in Hebron. Cara graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Grand Valley State University in 2012. Since then she has been working as a nurse, with her most recent experience in the field of psychiatric nursing. Cara’s home state of Michigan is home to one of the largest populations of Arabs in the United States, and her experiences at home and abroad prompted her to learn more about Arab life and culture.
What inspired you to work with Palestinians?
In the United States we hear so much about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that when we hear “Palestine” we tend to think only of conflict and war. There is also a lot of stigma and fear associated with Arabs and Muslims in general. However, as a Christian I am commanded by Jesus to love my neighbor, regardless of religion or ethnicity. I wanted to come to Palestine to meet the people living beneath the conflict, and also to experience life in a predominantly Muslim society. I wanted to live with the people here, learn from them, andlet them know that in spite of our religious differences or seemingly opposing nationalities, I love them.
Did you stay with a host family?
The opportunity to live with a host family was one of the aspects of this program that attracted me the most, and I was able to stay with a wonderful family while in Hebron. They welcomed me in their home and cared for me like I was one of their own children. They washed my clothes for me, worried about me if I was out late, and even surprised me with a birthday cake. I was able to practice my Arabic with them every day, try many Palestinian foods, and truly immerse myself in the culture. I have been so blessed by their kindness and hospitality, and feel like I now have a second home and family in Palestine.
Do you recommend that participants learn Arabic before traveling to Palestine?
Of course it would be helpful to learn as much Arabic as possible prior to coming to Palestine, but from my own experience knowing Arabic before coming is not absolutely necessary. I came to Palestine knowing only a few words of Arabic, but English is understood widely enough that I was able to get by without any major problems. For the sake of connecting with more Palestinians on a deeper level I wish that I had learned more Arabic before coming, but the people were always gracious and welcomed even my weak attempts at saying a few words. The Arabic lessons I received at the Excellence Center were great, and I was able to learn to read and speak some basic Arabic in the few weeks I was in Hebron.
What did you find most fulfilling about your time in Palestine?
For me, the personal interactions I had with my host family, students, and colleagues at the Excellence Center were the most rewarding aspect of this experience. I am indebted to so many Palestinians for their warmth and generosity. The time that I was in Hebron was especially tumultuous, but I was welcomed by the people there with open arms. Teaching English and learning Arabic were both great in themselves, but the laughter and friendship that I shared with my students and Arabic teacher made me look forward to each class. I came to Hebron hoping to build relationships, and am both humbled by and grateful for the many Palestinians who made this so easy.