Eleanor Veness is twenty-eight years old. She is half British, half Australian; from Oxford but lives in London. Her educational background started with an Art Foundation degree when she left school, and she graduated from The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London last year. Her undergraduate degree was in Social Anthropology and History of Art/Archaeology, and in September she will begin masters degrees in Visual Anthropology and Creative Writing. She has worked in teaching, TV production and in the museum sector. She likes to write stories and poems and is currently working on a book.I stayed with a host family in Hebron, Palestine during my time at The Excellence Center. They were incredibly welcoming and friendly from the beginning, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to stay with them. The family are composed of a Mother, Father and sixteen year old triplets (two brothers and a sister). I arrived in Palestine at the beginning of eid, and the celebrations were fantastic. I was immediately introduced to the wider family, and enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles and young grandparents. I have enjoyed activities with them such as going shopping and going out for meals. I had my birthday during my stay here, and they very kindly surprised me with a party. It was a truly integrative experience to stay with a host family. I learnt more about Palestinian culture, and whilst they helped me to improve in Arabic, I helped them to improve their English.
I recommend that participants learn some basic Arabic before coming to Palestine. Arabic is a difficult language to master, but some simple phrases and understanding of the phonetic alphabet will go a long way. It’s not guaranteed that locals will speak or understand English. Whilst the level of English among the employees of The Excellence Center is to full fluency, getting there will require a little communication with local people. Arabic lessons at the center will aid you in having conversations with locals and your host family, but learning polite pleasantries such as ‘hello’, ‘welcome’, ‘how are you’ and ‘may I have’ will bring rapport. Learn to count to ten and above for potential financial exchanges.
There has been a lot to gain from my visit to Palestine. Teaching as a volunteer at The Excellence Center will prepare you to interact with people of a diverse range of ages and from a different culture. Living and travelling in the region has opened my political awareness of the Israeli occupation and the hugely negative impact it is having on the Palestinian people, whether in occupied territories or not. I have learnt more about the local culture and Islamic customs, and have got on so well with my host family that I hope to travel and come back to Palestine again. The Palestinians are a truly welcoming people and I hope to have learnt from their customs of kindness.
The best memories I have in Hebron are with my host family and with engaging with some of the younger students at the centre and in educational camps. Although I have worked as a teacher in the UK, before this period I hadn’t had much opportunity to interact with teenagers in an educational environment. One moment that stood out for me was reading a poem by a young woman in her teens at the educational camp I was outsourced to.