What qualifications or experience is required for EC voluntary roles?
Individuals from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, and from ages ranging from eighteen to seventy, are welcome to apply for a voluntary position with the EC.
Academic training is not a volunteer’s most important asset, and although teaching experience or qualification is preferable, it is not required. Volunteers are selected on the basis of their being considered a good fit for the Centre. In addition to a good grasp of the English language, interns should display a welcoming, friendly manner, a positive mindset, and convey eagerness to learn.
Should my English be perfect? do I need a certificate in English?
Volunteers should have a good grasp of English language. However, no formal qualification is required and native speaking standard is not required.
What teaching responsibilities can I expect as an EC volunteer?
Volunteers selected for the EC Programme assist Palestinian teachers with several classes of conversational English per week for students studying at levels from Beginner to Advanced. As assistants, volunteers develop valuable teaching experience through helping staff to design course outlines, as well as participating in classroom discussions or debates and leading groups during activities. In addition to practical training from staff, the EC provides volunteers with a manual teaching guide and other teaching resources including textbooks.
In contrast to the more traditional English teaching provided by local educational establishments, EC teaching is focused on enhancing students’ proficiency and confidence in conversational English. Lessons are not textbook based and existing lessons plans are amended for individual groups on a less by lesson basis. Activities, games, and genuine resources such as youtube videos, music, and newspaper articles are employed for an engaging, and enjoyable learning process. Through cooking and bringing food into class to describe, students might learn names of ingredients, whilst the names of various occupations could be studied through guessing games.
What other responsibilities will I have as a volunteer in addition to teaching English?
In addition to providing assistance in day to day administrative tasks at the Centre, volunteers are asked to write one article per day about their experience with the Centre, and Palestinian daily life and culture.
We’re delighted to use the Excellence Centre website, and sister website Go Palestine, to make the most of the valuable skills and experience of internationals with the EC. These digital platforms are a vital ingredient in our mission at the Centre to develop a fruitful discourse between Palestine and the international community.
Volunteers are also regularly offered opportunities to engage in teaching and community development activities organised by the EC with local educational establishments. Volunteers assist staff members and interns to lead sports games, English conversational classes, and employability skills workshops in English for advanced university students.
Volunteers are also welcome to contribute ideas for workshops according to their particular skills. In the past, workshops have been conducted in a particular language, as well as leadership skills classes, lessons in music, or photography and film workshops.
How do I apply?
Candidates are assessed through an online questionnaire accessible through the EC website and, subsequently an interview with Centre director, Rafat Shantir, which typically lasts fifteen or twenty minutes.
When can I start?
The Excellence Centre accepts applications all year round for our Volunteering Programme. It is possible for individuals to start volunteering with the EC as soon as one week after receiving confirmation from EC director, Rafat Shantir. However, individuals applying for programmes during the Summer months should apply well in advance of their desired start date in order to ensure availability. For individuals intending to work with the EC at this time it is recommended to apply up to six months before their desired start date.
Where will I stay?
Female volunteers live with local host families during their stay, while men stay in EC dormitories. All EC accommodation is located within walking distance, or a short taxi ride (around 2.5 NIS) away from the Centre. Internationals often enjoy walking to the Centre in the mornings, to watch the city wake up to the smell of fresh baking and Arabic coffee.
Dormitories consist of two rooms which sleep two and three internationals respectively, as well as a common room area. Dormitories are regularly cleaned and are equipped with all basic appliances including a shared bathroom, washing machine, and kitchen with gas stove and dining table for cooking.
Is prior knowledge of Arabic required for this programme?
The majority of students learning Arabic with the Centre have reached Intermediate level through regular school education. For this reason, no knowledge of Arabic is required from international volunteers and interns.
However, learning the Arabic alphabet is an easy first step which can be done alone and we recommend that students make the most of their teaching hours here by developing a basic understanding of the sounds before starting lessons.
Students with prior knowledge of Arabic are required to sit placement tests on arrival at the Centre in order to judge their level for the provision of appropriate learning resources including textbooks and other, less formal resources.
How much control do I have over the structure of my Arabic lessons?
Three hours per week Arabic teaching with members of EC staff are provided to all volunteers in either classical Arabic (MSA) or regional, Levantine dialect according to their interests. Classes are usually arranged for two mornings per week of 1.5 hour periods, between breakfast from nine, and English classes and activities generally beginning at two in the afternoon.
Tutors tend to be quite flexible with regards to the time table, and some amendments to established schedules be made in advance according to students’ other commitments.
How much control do I have over the content of my Arabic lessons?
Tutors are selected from the fifteen permanent staff at the Centre according to their suitability for each individual student. Those with no prior knowledge of Arabic often elect to study with a tutor with good command of English. Those looking to develop their existing understanding of regional dialect, by contrast, may prefer a native speaking tutor who doesn’t speak English, requiring them to speak in dialect at all times. Students learning Fusha for religious or academic purposes, meanwhile, may require a specialist in classical Arabic.
Tutors adapt lessons according to the individual’s needs and particular interests and students are welcome to bring or suggest other resources including textbooks, which can be incorporated into their teaching programme.
Can I get university credit from studying with Excellence Centre?
Excellence Centre is certified by the Ministry of Education to award university credit to students. Upon successful completion of a level, students also receive a personalised certificate for use as evidence of achievement.
Can I learn Arabic in a group class or with a partner?
The vast majority of teaching that takes place in the Centre occurs on a one to one basis. Group lessons are mostly organised for students who arrive together from an educational establishment at which they have been studying at the same level.
How long is a working day at the Centre and do I get holidays?
The working day begins for volunteers at nine in the morning, when breakfast is served at the Centre, and usually finishes at five in the evening. Volunteers are welcome to take breaks from work throughout the day to use the wifi for personal use and eat in the kitchen and dining area. A steady stream of tea and coffee is kept brewing throughout the day for staff and internationals.
In addition to Fridays, when the Centre is closed for the holy day according to local custom, volunteers can select four days every month of additional holiday.
What’s special about Excellence Centre?
The welcoming atmosphere is the basis of everything that goes on at Excellence Centre. A friendly, relaxed environment is vital to our mission of cultural exchange and the starting point for productive work and learning.
The Centre maintains a lively, comfortable atmosphere through innumerable activities, from teacher training days focused on engaging students through fun, interactive methods, to meals prepared and served at the Centre every day.
Sharing traditional, Palestinian meals is an important part of life at the Centre and breakfast is served, daily, at nine for staff members and international students, volunteers and interns. Sharing a meal of falafel, hummus, flat bread, and bean salad is a good chance to get to know everyone working at the EC and a great way to start the day.
Although internationals usually provide their own lunches, staff and internationals are often invited to dinner and sometimes lunch by members of staff who prepare in the Centre kitchen or barbecue on the roof. Thursday evenings are a regular opportunity for members of the Centre to get to know each other over a meal prepared in the Centre, to chat about the week, and plan trips or days out together. Staff members and host families working with the Centre are often keen to meet new internationals and to invite you to family gatherings and other events such as weddings.
What can I get up to in the local area?
Many internationals like going to the the local gym, located no more than five minutes walk from the Centre. Although not segregated, the gym is reserved for women during the daytime, and men in the evenings.
Excellence Centre also regularly organises trips for staff members and internationals both to spots in the local area, and, on Fridays when the Centre is closed for the holy day, more distant locations. Local trips include visits to local coffeeshops, ceramics and glass blowing or leather workshops, and to the infamous ‘sterile street’, Al-Shahada Street, as well as local refugee camps.
More distant locations, reached by car, are as diverse as Jericho and the Dead Sea, Ramallah and the ancient city of Nablus. A day spent hiking through the nearby, hilly village of Battir, to see the 2000 year old water system and underground tomb-caves, for instance, or an evening eating in a tent at a local bedouin village are opportunities for immersion in Palestinian culture and a chance to get to know staff members and other internationals studying and volunteering with the Centre.
What’s Palestinian food like?
The cuisine in Palestine is varied and infused with the flavours of the Levantine region as a whole, from Beirut to Amman. During your time in Palestine, you will probably eat a lot of Maqlouba; an ‘upside down dish’ of vegetables, met (chicken/ lamb) and yellow rice with yoghurt. Also popular, particularly in Hebron, where it is a speciality, is Mahshi Lift: turnips stuffed with rice, minced lamb, meat an spices, cooked in Tamarind sauce. For dessert, there is usually fresh fruit and spicy Arabic coffee, biscuits and cakes with chocolate or dates. Further South, and especially in Nablus, you’ll have plenty of chance to try Kanafeh; a crispy melted cheese stuffed pastry drizzled with lashings of syrup.
What do I need to bring with me to Palestine?
It’s easy to find everything you will need in local shops, but it’s convenient to come prepared with the basics. Stationary is also a must, and many volunteers choose to bring a laptop as well as a smart phone for research and to provide students with classroom access to online resources.
Whether you’re staying with a host family or in dormitories, you need to provide your own towel and toiletries including travel sickness medication to prepare for driving local mountain roads. Earplugs can also be a useful addition, particularly if you’re staying in shared dormitories or plan to stay in hostels when travelling in the area.
Can I drink alcohol here?
Excellence Centre, and all accommodation for internationals working and studying here is located in Hebron. In this conservative, religious society, drinking alcohol is not permitted at any time. However, alcohol is also available in Palestinian towns such as Nablus and Ramallah, where Arak, an anise flavoured beverage is served. Alcohol is also widely available in Bethlehem, which is majority Christian, and of course can be bought throughout Israel, where many Jews choose to drink, particularly on Fridays.
How do I stay safe in Hebron?
Contrary to popular belief, Foreign Office bars on visiting the West Bank were lifted by many governments many years ago and international tourists are increasingly visiting, working and living in the area as living standards develop.
Recent efforts by the Palestinian authorities to encourage visits by internationals and develop appropriate facilities, as well as several new community tourism and activity holiday operators, hotels and home-stay programmes also make experiencing Palestine’s stunning scenery and great food increasingly easy.
The H1 area of Hebron where the Centre and all EC accommodation is located is completely safe and internationals tend to feel very comfortable walking around the city alone. Whilst it is not advisable for women to walk alone after dark, it is perfectly safe to do so with an escort.
However, it is also important for internationals to be sensitive to the location of the border between H1 and H2 of Hebron, and to be aware of settlements and checkpoints. Although the Israeli soldiers stationed in the area are there for Palestinians and not for Internationals, as a visitor to Palestine it is important to negotiate such areas sensibly.
What should I wear in Palestine?
The weather in Palestine is mainly temperate, and the heat of summer is tempered by a cool, Khamseen wind from the Mediterranean. However, temperatures still climb as high as eight four degrees in summer (peaking in July and August), and the desert regions are particularly hot, so light clothing is a must. Long sleeved t shirts and long trousers or skirts are required for women, and long trousers for men. In some rare instances, women may be required to cover their heads, particularly in particularly holy areas of Bethlehem. When travelling to some parts of Israel on the other hand, such as Ein Gedi and Masada, some internationals choose to wear shorts and t shirts.
In winter months, the weather can drop to fifty degrees between November and February, sand the rainy season (though rain is still infrequent) runs from November to February. A few warm jumpers and macintosh are recommended, as well as a pair of boots for hiking and rainy weather. You may also wish to bring a tracksuit, since Palestinians often wear tracksuits in place of pyjamas in the evenings, to meet neighbours and lounge around at home.
When is the best time to come to EC for vacation?
This tiny area packs in more historical, religious and cultural heritage than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Palestine’s small size and temperate climate for most of the year means that a good proportion of the sites can be visited in a fairly short trip at any time of the year.
Winter swiftly changes to summer at around May time, when days begin to lengthen to almost double that of winter time and temperatures average at around seventy five degrees . Some students prefer summer for the bustling life at the Centre at this time of year, as both local and international students come to learn and teach languages during the holiday season. From June until late August, language classes spill out into the corridors, and activities regularly overflow regular working hours with trips to swimming spots and gardens, and barbecues on the Centre roof.
As students return to full time education in autumn and winter, life at the Centre quietens as the days shorten. Activities and trips are interspersed with the odd lazy evening over oven baked dishes, hot drinks and cakes.
Though the Centre itself may be quiet during winter, it is at Christmas time that the majority of travellers choose to visit Palestine. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims arrive in Bethlehem to participate in Midnight Mass and other religious events and ceremonies. Leaders of the various Christian denominations lead processions from Jerusalem, and Manger Square is filled with boy scout bagpipe bands. Prices, however, are lower outside of Christmas and Easter time, and accommodation may be easier to find at other times of year.
There’s plenty of opportunity to escape Christmas crowds and the winter chill however by travelling East to the Jordan valley, which remains warm throughout the year. Asides from the aesthetic appeal of the scenery at this time of year, from February to mid March, citrus fruits and pomelos soak the entire Jordan valley with a sweet fragrance.
For fans of hiking, winter is probably the best season to visit this area, as cooler weather permits longer walks in typically hot locations such as as Masada, or for snowy weather in the Northern Golan Heights.
If your purpose is tourism and a spot of relaxation, Autumn might be the perfect time to visit. September and October offer a temperate climate without the bother of rain which begins in November. October in Palestine also offers the opportunity, somewhat surprisingly, of a bustling Oktoberfest event, hosted by the hilltop village of Taybeh and the local family run brewery which involves Toot Ard (protest ska from the Golan Heights), political hip-hop groups from refugee camps, and traditional Palestinian dabka dancers.
How do I travel to Hebron?
Palestine has no airport, so internationals tend to fly to Tel Aviv (Ben Gurion) airport. Whereas the journey from Tel Aviv should take only a couple of hours, travel from Amman, Jordan requires approximately five hours. It’s also important to take into account the extra time needed to pass through security and customs, which tends to be more stringent in Amman.
Bear in mind that declaring your intention to visit the West Bank at either airport will result in questioning which may last several hours, and travellers with stamps to other Arab countries may face longer interrogations or be refused entry to the country.
From Tel Aviv airport, the most efficient way to travel is by private taxi, which should cost no more than 160 NIS. A much less costly and still relatively convenient method is to take a sherut (shared, yellow minivan taxi) from Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. In the square opposite Damascus Gate you should find a small crowd of drivers standing beside their sheruts and shouting ‘Hevron’, ‘Khalil’. Another alternative is to take the bus from the station to the left of Damascus Gate (with your back to the gate) to Bethlehem, and a sherut from Bethlehem. If your sherut will not take you directly to the Centre, take another taxi on arrival in Hebron and look for an ‘Excellence Centre’ sign post half way down the hill of Ein Sara Street.
Where should I go when I get to Hebron on my first day?
You will be asked to inform EC when to expect you in order that a member of staff can be there to meet you at the Centre and provide a short tour. Most buildings in Hebron do not have fixed addresses, so you will not be able to tell your taxi driver, or look up on Google maps, the precise location of the Centre. However, most locals will know Excellence Centre, or Al Hussain school just opposite and everyone is familiar with Ein Sara Street where the Centre is located. If you can’t locate the signs to the Centre, just call Rafat Shantir at the Centre.
What happens when I arrive at the Centre on my first day?
You will be asked to inform EC when to expect you in order that a member of staff can be there to meet you at the Centre and provide a short tour. Depending on your arrival time, you will receive a presentation about life in Hebron, providing tips on local shops and cafes, as well as how to negotiate travel, and social customs. If you are staying with a host family, you will meet someone from the family at the Centre who will escort you home.
Where will I meet my host family?
If you are staying with a host family, you will meet someone from the family at the Centre who will escort you home shortly after you arrive in Hebron.
How do I travel around Palestine?
Due to the small size of Palestine and restrictions placed by the Israeli occupation on freedom of movement in the Palestinian Territories, taxis are the only way to travel in Palestine unless you prefer to rent a hire car. There are no public railways, metros, trams or buses in the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza as there are in Israel.
However, shared yellow minivan taxis are good value and the longest trip you’re likely to face should take only a couple of hours. Shared ‘service’ taxis are also a great way to meet locals; most Palestinians speak at least some English and are very happy to practise on you, invite you for tea and give tips on travel in the local area. However, bear in mind that shared intercity taxis, in contrast to shared within city taxis, only travel between pre-set points, usually main taxi stations.
What kind of people are involved in the EC Volunteering Programme?
The single thread which unites our volunteers, interns and staff members is a common desire to create a relaxed and welcoming environment at the EC as the foundations for fruitful cultural exchange.
Graduates of all ages, from a wide variety of backgrounds come from countries around the world come to volunteer with the EC. The majority of volunteer are between twenty and thirty years of age but we have also hosted dozens of individuals over fifty in the past few years. Motivations are as diverse as an interest in developing teaching experience, to work with children, practise Arabic, and a desire to travel or to understand local politics.
We want to make each individuals’ experience volunteering as fruitful and as comfortable as possible so we’re delighted to accommodate individuals’ specific needs as far as our resources can manage. Don’t hesitate to drop us an email if you have any queries.
What are the differences between TESA and Volunteer in Palestine program?
Our TESA internship programme requires a minimum of an undergraduate degree from a recognised university, and an excellent grasp of English language. Some teaching experience is preferable for this programme. Our volunteer Programme meanwhile requires from candidates only a good knowledge of English language and no university level qualification is required.
Volunteers assist Palestinian teachers with several classes of conversational English per week. As assistants, volunteers develop valuable teaching experience through helping staff to design course outlines, as well as participating in classroom discussions or debates and leading groups during activities. In addition to regularly assisting Palestinian teaching staff, interns also lead two to three intermediate conversational classes in English during their placement.
Both volunteers and interns are also regularly offered opportunities to engage in teaching and community development activities organised by the EC with local educational establishments. Volunteers assist staff members and interns to lead sports games, English conversational classes, and employability skills workshops in English for advanced university students.