All those selected for the EC volunteering programme, TESA, and study Arabic programmes as well as international visitors will have the chance of living with a host family during their time with the EC.
How are EC host families selected?
EC families are fully evaluated and interviewed before being taken on and most have been working with us for years. Most host families with the EC have had experience of hosting before, so will be aware of cultural differences and potential points of awkwardness, as well as anything you’re likely to need help with. Even very experienced families will still have things to learn however. If you expect to need to be patient and accommodating, you and your host family should gain a lot from each other.
What are the advantages of living with a Palestinian host family ?
The prospect of living with a group of people you don’t know, and who mostly don’t speak your language is daunting, but it’s well worth overcoming some inevitable awkwardness and shyness for the advantages.
A host family offers a brilliant resource for getting to know the culture and making the most of Palestinian hospitality. There will be plenty of opportunity to attend traditional wedding ceremonies and other events with a host family, especially on Fridays, when families usually host large gatherings and cook traditional food.
Living with a host family also provides the most efficient way of learning the language. Whilst most families do speak some English, you can expect the majority of conversation to be held in Palestinian dialect. Families with small children are particularly helpful in this respect, since the vocabulary of young children is simpler, and their pronunciation is often being corrected by their parents. Parents will also often be delighted for you to help out with childrens’ English homework, providing a chance for practicing simple translation.
Should I have any concerns about living in a host family?
Many people who come to Hebron to live with Palestinian host families haven’t lived with a family in years. Usually, the people who join a host family are used to a certain level of independence, whether that means coming home after midnight without having to tell anyone about it, habitually scattering clothes all over your bedroom floor, or blasting Taylor Swift from your laptop.
Living with an EC host family, you should expect to be treated as one of the family, but this also places on you some of the responsibility of behaving as one of the family. Palestinian host families are delighted to host internationals, and to share knowledge of local culture, but it’s up to the individual to engage.
What should I know about living with a Palestinian host family ?
Experiences with host families are as different as each Palestinian family, whether you’re living with an elderly couple or a family of five with toddling twins. However there are a few simple facts about living with a host family that you can have at the forefront of your mind, so you can avoid basic faux pas.
A few tips
Eating the same food as the host family
Although EC host families are not obliged to provide meals, most families enjoy offering food in the evenings, and at weekends. You should expect to eat what your host family is eating for dinner, and, unless you have particular dietary restrictions, it’s mostly quite rude to refuse. If you find that your host family expects to provide food for you in the evenings, make sure you let them know if you’ll be eating out.
A culture of hospitality in Palestine means that hosts tend to feed their guests a lot, and if you’re not used to eating large meals, host families’ insistence that you eat, or drink copious amounts of tea and coffee may come as something of a shock. Telling your host family ‘alhamdulillah’, the food was excellent, but you’re full, is, however, very acceptable and you shouldn’t feel trapped into stuffing yourself. Offering food and drinks is a way of making you feel welcome as part of the family.
The vast majority of Palestinians eat meat and the very few people who are vegetarian tend to do so on doctor’s advice, rather than as a matter of choice.
However, most host families have no problem in accommodating you as a vegetarian or vegan if they are informed at the beginning of your stay of your needs. Make sure, as a vegetarian, that you make clear that you eat neither fish nor meat, as vegetarianism are often assumed to eat fish. If your host family don’t fully understand your dietary requirements, don’t be shy in politely refusing foods you cannot eat.
Many people who have lived in a Palestinian home-stay feel obliged to give back to their generous hosts. However, hospitality is an important part of Palestinian culture and host families will be as generous as they can with their guests. The more generous you can be with your guests, as a Palestinian, the more appreciated you are from the perspective of the community.
Respect the house rules
Living with a Palestinian host family, you should get an idea of the house rules quickly. If you’re unsure of anything, whether it’s a matter of meal times, using the washing machine, or the time you’re expected to be back at home, don’t be afraid to ask.
Make sure that you have the contact details of at least one member of your host family so that you can let them know of any changes to your schedule. Whether they have agreed to allow you to bring a friend for coffee, or dinner, or whether you’re coming home later than expected, it’s important to let them know as far in advance as possible. For women, it’s especially important that you inform your family if you’re returning home late, as they’re likely to worry about your safety.
Events and gatherings
Expect, as a member of a host family, to be invited to gatherings and celebratory occasions and ceremonies with your family. On Fridays in particular, Palestinians tend to host big lunches with their extended family, often cooking chicken Maklouba or other traditional dishes.
Hebron is a religious, conservative city, and it’s important that you respect the requirement to wear long sleeves and long skirts or trousers year round. In place of pyjamas, Palestinians tend to wear a tracksuit or a onesie, and it’s a good idea to follow suit. In any case, you should avoid the temptation to run to the bathroom in a silk nightgown.