When can I start?
The Excellence Centre accepts applications all year round for our Study Arabic Programme. It is possible for individuals to start their Arabic programme 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 students intending to study with the Programme at this time it is recommended to apply up to six months before their desired start date.
Do I need any prior knowledge of Arabic?
Students from the age of eighteen to seventy, from all educational backgrounds and of all levels of Arabic are welcome to study at EC.
No knowledge of Arabic is required before starting an Absolute Beginner course with the Centre. However, learning the Arabic alphabet is easy to do alone and we recommend that students make the most of their teaching time here by developing a basic understanding of the sounds before starting lessons.
Students with some 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.
Will the Centre provide Arabic books?
Students studying with the Centre will receive learning resources including level appropriate textbooks appropriate, as well as other, less formal resources such as videos, recordings and articles.
How much do lessons cost?
The cost of one week or seventeen hours of language teaching is $500, two weeks of thirty hours costs $900, three weeks at $1200, and one month at $1500. This price includes accommodation, breakfasts and some other meals, as well as trips and social events organised by the Centre.
Students study no more than seventeen hours per week of language teaching to allow plenty of time for socialising and engaging with other aspects of the Centre.
How much control do I have over the content of my 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 choose when to take my lessons?
The requirements of the individual student are discussed and a time table established before arrival. The majority of Arabic classes take place in the morning from eight, but later classes are also possible. 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.
Can I learn 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.
Where will I stay?
Female students 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 tend to 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.
Can I volunteer with Excellence Centre in my spare time?
Students are regularly offered opportunities to engage in teaching and community development activities organised by the EC in local educational establishments. Students assist volunteers and staff members to lead sports games, English conversational classes, and employability skills workshops in English for advanced university students. Students are welcome to contribute ideas for workshops according to their particular skills, if they’d like to conduct classes in leadership skills, for instance, music or photography and film workshops.
Arabic Students, as well as volunteers and interns are also asked to write a minimum of one article per week for online publication about their experience with the Centre, and Palestinian daily life and culture. The Excellence Centre website, and sister site, Go Palestine, are a vital ingredient in our mission at the Centre to develop a fruitful discourse between Palestine and the international community. We’re delighted to use these digital platforms to make the most of the valuable skills and experience of internationals with the EC.
What’s special about learning at the 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.
What’s the food like?
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 together.
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 can I get up to in the local area?
Many internationals like going to 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.
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 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 students 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.
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 Study Arabic 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.
Individuals of all ages, from a wide variety of backgrounds come from countries around the world come to study Arabic with the EC. The majority of students 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 a developing career in journalism, religious interests, and an MA in International Relations.
We want to make each individuals’ experience 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.