Why American students should choose to study in Palestine: If you are a student American or young professional considering a trip to the Arab World for study, vacation, or work, Palestine may be your best option. Due to an increased demand for Arabic speakers and professionals with knowledge of the Middle East, the number of American students studying in the Middle East has dramatically risen, going from just over 500 in 2002 to almost 6,400 in 2012-13. These students know that in order establish fluency in Arabic and win over one of the many MENA focused jobs in New York or Washington, DC, time abroad in the region is essential. Yet too frequently students pass over Palestine as a potential destination for study. Here are a few reasons why American students should consider spending time in Palestine.
First, the fact that Palestine is still a relatively rare destination for American students to travel means your trip there will help you stand out. While only roughly 2% of American students studying abroad study in the Middle East, that still adds up to nearly 6,400 every year. Even if only a fraction of those students go on to apply to the same jobs as you, that’s still a lot of competition! Having Hebron or Ramallah rather than more common destinations like Amman or Rabat, will help you stand out.
Second, Palestine’s location is ideal for academics and immersion into Arab culture. Many of the other locations frequented by American students are huge cities like Cairo, Amman or Dubai. In cities this large, much of your time may be spent learning the layout, opportunities for building relationships in the community will be more difficult, and chances are you will often find yourself in neighborhoods frequented by expats with little cultural benefit. In contrast, the largest city in the West Bank, Hebron, has just over 200,000 residents. Modest when compared to Cairo’s 9,500,000. The city’s small size provides a closer community feel and a smaller expat community means Arabic is more widely utilized in signs and dialogue, requiring you to use what you learn in class. Hebron, and other cities in the West Bank, are also close to cultural and vacation sites like the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv should you want to escape for a weekend.
Finally, the Palestinian people themselves are the biggest selling point for studying in Palestine. While the media in America tends to focus on sporadic outbreaks of violence, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Palestinian in Hebron, Bethlehem, or Ramallah, who would treat you with anything but hospitality. If anything, the negative image forced upon them makes Palestinians more eager to welcome and host foreigners. Offerings of tea, cries of hello from curious children, and tips for your tour are all common to encounter walking down the street.
If you’re hoping to boost you resume, improve your Arabic, and immerse yourself in Arab culture, take a second look at Palestine!