Before I had even formally arrived at the TYO building, I was introduced to the hospitality of Nablus. I arrived in the early hours of the morning when few reasonable people are awake, yet I was greeted by one of the school’s security guards when I drove through the gate. As I unloaded by bags and was led upstairs to my new home, it was explained to me that the guard had voluntarily stayed after his shift in order to welcome and greet the new intern for the session. This unbelievable thoughtful and kind gesture soon proved to be the rule, and not the exception for Nablus.
In my brief week here I have had people warmly smile at me, greet me in Arabic and English, wave to me, offer services, food, assistance and explanations, and even invite me to a wedding (which was absolutely phenomenal, and I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go).
While children are wise to be wary of strangers, the majority of students have warmed up to me quickly. To watch a child cautiously eyeing you from across the room and then resolutely walk over to you and offer you their colored pencil, it absolutely melts your heart. Children will often stare at the new interns in the hallways, especially me being the tallest of the four, but undoubtedly you will have one daring and bold child enthusiastically shriek, “Hello!” with an aggressively uncoordinated wave. This creates a domino effect and suddenly you have three and then seven little voices echoing the greeting as they march past on their way to snack or the playground.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to keep reminding myself is to be fun and friendly while still establishing cultural boundaries and reinforcing personal space. In one of the classes with my older students, a student wanted to see my multi-colored necklace and started to reach for it to simply touch it. I was quickly pulled to the side by the teacher and it was kindly explained to me that they discourage students from touching simply so students can learn boundaries and respect personal space. TYO tries hard to teach and establish the meaning of personal space in order to ensure that students have a healthy concept of autonomy and respect.
This was difficult for me to grasp since I naturally want to pat my students on the back encouragingly and let kids examine my necklace or let a student gently tug on my sleeve for my attention. Fairly innocuous physical interactions that happen just from being around children, but I suddenly had to constantly check myself and monitor my space and movements. If I happened to slip or let students get too comfortable physically getting my attention, it could create a bad precedent for how to respectful of others’ space.
It helped to contextualize for me that while Nablus is an overwhelming friendly and welcoming city, it nevertheless has its own unique cultural norms and traditions. This has meant that I’ve had to intertwine caution and restraint into my interactions, while still seeming open and approachable. The situation isn’t so simple as a black and white duality between friendly and distant, it exists in a respectful and warm grey. During the rest of my time here, I look forward to seeing all the shades that this colorful city has to offer.
– Tallin, Fall 2017 International Intern