Newbies at An-Najah
Anywhere you travel in the world, whether it is a bustling metropolis like Singapore, an ancient village in the middle of the Sahara desert, or a city of history in the heart of the Middle East, you will always find signs and billboards on the streets written in English. But why English? People around the world understand that English is the language of choice for international communication. In a city such as Nablus that was closed off for so many years after the second intifada to almost all foreign exchange, it is incredible that only five years after movement became more fluid, TYO’s international interns can have the opportunities to teach courses in professional competency, in English, at An-Najah University – one of the most renowned universities in the Middle East and the largest university in the West Bank.
Having these opportunities benefits not only us, the American interns, but also the Palestinian students, because the doors to cultural exchange are opened. While our students are practicing their English grammar, hearing new vocabulary, and learning about professionalism, we are getting a better understanding of the culture and lifestyle in Palestine. I believe we are able to establish an even stronger bond with our students at An-Najah because of the open communication that exists in our classrooms. We came to Palestine to intern at TYO because we have the desire to learn from our Palestinian counterparts about their city and about Arab culture in general. After completing two weeks of teaching English to the students at An-Najah, I know I can say that so far it has been an absolute pleasure and that I am looking forward to the next three weeks!
Growing up intuitively understanding a certain grammar system is so much simpler than starting from scratch decades after becoming a culture-bound listener. As a native English speaker, my customary explanation for why certain grammar is correct is because it just sounds right, but I knew this convoluted reasoning wouldn’t make sense to non-native speakers in my Advanced English and Professional Competency Class at An-Najah University. One of the most difficult parts of teaching ESL to university students has been to convey not only why something is grammatically correct or how to speak and write more fluently, but also the reasoning behind my judgment.
I have been so impressed by each of my student’s willingness to confront his or her fear of public speaking in order to learn to speak with greater fluidity and confidence. Last class, my students participated in debates, and defended their arguments with inspiring courage, as well as remarkable persuasion and eloquence. Some of my students at An-Najah volunteer in our summer camp classes, and it has been wonderful to get to know them in a different context, where they can teach us more about their culture and the kids from their communities. Teaching English at An-Najah has been extremely rewarding, and my fellow university students have taught me so much about Palestinian culture. TYO has set up a self-sustaining system, in which interns teach the university students, who will then become capable of teaching the kids at TYO. Our summer camp students will then hopefully be able to attend university and give back to the TYO community.
Walking into our first class together, the beginner/elementary English students at An-Najah University and I established a pattern that has continued throughout our time together. Our rapport includes initial greetings and general discussions about grammar, syntax, punctuation and vocabulary. The English language lessons are important but the details the students provide about themselves through homework assignments, class presentations and discussions are what have proven most insightful.
The class is on the subject of English language as it is used in professionalism. At the beginner level, we focus mostly on building public speaking skills, vocabulary and confidence to allow students to better articulate their thoughts. Glancing over their recent assignments, it’s clear that the drive each student has to learn is propelled by their desires to be successful and ever-learning. Students write of their aspirations to travel abroad through Europe, Asia and North America. They are passionate about interacting with international students and professionals as they develop new skills in written and spoken comprehension. As budding engineers, doctors, lawyers and teachers, the An-Najah students seek to improve their linguistic skills to broaden their career opportunities. Several students have expressed their desires to complete their graduate studies abroad in the United States or United Kingdom. Realizing their best path to doing so is by improving their English conversational skills, students are eager to present skits and complete written assignments. Many of the students have already graduated from university or will within two years. This marks the job search clearly on the horizon and makes interview skills essential. Professional competency for the An-Najah students means reaching conversational adequacy, resume and CV workshops and public speaking practice. Their eagerness to participate and advance conversationally and professionally in English is energizing.