An American in Nablus

When you are given a job that requires all of your undivided attention, like teaching English to 240 wonderful Palestinian children, it is easy to put blinders on and solely concentrate on the task at hand. When I was recently asked how I was exercising cross-cultural exchange I thought: I’m doing it every day by teaching English, a foreign language. It never occurred to me that I am, in fact, doing much more by merely being around the volunteers and staff at TYO. I speak very little Arabic and the language barrier has posed a number of challenges, many of which are not easily ignored such as how to execute my lesson plans in the classroom or how to ask for help. But it occurred to me while I was conducting an interview with one of the volunteers, Ola, that sharing my ideas and talking about my life is a glimpse a different cultural perspective. I never considered that my exposure to them was also helping me naturally accept the changes I needed to make in order to develop connections and learn more about Palestinian culture. I realized that while a shared language helps you connect to the people around you, culture is much more than spoken words. Ola’s insights into cross cultural exchanges helped me expand my own thoughts on how culture is shared, and helped me understand that I was actively participating in many cultural exchanges everyday without thinking about it. Ola explained that she liked working with the interns and international staff the most because it provided her with the opportunity to expand her understanding of foreign cultures and of foreign language. Even though she studied English while teaching at university, she wants to know more about how Americans view the world. She continued by describing how working with people who have different backgrounds helps her think about her own culture and how to best present it to foreigners: “we both act as cultural ambassadors, which I love because I get to share a part of who I am and they get to share a part of who they are.” This interview alone was a cultural exchange I was fortunate enough to experience, without really thinking about how I now knew more about Ola, her goals, and how they are not dissimilar from mine.

After this interview, I was interested to know how others perceived cross-cultural exchanges at TYO. I sought out my Arabic tutor and TYO Core Program teacher, Amal, and asked her what cultural exchanges meant to her. She explained that developing friendships that span across the world allows her to experience different cultures, different languages, and different dreams without leaving Palestine, which isn’t really an option. Plus, she gets to show the world who the real Palestinians are: ”Working with the interns, I can show them the real Palestine and I want them to see how we think, how we live, and love life, how we love to work and learn. We all love to travel, but we don’t often have the chance so I get to learn from the interns.”

Sarah and Amal bond over their love of teaching children and engaging in cross-cultural exchange.

Ola, Amal, and I have one very important trait in common-- our desire to learn about different people and different cultures. I, however, have the flexibility of being able to immerse myself in their culture, while they might not have the same opportunities to travel and experience immersion. I did not know exactly what I was looking for when I came to Palestine. I now see that all of us who seek to learn about different cultures through travel, have an important role in participating in cultural exchange whether through simple conversation, sharing food, or sharing our dreams and goals.

Sarah, Fall 2015 Intern