Homeward Bound; Yalla Bye!
My students once asked me, “Why do American children always leave their families at 18? Do they not care about their families?” While speaking in a second language does lend itself to bluntness, I could see why my class wondered this about my culture. After all, they were speaking to a North American who had uprooted her life to move to Palestine. Being a beginner class, I struggled through an answer that did justice to the complexity of the question while using simple and, hopefully, understandable vocabulary. In Palestine, family bonds are ultimate. For me personally, while family bonds are still very important, I also view my close friends as family, and these networks support me in similar ways as my family would when I am far away from them. Fortunately, my class seemed to accept this part of my answer. Thinking back on my three months with my class, it is easy to see that my positive experience in Palestine is inextricably linked with the building of a new family here. Both with my colleagues at TYO and within my individual class, we are a family.
While the close bonds we all developed here at TYO certainly play into this, they are by no means the driving force behind my intense pride in my students for all that they accomplished over the course of three months. Within the beginner class, levels still varied greatly and many of my students could even have benefited from extra, remedial English classes before joining the beginner group. I saw all of my students, even the ones who struggled the most, grow and develop so much over the course. They applied themselves fully to the class and worked so hard, and the difference is obvious. One of my students who struggled the most now takes some time, thinks deeply about what he wants to say and how he wants to say it, and writes near-perfect sentences. With a little more practice and a continued effort to increase confidence in speaking, I know this student will one day have better English than some native speakers!
At the end of the course, students undertook a placement exam to compare their relative levels before and after the program. It was designed to see how TYO could improve its teaching and the areas we still need to focus on, as well as gauge student progress. While not every student will benefit from a more advanced class next session, every student I talked to after the exam expressed how proud they were of themselves. The test was designed to be difficult for all levels, yet they felt confident in their own improvement. The speaking portion in particular can always be intimidating, yet everyone spoke of how much easier they found it than last time and how they felt more capable and more confident. One student amusingly came up to me with a huge smile on her face and said, “Grammar? No problem!” Her lack of grammar in that instance aside, we were all so proud to be involved with the EFL program that day.
I sincerely hope that my students continue on with the same amount of passion and commitment in their future English classes with TYO. I have no doubt that they will. The STEP! II EFL program was specifically asked for by the community, as something concrete that will help make the lives of the Nabulsi people better. I am honoured to be a small part of this locally-driven community building exercise, and have gotten the opportunity to build a new family in Nablus.
The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
Ally, EFL Teaching Fellow, Spring 2016