My experience here has been more than I could have imagined
By Lauren Worth
Volunteering with the Zajel Youth Exchange Programme of the Public Relations department at An-Najah National University is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who, for personal or professional reasons, has a desire to learn more about Arab culture, university life in the Middle East, and/or issues surrounding access to higher education in conflict areas.
I initially contacted Zajel with an interest in volunteering in order to advance my own professional goals. I wanted an experience in higher education in the Middle East to make me a more competitive candidate as I searched for a permanent position with an American university. My experience here has been more than I could have imagined. These experiences have inspired an interest in learning more about the issues surrounding access to higher education in conflict areas and has made me consider the psychological effects of the political situation here on students working towards a degree.
The local students are a joy to work with. As a former teacher, I know it’s unusual to have a class of students so engaged and excited. Every day with the students is amazing. Despite the hardships, they are dedicated, enthusiastic, and kind. I conducted three workshops for the students. One of the workshops was 5 hours each Saturday. The others were during the university lunch breaks throughout the week. Even when the university was on strike, and regular classes canceled, the students showed up ready to learn. The energy and passion they put into the workshops is inspiring.
Zajel gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge with the students and enhance my own skills. The staff have been very flexible in accommodating my interests and experience and designing workshops and other office tasks around my strengths and personal background. Zajel is open to any project or workshop you might suggest and will provide you with the support and resources to make it happen. I’ve found working with the program and the university to be very easy and I am grateful for the experience to work in another culture’s business environment.
As someone with limited experience and exposure to the Middle East and no Arabic language skills, I found the staff of Zajel, along with the local student volunteers, to be more than willing to help me out with whatever I need. Almost 2 months into my time in Nablus, I continue to see students stop by my office just to say “hello” or ask if I need anything that they might be able to help me with. Anyone with concerns about volunteering in Palestine should not worry. The staff and students here will take great care of you and will bend over backwards to help you with anything you need.
I’ve spent over five years living, working, and traveling outside my home country. Nowhere in the world matches Palestine for hospitality. From the moment I stepped off the bus, I was welcomed by everyone I met. Nablus is a great city to get an authentic, local experience away from the typical tourist destinations in the area. You will love spending hours wandering through the Old City. I’ve fallen more in love with this program, university, and city than I ever expected, and I’m sure you will too.