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When I first heard about the Zajel Program of the PR Department at An-Najah University, I wasn’t ‎too sure about going at all: among the counter arguments I was facing were the high temperatures ‎in Palestine, as well as the political struggles in the region, which we all hear about on a weekly ‎basis. Nevertheless, my curiosity and inquisitiveness outweighed my doubts and I booked a flight to ‎Tel Aviv and applied for the Youth Exchange. Just two days before my departure I bought a guide ‎for Palestine, which I actually never managed to read - it was redundant either way:

By: Natalia Waldo

The Zajel ‎Youth Exchange Program turned out to be so perfectly organized and fully packed with information ‎from locals and experts that I didn’t need any additional information.‎

Since the moment of arrival, I felt so comfortable and whole heartedly welcomed as I have never ‎experienced in any other country I have visited before. The volunteers and organizers of the ‎program, as well as generally all people I came across during these two weeks, turned out to be the ‎friendliest and most welcoming people you could imagine. Everywhere we went people welcomed ‎us in the loveliest ways, offering us coffee and telling us everything we wanted to know, interesting ‎stories, funny stories, sad stories.

The local university students also turned out to be super friendly ‎and really interested in learning about our cultures and countries of origin as well, so that we could ‎all learn from one another and experience what it means to engage in cultural exchange. During my ‎stay, I didn’t organize any workshops myself, but wandered around campus taking photos of the ‎others doing so, or participated wherever I was needed. Regardless of which workshop I visited, the ‎internationals and the local students were all getting along very well, often talking long after the ‎official lesson had finished, exchanging Facebook addresses and taking selfies together.

For me ‎personally, I had the chance to meet a fair amount of unbelievably inspiring and lovely people ‎within the group of internationals, as well as among the local students and volunteers. We all did ‎get along very well, spending evenings chatting about everything, sharing our experiences, ‎thoughts, happy and sad moments. I truly hope that some of the friendships I was able to build ‎during my stay will last. Never before have I come across such a diverse and international, while at ‎the same time very interested and reflected, group of people.‎

The absolute highlights of my Zajel experience were probably the day trips we did: from Hebron to ‎the Mediterranean, from Bethlehem to Jenin - within just two weeks we were lucky to see so many ‎fantastic and interesting places and I can surely say that it would have never been possible for me to ‎experience and travel the West Bank on my own the way we did with the students, volunteers and ‎local experts. I learned a lot about the Palestinian Question, not only by talking to many people, ‎hearing their experiences and stories, but also by visiting important, while apparently saddening, ‎places like the Balata or the Askar Refugee Camps.‎

Nevertheless and even though I was a little insecure at the beginning, I must say that I never felt ‎seriously threatened or endangered during these two weeks. The volunteers and organizers took ‎good care of us, providing us with enough safety information and only taking us to rather safe ‎places. Now that it is time to leave, I'm feeling more heartbroken than I could ever imagine I would ‎feel leaving a place I've just got to know two weeks earlier. But even though it’s sad to leave ‎Nablus, the University, the volunteers and my international friends behind, at the same time I can’t ‎wait to get home and spread the word, show all the pictures I took to my friends and family, tell and ‎retell all the stories I heard, describe the places I saw, the crime I witnessed. I will talk about the ‎Palestinian question and raise awareness - we all will. We will condemn the Oppression that we can ‎no longer be silent about. ‎

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