Two months into the workshops and we are no less overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and openness with which the students of Birzeit University greet us. With over 150 students who attend during the week, and over 3,000 likes on Facebook in the space of a few weeks, the Advancement Project constitutes an important part of student interaction and university life. These students, armed with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and interaction, attend our English language workshops and go from strength to strength.
The Advancement Team focused on creating workshops that fit around the students', already busy, schedules. We have been able to hold three workshops per day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. In the last couple of weeks we were able to see the patterns of attendance and establish regular classes, with regular, participating students. We can now observe the positive changes that these students have undergone in the past weeks. Those who were shy have become much more assertive and those whose spoken English was somewhat basic, have now learnt to use complicated vocabulary in order to express themselves in English.
In one particular session we had a discussion on the topic of media and thedifferent ways in which Western media portrays Arabs. We put them in groups assigning each one a recent news story; they had to guess which country the story referred to and how it was biased. What was especially interesting in this particular session was the willingness, by students, to participate in a discussion about the trust one can put in the news.
Their arguments 'for' and 'against' the question “Should we trust the news?” was both provoking and nuanced, demonstrating a keen and critical mind. Many students offered alternative news sources, such as the internet, and the utilisation of social media as a counter-narrative to mass media and its stereotypes. The fact that they were able and confident enough to talk about complicated concepts and societal issues in English exemplifies just how far they have come. Many of the students already possessed a great deal of knowledge about the English language and it was great to see them grow as English speakers.
One thing that has been constantly re-confirmed and reiterated is how open-minded the students are. They are open to different points of view and seem to be curious to learn about British culture. The lessons are therefore an exchange of cultures, where we are constantly learning new and interesting things about Palestine, and vice versa.
We picked one Saturday to run several CV and scholarship related workshops in conjunction with the Career Department of Birzeit. It was an opportunity to talk to students about some of their academic and career aspirations. Many of them want to complete their postgraduate education abroad, and we know how harrowing scholarship applications can be back home. We had fun discussing what not to put in your CV (perusing Facebook, we agreed, was not an appropriate hobby!).
I grew very close with my big Birzeit class and the friendships I have built will stay with me.