Ale Flores had never been overseas, so naturally, she chose to study abroad in the West Bank.
When authorities know you’re not just sightseeing in the West Bank, they sometimes send you back home. Rightfully scared at a checkpoint in Tel Aviv, Israel, Alejandra Flores told security she was a tourist visiting the Holy Land, not a volunteer English teacher. She notes that she’s one of the lucky ones, as another volunteer who arrived just one day earlier was interrogated for more than two hours. What began as an intimidating stop, however, eventually led to what Flores now calls the adventure of a lifetime.
Taking advantage of her enrichment stipend as a Forty Acres Scholar with the class of 2019, Flores decided to spend her summer studying and volunteering in the Palestinian sector of Hebron. Between taking classes, learning Arabic, and living amid an ongoing struggle between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in Hebron, she also devoted time to La Casa Learning Center, where she specialized in teaching English to locals. She spoke with the Alcalde about her experiences.
What was it like getting off the plane?
I’m from Mexico, so there and America are the only two places I’ve ever been. My first impression was of Israel—specifically Tel Aviv—because that’s where I landed. At first I noticed how nationalist it was, because there were Israeli flags on every building. I had to get a cab to Palestine, specifically the city of Hebron. It was surprising to me how hospitable the people were right away.
Can you give an example?
When I’m walking to and from school, someone always tells me, “Welcome to the city!” One day, I was walking to the Old City to get dinner with another volunteer and a group of people invited us to coffee. They were very happy, and they had such a good sense of humor. Later, one of them told me that making jokes and having fun is one of the ways they deal with [ongoing conflict]. It was nice to be in that environment where these people—who literally had no clue who I was—welcomed me.
What is it that drew you to the region?
I’ve never traveled abroad before, so I wanted the first time that I did to be somewhere that was completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not a Muslim and I don’t speak Arabic, so this is something I’ve never experienced before. When I saw the opportunity to travel to Palestine, I learned that I could teach locals English. Even though it’s something small, I still feel like I’m making a change.
What has been the biggest culture shock?
There are honestly so many, but the biggest one would have to be how women are treated here. When I was talking to my teacher about it she told me, “People think we’re oppressed because we’re not able to show our hair, wear shorts, or show our arms, but oppressed to me is not being able to have your own ideas and values and to think freely. Because I can do that, I’m not oppressed.”
How does teaching English and volunteering tie into your career goals?
I’m learning adaptability, how to be more open-minded, and expanding my communication skills because I’ve struggled learning how to effectively communicate my thoughts here. Every day I feel like I’m a more open-minded person and that I know more about the world. I’m not only learning from the locals, but I’m learning from the other volunteers—from Germany, Turkey, England, Malaysia, France, and America—and I get to see the way these people think. I meet people who have different views on things, but our values are fundamentally the same.
What’s a typical day like for you?
My day starts around 8 a.m. Usually I take a cab because it’s super hot outside, and that’s where I always get to practice my Arabic. I take four hours of Arabic and then I teach for two hours. Then I usually walk back home because I buy bread or fruit on the way. When I get home, I like to go over my Arabic and talk about my day with other volunteers.
How has this experience changed your perspective about the world?
I think that I’m more aware of how religion and politics are intertwined, even though people try to separate them. I’ve met people here who are interested in changing the world, and I want to take part in that. This trip has made me a better person, and I’m so glad that I chose to go to Palestine.
Ed. note: An earlier version of this article referred to “Palestine,” though the AP Stylebook—to which the Alcalde adheres—rejects this term. This article has been updated to reflect that.
Ale Flores is the recipient of the BHP Forty Acres Scholarship Chevron Enrichment Award.
Photo: Flores stops for a picture before hiking Herodium, the highest peak in the Judean Desert and the castle and tomb of King Herod; Ale Flores
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