Questions About Schools in Kosovo

My friend Dana loves it when she makes “guest appearances” on this blog. (Hi, Dana!) She recently emailed me a bunch of questions about school. I thought about making a video to answer them, but I am lazy so, no.

What ages are they again?
I teach 7th and 8th grade, so they are eleven to … fourteen?

Is it just you and the kiddos all day? Is there anyone else in the classroom with you?
No, I am not supposed to ever be alone in the classroom. I am partnered with a Kosovar co-teacher. The goal of Peace Corps is to help teachers here develop new methods of teaching, and to develop sustainable teaching materials.

How long do you have each class?
40 minutes

How many classes a day do you teach?
It varies … 3-5 classes per day. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to teach 20 classes per week.

What time does school start and end?
Most schools in Kosovo operate on two shifts, morning and afternoon. I work mornings, so 8:00-1:00. I think the afternoon shift starts at 1:00 and goes to 4 or 5:00.

What’s all the rage on the playground?
Because the school day is short, I haven’t observed an official recess time.

Are they soccer kids?
Totally. Volleyball is also a popular sport here.

What’s the big activity for them?
I don’t know.

What gets them excited?
They seem to be into all of the things American kids are into. One of my students has a cool Spiderman/Batman pencil case. Another student has an adorable Hello Kitty backpack I want to steal. (Of course, I am kidding. I would never steal from a child. Maybe.)

What are the other classes most of your students are taking?
The basics … Shqip (Albanian), English, math, geometry, physics, geography, history, physical education …

Are they led down a vocational route, or a route to higher education?
Both. My understanding is that kids take a test at some point. Depending on how they score, some are sent to vocational school, while others apply to college.

What is the school structure? Is there a principal? Who do you report to?
I report to the school director, who I believe reports directly to the Ministry of Education. (Side note, I love that name. It reminds me of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.)

How many grades are there?
All of them. 🙂

Do the older kids have after school jobs?
I don’t think so. Employment here is scarce for adults. I don’t think most children work.

Are there any sort of extra curricular activities?
If you’re talking like a drama club or something, not that I’ve seen. Some volunteers run programs like English Clubs, etc. There’s also a new poetry competition that’s starting up, and a push to start chess clubs in schools.


Thanks for your questions, Dana!

A Family Distinction

When I re-connected with my counterpart a few weeks ago, after not having seen him since our first meeting, he asked me how many words in Shqip I know. I said, “120?” It was a guess. In truth, I have no idea how many Shqip words I know at this point. I continue to plod along, attempting to practice with my flashcards and dictionary.

When it comes to family vocabulary, one of the things I find most interesting (and is that different from English) is the distinction in your parents’ siblings. Your father’s sister is your teze, while your mother’s sister is your hallë. Your father’s brother is your axhë, while your mother’s brother is your dajë. I was having a conversation with my temporary host brother about this, and he was baffled by the English language’s simplistic “uncle” and “aunt.”

“But how do I know if you’re speaking about your father’s brother, or your mother’s brother?” he wanted to know. And I was like, who cares? Either way, their relationship to me is the same.

What’s even more interesting about Shqip is that there is no distinction between grandson/nephew (nipi), or granddaughter/niece (mbesë ). Also, the word for daughter (vajzë ) is the same as the word for girl. Likewise, the word for son (djalë) is the same as the word for boy. To me, these would be a far more important distinctions to make than which aunt or which uncle I am speaking about. (But oh well. I didn’t invent the language.)

Also, the word for son/boy (djalë) is very similar in sound to the word for devil (djall). I’m told Americans regularly screw this up. Oops.

Guest Blogger: Valeriana Dema

Hi, everyone! My friend Val graciously agreed to write today’s guest post, where she shares her unique experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. –April

April and Val at Novo Brdo

Thank you April for asking me to write a post which helped me reflect on my time in Kosovo. I’m very happy to contribute in a small way to April’s wonderful blog 🙂

The other day my host sister said to me in Albanian, “You are the border” — “Ti je kufi.” She was talking about the split in generations in my Albanian-American family, and how I was in between the two generations. For example, most of my older family members speak Albanian fluently, while many in the younger generation are losing the language. My language skills place me somewhere in between those two generations, and like a lot of children of immigrants, I’ve always felt in between two cultures, but not fully accepted by either. However, in many ways volunteering with Peace Corps Kosovo has helped alleviate that feeling for me.

The past couple months of having a group of Americans experiencing all the joys and maladies of Albanian culture along with me has been a wonderful experience. Being in between cultures can be alienating, so it felt very acknowledging that a bunch of my new friends, who had been immersed in Kosovar culture and living with Albanian host families, understood how both the warm love as well as the tight grip of a close-knit Albanian family feels. It also was really meaningful for me to make connections with Kosovar natives and hear their perspectives on issues and their stories and struggles. As an American, who in many ways has a comfortable life, I’ve had a hard time even imagining what my parents’ and my grandparents’ lives were like. So spending time in Kosovo and with Kosovars helps bridge that gap, helping me understand and making me feel closer to my own family.

Yet being an American volunteer in Kosovo also strengthens the feeling of being at the border. I’m in very close proximity to two different cultures, but I’ll never really know what’s it’s like to have grown up in this part of the world, and I’ll always have different experiences than an American whose family has been there for generations. Part of my experience in the Peace Corps has been accepting that I’ll probably always feel a little bit in between. In the Balkans, borders are constantly being disputed, controlled by foreign powers, cut, and renamed. Being at the border makes me vulnerable and self-conscious, always trying to define myself and defend attacks from both sides. But I’ve also realized the border is a blessing because I have a unique view of both sides.