Newbie Week: Packing List for Kosovo

I’m devoting this week’s posts to useful information for the next group of Kosovo volunteers, who are starting to get their acceptance letters for the Peace Corps. –April

Uggghh. I’ve been resisting writing this post for so long. Probably because packing sucks, and who wants to think about it?

But here you go. Here is a packing list for Peace Corps Kosovo.

Clothes
Kosovo is not a nudist colony. They sell clothes here. If you forget something, you can likely buy it. Having said that, here is what I brought:

3 pairs of dress pants
1 pair of nice/thicker leggings
1 pair of Dockers
1 pair of hiking pants
2 pairs of blue jeans
2 formal dresses (for my swearing-in ceremony and for weddings) (Gentlemen, I’d bring at least one suit if I were you.)
1 maxi skirt
1 pair of capri pants
1 pair of fleece pajama pants
2 pairs of sweat pants
Tops (a mix of tanks, t-shirts, dress blouses, and sweaters)
1 bathing suit
2 winter hats
2 pairs of gloves
4 warm scarves
1 pair of long underwear
5 Coats (windbreaker, trench coat, rain coat, pea coat, and a down winter jacket)
Shoes (Hiking boots, snow boots, 2 pairs of dress flats, 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of flip flops, 1 pair of rain booties, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of high heels)
Underwear/Socks/Bras/Sports bras

Technology
1 surge protector that can support both American and European plugs
Laptop + charger
Kindle + charger
iPhone + charger
iPod shuffle + charger
1 European plug adapter
1 Jam portable speaker (a great tool to use at school!) + male-to-male plug
1 Powerbank (I didn’t pack one and ended up buying one in Kosovo. I highly recommend it. We lose power here frequently.)
1 point-and-shoot camera + charger
1 external hard drive
3 keychain flash drives

Toiletries
I brought everything I thought I’d need … though you can buy most anything here. If you have a specific brand of something you love, I’d bring that. Also note that cotton balls and conditioner are strangely hard to find in Kosovo … not impossible, but difficult. And the deodorant they sell here is not as good, so bring some.

Don’t bother bringing “medical” toiletries (band-aids, aspirin, etc.). Peace Corps supplies all of that.

Do bring a 3-month supply of any prescription medications.

Luggage
I packed 2 full-sized suitcases, 1 carry-on suitcase, and a backpack. I also packed 2 purses.

Office Supplies
Index Cards
Crayons/Markers
Stickers for your students
A few pens
A notebook

Odds and Ends
Gifts for your host families (I brought magnets from places I’ve lived, a U.S. puzzle, and some flag stickers … nothing big or expensive.)
A beloved toy
Sunglasses
Cards from your friends and family. I’d also recommend printing photos. I (stupidly) did not, and ended up printing some here.
A pair of barber scissors (great for trimming hair, cutting paper, etc.)
An address book updated with your friends and family’s addresses, so you can send postcards
If you have a hobby, bring stuff for that, because you might not be able to find it here. For example, I packed crochet hooks.
A small mirror (I ended up buying one here.)
A dog whistle for my keychain
A pouch with some jewelry
An umbrella
A stretch band for exercise (I bought a yoga mat here, after a good deal of searching)
2 flashlights, 1 candle, and a book of matches
1 filtered water bottle
Ziplock bags (you can never have too many — line your suitcase with them)

THINGS I AM ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL I BROUGHT FROM THE ABOVE LIST
The power surge
The dog whistle. Seriously, go to your nearest pet store and shell out $7 for one. There are a LOT of stray dogs here, and the dog whistle will help you maintain your sanity when they are barking outside your window at 3 a.m.

THINGS I STUPIDLY DID NOT BRING
Index cards! I was kicking myself over this one. I love to use them to study and they are near impossible to find in Kosovo. They would’ve been helpful during my language sessions. I have some now, and I use them to make flashcards for my students.

More summer clothes. I read that Kosovo rarely gets above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. HA. HA. HA. It gets HOT here, like upper 90s hot. And there’s no air conditioning. I somehow managed to get through a whole summer with just one maxi skirt and one pair of capri pants. I have no idea how.

A laundry bag. I ended up buying a hamper when I got to my permanent site, but for the first three months, I just piled my dirty laundry on my bedroom floor. Not ideal, and a laundry bag is something easy to pack.

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE JUST BOUGHT HERE
My hair dryer. I tried to use my U.S. one with a plug adapter and burned it out my first night here. You can buy one here for about $15 Euro.

DON’T BOTHER BRINGING
Towels or bedding. Your host family will supply that.

A NOTE ON CLOTHES
I’ve seen any number of outfits here … from women in full burkas (pretty rare) to women in dresses slit up to there. It really varies. That said, most schools/businesses tend to be professional, so I’d err on the side of being more professional/conservative than not.

Also, some people chose not to pack snow boots or a winter coat, and have them shipped later. I brought everything with me. I was afraid things would get lost, or that the temperature would plunge before I had my winter gear with me.

Hope this is helpful!

Teaching, So Far

I’ve been teaching in Kosovo for about two months now.

village-school-in-kosovo
One of my schools … I think it only has about 8 classrooms.

I was a social worker in Chicago prior to moving to Kosovo. For my last job in Chicago, I spent one day per week at a high school, providing counseling to students who had been caught using drugs. Chicago Public Schools are kind of famous for being terrible, but they’re luxurious compared to schools here. Even “poor” public schools in the United States have things like libraries, gymnasiums, computers/televisions/projectors, printers, counselors, and substitute teachers (here, if a teacher is absent, students just sit alone in their classrooms, from what I’ve seen).

I teach in two village schools. In both, there are students without textbooks. Sometimes, they aren’t enough chairs to go around, so students sit on a chair with their friend. The only classroom resources are chalk and a chalkboard.

One of the reasons I am thankful I only teach half-days is that I won’t use the bathrooms at the school. There isn’t soap or toilet paper. Oftentimes, schools have squatty-pottys.

It’s been a challenge, teaching here. Sometimes, I’ll play a song on my iPhone. I’ve brought my laptop in a few times to show video clips to my students. It’s difficult to think of interesting things to do with so few resources on hand (which is why I created this TEFL activity list. I’ll be posting another one soon, so stay tuned).

I’ve started working with a second counterpart, teaching grades 3, 4, and 5. With my regular counterpart, I teach grades 7 and 8. The difference between the younger students and the older ones is noticeable … the younger kids will sprint across the playground to hug me when they see me. They are quiet and engaged in the classroom. The older kids? …Not so much.

image1
Some of my younger students, playing a memory game using flashcards I made. Thanks to my counterpart for taking these photos.