Last Post of 2016!

Hi, Guys! I am proud to say I have faithfully kept my promise of posting 5x per week since joining the Peace Corps. But now, for the first time, I am going to take a break. Tomorrow, I leave for a 10-day Parisian adventure with my friend Chelsea. Along the way, we are meeting up with another volunteer friend (Sierra), and a friend of mine from Boston (Nicole) who spontaneously decided to join us at the last minute. 🙂 I figure everyone will be busy with family and travel next week anyway, so I am taking a break from writing. My next post will be Monday, January 2, 2017.

2016 has been one of the most memorable of my life, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is that I have been fortunate to travel far more than I ever have in the past. Here is the list of places I traveled in 2016, in chronological order:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Barcelona, Spain*
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Las Vegas, NV*
  • Detroit, MI
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Kosovo* (all over)
  • Skopje, Macedonia*
  • Tirana, Albania*
  • Paris, France*+
  • London, England*+

(*=never been there before this year, *+= never been, but will have visited by next week!)

Of the places I have been, it’s hard to say which was my favorite. I found Barcelona to be breathtaking, particularly the Sagrada Familia. Las Vegas was one of the most fun/special vacations I’ve ever taken, because it was a proper send-off to the Peace Corps. I traveled 5,000 miles to Kosovo and discovered I had a home waiting for me here. As I’ve said, Tirana was one of the most thought-provoking cities I have ever visited. And though I haven’t actually been to Paris yet, in 24 hours I will get to experience the City of Lights for the first time.

This will also be the first time, in 35 years of being alive, that I won’t be spending Christmas with my family (and this is despite living outside my home state for 14 years ). Though I expect to fall in love with Paris, I know a part of me will long to be in Michigan on Christmas Day.

After an extremely difficult 2015, 2016 has reminded me that bad cycles pass, and that new and very surprising adventures can be waiting just around the corner. 2017 is bound to be interesting, as it is the only full year I’ll be living in Kosovo.

Whenever I start to wonder, “Who actually reads this thing?” one of you will contact me and tell me about a post you liked. So, thank you for your encouragement, and thank you for joining me on this adventure.

Since I recently posted some of my favorite photos since moving to Kosovo, I thought I would showcase a few photos from the first half of my year here:

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And don’t forget to check back here on January 2! In the meantime, you can follow along with me on Instagram.

Books of 2016 (June-December)

Spending a few days away from site for in-service training the other week afforded me the chance to reflect on my goals for the coming months. How am I doing to stay mentally healthy and sane during a long winter? One of the things I want to do is read more … I’ve always been a reader, but the past year or so I’ve gotten strangely lazy about it.

Recently, I was looking at another Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog, and she read 11 books in the last month alone! I thought, “This is someone who uses her free time well.”

To recap, here is (I think) a comprehensive list of the books I’ve read so far while in Kosovo. I’ve never kept a formal log of what I read, so I am pulling this from memory:

  1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver +
  2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan +
  6. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  8. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  9. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  10. The Tresspasser by Tana French
  11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins +
  12. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  13. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

(+ means a re-read)

I would like to create a “Books to Read for 2017” list. I’d also like to hear from all of you … what are some books you’d recommend? Please comment in the comment section so others can benefit from your suggestions, too. It would be fun to start a dialogue about this. 🙂

Lesson Plan: Teaching Emotions

I’ve posted a number of ESL/TEFL activities using little or no resources (you can find those here and here). Recently, I did the following lesson with my English club (which I host twice per week at a local NGO). I liked it so much I thought I would post my whole lesson plan.

I was inspired by something similar on Pinterest, and asked my awesome friend Katie to include some paint chips in a care package she was sending (she did). This lesson plan doesn’t require much else in the way of materials. Here is what I used:

  • Paint chips in yellow, blue, purple, green, red, and gray
  • iPhone + Jam speaker
  • Index Cards
  • Paper

(I used the paint chips to list a range of emotions in English. On one the side of the chip, I listed the main vocabulary word in Albanian.)

paint-chip-teaching-emotions-esl-tefl

Yellow:

  1. Contented
  2. Glad
  3. Delighted
  4. Joyful

Blue:

  1. Unhappy
  2. Blue
  3. Heartbroken
  4. Depressed

Purple:

  1. Uneasy
  2. Tense
  3. Agitated
  4. Anxious

Green:

  1. Envious
  2. Covetous
  3. Jealous
  4. Possessive

Red:

  1. Irritated
  2. Mad
  3. Upset
  4. Furious

Gray:

  1. Dread
  2. Afraid
  3. Frightened
  4. Horrified

The Lesson:

For a warm up, I played the song “Happy” by Pharrell twice, using my iPhone + speaker. First, I asked students just to listen to the song, in order to become familiar with it. After that, I asked students to listen to the song again, and count (using tick marks on a sheet of paper), how many times the word “happy” appeared in the song. (For the record, three of my students counted 28 times, while my other two students had different numbers. The point wasn’t to accurately discover how many times the word was used, but rather to have students practice listening for a specific English word.)

[As a variation to this, you could print the lyrics to the song but delete certain words, and have students listen for/fill in those words.]

Next, I had a discussion with my students about emotions and what they mean. I passed around the paint chips and asked them to copy down the new vocabulary words. ( I had a small group of students. I think this lesson plan could work with a larger group, but you would probably need more copies of the paint chips to pass around.)

Then, I wrote this sentence on the board: “Today I feel _____ because ____.” We went around the circle and each student stated how he/she was feeling, and why.

Next, I asked each student to draw three index cards from the pile I made. Each index card listed a different scenario. Here is what I wrote:

  • Your mom yells at you.
  • You are watching your favorite television show.
  • You got a stain on your favorite shirt.
  • You are playing outside with your friends.
  • You have a big test at school.
  • You broke your arm.
  • You are eating dinner with your family.
  • Your friend got a new iPhone.
  • You lost your dog.
  • Your little sister broke your favorite toy.
  • Your best friend gets a puppy.
  • Your best friend is moving away.
  • Two of your friends go to lunch and don’t invite you.
  • You are lost in Pristina.
  • You are walking alone in the dark.
  • You got into a fight with your best friend.

Students then had to read their scenarios aloud, and identify which emotion(s) they might feel in that situation.

Then, I asked students to write one sentence for each category of emotion, and read them aloud.

We were close to running out of time by this (the group runs for 1 hour), but in the last few minutes of class, I asked students to choose one of the sentences they wrote and draw a picture to illustrate it.

What I like about this lesson plan: 1) It doesn’t require much in the way of material. 2) It incorporates audio learning, visual learning, speaking aloud, critical thinking, creativity, and kinesthetic learning.

I did this lesson with a group of middle and high school students. I think it’s too advanced for younger kids, but there are probably ways to modify it and make it easier.

Tongue Tied

“All that I’ve been taught
And every word I’ve got
Is foreign to me” — Hozier, Foreigner’s God

I used to have grand ideas about learning Shqip (Albanian). I thought I’d be fluent in the language by the time I left Kosovo! I thought my volunteer friends and I would speak to each other using Shqip in public! I imagined myself rapidly switching between Shqip and English, AND EVERYONE WOULD BE IMPRESSED.

Haha. I am beginning to understand how a person can live in another country and not speak the native language.

Six months in, and I’ll confess, my motivation to learn has hit a recent slump. I can speak the language well enough to communicate with my host family. I can speak it well enough to communicate with shop owners and taxi drivers. But the rest of the time, I speak English. And that’s if I talk at all. I don’t like to talk much in any language.

I have Shqip tutor, and she’s great. But my once-per-week sessions are probably not going to make me fluent in the language. I am also struggling with the usefulness of learning Shqip … will I ever need to speak it once I leave Kosovo? If I want to get some kind of international job after Peace Corps, would my time be better spent brushing up on my high school French?

So, yes, it’s been a struggle. I recently came across this article from Babbel, though, which has given me some hope, and also some ideas on how to acquire language. (I also keep reminding myself that, prior to six months ago, I had never heard Albanian spoken or seen it written … maybe I should go easier on myself.) The article lists these helpful tips when learning a new language:

1) Choose the words you want/need to learn.
2) Relate them to what you already know.
3) Review them until they’ve reached your long­-term memory.
4) Record them so learning is never lost.
5) Use them in meaningful human conversation and communication.

If you live under a rock, perhaps you haven’t seen the following video. (It’s been all over the Internet lately.)

Isn’t that sweet? I sometimes feel like I need a greater motivator to learn Shqip, other than, “I live here so I guess I should.”

Friday Gratitude: Ya Filthy Animal

This blog title is a nod to my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone, which I just watched for the umpteenth time. Funny, I’d kind of forgotten the McAllisters were traveling to Paris for Christmas. That’s where I’ll be headed in a week!

Last week, I attended a 3-day Peace Corps conference.

We took this group photo. Can you see me? Probably not. I’m to the back, far right of the photo. And my face is partially covered.

pc-christmas
Tip-toe FAIL

This seems to be a common theme with me in group Peace Corps photos. Here is our very first group photo, taken outside the airport when we arrived in Kosovo on June 5. My now-friend Val is blocking my face.

peace-corps-kosovo
Where’s April?

Media Consumption:

  • The Peace Corps office has a small library, and I toted a few books back to my house. One of them was Still Alice (yes, I am way behind the times). It is a powerfully told story that has made me think about my concept of self, and what it would mean to lose that self.
  • Upon the recommendation of a friend, I watched the documentary, May I Be Frank? It’s an inspiring story about a man making active changes to improve his health and his relationships. It is worth a watch.
  • I chuckled when I read this article about “career disruption.” It was written in 2012 (again, I am behind the times), but this means career disruption has been in the public lexicon for a while now. And here I thought changing careers/returning to school at age 30 and joining the Peace Corps at age 35 was a sign of “general lack of planning.” But see? I’ve just been disrupting myself!

Last, I wanted to share this quote, which I have been meditating on for the last few days:

“How can I say this in a way it will be received?” — President Obama

I was reading an article about how tempered the president has been in his responses to the recent election, and it has given me much to consider. Haven’t I ever lashed out in angry words, only to have them fall on deaf ears? And when someone criticizes me, even if there is a kernel of truth in what they say, I’ll dismiss all of it as garbage if that kernel comes wrapped in hateful words.

Of course, the Universe — in its infinite wisdom — has since provided me with a way to practice giving a tempered response. I got an email from a friend this week, and something that was said bothers me. Now, I am off to respond in a loving, non-angry manner …

Thoughts on Being Single

“So, what about you?”

A woman seated next to me at my friend’s surprise birthday party suddenly whipped her head to face me as she asked that question. I hadn’t been introduced to her, nor did I know her name.

“Oh, I’m fine—” I started to say.

“Are you dating anyone?” she interrupted.

I wasn’t. In fact, a man I had recently (and I suppose I’d say “unsuccessfully”) dated happened to be within earshot, making my exchange with this strange woman even more humiliating.

“I don’t like to talk about my personal life,” I replied, having been .5 seconds in which to craft a response to a question I have always found to be incredibly rude.

“That’s fine. I understand,” the woman said. But the way she turned away from me implied she felt otherwise.

There is really no way to write a blog post about being a 35-year-old single woman without sounding defensive. The honest-to-God truth is, I have never minded being single. After six years of not being in a serious relationship, I can say I have come to prefer it. My past relationships were all lacking in some way or another. After the demise of my last serious relationship, I went to graduate school and changed careers, so my attention has been elsewhere. But the problem with being both happily single and ambivalent about finding a partner is that other people don’t seem to believe me. If I tell friends I’m not dating anyone, their immediate response is, “Have you tried (OkCupid, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel)?” As if my being single is a problem that requires fixing.

I’ve never had an agenda for my romantic life. Finding a partner isn’t something I consider to be a goal, really. A goal is something a person can take measured steps toward, like returning to school or finding new employment. How does one set about finding another person? I suppose one answer is to date by quantity, something I have admittedly tried. But again, I am feel uncomfortable labeling my exploration into different relationships as a “goal.”

“I’m not looking for anyone,” I once told my friend’s husband at another party, after he asked me the dreaded question.

“That’s when it’ll happen.” He nodded sagely. “When you’re not looking for it.”

He missed my point entirely.

My married friends, in an attempt to be supportive, like to point out, “Not everyone has to get married.” I appreciate the sentiment, but at the same time, my being single isn’t a statement. It’s simply a fact of where I am at this point in my life. Like everyone else, I make choices every day based on what I think will be best for me, using whatever information is available to me in that moment.

I am uncomfortable when friends expect me to provide details about my romantic life. If I say I am not dating anyone, my statement is met with pity and unwanted advice. If I say I am dating someone, I am expected to make predictions into the timeline and potential future “seriousness” of the relationship (can’t I just get to know someone without expectation?).

I also don’t like to think of my private life as a source of entertainment for others. It doesn’t occur to me to ask my married friends about their sex lives. I have trouble understanding why the same courtesy doesn’t seem to apply to single people.

I have spent the last few years thinking a lot about values – mine, and the values of others. I have come to realize that those who ask about my personal life are mostly well-meaning, and that they are simply projecting their own values onto me. If someone is happily in a relationship and/or has children, I can understand why they would want the people they care about to have those same experiences, because they think it will also bring happiness to them. I have also come to realize that I project my own values (independence, for example) onto others. When I hear a friend complain about her spouse, I feel a sense of pity. (“Ugh, she should leave,” I’ll think.) To figure this out about myself, and work on shifting my own thinking, has been challenging. And so, I know I need to have patience with others and the way they think, too.

It can be a struggle, though. A friend of mine (who is married with children) texted me recently and asked if I have “met any men in Kosovo?” My ungracious reply was something along the lines of, “I am here to serve my country, not to meet men.” After years of others’ probing and microaggressions, there are times when I simply get tired of it.

I had many reasons for joining the Peace Corps, which I may try to blog about at some point in the future, when I am able to lend proper eloquence to the topic. It is still a decision I am processing in some ways. I will say that it has been a relief to be around others in the same situation, people who are here to serve, and who are focused on other things at this point than finding partnership.

As an adult, I have spent much of my time celebrating couples and families — engagement parties, wedding showers, bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, weddings, baby showers. No one really celebrates single people. It’s kind of sad. When I joined the Peace Corps, I was touched by the outpouring of support from my friends, family, acquaintances, and co-workers. It was nice to feel others rally around me.

And I have always known, intellectually, that I am lucky to be an American. But living abroad for the first time has widen my perspective and given me a deeper understanding of that appreciation. Being a single woman in Kosovo carries with it perhaps even more stigma than being a single woman in American. And education and employment options here for men and woman alike are more limited here than in the United States. I am incredibly fortunate to have been born into a life where I am able to make choices like earning a Master’s Degree and moving to another country, even when other people may not understand my choices.

National Po-e-ZĂ« (Poetry) Competition in Kosovo

“If I could stir
I could break a tree–
I could break you.” — The Garden, by H.D.*

Yesterday, six students (three from each of the schools where I teach) went to Pristina to compete in a first annual national poetry recitation competition.

This was an interesting experience for me for a number of reasons, one of them being that I am learning to roll with the punches in Kosovo. Two weeks ago, my counterpart and another teacher went with me to the local municipality to inquire about funding for transportation to the competition. I was gone most of last week for a Peace Corps conference in Pristina, and on Friday, I learned we still hadn’t gotten an answer about the money. With the competition only three days away, my American need for efficiency and organization began to reach panic levels. But my school director went to the municipality, and they agreed to pay for a van to transport me and all six students to the event. Later, my counterpart went back to the municipality with a taxi driver he knows in order to collect the check. I am very lucky to have a director and counterparts who support me.

Monday morning, me, six students, and another teacher who decided to join us at the last minute, all piled into a van and went to Pristina.

The poetry competition (which is based on the U.S. competition for students called “Poetry Out Loud”) was held at the American Corner in Kosovo’s National Library, which continually find its place on “World’s Ugliest Buildings” lists. Having seen it several times in real life, I would be more generous and say it is “unique and interesting-looking.”

kosovo-national-library-2
Kosovo’s National Library

I am proud of my students. They all did well, though none of them placed in the competition. I am also proud of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, Val and Zac, for organizing such a huge event.

po-e-ze
At the American Corner in Kosovo’s National Library
students-national-library
Inside the National Library. See? It’s not so ugly.
po-e-ze2
Zac, explaining the competition rules

This day meant a lot to my students. Being able to accompany them to such an important event meant a lot to me, too.

*This is an excerpt from a poem one of my students recited. I enjoyed hearing a young girl say such powerful words.