Hello, everyone! I COS next week so this will be my very last post on this blog. (COS = “close of service”). I cannot believe two years have gone by and I am SO excited to go HOME!
I reached out to some friends to ask me some questions for my final post. Here are their questions and my responses.
1. What is the thing you missed most about not living in the U.S.?
Aside from the obvious stuff (people, food, my cat), the thing I missed most about not living in the U.S. was clean water. Early on, Peace Corps gave me a boiling water filter to use for my time in Kosovo. Here’s what the bottom of the filter looks like after cleaning my tap water:
Several women I know have had problems with their hair falling out. I’ve thankfully not had that problem, but my hair is breaking off, gunky to the touch, and discolored (I’ve been dyeing it with box dye, which I hate). I am looking forward to getting my hair back into healthy shape once I’m in the U.S.!
2. What was the most challenging part of your service?
All of it was challenging. I’d say the most challenging was having less autonomy over my life than I am used to, and living with a host family.
3. What was surprisingly easier than you had anticipated?
Working with my counterparts was surprisingly easy. Other volunteers had varying experiences, of course, but my counterparts were very welcoming, supportive, and open to trying new ideas in the classroom. The situation had the potential to be extremely awkward — walking into someone else’s classroom and presenting new teaching ideas and ways of doing things. I always felt welcomed, though, not just by my counterparts, but by my school directors and the other teachers, too. It probably helped that I replaced another volunteer, so my community was already familiar with Peace Corps.
4. What was surprisingly more difficult than you had anticipated?
Kosovo is Peace Corps’ second-newest host country (the newest being Mynmar), and beforehand I hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like to serve in a program that is still being established. There were more administrative bumps than I expected. If I were to do Peace Corps again, the length of the program is something I would take into greater consideration.
5. Any food you’ll miss?
I’ll miss my four favorite restaurants in Pristina: Gresa and Ponte Vecchio (pasta), Babaganough (vegetarian), and Le Sandwich. I’ll also miss paying like 3 Euro for a really good meal.
6. What is the most unique thing about Kosovo?
Wow, good question. Hmm … I would say the most interesting thing is the mix of east and west, and old and new traditions. In the United States there are big variances in religion and traditions and education and values, but because it’s such a large and diverse country it is kind of expected. Kosovo is much smaller and so I think the differences between city and village life are more pronounced. For example, you see people wearing traditional clothing like plis (white, conical hats that men wear) and women in hijabs. But then you also see men and women dressed like they are starring in American music videos.
Buildings are surprisingly large and modern, because a lot were destroyed in the war and had to be re-built.
Kosovo is also very tolerant in terms of religion, much more so than the United States, in my opinion. I had the unique experience of living in a Catholic village in what is a predominately Islamic country. I had both Catholic and Muslim colleagues at my school.
But having said that, Kosovo is still very divided in terms of ethnicity. Tensions between Albanians and Serbians continue to this day. I also think people here identify much more strongly with their ethnicity (being Albanian or Serbian, for example) than with their nationality (being Kosovar).
7. What food/drink surprised you the most; did you like the most, did you like the least?
I found all of the food surprising, because I had never encountered Balkan food in the United States. I was “meh” about the food because I did not like how it is prepared (LOTS of oil) and it tends to be unbalanced in terms of nutrition. Furthermore, meals rely heavily on peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I always wished for spinach and broccoli!
I don’t like pork but I live with a Catholic family and we eat pork often. When I get home, I am really looking forward to not having to eat pork.
8. Is there anything you encountered that we should all be cooking at home?
If you are interested in cooking Balkan food, I would recommend starting with fasule, which is a bean stew. Fasule is my favorite local dish. It is bland but can be dressed up any way you like with spices and other vegetables. It can also be vegan if you don’t cook it with lard.
9. What was the most rewarding / high point of your service?
In terms of projects, the high point of my experience was probably the week I volunteered with the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja. I got to meet interesting people from all over the world, see good films, spend time with friends, and spend time in my favorite city in Kosovo.
As far as the most rewarding part of my service, I would say being submerged in another culture for so long. It is a unique experience and while there are things about Kosovar culture I definitely dislike, I appreciate knowing something about a country most Americans are totally unfamiliar with.
10. What was the worst / low point of your service?
I had two low points. The first one was my first winter in Kosovo. It was a cold, snowy winter and I had a series of arguments with my host family about various things. I was really depressed from January until my spring break trip to Rome in April.
My second lowest point was that autumn (2017, my second school year). Mid-service is typically a low point for volunteers. I found the prospect of another school year and another year living in Kosovo to be daunting.
11. What would you consider to be your most memorable moment with your students (the most impactful) and why?
My two favorite groups of student were my fourth grade class in my village and my students at the orphanage. Both groups were really enthusiastic and eager to learn. I don’t think there was any one project I thought was particularly impactful. However, I appreciated being able to work with at the orphanage because those students are among a minority (Ashkali) community that I don’t think typically get a lot of services.
(Ashkali are a group who share language and culture with the Albanians but whose origins are in the Middle East, not the Balkans.)
12. What currency do you get paid in?
Kosovo is on the Euro and my monthly living stipend is paid in Euro. I get paid 350 Euro per month, 180 of which goes to my host family. The remaining 170 Euro is mine to spend how I like.
I also accrue money for every month I am in Peace Corps, which will be given to me once I complete my service. That will be paid in U.S. dollars.
Thanks, everyone, for your questions!
FYI, I visited 12 countries while I was serving in the Peace Corps (including Kosovo) and read 105 books. 🙂