Hello, readers! You might remember my friend, Chelsea, who has written two other guest posts for this blog. Here is a third post from her. -April
I really value April’s blog. It’s a great glimpse inside a single story of a Peace Corps Kosovo TEFL volunteer. I also think her idea of guest bloggers gives it something extra so you, her readers, get different sides to the many stories here. When April and I talked about my guest blog post it was originally supposed to be on my many thoughts regarding the term “posh corps.” However, I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of loneliness lately and since I myself don’t have a blog, I thought I would selfishly use April’s blog to unload my thoughts and feelings on the matter.
Peace Corps is one of the scariest things I have ever done. I moved across the world, away from my family and friends and dove into another culture. Learned a new language and threw myself into a profession I had absolutely no idea about. All in the hopes that, I could potentially make an impact on a life, while yes, learning something about myself. I won’t lie, I am in this for self-growth just as much as I am to make a difference. I applied to the Peace Corps wide-eyed at the age of 23. I knew nothing about the world, let alone myself. But, let me tell you, learning about the world is easy. It’s learning about yourself that is the hard part. I live in a pretty remote area. A mountain town that is underdeveloped and has limited transportation to and from the area. It can feel very isolating, especially in the winter. My daily routine is to go to school, teach, maybe grab a coffee with my fellow teachers, struggle through conversations even though I am pretty good at the language, come home, struggle through more conversations, and then head to my room where I lesson plan and then it occurs to me … Chels … you are alone. No, really, for the first time in 25 years you are ALONE.
I know what you’re thinking. Twenty-five, girl you’re too young to be this self aware and existentially crazed. I thought so too. The first six months were incredible, I learned so much about myself! It truly was the first time that I only had to worry about myself, that I was able to look within and take the time to get to know myself. But, then month seven rolled around and I was like, enough already, I get it!
What I mean is, there is only so much self-growth you can do so fast and when you’re in Peace Corps it truly is the first time you are experiencing loneliness. You call home and even your conversations change. You find you are relating less and less with friends and family back home. And that’s OKAY, it’s just different. So much in my life has changed. I have changed. It’s not good and it’s not bad, it just IS.
The time difference between Kosovo and Home doesn’t help. When I do find time to make a quick call to my mom she is at work or asleep, or vice versa. We will spend time on the weekends playing catch up and it’s really hard not to feel frustrated when I hear big news through social media. Or miss family events, deaths, births, etc.
We are over a year into our service. If I look back on that year I think it’s safe to say I have learned more about the person I am in that short amount of time and I don’t think I could have ever learned so much about her, so intimately, had I not been so lonely. Had I not learned what lonely truly is.
I’m looking forward to learning more about her, and where she might fit in when she goes back home. But I guess I have time to grow into that and reflect on that this winter. Wish me luck!
Hello again! My name is Chelsea. I am a currently serving Peace Corps volunteer and in the same cohort as April. I have guest blogged before and am so grateful to be back.
As you already know, Peace Corps assigns their volunteers to primary jobs. Like April, I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer. The wonderful thing about Peace Corps is the opportunity to develop secondary projects. These projects can be anything from building a library or computer lab to creating lesson plans that will help our counterparts after we leave.
Back in February our cohort attended a conference specifically designed to help us gain access to knowledge and resources about starting our projects. It was a three-day conference, but for one of those days we were encouraged to bring our counterparts. Unfortunately, both of my teaching counterparts were unable to attend. I asked a woman who works in our municipality if she would like to come as my counterpart, she agreed and we left for Pristina. I knew I wanted to work on a summer camp for one of my secondary projects but it was really helpful working with a local to develop a better understanding of what that meant.
We began to plan our camp over the next few months. We even collaborated with UNICEF and UNWomen to sort out a theme and work on material. Overall the camp was a huge success! It lasted six days and we worked primarily with my 8th grade class, as well as 8th graders from the village a few kilometers over, Brod. The students heard presentations from locals working in the fields of environmental awareness, child rights, gender equality and advocacy training. They were then asked to prepare advocacy campaigns to solve an issue they saw in their own community as it related to these topics. It was so rewarding to see my students working together and showing such passion for their community! My favorite moment was an activity we did in regards to gender equality, where we talked about the importance of respecting individual’s rights to like and participate in activities regardless of their gender.
On our third day of camp we took our students to Brod, a town very well known for its nature and beauty. Some of our campers were from this community and only spoke Bosnian. It was nice seeing all of the students use English as a neutral language to communicate. UNWomen even helped us hire a company to come out and teach our students some outdoor games!
It was challenging working on such a large project, but I am so grateful I had the hands of counterpart who even came out during his summer break to help, our local volunteers and our partners UNICEF and UNWoman. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer camp!
NOTE: If you would like to read Chelsea’s first guest blog post, click here.
April’s Note: My friend Nicole asked me to write a post about gardening/agriculture in Kosovo. Since I don’t know much about the subject, I decided to outsource her question. Below is the account of one of my fellow volunteers, Garrett Wheeler.
With the advent of spring arises a slew of tasks pertinent to raising crops. After months of neglect, farmers begin restoring fields marred by frigid weather. Makeshift fences, comprised of wood and barbed wire, oft become loose or fall apart on account of the wind. A pair of pliers, hammer, digging bar (an instrument somewhat akin to the crowbar), and U-nails are needed to mend damage accrued. While pliers pull and twist wire until taut, U-nails are driven into wooden stakes. The digging bar, aside from punching holes in the ground, may act as a sledgehammer fastening poles that have wriggled free.
Upon completion of maintenance, a far more grueling chore awaits; fertilization. As a tractor, equipped with a trailer, positions itself near the accumulated pile of manure, workers, with the aid of pitchforks, start the loading process. Though precautions, like gloves and rain boots, are taken to promote cleanliness, the job is inherently dirty. It is not uncommon, for example, to have dung flung your direction; especially when fatigue sets in. With the trailer overflowing, tractor and crew make their way to the field. While the tractor cruises at a leisurely pace, compost is scattered left and right. A sore back and tired arms are typically awarded to all participants.
In preparation for sowing, a plow is hauled the entirety of a field leaving neat rows of finely ground soil in its wake. Utensils for digging are then used to create holes. As one punctures the earth, another trailing behind deposits seed. Corn and beans are planted simultaneously. While maize grows upright, the latter coils around adjacent stalks. A nearby stream supplies water when barred.
Gleaning of produce occurs in September. Hefty bags are carted and stuffed with brown pods. Those still green are unripe and need not be plucked. Though the weather may be warm, long sleeve shirts are worn to prevent cuts (maize leaves possess jagged edges which tear skin if brushed). Work is long and tedious requiring numerous days to complete. Corn, conversely, is harvested quickly. Buckets filled to the brim are dumped in a close by trailer towed by a tractor.
Beans reaped must then be strewn across a tarp and left to bathe in the sun. After several days, or when the shells become hard and brittle, the heap is battered with the shaft of a rake. Empty husks are then brushed away revealing seed below. Once the product has been gathered in containers, it is transferred to empty sacks. Prior to dumping, however, it is necessary to remove remaining debris. As one individual focuses on slowly pouring beans, the other uses a leaf blower to flush out unwanted material.
Within the next couple of weeks, sorting ensues. Spilling small sums onto a flat surface, beans malformed or gnawed by insects are discarded. What remains is either stored for consumption of whisked away to the nearest city and sold. Corn, depending on its strain, has two locales. A small granary houses a variation more red in hue used as fodder for chickens. Yellow corn is sent to the second floor of a neighboring building. A machine adeptly removes kernels dispelling bare cobs.
Kosovo is the second-newest Peace Corps country. My cohort is the third group of volunteers here. (If you’re curious, you can see a full list of Peace Corps countries, including the length of their programs and the number of their currently-serving volunteers, here.)
In a week, the newest Kosovo cohort arrives! The feeling I have is not unlike entering my senior year of high school. You know how things are so much better when you’re a senior, because you’re the oldest and you know everything and you’re excited for the future? That’s how I anticipate feeling in the coming year. One year of service down, one more to go!
I remember how I felt this time last year … my last week in the United States. My emotions ran the gamut from happy, sad, excited, scared, anxious, and hopeful.
Last fall, I created some blog posts in order to provide helpful information to the new cohort, as they were beginning to receive their acceptance letters. With only a week to go before they arrive in-country, I thought I would re-post the links to those posts.
[April’s Note: Hi, guys! My friend and fellow volunteer, Chester Eng, wrote the following post.]
If I have learned to do anything in my eleven and a half months in Kosovo, I have learned to keep a looser and more flexible schedule knowing that I could well have to change it at any moment. I realized early on after I swore in and moved to my site that, more often than not, the more I try to plan ahead and set a rigid personal schedule, the more likely my life will feel chaotic. Paradoxically for me, the less I try to set things in place, the more in control I feel.
Because I have found that people in Kosovo tend to make arrangements on short notice, or even spur of the moment, filling the spaces in my schedule as my days go has become my new modus operandi with a large number of my host country national friends and colleagues. Set and structured schedules, in my experience so far, are simply not common among Kosovars. The people here tend to treat time with greater open-endedness and flexibility, which has both merits and faults that are subject to great debate. In any case, there is no doubt that the pace of life in Kosovo — and in the Balkans at large — is remarkably slower than that in the United States, especially on the East Coast, where I grew up and had been living before I arrived. What happens in a New York minute likely takes well over an hour in Kosovo — on a good day under ideal circumstances. I am used to having lots going around me all at once and setting things in place in order to maintain order amidst chaos.
This personal adjustment to Kosovo time was not easy for me because I enjoyed filling my days and evenings with interesting and productive activities well in advance — mostly because of my OCD and partially because of society’s ostensible expectations of me — and maintaining a clean and organized personal schedule. I still keep an informal planner for reminders but no longer for appointments because I can now assume they will go much longer than expected. It is not hard for me to forget when and where I will have a meeting when I have blocked an entire afternoon for a cup of coffee.
One other significant way I have had to be Peace Corps flexible and adaptable during my near year in Kosovo is accepting that no matter how well prepared I am for anything, I can never fully be ready for what will happen. I should expect things to be exactly how they are as I have heard and learned from various sources plus more. I have come to accept that the only thing that is predictable about my service in Kosovo is unpredictability. I have found I have been able to improvise way better than I ever expected myself to be able to do in a previous life. Again, please credit (or blame, depending on your view) my OCD and society’s ostensible expectations that place premiums on predictability.
No matter how well I believe I have adjusted and integrated, I know I am still learning to be flexible and adaptable. Kosovo has changed me much more in a relatively short period in more ways than I will ever be able to change it in a definitely long period.
My school’s prom is the latest and greatest instance that shows that, no matter how far I think I have progressed in the integration process necessary for productive service, I still have much more to go than I previously realized. Taking from the lessons I have learned in Kosovo, the less I try to predict and expect, the more at ease and even in control I feel.
I currently teach 11th and 12th graders at a high school for economics in a small exclusively Albanian city. This week is my 12th graders’ final week before they begin the next chapters of their lives. Like lots of 12th graders around the globe, my 12th graders had been looking ahead to the future rather just focusing solely on the present, most especially prom night.
Because I still can never quite kick old habits and will always be a naturally curious person, I wanted to know what prom night in Kosovo is like. Local friends told me that, in general, I should expect prom to be like a traditional large Albanian celebration at a banquet hall with lots of dancing early and often to exceedingly loud music that shakes the floor and walls and will leave your ears ringing and head throbbing for days. Like April, I have been to two such large celebrations (a cousin’s engagement and Teacher’s Day) during my time here so far, so I knew what to expect in this department. I was caught completely off guard the first time and used the lessons learned to help myself celebrate better my next time around.
Dressing nicely is a big social must in Kosovo and looking especially sharp for big celebrations is an even bigger social must in Kosovo, which is why local friends also told me to expect my students, especially females, to be dressed in their absolute finest. The boys will dressed formally, while girls will wear gowns and full makeup.
Because of my existing knowledge and experiences related to large Albanian celebrations and prom in the United States, I felt as if nothing they told me was beyond the realm of my imagination. Even with a student body as large as that at my school and the crowd that would follow the students before they enter the banquet, I figured that I likely would not be too surprised by anything I would experience during my first prom in Kosovo and first prom overall as a teacher ever, even if it is initially confusing and even overwhelming.
Considering how many students were going to attend the prom, how big Albanian families are, and how close they are, I figured that there would be a pretty sizable crowd to see off the students as they entered the restaurant.
Going into my school’s prom with informed assumptions and expectations was a mistake and illuminated how much more I must learn before I can say with assurance and without many conditions that I have integrated into my community.
For a couple of moments, being around so many people made me feel as out of place as I felt when I first arrived in Kosovo last June.
I felt a tremendous sense of relief when my school’s assistant director emerged from the crowd and took me to the spot at the restaurant entrance where our colleagues had gathered. I am usually glad to see my colleagues day in and day out. I felt genuinely happy to see them at this moment. When around so much unknown, to be back with the familiar was catharsis.
The strange feelings I get when I see the unexpected crept back immediately when I began to recognize my students dressed to impress like I had never seen them before.
Even though learning their names took a while and required major effort, I learned their faces quickly and easily. I felt genuinely distressed that I could not recognize them the young men and women I had seen day in and day out over the past eight months — most especially my female students.
As expected, I could not walk in any direction without being asked for a picture or a selfie with students. My cheeks still hurt from all of the smiling I did on my Monday night.
Eventually, after taking so many pictures with them and just being around them looking so differently, I had little to no trouble recognizing my students, not just calmly sitting at their assigned tables and enthusiastically taking pictures with each other and with students, but even exuberantly dancing as if there was no tomorrow from the moment the earthshaking music began.
I believe it is safe to say that the students were eager to circle dance like they had never circle danced before and they had plenty of reasons to feel this way.
Region to region, city to city, and village to village, Kosovar Albanians differ in lots of ways. When talking about people from other places, as a general objective non-judgmental observation, I have found that my Kosovars friends will typically highlight the differences more than their similarities. But if there is one thing that they all have in common I think it is a love of dance and I believe my school’s students made the case that they love to dance just much as their fellow Kosovars.
These pictures you previously saw do not quite capture the energy — and, of course, the loudness — that permeated throughout the banquet hall hour after hour.
I am convinced that if my school director and one of the senior teachers at my school did not request breaks from the action, so the band and singer could rest and we all could eat, the students would have just tirelessly danced for the entire night.
These videos provides a much truer sense of what it was like:
The traditional Albanian dancing I saw and partook in (more on this to come) and the music I heard were on a whole different level from what I had experienced at the engagement and on Teacher’s Day. I knew to expect something similar but yet wholly different and, once again, my initial expectations proved to be off.
Similar to their fellow 12th graders in the United States, along with having such dance fever, a sense of genuine joy was palpable among all students as they celebrated the end of high school, reminisced about everything they had gone through together, and looked forward to their respective journeys ahead.
Also, like their American counterparts, my students wanted the best music possible on their big night. Much to their delight, my students had the great pleasure and privilege to have Afrim Muqiqi, the most highly regarded tallava singer in Kosovo, perform on this most special occasion. Muqiqi, who is originally from their region, is such a big deal that he easily earns 4000 to 5000 euros per performance. To understand how much money this amount is in Kosovo, the average Kosovar earns just over 10,000 euros per year. People who make 2,500 euros monthly are considered to be rich by local standards. Considering how much they clearly enjoyed his music, however, the students made clear they believed having Muqiqi on prom night was worth every cent.
Other than placing great sentimental value on the event, wanting the best music possible, and dancing like nobody’s watching, there is not much I could see that proms in the United States I attended as a high school student and this first prom in Kosovo I attended as a high school teacher have in common.
There were slow dances on two occasions, but, other than a small number of student pairs who did the typical slow-dance dance with some considerable distance between one another, they were strikingly different. First of all, the slow dance music was still loud enough to blow out your eardrums. Also, many more students slow danced in much larger groups. These groups had have about a dozen students standing in a circle as they swayed side to side for several minutes.
Unlike the prototypical American prom, no students at this Kosovar prom were crowned the king and the queen of the prom. Considering the way the schools are set up here where students do not mingle as much as those in the United States, I do not think the students at my school know each other well enough to be able to bestow such honors on just two students.
Instead, during the breaks in the music and dancing, my school director conducted ceremonies where students received awards for major achievements in the classroom, such as highest average in the class, and on the field, such as best football player.
Besides using them as opportunities to celebrate my students’ accomplishments with them, I also these personally much-needed breaks (despite my best efforts and my youthful appearance, I could not quite keep up with my students on the dance floor) to eat and rehydrate. By appearances the food was completed as I expected: grilled meat and bread. I shuttered to think about how dry and unsatisfying my dinner that evening would be.
The tenderness and actual flavor of the meats pleasantly caught me off guard and I actually genuinely enjoyed my traditional Albanian celebration meal for the first time ever.
Even though I and colleagues had to enjoy it without the luxuries forks provide, the beef slices I had on prom night were by far the best I have had in my community thus far. Beef here is typically dry and flavorless, so having tender beef was another pleasant culinary surprise for me.
The most pleasant surprise of the night for me was better than any of the food served. Please note I will typically choose food first and foremost as the main highlight of a major celebration. Also, please note that I do not particularly enjoy the traditional music at traditional Albanian celebrations. Sorry to let down those who were counting on me.
However, in this case, I must say that I will likely not enjoy hearing traditional Albanian celebration music as much as I did at the beginning of the last hour of prom because I had the pleasure to see one of my students perform in front of the entire restaurant with all eyes and ears directed in her direction. I knew she could sing and have even heard her sing on one occasion when my counterpart more or less forced her to sing in front of her class, even though she did not really want to. Because she is also a fairly shy and overall mild-mannered young woman, I would not have imagined her taking the big stage on the biggest night of her high school life. Here is genuinely hoping that she will get more opportunities to sing for even bigger crowds on even bigger occasions.
I wish I had a video of her singing, but my phone was well out of battery at that point because I had neglected to bring a longer lasting external power source that would last me the entire night. How naive of me to think that I could spend a good portion of my night sending Snaps and not drain my phone battery. I will see this class later today and kindly ask students if they will share with me a video of their classmate singing. Watch this space.
At that late hour, I finally felt I could fully enjoy the prom among the students like the students without judging myself or feeling judged by others. I love dancing, even though I dance mediocrely at best, and will find someway somehow dance to any beat, especially when the occasion calls for all in attendance to be on the dancefloor.
Because of the distant — and even occasionally cold — relationship between students and teachers at my school, I did not necessarily feel so comfortable dancing so closely with students, even though they enthusiastically welcomed me to dance with them and were delighted to see me in a new and completely different light. Because I am significantly older than they are and still their teacher, I did not want to cross any social lines that my colleagues clearly would not and did what I could to do as they did based on my on-the-spot observations.
I gladly circle-danced with students and danced within those circles with them for much of the night because plenty of my colleagues did so with glee. I cannot see a better way for a local teacher to become more human in the eyes of their students.
However, I made a point to decline to dance with male students who grabbed my arms or put their arms around me in ways I felt were inappropriate and even sometimes uncomfortable. I did not see them do that to any other male teacher and am sure they would not ever dare so either. Throughout my time teaching, I have made clear and direct efforts to show students that I am still a teacher first and foremost and expect them to show me the same level of respect they give my colleagues. I was not about to give this principle up on prom night.
Also, I avoided dancing with students all together during the 45-minute period when all of the current top pop songs in Kosovo of the past year, such as “Despacito” right now and “Bon Bon” almost a year ago to the date, played as the singers rested. I am all for teachers and students becoming closer, but absolutely not by dancing together to “student music.” Gross.
I have a feeling you sense the pattern by now. Heading into prom night, I expected to have to deal with the issue of how to best conduct myself in front of my students at prom but still enjoy their event as much as I wanted on the fly. However, everything I had expected and prepared myself to face and handle changed the moment a male student whom I do not know grabbed my hands in an effort to dance with me without a prior clear sign of approval from me. I did not predict that something like this would happen to me with the knowledge and experiences I have gained so far. And some part of me thinks that I would not have been able to prepare for it anyway. I know more now.
The one part of prom I was most unprepared for was how long the night was. Because the first two big traditional Albanians celebrations I had been to did not run past 1:00 in the morning and got the impression that early morning was the threshold, I figured a Monday night prom would more or less be the same. Oh goodness was I wrong.
Though the prom began at 7:00 that evening, as hour after hour went by without any sign of slowing down, aside from necessary and natural breaks in the music, I got the feeling that prom was much more than I had expected. I will not forget anytime soon the astonishment in my voice when my counterpart told me at 1:30 in the morning that prom would last until 4:00.
The sinking feeling in my stomach I felt at that moment sapped my desire to dance anymore and to stay any longer. I felt flabbergasted by how much long prom would go when it had already gone on for so long up to that point. I felt ready to leave then and there. As much as I enjoy dancing, I will always choose sleep first.
Though I spent much of the next day terribly tired and sleepy and for a good 10 minutes after the end of prom gripped with fear I might not be able to catch a ride home, I am pleased with my decision to stay until the very end because of the memories I now have from that night. There is nothing that will make me feel otherwise. I preferred to take in as much as humanly possible from such a unique experience that I will not have many more opportunities to have. By staying at prom into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I got to see my student sing and enjoy a couple of completely guiltless dances with my students as our time together draws to a close.
All in all, I had much more fun than I expected and prepared to have on prom night. I look forward to going again next year. Personal excitement is my only expectation and personal anticipation is my only preparation.
A while back, I asked my friends and family members to send me questions to answer on the blog. My Dad asked about sports and the outdoors in Kosovo. Since I’m not exactly Sporty Spice, I decided to outsource his questions to someone more knowledgeable than I. My friend Andrew has participated in a lot of outdoor fun since he moved to Kosovo. Without further adieu … –April
Përshëndetje! I am excited and honored to be taking over April’s blog this week. Apparently I have gained a bit of a reputation for loving the outdoors, especially in Kosovo. In fact, the nature here is so beautiful that I started documenting it, which led me to discover another passion of mine, photography.
Back in the U.S., I was just getting into hiking and kayaking before I moved to Kosovo for my service. I am from Atlanta, so it was quite common for my friends and I to flee the city for the weekend for some fresh air on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I found out I was moving to Kosovo. I had read that Kosovo was mountainous and forested, so I knew there was potential, but I wasn’t sure how accessible outdoor activities would be.
During my first year, I went on a lot of hikes with other volunteers and we usually found some great trails on our own through trial and error. The town I live in is pretty flat, so I usually relied on my friends who live in the more rugged areas to ask around and get an idea of where we should go. Unfortunately, unexploded landmines from the war are still a concern, especially in the mountainous border regions. It’s best not to get too adventurous, unless you really know where you are going and that the area has been confirmed to be free of mines. Luckily, there are many public and private organizations in Kosovo that are actively working to rid Kosovo of mines and other unexploded ordnance. There are also a lot of resources available, such as maps and local tour guides, that will allow you to safely enjoy the nature here.
I was talking with a local friend the other day and we were discussing how we have both noticed the recent increase in opportunities to take part in organized outdoor events. It has been amazing to watch Kosovo develop in this way during my nearly two years of living here because I truly believe that Kosovo has an incredible potential for ecotourism. Seeing that potential slowly turn into reality is pretty cool. Every week you can see new tour companies popping up on your newsfeed, advertising organized group hikes, bike rides, rock climbing, cultural tours, etc. These offers are usually at a pretty low price and they include transportation, food, and an expert guide. I recently took advantage of one of these opportunities and I went snowshoeing for the first time. We started in a village called Restelica and walked 10+ km over a mountain to the village of Brod. This was in one of the most remote regions of Kosovo and I never would have felt comfortable to do this without a guide, especially in the snow when visibility is so low and avalanches are such a risk. It was certainly a challenge, my legs are still burning three days after the fact, but it was an amazing experience. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and I was able to learn the basics. My only disappointment is that it is the end of winter and I only just now discovered that I love snowshoeing. Next winter I plan to snowshoe as often as possible. I am also hoping to pick up skiing. I went once when I was in high school, but I would hardly call myself an expert. Kosovo is definitely a great place to learn! Depending on where you are, you can find slopes for beginners, or more challenging ones if you already know what you’re doing. I’ve also seen a lot of snowmobiles during my visits to Brezovica (the main ski resort in Kosovo) and I think it would be awesome to learn how to do that as well. With that said, PCVs aren’t allowed to drive cars or motorcycles, so I assume there is some sort of rule about snowmobiles. If you are currently serving, it’s probably just best to wait until you close your service before you give that a shot.
I think a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kosovo will tell you that winter is tough. My first winter was the most difficult part of my service. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I spent far too much time sitting inside and feeling sorry for myself. My second winter has been the exact opposite. Yes, it was still cold, but I got out as often as possible, enjoyed myself, and stayed busy. Winter was still there, it didn’t change, actually it was colder this winter, but my perspective changed and it made all the difference in the world. My family and friends back home have been shocked to see me enjoying the snow so much. I was never really a winter-type of guy, but I suppose you can count it among the MANY things I have learned to love during my almost two years in Kosovo.
“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Thanks to April for asking us to be guest bloggers on what it’s like to serve as a married couple in the Peace Corps. As one of two married couples in our cohort, we are probably having a different experience than our fellow volunteers.
Some background: We’ve been married over 20 years, no kids, and left behind steady, comfortable jobs. We were both ready for a life and career change. It was a decision that we took very seriously, and worked through the pros and cons together. We think that when you serve as a couple, you both need to be all in because if one person has reservations, it’s going to be a difficult experience for both of you.
Pre-service training (PST) was the biggest challenge of our service. Peace Corps required us to live separately (different home/different village) for our first 3 months of training. We knew this going into our service, so it didn’t come as a surprise. And while it did allow us to have our own, separate experiences while developing our own identities within our cohort, it was definitely a very challenging experience. PST has a lot of ups and downs and when you are used to sharing those types of life experiences with your partner, and he/she isn’t around, it can be difficult. While not being able to see your partner whenever you wanted was difficult, we will say that the PST set-up did allow for a lot of interaction. Our villages were only a few miles apart and there were plenty of hub days or sector training that, for the most part, we were able to see each other in person more often than not.
Once we finished PST, however, a sense of normalcy returned. We resumed living together, cooking for ourselves, having similar schedules and just a feeling of being a married couple once again. Some advantages of serving together is that you always have someone to hang out with, whether it’s at the café, at home, dinner, or simply riding the bus. We are in the same sector so we have that in common, and we even share tutoring lessons. We always have a travel partner. Loneliness isn’t as big of an issue as it may be with other volunteers. In the winter, the advantages are even better—never underestimate the power of body heat in an unheated bedroom.
However, there are some disadvantages as well. Our language learning isn’t progressing as quickly as we would like as we always have someone to talk to in English. As a married couple, our host family gives us plenty of privacy so we probably don’t have as much interaction as many other volunteers may have with their families which also hampers our language skills. We also sometimes feel that we probably haven’t formed as many close relationships with our cohort due to the fact we have a “built-in” friend. Of course, that could be because not only are we a married couple, but we’re also older than most everyone in our cohort!
Despite some disadvantages, being a married couple has only enhanced our experiences. Neither of us can imagine trying to go through this adventure alone. We rely on one another to get through our struggles and are able to enjoy small successes together. So far, our experience in the Peace Corps has been pretty much what we expected. Some ups, some downs; but all made easier by having someone to share it with.
April’s Note: Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’d like to read more from other guest bloggers, here are some links: