Newbie Week: What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then

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

I polled my fellow volunteers to ask: “What do you wish you’d known about Kosovo before you moved here?” I recorded their responses below. For privacy reasons, I decided not to include names, though I promise, this is actual advice from other actual volunteers. (And not just stuff I made up.) Based on the responses I received, I broke them into different categories.

Language

“I wish I’d appreciated the importance of learning Kosovo dialect sooner because Kosovar Albanian is significantly different from standard Albanian.”

Pre-Service Training

“The lack of independence for 3 months is real.”

“Be prepared for a lot of walking and lots of sweating.”

“Keep in mind PST (pre-service training) is nothing like your service, and remember to slow down.”

“In PST (pre-service training), though it’s important to be inquisitive and to ask questions, don’t burden yourself with more information than necessary. In other words, I don’t think it does you any good to get too far ahead of yourself. It’ll make your PST (slightly) less hectic.”

“Non-specific and overly general questions to staff, PCVs, and/or your LCFs will yield non-specific and overly general answers. If you paint with a broad brush, you will absolutely receive the responses: ‘It depends,’ ‘It’s different at every site,’ and/or ‘This is a single story.'”

Food

“Don’t tell your family you like something because you will get it all of the time. Be upfront about your likes and dislikes or be prepared to just put up with it for 3 months.”

“My advice is to be prepared for more bread than you imagine. Even though we were warned … ”

Host Families

“Alone time can be really hard to manage sometimes without offending your host family; figure it out early and avoid unrealistic expectations.”

“I hesitate to ask about it but, in my experience, I’ve seen that Kosovars don’t have too many qualms about bringing up their Kosovo War stories, sometimes unprompted. It’s important to only listen with an open mind and an open heart.”

“The families here are absolutely wonderful and so loving. Prepare to be taken into your family completely.”

“The respect you receive simply for being an American can sometimes be overwhelming and humbling. We are very lucky here. Appreciate it and try to live up to those expectations.”

Packing

“Pack clothes that are versatile, and to lean more conservatively because of the likelihood of being placed in village.”

“Bring warm pajamas for the winter.”

If you’re in CD, bring more professional clothes than you’d possibly ever believe you’d actually wear during your service in the Peace Corps. You’ll regret it otherwise.”

Most of my suitcase space was used for normal clothes and outdoor gear. Considering that Kosovo has all seasons and beautiful, mountainous scenery, I’m happy with this decision.”

“Bring long running shorts, index cards, and Ziplock bags.”

Life in Kosovo

“My feminist beliefs being challenged daily is exhausting and although expected, wasn’t prepared for this degree of difference in thought.”

“Bring a hobby that doesn’t require battery or power cause the power goes out all the time.”

“You will have Internet or probably be able to buy a package for a decent price.”

“You WILL be placed with a host family as a trainee and volunteer. As a trainee for the first three months you’re given the housing payment, €2/day walk around allowance, plus transportation if you’re in a village outside the training site. As a volunteer you will be making around €200/month after housing payment.”

“Smoking is widespread in Kosovo, even in restaurants and some other public places.”

“Dating, while more common in the city, is not the norm in most areas. My Pre-Service Training (PST) host parents were married after two months of knowing each other, and PST host sibling after six months.”

“If you own an unlocked smart phone, bring it. You can simply pop in a local SIM card to use it here. Peace Corps will help you set it up and pay for your first package. After that, I’ve been paying €2.50 every two weeks for two GB.”

“Most major libraries (like NYPL) have an option to digitally check out books, but you need to get a card beforehand (which is free). Something I should have thought of previously, since I keep running out of books … ”

“Once you get here, buy a pack of wet wipes or toilet paper and always carry some with you. It will be a hot, sweaty summer and you’re very likely to encounter restrooms with no paper.”

“I would say, “‘Don’t do any research at all.'”

April: My own piece of advice similar to the above: Try not to anticipate too much what this experience will be. For me, I read one book about Kosovo and started practicing my Albanian language with Pimsleur’s Speak and Read Essential Albanian CDs. I thought I would do a lot more prep, but I didn’t. I didn’t even reach out to my fellow volunteers on Facebook much. I wanted to wait and meet them in person before trying to create any sort of opinion about who they were.

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!