An Open Love Letter to My Family and Friends

“The way I feel is the way I write.” — Jose Gonzalez, Stay Alive

Happy Valentine’s Day to my family and friends. I wrote an open love letter to you all to thank you for seeing me through my Peace Corps service so far. (Sorry that the video’s volume is so soft. I suggest plugging in your headphones if you need to!)

If you’d like to skip ahead and only watch your part of the video, here are the time markers:

Mom (0:12)
Dad (0:25)
Kris (0:50)
Grandpa (1:10)
Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dave, Matt, Aunt Pat, and Aunt Tina (1:30)
Lisa (1:45)
Whitney (2:20)
Nicole (2:42)
Katie from Oakland (3:08)
Pauline (3:21)
Dana (3:40)
Katie from Chicago (4:00)
Jocelyn, Erica, Nina and Kristin (4:11)
Patrick, Lily, and Josh (4:29)
Heather (4:40)
Miriam (4:51)
Anna, Peg, Mary, Renee, and Paul (5:01)
Cheryl, Jodie, Shelby, Denise, Jennifer and Vandana (5:10)
Kushtrim (5:25)
Sierra (5:48)
Chelsea (6:06)
Chester (6:30)
Christian (6:56)
Val (7:11)
Charlie (7:29)
Todd (7:42)
Stephanee (7:54)
SJ (8:10)
Ingrid and Emily (8:17)
My entire cohort (8:29)
Blog readers (8:40)

Happy Valentine’s Day! 🙂

Q & A About Serving in the Peace Corps in Kosovo

Hello! A potential new volunteer recently emailed me some questions about serving in Peace Corps Kosovo, so I thought I would use them to create a blog post. At the end, I also included a question that a friend recently asked me.

1) How safe do you feel in Kosovo? Fairly safe. Have you ever felt threatened or in danger? The two worst things that have happened to me are: 1) A student threw a rock at me as I was crossing the school yard, and it hit me on the back of my shoulder. Three students were suspended for a week as a result, and I no longer teach their classes. 2) I was taking a walk one morning, rounded a bend in the road, and came upon a large, angry stray dog. It approached me several times and barked at me, but it eventually moved on. I would say I find environmental concerns (stray dogs, lack of seat belts in cars, lack of adequate nutrition and exercise, and exposure to second-hand smoke and air pollution) more worrisome than my experiences with people here. I mostly feel safe around Kosovar people. Do you think a self defense class would be a good idea? I think taking a self defense class is always a good idea, and is something every woman should do.

2) How hot and cold does it really get there? I am from the Midwest, and weather in Kosovo is like the weather in the Midwest. It gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. A major factor here is that central heat and central air conditioning are rare to nonexistent. Do I need to bring a long down jacket for winter? Yes, absolutely! Are the summers too hot for jeans and a T-shirt? I don’t wear jeans in the summer because it is too hot. I recommend wearing long skirts, linen pants, capri pants, etc. Some people wear shorts, but I would recommend dressing more conservatively here than you might in the United States.

3) Have you gotten placed next to any other Peace Corps volunteers? My first year here, I had two site mates. They didn’t live in my village but they were only a ten-minute drive away. They are both gone now. This year, I am alone at my site. The next-closest volunteer is probably an hour away from me by bus. However, I see other volunteers all the time in Pristina. Kosovo is small so I wanted to know if it is pretty standard to work at a school with other Peace Corps volunteers. Volunteers are never placed at the same school, even if they live in the same village.

4) Do you have daily access to fruits or vegetables? Mostly (kinda?) yes. My host family eats peppers almost daily. Sometimes, we also have cabbage or pickled vegetables. There is not much variety, however, in vegetables or in meals in general. If you are curious to know what I eat, you can read my 5-Day Food DiaryHow much of a say do you have in your diet? Almost none. If I say that I would prefer to eat less of something (like sugar or bread), will the family take extreme offense to that? No, not at all, at least in my experience. I think it is important to be honest with your host family about what you will or will not eat. For example, I hate onion and my host family knows this. If my host mother makes something with onion in it, she will make me a smaller, separate portion with no onion.  Can I just buy my own food and cook my own meals? You will negotiate the meal situation with your host family and yes, some volunteers do cook their own meals.

5) How often is it considered appropriate to shower in Kosovo before it becomes rude (as in your host family gets irritated with you for using up amenities)? I shower and wash my hair every day. As far as toiletries go, I buy my own soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Having good hygiene has always been important to me — it’s just a part of who I am. I compromise on plenty of stuff as a volunteer, but I am not willing to compromise on maintaining good hygiene.

I think volunteers (especially in the beginning of service) are really nervous about being seen as “weird” or doing something offensive, but remember, you will be a foreigner in Kosovo. You are bound to do things that are “weird” because you come from a different country with a different culture. You are not going to perfectly blend in. As long as you aren’t being deliberately disrespectful or offensive, do what makes you happy. Is [showering] every other day excessive? I don’t think so.

6) What has been the hardest cultural aspect for you to adjust to in Kosovo? All of it has been a huge adjustment. As far as the hardest thing, I would say that because Kosovo is a patriarchal society, experiencing the way women are thought of and treated has really been hard. I also hate all the smoking!

7) My friend Dana (hi, Dana!) recently asked me how many Americans are on staff here in Kosovo. All Peace Corps posts (meaning, host countries) have to have three Americans on staff: the Country Director, the Director of Programming and Training, and the Director of Management and Operations. All other staff members (administrative assistants, medical staff, IT director, accounts payable/receivable, program managers, small grants manager, supply chain manager, and drivers) are from Kosovo.

As always, I hope my answers are helpful! Thank you for reading.

Sexual Harassment in Kosovo

Note: This post is part of a series I am hosting on this blog to discuss challenges Peace Corps volunteers face while serving in Kosovo. Below, a friend of mine shares her experiences with sexual harassment. — April

Let me start off by saying that what I am about to talk about will show a more negative side to my time in Kosovo but that does not reflect my overall feelings towards my country of service. I’m still here, aren’t I? However, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t affect me, sometimes more so than I’m willing to admit. I can directly attribute my depression last September to the excessive amount of sexual harassment I experienced one day after another. While you’ll find different perspectives from volunteer to volunteer, many additional stories, what I write here is all from my personal experience.

Being a solo female traveler comes with added hardships that are out of my control simply because of my gender. Many of you females reading this will understand that simple statement. So if follows that being a female volunteer will also come with a lot of similar difficulties.

Kosovo, for all intents and purposes, is a male-dominated culture. I have been able to circumvent many things simply because of my “Americaness” but not without difficulty. While there is a café in my village, I cannot go unless I’m accompanied by a male. It took months before I was allowed to be out after dark on my own. I am expected to stop whatever it is I’m doing and stand for men when they entered a room and I am often defined by my marital status (or lack thereof).

At first I thought that it was simply because I was an American as to why I was attracting so much unwanted attention. But then I realized it didn’t matter if people thought I was an American or an Albanian woman, the treatment was the same.

It started small (or it felt that way in my mind). Men calling at me in the streets whenever I left the comforts of my village, men “casually” touching me as they walked past, or inviting themselves for what appeared as casual conversations. Then I noticed how it seemed to escalate. Not only would men call at me in the street but on more than one occasion they would then start to follow me, either silently or insensately shouting personal questions in my direction. The casual touching turned into hands sliding across my breasts or butt to walk past me. The unwanted invitations to chat turned into them stalking me on social media and messaging me over and over and over again where even blocking them didn’t deter their efforts. I had just about had it when a man who was sitting in the seat in front of me on the bus began starring directly at me through the seat crack and began masturbating.

Sometimes it can feel constant. Summer is when I felt the worst because (what I assume) more people are out and about and it’s also when I left my village more often. While back home in America, I am the first one to tell a man who invades my personal space off, I don’t have the cultural or linguistic knowledge here to do it. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. So I found myself staying in the confines of my small village to avoid the harassment but all that did was make me more depressed. It took all my will power but I wasn’t going to let these ignorant people ruin my life.

So while I know it still happens I’ve found some coping mechanisms that help to let it not impact my mental health so much.

1. Headphones. Honestly, what I think is the best invention since sliced bread. If I’m alone most likely my headphones are in. They don’t even have to be playing anything. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t America and people will still try to talk to you but it gives you a full proof excuse to pretend like you don’t hear them even if you do.

2. I’m normally the type of person that is fully aware of all of my surroundings. However, I have pulled my scope in. Not too much that I compromise my own safety but enough that I don’t have to notice every disgusting comment, gesture, or look sent my way.

3. Being a regular. This can honestly go both ways, which is why it may take a few tries to get it right. I have a regular bus I take to the major cities with drivers and attendants who know me. I go to the same cafés every week with people who know me. They are the people who will look out for me when I need it. While I absolutely loathe feeling like a damsel in distress who needs others to protect me, I’ve sucked up my pride because it doesn’t hurt to have people in my corner.

4. Companionship. I have found that if I am just with 1 other person, especially another male, the sexual harassment dissipates if not becomes almost non-existent. Which is also why it can be very difficult for my male counterparts to understand exactly what it is that I experience on my own. While I may not recommend this as a permanent fix (because who wants to be escorted all their life), my service here is only 2 years so it’s a minor adjustment I’m willing to make.

Being sexually harassed is an exhausting experience. Sometimes I feel like I have to constantly look over my shoulder to protect my safety. Many friends have said that maybe I’m over exaggerating it or that I’m too defensive and should be nicer because they don’t mean any harm. But that’s just it. I don’t know. I don’t know who they are, what their intentions are. There is a thin line between harmless flirting and creepy stalking and I’ve found that it’s a line that many men here don’t know the difference between.

To my female readers, keep trekking on. Find the things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Don’t let male-dominated cultures or harassment make you give up.

Shades of Kosovo: Handling Racism as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Note: This is the first blog post in a series I plan to do on challenges that Peace Corps Volunteers face while serving in Kosovo. My friend and I chose to write this piece using a question-and-answer format. For privacy reasons, I am referring to my friend as “Guest Blogger.” — April

April: How often do you experience racism here in Kosovo?

Guest Blogger: On any given day, I can generally expect to receive at least a small handful of racial comments and taunts whenever I walk around my site, which is a small city of about 35,000, especially along the main road. Namely, in a large majority of cases, I’ll hear young boys and men between the ages of 10 and 30 say in Albanian, “Ohhhh, China!” “Chinese guy” or “Japanese guy,” and make fake Asian language sounds in my direction.

There’s an old guy who’ll pretend to do what he believes is kung fu whenever we cross paths every once in a while. Though such an action is so blatantly racist, I find it kind of amusing.

The taunts and remarks I hear with much greater frequency, on the other hand, are just outright offensive and tiresome. I’ll also have people ask me about whether I’m from China, Japan, or Korea with regularity. Though understandable, such a question never ceases to be irksome because I’ve heard it my entire waking life. I hate this part of my service, but I don’t know what else to do but accept and adapt.

I’m so grateful that I’ve never ever experienced any racism from those whom I’ve had to work with closely and live with. They’ve always offered me the utmost respect from the very beginning for who I am and what I do for them and their community. When they’ve judged me, they’ve judged me by my attitude, words, and actions, not my skin color.

April: If you are able to look at your experiences objectively, how much of what you experience would you say is outright malicious, versus people being curious about you and perhaps just expressing their curiosity in an annoying but non-malicious way?

Guest Blogger: I think it almost always the latter. Because Kosovo is so homogeneous racially, socially, and culturally, I realize that the people — overwhelmingly young men — who direct racist remarks at me do not know any better. In other words, they act improperly in the eyes of many because they haven’t had exposure to other races and cultures and any direct personal interactions with non-Albanians. They literally lack the knowledge. In fact, “racist” doesn’t have much meaning as an epithet here, and I think it’s fair to say many Kosovars would struggle to define race and diversity.

For instance, I bet those who make fake Asian sounds at me do so because they’ve seen Asian characters, or Asian-like characters, act a particular way on TV and in movies and automatically assume that all other Asians on this planet must talk and act the same way. Jackie Chan, in this regard, has been a blight on the depiction of Asian people and Asian culture in mainstream culture. Hence, I hear young comedians-in-training call me “Jackie” here and there as they pass me on the street. They think they’re tough and clever — and they’re not! They’re pathetic — and I do wish I could stop them in the middle of the street and deliver some grand lecture that will open their minds and change their behavior right then and there. However, such a thing is impossible.

I do not think people who act in such an irritatingly shallow way mean any harm. However, I still cringe and — depending on my mood at the moment — might even feel hurt and become pissed off whenever I hear such racial remarks. I feel hurt because racial taunters in Kosovo say the same things classmates and peers who picked on me because of my race said to me as I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Northern New Jersey. I’d prefer to have not daily reminders of this aspect of my life in elementary school and middle school. I become pissed off because I believe, in light of their country’s recent history, all — and I do mean all — Kosovars should know much better than to judge people based on their race and ethnicity. You do not need to know English or to have studied abroad to have such a perspective.

Generally speaking, no matter where they are from, I believe people in this day and age where there is unlimited access to information and knowledge should know better than to judge others by their race and racial stereotypes. I feel it’s my solemn duty as a PCV working in local education to help Kosovo’s youth gain such knowledge and discover their own insights on diversity and multiculturalism that many of their peers in other countries know to be self-evident truths.

April: Is most of what you experience verbal? Have you ever felt physically threatened in Kosovo due to racism?

Guest Blogger: All of the racism I’ve experienced has been verbal. Kosovo is an exceptionally safe place, and I’ve never felt physically threatened or uncomfortable in any place at any point during my service. Still, living in a place where people will judge me on my appearance and act on what I suppose is an impulsive need to remind me how I look is unpleasant and unwelcoming. The community integration process is difficult enough in general for all PCVs and is compounded when they look so different from everyone else in the community. The people here take such pride in how welcoming they are, especially internationals. In some ways, I’ve never been treated better at any point in my life in any place and will likely never receive such hospitality outside of Kosovo. However, when this blissful bubble bursts after I hear a racist remark directed at me, I can’t help but wonder how welcoming they really are to all internationals, not just those who could pass as Albanian.

April: Would you feel comfortable sharing the worst instance of racism that you have experienced?

Guest Blogger: I can’t really say that I’ve had a “worst instance” of racism in Kosovo. I want to say that all of them are bad because racism is racism, no matter the intent. Still, it’s unreasonable for me to say that all instances of racism I’ve experienced are equally bad. Some Kosovars genuinely thought that they were speaking Chinese with me when said “ching chong chu” at me, and admitted that it was a misunderstanding on their part and begged for forgiveness of their ignorance. Also, if they really sought to be racist, they could’ve called me something much worse like “Chinaman,” “chink,” “gook,” “jap,” or “yellowman.”

Two instances still stick out to me. One time is an older waiter at a tea house slanted his eyes at me when I walked in the door. I wanted to berate him, but what I figured that such a reaction from me would achieve nothing positive. He doesn’t speak English, and my Albanian wasn’t good enough at the time to offer him a lesson on racial and cultural sensitivity.

Another time, another “tough guy,” which is a personal term I use to refer to young men who make racist remarks at me in passing but don’t own up to it when I confront them, at my school simply would not concede he was being racist when he said “ching chong chu chu chu…” at me and refused to apologize. I suppose he struggled to understand why I would become so upset with him. I found the refusals to acknowledge any wrongdoing and to apologize to be even more offensive than the racist remark. This case is still the only time — and I sure hope the last — where I’ve taken a student to my school director’s office for disciplinary action. Teaching at my school is difficult enough because of my students’ generally weak academic abilities and widespread disrespect for all teachers, and I was just not having it that day.

April: What are some strategies you have used to avoid experiencing, or confront, racism?

Guest Blogger: I simply actively choose to ignore racist remarks and carry on as if I heard nothing. I know that sometimes giving the taunters attention can make things worse because I am reacting the way they want me to. No action is, in fact, oftentimes the best course of action when I know I’m receiving racist taunts from people I don’t know, who likely do not know English, who likely wouldn’t understand me in Albanian, and whom I likely won’t see again anytime soon.

I generally have headphones in whenever I’m out and about in my town, which I find to be another effective avoidance technique. Nevertheless, I can still hear “tough guys” taunt me sometimes, either because they shout that loudly at me, or because I’ve become so attuned to racism that I can hear it over the music and podcasts I listen. Though not easy, I bite my lip, keep looking ahead, and continue on my way as if I heard nothing. I believe they simply want the attention and the satisfaction my attention brings them, so I’m not going to indulge them.

Whenever I feel I must respond, I simply shout “No!” back at them, wag my finger, and shake my head in disapproval as I walk away. They get the message, great! If not, oh well …

For those who have the language skills and willingness and openness to have a discussion about racial diversity and racism, I try to use their remarks as a teaching moment to explain how their words are, in fact, racist and why they are offensive and hurtful to me and many other people who look like me. To drive home the point and help them to feel the pain I feel when others mock me for being Asian, I’ll mention how the movie Taken depicts Albanians extremely negatively and ask them how they would feel if I assumed all Albanians are criminals based on this one well-known cultural depiction of Albanians. No one likes to be pigeonholed in such a way. I have found establishing such common ground on negatives leads to positive and enlightening discussions about our worldviews on both sides.

April: Why do you think some people in Kosovo say and/or do racist things?

Guest Blogger: To reiterate what I said earlier, I think some people in Kosovo make racist remarks because they do not know any better. They might not even know what racism is, and, therefore, would not feel badly if called racist. I want to emphasize that I do not think they should receive much blame, if any, for acting insensitively because of Kosovo’s homogeneity and isolation from the rest of the world. They haven’t learned before and interacting with a person of color is a golden opportunity to take a first step in the learning process.

April: What advice would you give to someone who isn’t (or doesn’t look) Caucasian and is considering serving in Peace Corps Kosovo?

Guest Blogger: I have a couple of suggestions:

1) Please pardon the puns: I advise finding your own ways to grow a thicker skin when confronted with racism and other comments and questions about your identity. The less you allow racism to get under your skin, the less stress you’ll create for yourself — generally speaking. In these cases, sometimes no action is the best action.

2) Even if you become resistant to, grow to tolerate, or even come to accept racism as a part of your everyday life, it doesn’t mean you should desensitize yourself to racism and let everything go. In my experience, I can allow 99 racist comments and taunts to slide, but then the 100th can just set me off for reasons I still struggle to understand when I look back at moments when I blew up.

I can’t say that I’ve always responded gracefully and thoughtfully to racism. When I’ve allowed my sensitivity to racism to overwhelm me, I believe I actually made the incident worse than it needed to be. More often than not, it was a case of misunderstanding on both sides. Taking a second to breathe and calm down when feeling the urge to react has helped me maintain a mental balance when I know that I have this kind of daily struggle with myself and others each and every day.

3) I cannot emphasize this enough: Try to imagine how different — and even strange — it must be for the average Kosovar to see a non-white person in their community. Outside of Prishtina and Prizren (the two largest cities in Kosovo), it’s rather uncommon for Kosovars to see people of color in their communities. I advise being empathetic to the fact that they often simply do not know how to act around non-Albanians because of their lack of firsthand exposure to different cultures and people. They’re curious and mean well. They just don’t know how to respond — yet!

4) I say yet because I’d encourage PCVs of color to use instances of racism to inform when you deem appropriate. Trust your instincts when you choose to engage others in response to racism. Something as simple as “No, I’m American” has completely changed the way others who’ve never seen me before and don’t know who I am see me. It is awfully satisfying to see them respond so positively when I tell them I’m American.
Other times, I just get blank stares or expressions of disbelief. I’ve even had people flat out refuse to believe I’m American, even after I’ve shown them my passport and other forms of ID. You won’t be able to convince everyone that you’re American and that many Americans aren’t white. You’ll go crazy if you try to change everyone’s perspective. Instead, give yourself a pat on the back when you’re able, in fact, able to change even just a couple of people’s outlook on the United States in a small but undoubtedly profound way.

5) Stand your ground when others try to tell you something different about your own identity that you disagree with. Being born an American is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, so I relentlessly push back against those who’ve told me that there’s no way I’m actually American because I’m Asian. I’ve told others in Kosovo, in other countries, and even in America that I want nothing to do with them ever again because I find their refusal to accept my Americanness to be gravely insulting. Take pride in your Americanness and never let anyone tell you otherwise if you feel similarly about your nationality.

6) Perhaps most important, laugh at racism. If you take racist remarks too seriously and can’t find humor in them, then you might well do more harm to yourself than any instances of racism ever can. I believe that those with malicious intent will feel disempowered and that those who express curiosity insensitively and ungracefully will understand that they’ve something wrong more clearly. Humor can be a great uniter and method of clearing the air. Also, finding humor will make your Peace Corps experiences all the more enjoyable and enriching in other ways those of “typical Volunteers” are not. I believe Peace Corps stories are the most memorable for good reasons.

New Blog Posts Dealing with Heavier Topics

Hello, everyone. After doing a lot of careful thinking, I have decided to approach several friends about writing a new series for this blog. In an attempt to give a more well-rounded view of what it is like to be a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Kosovo, I am going to be posting some anonymous guest blog posts that deal with heavier topics, like racism and sexual harassment that volunteers experience. I made the following video to further explain my decision.

*Further clarification: when I said “their name,” I was referring to the volunteers, not Kosovars.

I hope you all understand why I think it is necessary to post about the challenges volunteers in Kosovo face. Please feel free to message me if you have any questions.

My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! 🙂

pets 2
Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

IMG_6654
DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees 🔥

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo
The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. 🙂

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag
Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

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Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

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Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

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Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

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April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

The Final Quarter is Here!

By my own method of counting, I have finished three quarters of my Peace Corps service! (Although my method is a bit off … the first three quarters were six months in length, while the final will be 8.5 months.)

Still … only 8.5 months left of service!

My third quarter was full of ups and downs, with a big DOWN at my mid-service mark (August). According to the Peace Corps “chart of emotions,” that’s when most volunteers feel the worst. It was very true for me. I was bored with Kosovo, tired of teaching and living with a host family, and just generally feeling angry.

But then October came … I love autumn, I love Halloween, and I took some fun trips (Sweden and Albania).

Since then, there has been a big shift in my thinking and feeling, one that I think will last. Another volunteer and I were talking and we had both independently come to this realization: we can either accept things the way they are, knowing they are unlikely to change, or we can be miserable the last few months of our service. I would rather choose the former.

In this June post, I listed some of my personal and professional goals for the summer/fall. Let’s check on the progress I’ve made so far …

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds  Done! Though I still have follow up paperwork to complete, I cleared the biggest hurdle and actually got sports equipment for my school!
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now) I only hosted one workshop this summer … (You can read about it here.)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there No, we didn’t get approval to do this. I don’t totally understand the reasoning, but it seems like Peace Corps doesn’t like cross-work between countries.
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall Currently working on this!
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life. I’ve been teaching once per week there. It is my favorite hour of teaching during the whole week.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school) Currently doing some copy editing for KosovaLive and helping my students prepare for Po-e-Ze.
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list. Yep …
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project No, I haven’t done this.
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES! Other than my trip to the U.S., I didn’t travel at all this summer. Money (dwindling) and heat (intense) were the two major factors. However, I just went to Sweden, which was awesome and cold. 🙂 (You can read about my trip here and here.)
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) … So far, I’ve been to Batilava Lake and Rahovec.
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more … I think this is just too spendy for me at the moment, as much as I would love to do it. There are other things I’d rather spend 150 Euro on, like travel (or this rug).
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it Doesn’t appear PC is hosting the Blog It Home contest anymore, which is a big disappointment to me. Past winners got to fly to D.C. to attend a conference on media. I would obviously have loved to do that, assuming I won. (And I would have.) 🙂
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.) My Shqip is terrible, and at this point, I don’t see a real reason to improve. I can clearly get by in my life here with the amount I do speak. However, as fate would have it, someone put me in touch with a new tutor and we will start lessons soon.
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps. I don’t have one “best friend,” but I have been working to strengthen the friendships I do have.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school NO! Never again. But I did set the wheels in motion to possibly receive a book donation for my school, so at least that’s something.
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen Always in the back of my mind…

I have yet to come up with a list of goals for this coming winter and spring. Two of my major projects (Po-e-Ze and hopefully, the grant paperwork) will be done, so I could potentially take on other projects. What other projects? I don’t know yet …