Questions About Schools in Kosovo

My friend Dana loves it when she makes “guest appearances” on this blog. (Hi, Dana!) She recently emailed me a bunch of questions about school. I thought about making a video to answer them, but I am lazy so, no.

What ages are they again?
I teach 7th and 8th grade, so they are eleven to … fourteen?

Is it just you and the kiddos all day? Is there anyone else in the classroom with you?
No, I am not supposed to ever be alone in the classroom. I am partnered with a Kosovar co-teacher. The goal of Peace Corps is to help teachers here develop new methods of teaching, and to develop sustainable teaching materials.

How long do you have each class?
40 minutes

How many classes a day do you teach?
It varies … 3-5 classes per day. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to teach 20 classes per week.

What time does school start and end?
Most schools in Kosovo operate on two shifts, morning and afternoon. I work mornings, so 8:00-1:00. I think the afternoon shift starts at 1:00 and goes to 4 or 5:00.

What’s all the rage on the playground?
Because the school day is short, I haven’t observed an official recess time.

Are they soccer kids?
Totally. Volleyball is also a popular sport here.

What’s the big activity for them?
I don’t know.

What gets them excited?
They seem to be into all of the things American kids are into. One of my students has a cool Spiderman/Batman pencil case. Another student has an adorable Hello Kitty backpack I want to steal. (Of course, I am kidding. I would never steal from a child. Maybe.)

What are the other classes most of your students are taking?
The basics … Shqip (Albanian), English, math, geometry, physics, geography, history, physical education …

Are they led down a vocational route, or a route to higher education?
Both. My understanding is that kids take a test at some point. Depending on how they score, some are sent to vocational school, while others apply to college.

What is the school structure? Is there a principal? Who do you report to?
I report to the school director, who I believe reports directly to the Ministry of Education. (Side note, I love that name. It reminds me of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.)

How many grades are there?
All of them. 🙂

Do the older kids have after school jobs?
I don’t think so. Employment here is scarce for adults. I don’t think most children work.

Are there any sort of extra curricular activities?
If you’re talking like a drama club or something, not that I’ve seen. Some volunteers run programs like English Clubs, etc. There’s also a new poetry competition that’s starting up, and a push to start chess clubs in schools.

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Thanks for your questions, Dana!

Talk Shqip to Me

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela

Last week, we took a mid-training oral language exam, just to see how our Albanian (shqip, pronounced “ship”) language is progressing. I did more poorly than I thought, which has really lit a fire under me to study more.

One thing I got marked down on was this: When I was asked what my profession was in the United States, I replied (in English) “social worker,” because I didn’t know how to say it in shqip. My language teacher later defended me, because “social worker” isn’t one of the professions listed in our textbook. (And for the record, the only professions listed in our textbook are: actor, ecologist, teacher, and businessman. I don’t know how many actors or ecologists I can expect to meet here in Kosovo. So, yeah, SUPER HELPFUL.) I have since asked my language teacher to teach me how to say “social worker” in shqip, in case I am asked that question in the future. He asked me what a social worker is, specifically. (HAHA, good question!) I told him about my last job, and he translated my profession as “këshilltare për të varurit e drogës,” which literally means “counselor for the addicted to drugs.” That’s a mouthful.:)

Shqip is a difficult language to learn for a number of reasons. Not only do verbs get conjugated — nouns do, too. (Even proper nouns). Before I moved to Kosovo, I did some research on the country and could not figure out why there were so many spellings for the capital city. I’ve since discovered the differences:

  • Pristina (rhymes with the name “Christina”) is the English word for the city.
  • Prishtina is the Albanian way of saying the name.
  • Prishtinë is the indefinite version of Prishtina (“in Pristina” translates to “në Prishtinë”).

Further complicating things is that there is “standard Albanian” (ex: the language that is spoken on the news) versus “dialect,” which is an informal language typically spoken at home, among family. Not everyone speaks standard Albanian, and dialects can vary by region. Our language classes mostly focus on standard Albanian. But, at home, some of our families speak only in dialect. It gets confusing.

The only way in which I think shqip is easier than English is that words are pronounced the way they are spelled. So if you understand the shqip alphabet (36 letters to our 26) and the sounds the letters make, you can sound things out. (Unlike English words like “knife” or “through” or a million others.)

A few weeks ago, we took a test to determine what type of learners we are: visual, audio, or kinesthetic (carrying out physical activities). I would’ve guessed that I’m an audio learner, since I prefer lectures in the classroom. But, I actually scored as a visual learner (with kinesthetic coming in second place).

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised. Flashcards are my favorite way to study. There are a number of things I didn’t pack and wish I had. Index cards are at the top of the list. I could kick myself for not thinking to bring any.  I can’t find them here, so I’ve had to make do by cutting up pieces of paper.

I need to study more! We have another oral exam coming up at the end of training. *gulp* The good news is that once we move to our permanent sites, Peace Corps will pay a tutor to continue working with us individually. That’s something I definitely want to take advantage of. I might never have another opportunity to be immersed in a language. I want to learn shqip! Help!

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Making charts to practice and learn

A Day in the Life

“Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head … ” — The Beatles, A Day in the Life

Each day, I wake up at 7:15. I go downstairs to wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom. Then I come back up to my room to apply my makeup, style my hair (if I bother), and get dressed.

Next, I head downstairs for breakfast. I usually have yogurt and a cup of coffee.

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I gather my things and walk to the taxi stand at the end of my road.

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I carpool with my site mates and my language teacher to a larger, nearby village for training and language class. We all live in the same village (different houses, though, ha).

Sierra offered to take this selfie for me from the front seat. In the back (l-r) is our other site mate, Charlie; our language teacher, Kushtrim; and me. Doesn’t our taxi driver look thrilled to be included in our photo?

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Okay, so here’s where we are going to split, in a “Sliding Doors” kind of way. Certain days of the week are “HUB days,” which is where the entire Peace Corps trainee group meets for presentations and lectures. Some trainings are specific to Kosovo, while others are mandated by the Peace Corps office in D.C. (meaning that trainees all over the world must receive the same trainings). Our trainings are held in the conference room of a hotel. Here is the patio where we sit for breaks and for lunch. (The hotel is at the very top of a big hill/mountain, meaning that there isn’t anywhere else to go.)

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And here is the conference room itself. It is nice, but does not have air conditioning (or fans). On hot days, it probably nears 100 degrees in that room.

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On days we have Albanian language classes, we split into smaller groups and meet with our respective teachers. My group meets in this school (the same school where we met our host families for the first time).

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We like to spend our breaks at this nearby café. They play A LOT of Bob Marley.

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We also try to time our bathroom breaks then. Our school has a squatty potty, while the café has a much nicer bathroom. Squattys were all over China, which I expected when I visited there in 2012, but I did not expect them in Kosovo. They do not seem as common as “Western style” toilets, though.

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Which would you prefer?

On days when we have language lessons in the morning, our afternoons are either spent doing team building exercises or cultural learning, or we have TEFL training (teaching English as a foreign language).

After that, I carpool home with Sierra and Charlie, and sometimes Kushtrim (if he’s still around), or another Peace Corps trainee.

Once I get home, I usually spend an hour or so in my room. I like to chill out, read email, blog, and surf the Internet.

Then, I usually take a book or language homework out to the garden. There I read and play with the kitten until it’s time for dinner.

My host mother and I often take a walk after dinner. We have such a pretty view!

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I’ve been going to bed early lately. I shower and am in bed by 10:00. (And sometimes, it is earlier than that!)

Money

“The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees
Now give me money (that’s what I want)” — The Beatles, Money (That’s What I Want)

So … money in the Peace Corps. There isn’t any. The end.

No, just kidding. Oh, not about the no-money part. That’s true. I just meant I have a little more to say about it …

I mentioned I am in PST (pre-service training) for the Peace Corps. Here’s how the money situation works right now. The Peace Corps gives me:

  1. Rent money, which they give directly to me, and which I give to my host family. This is to cover the cost of my expenses (feeding me three times per day, water and electricity I use, etc.).
  2. Transportation money (I take a taxi to training every day, 1 Euro each way)
  3. And … 2 Euro per day as “walking around money,” which I receive as a monthly lump sum.

I know! 2 Euro per day doesn’t sound like much, does it? But let’s break down the cost of some common things I buy:

  1. Macchiato — 50 cents
  2. Chocolate croissant — 40 cents
  3. Piece of pizza — 40 cents
  4. Chicken sandwich from our favorite chicken sandwich place — $1.50 Euro
  5. Postage to the United States (per item) — about $2.50, depending on what it is
  6. Package of gum — 40 cents
  7. Pack of travel tissue — 9 cents (Seriously, when was the last time you bought anything for 9 cents? Never?)

Here is a receipt from lunch at a nice restaurant. The total cost was 7 Euro for 3 people. We all had a bottle of water. Charlie and I each got a hamburger and fries, while Sierra got a margarita pizza. (This sounds like the beginning of a textbook math problem, but I promise, no math is involved.)

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For those of you who are all like, “I can’t visit you in Kosovo. It’s so expensive!” My response is: “Yes, it’s expensive to get over here, but once you’re here, you can live like a king!”

Think about it.

First Full Day

The windows in our hotel are similar to those in the dorm room I stayed in while I was in Beijing. So my first thought upon awakening was, “I’m in China,” followed by, “No, I’m in Kosovo.”

(I realize I misspelled Mariah Carey’s name in my last post. I was deliriously tired when I wrote that). I went to sleep around 9:00 p.m. At 2:30, my roommate and I awakened by the call to prayer. I had trouble getting to sleep after that, maybe because I was jet lagged, or maybe because I tend to be a bad sleeper in general. When my alarm rang at 8:00 a.m., I struggled to get out of bed.

We had a full day of training today. It was held onsite, in the hotel conference room. I got to meet my Albanian language coach, with whom I’ll be working for the coming three months.

Ramadan has just begun. People throughout Kosovo will be fasting on different days throughout the month. They don’t consume food or water when the sun is up, which means dinner is after 8:00 p.m. and breakfast can be as early as 2:30 a.m. Peace Corps volunteers are not expected to fast. We were also told it is not rude to eat in front of someone who is fasting, nor is it rude to ask our host families for something to eat.

Below is the view from my hotel window. I took a video of our hotel room to post, but the Internet connection here has been reeeeallly slow today. I’ll upload it later if I’m able.

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Hello, Goodbye from Washington, D.C.

I made it to D.C. last night! I arrived 3 hours late, waited 30 minutes for the free airport shuttle (now that I’m in the Peace Corps, I have to be frugal), wolfed down an overpriced and under-satisfying meal at the hotel restaurant (so much for frugality), and managed to swim at the hotel pool for 20 minutes before it closed.

Did I mention I also wrangled 118.5 lbs of luggage by myself? I didn’t even use a cart! I just bungee-corded my carry-on suitcase on top of one of the larger ones, and dragged everything behind me. It was a Herculean feat.

My parents drove me to the airport yesterday. My dad drove around the airport in circles while my mom helped me haul my luggage to the United counter. When we hugged goodbye, I said, “Thanks for not crying.” She said, “Of course. I’m excited for you.”

I don’t have kids, so I can’t imagine how it feels to put one on a plane, knowing you won’t see her for a long time. But my parents have been nothing but supportive. After my mom and I parted ways, I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder at her. Mommy. 😦

Now I’m off to the airport again, to officially register for the Peace Corps and get back on a plane. The next time I post, it’ll be from Kosovo.

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