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 …

A Headache and a Half, or, The Story of My Grant Project

“I just get on the mic and spit it.” — Eminem 

I try to avoid talking about the Peace Corps as an entity on this blog. Technically, they’re my employer (or sponsor? over-seeing body?), and writing publicly about an employer is probably not a wise move. In all honesty, I have had a decent experience in my dealings with the Peace Corps. However, my grant project has been nothing but a headache from start to … haven’t finished it yet.

Peace Corps has a pool of money intended to fund grant proposals made by volunteers. To get funding, volunteers must write a formal proposal, submit it before the grant cycle deadline, and have it approved by the small-grants committee. I don’t know how this committee is structured in other host countries, but in Kosovo, the small-grants committee consists of selected volunteers and is overseen by Peace Corps staff.

My grant proposal was for about 1,600 Euro to buy sports equipment for my school. This proposal had been started by my site’s previous volunteer, but due to banking issues, never came to fruition.

After talking with my school, I decided to re-submit the project. I tweaked the original grant proposal and submitted it before the March deadline. I expected this process to be easy, since the project had received prior approval.

The months following turned into a quagmire. The small-grants committee would send me requested changes, I would make them and re-submit them, and then the committee would think of something new to change. After something like the 6th draft, I wrote an email to Peace Corps staff. I was professional in my email, but the gist was basically, “What the hell is going on?” I said that I would be willing to submit one more draft, but if the committee had changes after that point, I was going to drop the project.

A staff member offered to sit down with my grant adviser and me, and we hashed out the last round of changes. This was in May. Finally, my grant received approval.

Next, my counterpart and I had to set up a joint bank account. This process was also a bit of a quagmire. We had to go to the bank on two separate occasions. My host father had to come and sign a document stating that I live in his house. Then, the bank wasn’t satisfied with that document, so my host father had to go to the bank again and sign another document.

I then received word that the grant money would first be deposited in my individual bank account. I did not consent to this. The whole point of setting up a joint bank account is to add a shield from liability for the volunteer. But by the time I received word of this unsettling development, the money had already been wired.

Once the money landed in my account, I tried to transfer it into the joint account. It turns out, the joint account hadn’t been activated. The banker who helped us set it up had gone on a two-week vacation. I don’t know if this caused the delay or was just a coincidence, but in any case, it took another two weeks for the joint account to open. Then, I had to go back to the my bank to schedule another transfer.

When my counterpart and I went to withdraw our money from the joint account, she didn’t have to sign anything. I am not sure what happened there, if she is actually on the account or not, but I have concluded that banks in Kosovo don’t understand what a joint bank account is.

Anyway, this process has been tedious. I have follow-up paperwork to do in the months ahead. I am just glad my school finally got their sports equipment, after nearly two years of waiting.

gym at a school in Kosovo
This is the “gym” at my school, just a classroom.
gym equipment storage
New equipment
setting up soccer football net 2.JPG
Physical education teacher
setting up soccer football net.JPG
Setting up the soccer/football goal
soccer football in Kosovo.JPG
Soccer
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Volleyball

I was talking to another volunteer and we agreed — a grant project is an easy thing to point to when people ask what you did in the Peace Corps. It is much harder to quantify relationships you’ve built or the impact you’ve had on students, but in the long run, those things are far more important.

I also feel like, as “the American,” I get a lot of credit from the school and community for bringing this project about. But, I share the credit with many people:

  • Our physical education teacher, who was the catalyst for the project
  • The volunteer at my site before me, who started the project
  • My counterpart, for being a huge champion for the project. Also, since she speaks both Albanian and English, she often got stuck with the role of translator.
  • My project adviser
  • The small-grants committee. Even though I hated working with them, the project wouldn’t have been funded without their approval.
  • The local municipality, who gave us an additional 250 Euro for funding
  • The store where we bought the equipment, for giving us a 20-percent discount on our entire purchase
  • My host father, for going to the bank twice
  • The students and other teachers, who helped set up the new equipment
  • Our school director, who allowed us to host a “Day of Health”
  • the Peace Corps itself

Well, now I can add “grant writing” to my resume, even though it is something I never want to do again.

KETNET Presentation on Po-e-Zë

On Saturday, my friend Val and I presented at Kosovo’s 7th annual KETNET conference. KETNET stands for Kosova English Teachers’ Network (their website is here).

kosovo ketnet teacher conference.jpg

I am helping Val organize Po-e-Zë, a national English language poetry recitation competition. The competition started in Albania. Val and another Peace Corps volunteer brought it to Kosovo last year. My students participated, which I wrote about in this post.

Our goal in presenting at KETNET was to spread the word and get more local teachers involved in the competition, even if they don’t have a Peace Corps volunteer at their school.

After our presentation, a student who competed last year gave a speech on what competing meant to her. Then, she recited her poem.

IMG_7160
Getting ready to present …

This is one of the bigger secondary projects in which I’ve been involved. I am looking forward to working with my students on memorizing their poems, hosting a local competition, and then organizing the national competition in Pristina in December.

IMG_7157
Coffee afterward

Related post:

Hello! by Alba Arifi (a poem by a Kosovar high school student)

 

Adjective Contest at School

On Wednesday, my counterpart and I hosted an adjective memorization contest at school. I had the idea for it at the end of  last school year. I was tired of hearing students use the word “beautiful” to describe everything. “My friend is beautiful.” “The shirt is beautiful.” “The apple is beautiful.” All right. Time to learn some new adjectives.

I wrote a list of about 80 adjectives in English, and my counterpart wrote the corresponding words in Shqip (Albanian). We photocopied the list and passed it out to the students, telling them to memorize it over the summer. We told them we would host a content with prizes when they came back to school.

adjectives english albanian shqip

Between my counterpart and me, we came up with the following prizes:

gifts

(A stuffed dog and Venice puzzle that came in a care package from my parents; an American flag pencil from a pack I bought at Target; Hello Kitty candies I got in other care packages [I like Hello Kitty but don’t eat candy that isn’t chocolate]; and my counterpart brought in a book of Albanian poetry; a stuff bear; and a notebook.)

Seven students participated, and two girls actually memorized the entire list! Wow. 🙂

To put this into context, my second village school only averages about eight students per grade. So, a 7-student turnout is pretty good!

The Easiest Secondary Project Ever

Today Kosovo goes back to school! Since this is the newest cohort’s first day teaching in Kosovo, I thought I would write about a very easy secondary project I have undertaken at my school. (My aunt called me out — she said she knows I am struggling for blog ideas when I post about teaching. Haha. That’s partly true.)

Anyway … another English teacher at my school approached me and asked if I would compile a binder of different games and activities that we could all use. (There are three English teachers at my school + me.) It was such a brilliant and simple idea, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.

activities book

I bought a binder and some plastic sheets for under 5 Euro total. I bought them at the bookstore in Peja, but they’re probably widely available.

workbook
It is getting thick …

Whenever I bring in a worksheet or a game for my class, I make sure to bring an extra copy to throw in the book. We keep it on a shelf in the teacher’s lounge, so that everyone has access to it.

informational sheet
Informational sheet (found on Pinterest)
handmade worksheet
Handmade worksheet
wordfind
Wordfinds for different sets of vocabulary
coloring page
Coloring pages for younger students
fake money
Teaching materials (yay for fake, Dollar Store money)
madlibs
Copied from workbooks my mom sends me from the U.S.
party worksheet
Worksheet I “created” by combining two similar workbook activities

What I like about this book is that other teachers can contribute to it, and it is sustainable. My school can continue to add to and use it after I am gone.

Also, I was at one of my schools last week and snapped some pictures, so you can see the inside. 🙂

teachers lounge kosovo
Teachers’ Lounge
hallway 1 kosovo school
Hallway 1
hallway 2 kosovo school
Hallway 2

Happy First Day of School, everyone! 🙂

Friday Gratitude: Anibar Animation Festival

August 14-20 was the best week I’ve had in Kosovo. HANDS DOWN! I volunteered at the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo.

The Anibar Animation Festival began eight years ago. It was founded by my friend’s counterpart, when he was only 17. (What was I doing at age 17? Certainly not founding international film festivals.)

My friend had asked me if I would be the festival’s Jury Coordinator. I told him I would think about it. The next thing I knew, I was having a meeting with his counterpart, where we discussed my role as the Jury Coordinator. I walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wait! Did I ever … agree … to be the Jury Coordinator?”

Anibar Film Festival Peja Kosovo 1.jpg
It was the end of the week, and we were still smiling …

I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the whole thing. I pictured a bunch of high-powered Hollywood types who would call me in the middle of the night to make strange demands. Turns out, I was wrong to be so worried.

The jury was comprised of five lovely people who came from Spain, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States.

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo.JPG

I met many new people from all over the world. At one point, I was at lunch, and all four of us spoke different native languages (French, Chinese, English, and Albanian). I love that my native language is the one used to facilitate communication between people who speak other languages.

I also saw many films. The festival had two theaters, plus two screens they set up in a local park.

Anibar Animation Festival

Anibar Peja Kosovo

I loved some films, and hated others. Below are two of my favorite films shorts that were shown at the festival. (Warning: Don’t watch these if your boss or your kids are in the room!)

Volunteering at the Anibar Animation Festival also meant I got to spend time in Peja, which is my favorite city in Kosovo. I mean, would you look at this view?

Peja Kosovo.JPG

Even the weather cooperated, by backing away from the 100-degree mark.

I miss the little routine I developed every morning, where I bought iced coffee (!!!) and went to the Anibar theater to hang out with my friends (and the newly rescued theater kitten) before the start of the festival’s daily activities.

theater kitten.JPG

It was a week full of friends, film screenings, workshops, talks, a gallery opening, and free food and drinks.

Puppet Anibar.JPG

The pouring rain on the night of the closing ceremony forced people to abandon the after-party at the park and stay at the theater. Group karaoke broke out across the theater’s stage and balcony. The night ended with a group of people dancing in the flooded streets of Peja.

Yeah, it was my best week in Kosovo …

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

Guest Blogger: Charlie Lowe (Faces of Kosovo)

Hi Hello from Kosovo, my name is Charlie Lowe, long time reader, first time poster. I was invited by April to write about a secondary project that I’ve been working on for some time with some friends of mine called Faces of Kosovo.

Faces of Kosovo

This group of awesome Kosovars and Americans have been working together to try and share true and interesting stories of members of our communities to show our friends and family what life in Kosovo is REALLY like.

Chester and Charlie
Chester Eng and Charlie Lowe, two of the founders of Faces of Kosovo

I truly struggled for a long time trying to find a genuine way to tell the stories of people here without sounding like a “white savior” coming to a different country and bragging about the people I’ve met (while at the same time patting myself on the back for being a good person). So I decided to flip-the-script and with the help of some great volunteers, both American and Kosovar, we started our Facebook page.

Faces of Kosovo

It wasn’t easy, and it took hours of planning, discussions, review, and debate, but ultimately I’m very proud of what we put together. This page seeks to connect people both here in Kosovo and back home in America with impactful and meaningful life stories of people living in this place. Their stories are told in their words (and translated closely into English, Albanian, or Serbian depending on the interview) so to be as truthful as possible. And yes, I know, Faces of Kosovo does sound a lot like Humans of New York. It’s not an original idea, but in this place at this time, it is a new and important one.

Shok V1

Kosovo is a place that is facing very real and very serious existential questions about its identity as a state. Will Kosovo be a Western state or are they Eastern? Will it be religious or secular? Will it be a state where diversity is accepted, imposed, or rejected? What does it mean to be a partially recognized state? The answers to these questions often may be contrasting and complex, so to flush out people’s real stories and experiences, as well as their hopes and dreams for their futures, Kosovars and Americans may better understand the peoples’ will for the future of their country.

Faces of Kosovo 2

All in all, building this page has taught me a lot about the importance of stories and of the personal growth and self-reflection that they demonstrate. Come check out the stories we’ve shared so far and stay tuned, as we have many more to come.

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FacesofKosovo/

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