Welcome, Kosovo Group 4!

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.

Other posts that might be helpful:

Pre-Service Training

All About Kosovo

Teaching

Lesson Plans and Activities

Albanian/Shqip Language

Guest Bloggers (Different perspectives from my fellow Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteers)

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Travel Within Kosovo

We are looking forward to meeting you, Kosovo Group 4!

Guest Bloggers: Todd and Stephanee Smith (Serving as a Married Couple in the Peace Corps)

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

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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:

My Favorite Photos from the First Quarter

“And time
goes by
And you’ve got a lot to learn, in your life.” — Future Islands, Tin Man

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post that I have officially completed my first quarter in the Peace Corps! (Counting method is my own.) I thought I’d take some time and reflect on my favorite moments/photos from the last six months. Some of these photos I have previously posted, while others are new.

I spent over a year thinking about Kosovo before I actually moved here. These are: 1) my very first photo of Kosovo and 2) the first photo of me in Kosovo, taken on the balcony of my hotel room.

I took the following photo at the end of the most terrifying day of my life. Here is a picture of my pre-service training (PST) bedroom:

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I love this photo I took of my sitemates Charlie and Sierra. It is funny to think I didn’t know them well back then.

About to watch the soccer match with some fellow Peace Corps trainees. Go, Albania!

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I didn’t know what to expect from my first birthday spent in Kosovo, but I am happy to say, my 35th was a happy one. (I suspect my language teacher was responsible for the cake — such a sweet gesture.)

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PST is not without its abject misery and heat. It does have its bright moments, too. Here is a picture of me commuting with my sitemates and my language teacher. I really miss these three, and don’t get to see them as often as I’d like anymore.

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The summer did not pass without its hedonistic moments. Here are two of my favorite photos, illustrating that:

Here is a picture of my language group, on the day we (finally) got to explore Pristina for the first time.

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I got to attend my first Kosovoar wedding. Here I am with one of my PST host brothers:

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One of my host brothers (not the one who got married) and me

Teaching for the first time was an intimidating experience, but it turned out to be more fun than I expected. I really like this photo of my  co-teachers, Chelsea and Chester.

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Our last week of PST was emotionally draining and difficult. But I had fun at the cultural day party/thank you to PST families that Peace Corps hosted.

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On my last night with my PST host family, I asked to take a photo with my host parents. My host dad was lying on the couch with a headache, but he got up and put on a dress shirt and nicer pants for the occasion. 🙂

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The next day, I swore in as a member of the Peace Corps. I have never been so proud of anything I’ve ever done.

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This is the first photo taken of me at my permanent host site, later that same day. It will always remind me that what I had anticipated would be a hard day (I was missing my sister’s wedding back at home) ultimately turned out just fine.

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Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful and holding a puppy

Speca (peppers) have consumed my life.

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Here is me on my first day of school!

#Kosovo #howiseepc #firstdayofschool

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I began crocheting a lot.

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I really love my fellow volunteers.

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I got to visit Skopje, Macedonia:

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I’ve spent several fun afternoons exploring Peja, a beautiful, mountainous city in Kosovo. This shot was taken on a particularly fun day.

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And, of course, I just visited Tirana!

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April and Val, outside the National Art Gallery of Albania

Thanks for letting me share!

Songs of Summer

An official survey of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers (no, really, I took an actual survey) has revealed that the following are our “songs of summer.”

Here is “Bon Bon,” by Kosovo’s own Era Istrefi:

I’ve heard the following song so many times, it plays on a near constant repeat in my head.

And finally, here’s “Bow Down”:

I wasn’t terribly familiar with Eastern European music videos before I moved to Kosovo. (And at age 35, I can’t say I’m all that familiar with current American music videos, either.) I’ve been kind of surprised by how scandalous some of them are … lots of scantily clad women and “thug” men … pretty similar to stuff you’d see in the U.S.

 

 

Last Week of Pre-Service Training (PST)

Yesterday I posted about Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony. Let’s go back in time and talk about my last week of Peace Corps pre-service training.

We finished up with language class on Monday, and had our last Peace Corps training on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we gave final presentations to the Peace Corps staff on TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). I couldn’t have asked for a better group!

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On Thursday, we hosted a cultural fair as a “thank you” to our host families. I made cucumber sandwiches, complete with mini flags I found at a tiny store in my tiny village. Go figure! My friends Sierra and Jalysa helped with sandwich production.

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#peacecorpskosovo #culturalday

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I also volunteered co-lead circle dancing, which got the room on their feet. Never underestimate the power of circle dancing.

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It was a fun day. Other activities included thank-you speeches, a poem, a sign-language presentation to the song “Happy,” the Macarena, musical chairs, limbo, a photo booth, and a photo slideshow of pictures of the volunteers and their families.

For pre-service training, the 35 Kosovo trainees were divided among families in four villages. Charlie, Sierra, and I were the only trainees placed in the farthest village. As a result, we became close friends. This picture pretty much sums up our personalities:

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And here’s a picture of me with my friends Christian and Ingrid, along with all of the awesome Albanian and Serbian language teachers. (My teacher is the one hiding.)

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I miss everyone already! A small, unofficial “committee” decided to bestow “Most Likely” superlatives to their fellow trainees. Some of the more exciting titles included “Most Likely to Break Gender Stereotypes” and “Most Likely to Marry a Host Country National.” I was given the boring, predictable, and probably accurate title of “Most Likely to Adopt a Kitten.” Thanks, guys.

Friday Gratitude

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” — Winston Churchill

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I posted another version of this photo on my Instagram account. I really like it, and I think it is a fitting photo for this post.

Happy Friday! Today is my last day of pre-service training … my last day with my temporary host family. I am sad to be leaving them, and have been reflecting on how kind they have been. My host mother commented that the time has gone by quickly. It has. I wish I had been able to get to know them better. Our language barrier provided a significant challenge in our relationship.

I will miss the cats terribly, of course. I met the kitten on my birthday and she has gotten so big. She has been a physical marker of the passage of time. (I imagine parents feel this way about their children.)

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P.S. It is really difficult to take good pictures of cats.

Last weekend, I got my first haircut in Kosovo. It was also the first time I’ve had a hairdresser smoke while she cut my hair. 🙂 Two of my friends came with me and it was fun to have girlie time. Plus, the haircut isn’t bad and it only cost me $4.50 Euro.

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I will miss all the new friends I’ve made when we move our permanent sites. They have already begun to challenge and inspire me, to cause me to consider different realities and possibilities for my future. And some of them are so young! I wish I had been as brave as they are when I was in my early twenties. But I know myself, and I know I probably wouldn’t have been able to join the Peace Corps then. I am braver at 35 than I ever was at 25.

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Greek salad + French fries = the perfect lunch, for only $2 Euro

I’ll post more photos of my last week of training and my swearing-in ceremony next week.

P.S. Joe Biden was just in Kosovo, because a major stretch of road is being named after his deceased son, Beau. (You can read more about that here.)

Mirë, Mirë, Mirë!

In language class the other day, we were discussing just how much Albanians use the word, “mirë” (good). Pretend you’re a Midwesterner saying the word, “mirror.” That’s how mirë is pronounced (meer).

Here is a list of just some of the ways mirë is used on a daily basis:

Mirëdita! (Good day)

Ditën ë mire! (Not a literal translation, but basically, “Day is good!”)

A je mirë? (Are you good?)

Shume mirë (very good)

Jo mirë (No good)

Beftë mirë (equivalent of “bon appetite”)

Mirëmbremja (good evening)

Natën ë mirë (good night)

Shkou më i mire (male best friend)

Shaqja më e mire (female best friend)

In 2012, I studied in China for two weeks, and I managed to get by just knowing how to say “hello” (ni hao) and “thank you” (xiexie, pronounced “shay shay”). In Kosovo, the two words I use most are “mirë” and “po” (yes). Whenever my host family says something I don’t understand, I’ll respond with one of those two words. (I know they’ve caught on, though. Sometimes they’ll give me a strange look when I answer. I wonder what I’m saying “good” and “yes” to …)

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Expressing my feelings about my language teacher

We had our last language class on Monday and I am sad it is over. Language was my favorite part of pre-service training (PST).

I found a list of languages ranked from easiest (category I, like Spanish) to most difficult (category V, like Mandarin) for native English speakers to learn, and Albanian falls into category IV, meaning it has “significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English.” You can look at the ranking I found here.