Looking Forward

Snow capped mountains and wilting corn stalk can only mean one thing.

Snow capped mountains and wilting corn stalks can only mean one thing.

I am on the downslope of my Peace Corps service. I’ve been on the downslope of my service since August and ever then since, I’ve been in awe over the fact that I have less than a year in country. I’ve been really bad about blogging my PC experience this last year and change, although anyone who knows me has probably caught me furiously writing in my journal at some point in time. Even still, I’d like to commemorate my last ten months in country by writing at least one blog entry a month and posting it every 19th of the month. Barring extension or change of date – where one can leave 30 days before or after their official COS date – August 19, 2016 is my official COS date and surprisingly, I’m really looking forward to it.

I say surprisingly, because I love my service, I love being a Peace Corps Volunteer, and a year ago this time, extending was a definite possibility. However, now I can actually see myself leaving Kosovo in August. Maybe that’ll change in the next few months, who knows, but for now the impending August 2016 leave date for me feels like a bittersweet close to an awesome period of time in my life. The second year is so different from the first.The familiarity with the language, my community, and the way of life here makes everything more comfortable. I know the people and can move about with more ease than I could last year. It’s honestly, the little things that only time could have affected that make the second year what it’s turning out to be.

If I had to put it into perspective, last year was the learning year where a lot of mistakes were made all in the name of progress. This year seems like it’ll be the year of growth and successes. My November alone is packed to the brim with things that I have to accomplish, some for my own personal growth, but most to grow me as a teacher and volunteer. My students this year are all the students I had last year. I know what they’re all capable of after working with them for a year, so this year I’m a little more educated on how to approach their strengthens and weaknesses when it comes to learning English. In turn, I feel like they’re expecting more out of me as a teacher. In these first two months of the new school year alone I’ve had students come up to me, bright eyed and hopeful, about having English extracurricular courses, students who I’d originally thought were apathetic about learning the English language. I’ve had other students come up to me and give suggestions about what they’d like to learn about and do in the extracurricular English Clubs, when a year ago I would have been met with silent stares when asking for their input.

If last year was about planting seeds, then this year is about watching them grow. Peace Corps is always quick to remind us volunteers that we won’t see the effects of our service during our service. They say it might even be years before any changes in our communities start to show and maybe they’re right. If you’re planting the seeds of a giant oak tree then yea, it’ll take years to see it become the big, great mass that it’s meant to be, but if you look close enough in the beginning, you might just be able to see the little leaves of the sapling poke out from the soil. That’s what I’m witnessing now in this second year. I’m witnessing my students’ progress with the English language, their desire to speak out more and take initiative, where before they just waited for me to tell them what to do.

These last few months are definitely going to be great. I’m not looking forward to winter and the cold that it brings with it, but November is so packed with stuff to do, I’ll blink and it’ll be over. Then I’m blink again and Christmas will be here. I make it sound so dramatic when I put it that way, but it’s exactly how I feel at the moment.

“The most beautiful moments always seemed to accelerate and slip beyond one’s grasp just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.” ~ E. A. Bucchianeri

The Many Loves of My Life

Life's little joys. NesVanil, anyone? Anyone?

Life’s little joys. NesVanil, anyone?

On this day last year I began my Peace Corps journey as a, then Peace Corps Trainee (PCT), by heading off to Washington, D.C. to participate in a process called Staging (kind of like a pre-orientation, orientation). Now, I’m sitting here in site in a beautiful country I’d never even heard of before Peace Corps, two days away from celebrating my one-year anniversary in country. Wow…just wow. I’m totally being nostalgic here, but I’ve experienced so many things this past year, that I don’t even know how to begin to put them into words.

I have about a week and a half left of school. After that, I’m flying home for two weeks on vacation to see some family, hug some necks (as my grandma would say), and half chill/half go crazy trying to do everything. It is vacation after all. Even now with a little less than two weeks left, I’m ready to go back and then I’m not ready. Though my reasons for going back are clear (to see family, cause most of my family members seem to be allergic to travel), I’m not exactly sure how I feel about stepping back onto American soil and the possible reverse cultural shock and all that goes with it.

What I do seem to be sure of, surprisingly, is my dedication to the Peace Corps, the people of Kosovo, and my hopes and aspirations for my service in the coming year. I remember talking to my mom about this in iMessage, telling her that even though I’m happy to be coming home to visit, my work here in Kosovo is still not over and I’d feel thoroughly discontented with myself if this were to be me coming home for good. And that’s not to say that I haven’t accomplished anything here yet. Change and development are slow and steady processes and being the first group in country is mostly about connecting with people and relationship building, as opposed to coming in thinking we’re going to save the world right out of the gate.

What I went on to explain to my mom is that, while I had an idea of it before, I completely understand now why Peace Corps is a two year committee instead of just one. This last year was all about learning and growing and making mistakes. I did a lot of things right, but I did a lot of things wrong too and I’ve learned from those mistakes. I’ve sat in a classroom for a year now, saw how my students learned, what motivated them and what bored them to tears, what was least useful, and what had them begging my co-teacher and I to stay a little longer even though the bell had rung five minutes ago. I know those things now and it’s not to stay that this coming year won’t be trial and error all over again, but what I will have on my side is familiarity, knowing my students, knowing my school, knowing my colleagues and co-teacher. I’m excited for my next year in service and really hopeful about the prospects. I’m ready to see my family and to stuff myself full with all the foods I’ve missed over the year, but it’s also really amazing how well I can see past those two weeks in America, to the tasks at hand I’ll have waiting for me when I get back to Kosovo.

Life can be real simple here. It can also be challenging beyond belief, but the simple things are sometimes the most beautiful things about life. Just yesterday I was looking through my Notes app on my iPhone trying to find where I’d written the names of all the peoples I’ve been, when stumble over this gem below (which inspired the title of this post). I wrote this list back in October, when I was still relatively fresh in my Peace Corps service. It’s amazing to read back over it now and realize how many of these things remain true and how it was ultimately living in Kosovo that made me consider, with intentionality, all the little things in life that make me happy. The list is by no means exhaustive and I don’t have favorites within it, but the last one really did make me smile.

The Many Loves of My Life

Family
Friends
Soul-binding relationships (platonic and otherwise)
Traveling
Kosovo
Handmade Jewelry
Silver
Silver handmade jewelry
My name necklace
Cooking
Eating
Sharing what I’ve cooked
Being praised for my cooking
Coffee
Starbucks
Flying
Airplanes
Airports
My room
Warm beds
Minimalism
Simplicity
The pursuit of minimalism and simplicity
Reading
Writing
The English Language
The study of the English Language
Chinese
Speaking Chinese
American Chinese food
American Japanese food
Food
Kosovars
Teaching English
And….
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer

 

“Certainly travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Mary Ritter Beard

Such a Hard Thing To Do

Every which way I look at this situation I don’t see myself as being in the wrong, but one thing I can say for sure that I’m guilty of is not keeping record. Over a month ago, I had a verbal conversation with the billing office manager, who also happens to be over us front desk receptionists. I’m blessed to work for a company that does monthly work schedules as opposed to the standard two week work schedule. Because I know I’ll be leaving soon, I was really eager to get my leaving date all situated so that I’d have ample amount of time to rest and get my affairs in order before I left, but not go broke in the process. I also wanted to not leave my place of employment hanging so I wanted to get their say in it as well.

The topic was brought up on the manager’s end in a very casual way- through Facebook of all things- just simply asking me if I was still going. I took this as a great opportunity to tackle the topic of my leaving date, so the next day at work I messaged her saying that I was still going, then paged her office to have a verbal conversation with her. I asked her when she would be starting the hiring process and if it was even worth it to for me to be put on the May schedule. She was very polite in the matter and told me that whatever day I wanted to leave would be the last day that I was on the schedule and that nobody would fire me or show any bias toward my scheduling, because they knew I was leaving soon. That made me really happy to hear and confident in the security of my job these last few months I’d still be here. She asked if I knew what day I wanted to leave and I said I’d like my last day to be May 16th. I followed up by asking if I needed to submit a formal resignation letter or if this verbal resignation was enough. She told me if I wanted to I could, but that it wasn’t a necessity now that she had all the information she needed. Now, mind you this was over a month ago and I still have a month left until my stated end day. Submitting a resignation letter at that time would have been dramatically premature, but I fully intended to hand in my resignation letter two weeks before the 16th. After the events of today I’ll be handing in my letter tomorrow.

What exactly happened today? So today, maybe about an hour after I got into work I received a message from the manager asking why I haven’t handed in my availability for June. That was really weird to me so I reminded her that I’m leaving the 16th of May so there was no need to answer the June availability email that had been sent out recently. No sooner had I sent that, did my coworker call to me and say, “I didn’t know you were working til to end of May”. I reply back negating his statement, but he answered back with, “But you’re on the schedule til the end of May?” Really!? Sure enough, I check the company wide email with the schedule attached and there I am on the schedule until the end of May. I go back to my messages and the replies from the manager are both shocked and accusatory, but at the same time needy, asking if I can finish out the month of May. I’m leaving on the 6th of June, so that’s just not an option. At this point, I really want to be accusatory right back, but I get my mom involved (bless her heart) by asking her advice and she says that being accusatory is not the way to go. Instead I reply back with a simple, “May 16th is the latest I can work. After that I have to start preparing to leave”.

To my shock, even more accusatory messages pile on and I’m busy trying to find proof of our past conversations until I remember that they were just that, conversations. I have absolutely no proof that these conversations have transpired between us already, except for my own word, but yet I feel really upset that my manager would accuse me of not caring about my job and putting her in a difficult situation. I remind her of the conversation and that’s when- just like I had been searching for for my own piece of mind- proof that this conversation did in fact happen. Well, of course you can’t prove a verbal conversation happened. unless of course you’re dictating the whole thing, which I wasn’t.

I’m not mad about the ordeal anymore, not even numb to the accusations. like I was awhile ago. It doesn’t bother me in the sense that, “Man, I can’t believe I was attacked like that at work”, but in the sense that “Man, if only I had proof to cover myself this would have been avoided”. I feel no malice toward the manager or the company, because in a month I’m done. If they do or don’t have coverage after my leave is none of my concern. I gave ample warning of my impending leave date, even if the manager doesn’t recall, but even if you take that bit of information out of the equation, I’m still not at fault. Conventional courtesy states that it’s best to give an employer a two week notice before you decide to leave. That in itself is not required. It helps to keep you in good standing with the company you leave in case you ever need to return or need them to submit a good referral to a potential employer, but it’s only a courtesy. Like I stated, I fully intend to extend that courtesy, tomorrow, an entire month in advance.

This situation has become one big lesson for me. The lesson learned: when it comes to business, document everything. Having proof is the best way to protect yourself. Save, save, save. Document important conversations and inversely if you don’t want something you said to come back to you don’t email, text, Facebook, instant message or leave voice mails that could be considered incriminating. I would love to leave my place of work on good terms. I came back once after China. Who knows between returning from Peace Corps service and trying to find another job or apply to graduate school, or whatever it is I decide to do with my life, I might actually need to come back. I’d like not to have to come back, but I’d be glad if it was a viable option. On the same note, the though after being burned like this so close to my departure, I’m a bit weary toward the way middle management handles things. I am not even kidding when I say that I was hire with management knowing that I would leave for the Peace Corps. I’ve been saying that I’m leaving early June since forever and going over and over in my mind if I’ve done enough professionally to make that clear. There was certainly a disconnect in communication and in the future I’ll remember to keep record to cover myself.