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

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My (Real) First Day of School

I feel like I finally have something to write about, apart from the day to day adventures of living and working in a foreign country, that is. School in Kosovo officially started September 1st, but unfortunately for me, my school’s currently being renovated. A new roof, new bathrooms, but until the bathrooms are complete the school can’t officially open up to the students. So last week from Monday to Thursday I got up, went to school, amended teachers’ meetings I couldn’t understand, received my books for class, and went back home. There’d be the occasional trip in to Peja for coffee, and the sporadic trip to Rugova where I ate the freshest fish I’d ever had it my life, but that was about it. I was told earlier last week that the bathrooms would be ready by Monday of this week and by the end of last week that statement was corrected and I was told that it’d be another week before they were complete.

Rugova Mountains

Rugova Mountains

I understand about the schedule changes. These things happen, but I was starting to wonder about what that meant for me as a volunteer. What would Peace Corps do if they found out that I wasn’t working in a classroom? What should I be doing instead, besides reviewing the books for the school year? I was considering contacting someone, maybe Peace Corps or the Ministry of Education and seeing if an open school would like a volunteer for a week, but today I learned about the solution that had been agreed upon. As it turns out when the school does finally open we’ll be having class from Monday to Saturday until all the missed days are made up for. My counterpart told me to keep reviewing and rest for this week, because starting next week or so, we’ll be having class six days a week, which I really don’t mind. I like this solution much better than going to visit a school in a community were I won’t be living and working in for the next two years. I’ll gladly work a few Saturdays if it means the students in my community get the attention they need from me when it comes to learning English.

Speaking of students, I had the chance to introduce myself to two of my classes today, while the students were in school being informed about the schedule changes. It was a perfect chance for me to gauge my students’ English ability to figure out what level of understanding most students where at in both classes. I’m really impressed at the level of English that both my classes speak. Because today wasn’t a real class day I tried to make the exchange communicative as opposed to focused on accuracy or grammar. There were nerves on both sides, but the more we talked the more they opened up and in the second class there were enough students to play a game.

After exhausting the standard, “What’s your name? “How was your summer? questions, I saw that I was losing their attention quickly. I asked if they wanted to play a game and this one student was very adamant in saying that she didn’t like playing games in the classroom. I almost went back to asking questions, but decided to at least try the game to see how it’d work. It’s a game I’d played myself before – while studying Albanian – called “Bang, Bang”, a game that another volunteer had introduced us to. It’s a game of speed. Usually how it goes is -when I played – someone would say a word in English and the people playing would have to be the first to say it in Albanian then yell “bang, bang” as they held their fingers like pretend guns. The person who said it first and correctly stayed in place while someone else replaced the loser. Minus, the whole having them fake kill each with pretend guns and shouts of “bang, bang”, I basically had two students stand in the front of the class facing each other as I called out a word in Albanian. It was the perfect opportunity to embarrass myself in Albanian, so that they knew it was okay to potentially embarrass themselves in English.

It was a great game for them, allowing them to review the English they’d learned, without the atmosphere being terribly competitive. By the time my counterpart said that it was time to go, all the students had taken at least two turns (including the girl who wasn’t interested in playing games in class) and they still expressed interest in continuing the game even though “class” was over. That kind of enthusiasm for school makes me really happy as a teacher. It’s going to be challenging at times for sure, but I’m confident that this is going to be a great school year for all of us.

 

 

“Teaching is more than imparting knowledge, it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing facts, it is acquiring understanding.”  ~William Arthur Ward

It’s Official

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I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s a title that’s really interesting to use and that we’ve all been working toward for the last 11 weeks. The distinction was made very clear throughout Pre-Service Training (PST), that we were Trainees until we took the oath even though we were considered volunteers, for volunteering our time to travel halfway across the world to serve in another country. I understand the distinction now more than ever and I’ll continue to understand it in different ways the further I progress in my service.

I don’t really know how to explain yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony other than it was very emotional, more emotional than I’d prepared myself for. The ceremony itself was very straightforward, very nice. A lot of people gave very moving speeches about their hopes for Peace Corps in the coming years including the Ambassador to Kosovo, Tracey Jacobson and Kosovo’s President, Atifete Jahjaga. We had the honor of being sworn in by the Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet and of being the first group she swore in as the new director (a lot of first in Kosovo). One of my favorite parts was when two of our very own gave amazing, very well practiced speeches in Albanian.

The hardest part came during the informal reception when I had to say good-bye to my PST host family. Kosovo’s a small country so it’s guaranteed that I will see them again, but even if that is the case, the dynamics won’t be the same. I don’t live there anymore and even though I was always kind of a visitor, I’ll be a visitor for real whenever I go back. Internalizing that was the hard part and the part that made the tears flow. It was amazingly ironic having my host sister wipe away my tears telling me not to cry in Albanian as tears fell from her eyes. I could tell my host brother and sister were happy for me. I was happy for myself and I wanted to express that happiest, but it was a hard thing to do knowing that I wasn’t returning to the comfort of the home I’d known for the past two months. Instead I’d be traveling to my permanent site in the Peja municipality to begin my Peace Corps service not even an hour after swearing in (well maybe an hour, I was too emotional to keep up with the time).

My awesome host sister and brother at my swearing-in ceremony.

My awesome host sister and brother at my swearing-in ceremony.

That’s where I am now, in the Peja region meeting my new host family members (I have a big family here in Peja), getting a feel for my site, and trying to mentality prepare myself for the toughest job I’ll ever love (Peace Corps should seriously consider bringing that slogan back). It’ll take awhile to get used to my new environment, but I’m up for the challenge. I’m also comforted by the fact that even though I’m the only volunteer in the Peja area, there are 24 other awesome volunteers walking this Peace Corps journey together with me in Kosovo. We came in as 25 and we swore in as 25, which is so reassuring. I’m positive that great things are going to happen in the next two years and I’m so proud to be a part of Kosovo 1.