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

So Far

I’ve been in Kosovo for three weeks now, so it’s about time I’ve written something about my experiences here. The problem is that so much has happened these last three weeks that if I were to give you a minute by minute post of everything, I’d have a novel length post. To generalize things a bit my opinions on Kosovo haven’t really changed all that much since writing my “Kosovo First Impressions” post. If anything they’ve gotten better. I still think that Kosovo is an absolutely beautiful country. Just when I think that I’ve finally gotten use to all of the natural beauty around me, I take a walk down an unfamiliar road or a hike up a hillside, and I’m blown away all over again by the beauty that’s before me. There’s probably a part of me that will never get over the fact that I walk out the door to the sight of rolling hills every morning .

The view from my house in Kosovo.

The view from my house in Kosovo.

People are so amazingly pleasant as well in Kosovo. My host family is amazing and they’re so patient with me as I completely destroy the Albanian language or struggle with explanations of cultural concepts. They’re quick to tell me that my Albanian is improving when I get a particular word or sentence structure right and are very delighted when I take interest in learning about their culture, like how to make Turkish coffee for example. I pretty much have that down so if I ever have guess in my house in the next two years I’ll probably offer them Turkish coffee or Turkish tea. I haven’t learned how to make Turkish tea yet, but I’m eager to learn. I’m very careful to watch my host mom and sister as they work in the kitchen. I’m really determined to learn how to make different Kosovar dishes, because I think it’s some of the best food I’ve had so far. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks though. Sometimes my host mom will start cooking at around 4:00 and the food won’t be ready until around 5:30 or 6:00 when we all sit down to eat. Other times they can have a meal prepared within the blink of an eye, which is nothing but skill to me.

My host sister and I the day we were introduced to our host families.

My host sister and I the day we were introduced to our host families.

Strangers are very pleasant as well and that has a lot to do with Kosovar and American relations, which is a entirely new topic of its own. The general consensus seems to be that people want us here, that they’re happy that we all like and are taking an interest in their country. I’m asked all the time how I like Kosovo and when I say that I like it here and that Kosovo is beautiful people’s moods seem to lighten. It’s like a point of pride for them to have a foreigner praise Kosovo, which is totally understandable. And the Kosovar people should definitely be proud of what they have here. No country is without its ability to improve, but at the point I’m in right now, I feel like there’s a lot more that I’m learning than I’m imparting on the community. That’s really what PST is all about though, integrating, language learning and technical preparation so that we can be effective volunteers once we swear in and enter service. I’m really looking forward to it, my two year service as well as my next eight weeks of PST. I want Kosovo to become my home, but I also want to think of each day I’m here as an adventure.

It’s Here

Today was my last day with family and friends and surprisingly I’m not as freaked out about leaving as I have been these past few weeks. I think it’s a mixture of having support from my family and the actual date being so close. There’s no more time to be nervous or freaked out. At this moment I just have to be ready and I think I can say that I am. I’ve done the whole leaving and coming back before, so at this point it doesn’t seem like “Good-bye forever”, but just a really long “See you later”. Two years will fly by in no time and at that point I’ll probably be sitting here writing about how Kosovo has become my home and how, even though I’m happy to be going back home, it’s really hard to say good-bye to the family and friends I’ve made in Kosovo. At least, I hope it turns out that way.

Bittersweet moments are a part of life and just because I’m calm and collected now, doesn’t when I won’t become a big ball of tears when my family finally sees me off at the airport tomorrow morning. I’ll be in Washington, D.C. for a day before flying out together with the other volunteers chosen for Kosovo. I think it helps a lot that we’ll have a chance to meet each other here in the States before heading out. We’re the first wave of Peace Corps Volunteers to head into Kosovo and while the notion is exciting, none of us know what to expect, because no one has ever gone before us. Joining the Peace Corps is already a scary endeavor without having to add novelty to the equation, but to be honest, I think that’s why I was so drawn to this particular program. Either way this will be my life for the next two years and I hope to share as much as possible of it with you. Look for new pages that will answer questions like why I chose Peace Corps, acronyms the Peace Corps uses, what I packed and what I should have packed, and specific situations that are unique to my particular story. Also if you’re in the Peace Corps, thinking about joined, an RPCV who’s finished their service, or you just like traveling, then I’d love to hear your story as well.