My Life, not an Experience.

One wise Peace Corps volunteer that has been here a year longer than I have gave me some advice at the perfect time. I feel like things aline when they need to. The older I get the more I understand what people mean by fate/luck and whether it is a concept we make up or not. This was indeed what I needed to hear.

“Don’t bother counting the days. The end will come when it comes and what seemed at the time so far away will eventually be too close for comfort. Enjoy yourself and remember that this is your actual life for two years, not an event for you to spectate. Embrace what’s out there to be embraced while you can. Everybody goes home someday, just make sure you don’t ‘leave’ before your time’s up.”

Indeed, this is my life. This is my village.

Five months ago I didn’t know a word in Albanian. A sentence in Macedonian. Or what I was committing myself to for the next two years. I knew nobody.  I was taking a huge leap and trusting my gut feeling that this was meant for me. Little did I know, this experience is completely UP TO ME.  I can control how much I do and how I use my talents. Everyday is different.  Some days are fun filled and exciting. Other days are challenging and make me stronger.

I didn’t do the Peace Corps because I thought it would be easy. I didn’t sign up and go through the application process because I didn’t know what to do next in my life. I did the Peace Corps because I wanted to make an impact and I wanted to work on my weaknesses and share my strengths.  I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone and have a different perspective of myself and the world.

Although I am just on my fifth month, I can already see myself changing.  My attitude about so many things has changed. I feel like I have so much more control over my life, but none at all, at times. Living with a host family for two years is something that a lot of Peace Corps volunteers don’t get to experience. It is a blessing and a challenge depending on what family you are placed with and how you approach the challenges.

I am lucky. I am lucky because I knew I was ready for the Peace Corps and I prepared myself in the right way. I am lucky because I was placed with a host family that wanted something new and challenging to face.  All the host families don’t know what they are signing up for. Who does?  Would I honestly just sign up and commit to hosting someone for two years? That’s a scary thought indeed. Trying to have empathy when I can is a heathy thing to use when I find myself overwhelmed or frustrated. Everyone in my village committed to have me for two years; whether they knew it or not.

Overwhelming myself:

I need to find a daily routine that fits me and who I am here. I need to find motivation to run everyday; not just a couple times a week. I need to find time to study Albanian, teach my host father and host sister English. I need find time to learn the guitar. I need to find time to just be in my village and go to people’s house. I want to see other parts of Macedonia. I want to get the most out of this experience.

Stop. Wait. This is not an experience. This is my lifestyle for a big chunk of my life. What feels right?  What feels hard? What is challenging?  What makes me happy? What makes me sad? Being aware of my actions and doing what is a mixture of the above feelings is so critical.

There have been days where all I want to do is stay in my room and read. So I do.

There are also days where my Albanian language is just flying out of my mouth. So I talk with my family and teachers at the school with style.

There are days where all I want to do is go on a 8 mile run and come home and just sit in the shower and let the rain fall on me. So I do.

Other days I crave American food. So I cook some for my family and take note on what they enjoy and what they dislike. If all I want is American food I would like to make what they enjoy.

Other days I want to devote everything to my teaching and I spend hours planning and planning.

Here is a picture collage since the last time I blogged:

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I went skiing with my host father, host cousin and host sister. It was absolutely  delightful 🙂ImageImage

The ski resort is very different to American ski resorts, but wonderful to hop on some skis again!

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The wonderful trout from Ohrid that my host family made one night. I ate an entire fish…all to myself…yep. It happened.

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After a month of smog sitting over Tetovo. The rain came and this beautiful rainbow graced my first week of work back! 🙂

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One day on my 15 minute walk to my school from my house. I just couldn’t stop looking at the mountains across from me.

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Two weekends ago I decided to go camping. I was set on the idea. So I convinced some friends to go with me and check out this beautiful place near Kratovo, Macedonia called “Valley of the Stone Dolls”. It is beautiful.  It just so happened that it rained and snowed all weekend. We got drenched in the rain. The two boys in the picture are Shea and Jake. They convinced me to go into a random person’s house near this rock formation and have coffee and piveet-a gross pig jell-with this generous family.  It was interesting to just fly by the seat of our pants when our pants were soaked…

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We spent a night in Kratovo hiking in the snow and playing poker.  It was nice to have other volunteers take care of me and translate Macedonian…because my Macedonian is disappearing…and fast.

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I present to you the first girls Pallchiste basketball team.  I hope most of the girls stick to coming to practice the next couple of months. The parents are really behind this because it gives girls something to do after school.

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Last week was my sweet host sister’s sixteenth birthday.  I made her a dark chocolate espresso cake.  It was wonderful to be baking.

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These are two of my classes. One of them we were playing pictionary to review some words. And the other class we drew monsters with the vocabulary they just learned.

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I had a guest this weekend. She is a volunteer in a village near Kumanovo and here she is curled up in MY bed. It was amazing to have Britt come visit us this weekend. She was a delight along with Sarah, Shea, and Jake three other volunteers that visited us this weekend.

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I pulled my first all-nighter as a volunteer watching the football game…and it was not worth it. Why Broncos? Why?

From last week; I attempted to use a projector, but we discovered the one in the school doesn’t work:

Coming back to school, it has been a bit of an adjustment. Waking up early, finding my energy that I lost over break, reminding myself that I represent effective teaching, my experience is completely up to me and my community.  I decided to start this semester with a bang. I am running three different programs and have talked to the director to get the technology sitting in the corner to be used in the classroom.

Today, today I am using a projector for the first time. This will probably be the first time that these students are exposed to the projector. Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in the spirit of that I am doing my lessons with my teachers completely centered around “I have a dream”. I want to see the students think outside of the box.  This is something I try to have the students do as often as possible. It is like sharping a crayon with a pencil sharpener, but with time, I think it’ll become easier.

I am going to show them this:

And have them get out the journals I had them get for this semester, completely devoted to their thoughts.  The students that cannot communicate in English, I am having them write as much as possible in English and then use their native language when they struggle. There are no Albanian-English dictionaries. Most of the students do not have access to computers and internet at home and the books they are given don’t even have dictionaries. Dictionaries are a great resource, so expecting them to write completely on their own in a different language without resources is a unrealistic goal.

So, easing them into the idea, having them write what they can in English, allows them to express their own ideas and think outside the box, which is one of my main goals here: changing the thought process and level of thinking with the students and teachers.

Along with changing the technology and thinking, I am going to have two advanced English clubs each meeting once a week.  This will allow me to test different teaching approaches to see how these students respond and see how I can apply them in a classroom. As one of my best friends says, “It’s your own charter school, at least the purpose of charter schools at first.” Indeed, I can test anything on these students and see how I can differentiate it. We will watch movies, journal, discuss debatable topics, and follow the interests of the group.

Also, I am starting a girls basketball team. This will be 6-8th graders at my school.  We are going to meet twice a week at an outdoor basketball court right next to the village’s mosque. Every girl, in every single class is interested in joining the club.  The excitement and interest is wonderful music to my ears.  I know that most of the girls will not stick with it, but if at least 5 girls stick with it, we will have a team.

Finally, I am going to have an Albanian X-Factor at my school. I am going to have a talent show in April that will hopefully compete against other schools.  Every student is convinced they will win.  Every song has to been in English, which is a great way to get students not excited about English to trick them into learning some English.

In the end. This is my life. Not an experience.

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