Saturday, July 18, 2015

Back to Blog

I haven’t blogged in a very long time, nor have I kept a personal journal. I suppose the last year of my service flew by under the radar with me trapping stories in my head. I’d like to make an attempt to continue to blog through my last year of service. Yes, last year of service meaning I’ve decided to extend my service as a PCV. To begin with I’ll answer some questions about why I’m extending. I’ll then continue to talk about my reverse culture shock and first impressions of being back in America (I’m on a 3 week ‘special leave’), and then I’ll go on to tell you about my future plans.

About 1 year into service, I would’ve told you I was going to be the first volunteer to sprint to the COS line to get out of Albania as soon as I could. It’s not that I didn’t like living in Albania, it’s that I had some things going on. First of all, I lived in Milot and I only felt like I had 1 volunteer close by. Mark was my “almost sitemate” and I was incredibly grateful for that. While I would spend time with Mark on many weekends in the beginning, I really spent most of the time with my Albanian friends and families, and while that has created many of my best moment in PC, it was extraordinarily draining. I was very integrated. I became very good at the language quickly. I was working my butt off at school. I was at a full speed sprint in a slow-paced world and I was at an all-time high level of productivity. All this of course made me super tired all the time. It was an awesome, unforgettable year that I couldn’t keep up with for another 2 years.

So the 2nd year came, and the light at the end of the tunnel of my service was in sight. Albanian politics landed my school director and counterpart in the unemployment line.  I was exhausted, and didn’t really find the same momentum towards teaching that I had before. Friends and family visited me that Summer, and I wanted to spend more time with them. Cramming love into 1 week is always a strange thing. Times were tough for a little while, but then things naturally began to get better. I helped my counterpart get a job with PC, the new group came in and re-populated my region with wonderful people (including my current roommate and boyfriend), and I began to see my problems as challenges more than impossibilities. I became less integrated with the community as a whole, but developed way stronger relationships with specific people in the community.  My language learning slowed down, but still improved and I tested at Advanced-High on my 2nd year exam. I got very close with other volunteers and overall, felt the sort of comradery you feel from being on a team. It was nice.
So nice isn’t the greatest reason to extend your service in PC Albania… and that’s not the reason. I came to the conclusion to stay in Peace Corps because…
I drew a little picture of myself. From that picture I drew 2 lines. 1 line pointed to “Stay abroad” and the other to “Back to the US.” I started with the US side. What would I do there? 1) Go to grad school 2) Get any job I could find 3) Live at home off my parents dime. Not one of these options sounded enticing. I didn’t feel ready for grad school. I didn’t want to pick a boring or entry-level job (I’ll need to go to grad school or get more international work experience first).  Option 3 was never really an option.
Then I looked ay “Stay abroad,” and before even looking at what I could do there, I just felt relieved. In my head I kept hearing my thoughts sat “If not now, when?” I continued to explore more about what I could do abroad and it looked something like this 1) Grad school 2) work abroad 3) teach abroad/travel 4) PC extension. I liked all the options. I don’t know why, but a boring job and grad school all seem so much more fun in another country. I took some time to consider all of those options. I thought to myself, “I’ve had a great 2 years of service, and I wish I could work as a teacher here for another year, but it’s just too stressful since the system is so chaotic and unorganized.” That’s when it hit me. Why should I not work to try and improve the system? I have knowledge of what it’s like in an Albanian high school. I‘ve had a lot of practice these past 2 years leading trainings.  I can communicate in the local language. I can try for a higher position, and why should I not do something to help?

On top of those thoughts, I have great friends here. I have an awesome boyfriend. I’ll have medical coverage and a support system, and I know Albania now.  Sometimes life just falls into place.
I moved to a new city called Lezhe which is 15 minutes by furgon from Milot. It’s a big beautiful city right by the seaside.  I work at the Director of Education’s Office as an English Teacher Trainer. My goals include improving the level of English and Teaching skills throughout the county, providing the teachers with more opportunities to be involved in outside activities, re-opening a foreign exchange program and creating a strong network of English teachers throughout the county.
I’m happy with my new job and location. Each year of PC has its own flavor, and I’m excited to see how my 3rd year turns out.
Before my 3rd year truly begins, PC rules say I have to leave Albania for a month for special leave. I suppose it’s for mental health, and now that I’m here in the US I understand. The entire month before I came home, however, I was incredibly stressed and anxious about coming home. I didn’t want to. It felt like cheating. I always wanted to finish my service completely and then go home. I had dreams during my service about roaming the aisles of Target and eating giant burritos, and I always envisioned myself returning home to that in a more permanent manner.  But I’m happy to be here now.

I have 3 weeks. It’s just enough time to see everyone once or twice, catch up and then take off again. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces, and there’s nothing like people from back home, but the things that really get to me are the familiar sensations, the falling back into routines I once had. Driving is everything. Driving is freedom, and when I’m in my lovely car rolling down a familiar road blasting a song I can actually recognize on the radio, I feel elated. Eating those foods that I’ve missed out on for 2 years and 4 months also brings tears of happiness to my eyes (which makes me look really realllly strange)! However, the amount of English being spoken here is overwhelming. I’m used to tuning out Albanian conversation and if I hear English, my ear darts to what’s being said. Now, I find myself eavesdropping every conversation that’s happening next to me. It gives me a headache.  I like home though. I just don’t know when I’ll be ready to live here again. I’m glad 3 weeks won’t be enough time for me to start forming any real attachments again.
I was going to write about my future plans, but this post is getting long, and I’ve only been here for a few days. Perhaps I’ll write another post before I go, and I’ll include more about reverse culture shock and future plans. Until then… I plan on eating ALL the avocados.

;) Creepy Albanian wink that I still continue touse in America. Hajde, shnet, Mirupafshim!