Countdown to Swearing In

In the last two weeks of Pre-Service Training, I hit a slump in my service but continue working hard until the very end. I try not to dwell on the “last‘s” and enjoy my time with my Peace Corps friends and Librazhd host family!

Monday, May 1, 2017, 9:50pm

11 DAYS TO SWEARING IN

We’re finally able to count down the days to Swearing In.

  • Only four more language classes.
  • Only four more lunches in Librazhd.
  • Only one more weekend.
  • Only two more projects (hopefully).
  • Only six more Hub days.
  • Only eleven more days.

The morning passed slowly. But I perked up as class ended because we took a field trip to the tregu (market). The rest of Albania had the day free (May 1st is an Albanian holiday), so the tregu was filled with people and vendors selling everything from produce to machetes and athletic wear. It was a lot of fun to browse through the stalls, try on sunglasses, and look at the pretty jewelry.

I came home around 5:30pm, and I had the house all to myself since the family had gone into the village for the holiday. I’m definitely going to miss my host family and I want to spend as much time with them as possible before I leave, but at the same time I know that I’m probably going to be pretty swamped once I get to my permanent site (or at least it’ll be weird if I lock myself away like a hermit in the very first week), so I’m trying to enjoy my little bits of alone time as much as possible. Continue reading “Countdown to Swearing In”

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3 Essential Tips for New Language Learners

Language learning isn’t easy, but all my hard work throughout PST was definitely worth it! I describe my tips for learning a new language and also share stories of some up and down moments from training.

Learning a new language from scratch isn’t easy, but with the support of great teachers, encouraging friends, and a patient host family, nothing is impossible.

Throughout Pre-Service Training (PST), I really dedicated myself to learning Albanian. I spent hours pouring over flashcards, speaking with my host family, and studying grammar. And by the end of PST my spoken Albanian was evaluated at an Intermediate High level.

I think my success is due to a combination of:

  • Having the language learning infrastructure in place (I know how I learn languages best after struggling with Chinese for so many years)
  • Having a good memory
  • And just practicing a lot

Also here in Albania, I’m very obviously a foreigner and no one expects me to know the local language. When I was in China, I felt really self-conscious about making even the tiniest of mistakes with my Chinese because everyone just took for granted that I’d speak their language.

But every Albanian that I meet is always pleasantly surprised when I can say even the most basic of greetings in Albanian. I get much more of a pass when I make mistakes in Albanian than I did when I studied abroad in Shanghai, and overall I’m able to speak the language with less fear!

My Language Learning Routine

Every day after our formal language lessons, I would come home and re-write all of my notes from class into a more organized notebook. I always did my review in my the living room so if I ever had a question about a grammar point or pronunciation of a word, I could ask my host family for help.

Continue reading “3 Essential Tips for New Language Learners”

The Annual Librazhd Tree Hike

In one of our last weekends before the end of Pre-Service Training, volunteers and trainees old and new came together for the annual Librazhd Tree Hike. It was a great way to get in my steps for the day and a good opportunity to get to know everyone a little better!

Sunday, April 30, 2017, 8:53pm

Whew. What a day. I woke up early, excited for the Tree Hike, and sat on the balcony with my host grandmother and our neighbors. We drank coffee, ate biscuits, and as we watched the people go by in the qender, it started to rain. Not a great sign for an outdoor activity.

Still I packed my backpack (and included a poncho), and met the Librazhd crew outside at the lokal (coffee shop). We chatted for awhile and the other volunteers and trainees slowly began to arrive around 9:00am. It was so exciting to see everyone in Librazhd, but it was also kind of like having your family at college – two different world colliding.

We got on the road around 9:30am, and we didn’t really stop or take any major breaks until we made it to the infamous tree. Despite the morning rain, we didn’t have even the lightest of sprinkles during our entire hike. It was truly the perfect weather – overcast and cool with a slight breeze. Continue reading “The Annual Librazhd Tree Hike”

COD Practicum Part 2: Ultimate Frisbee

We finish our practicum experience with a community event in which we teach students how to play Ultimate Frisbee! I’m not the best player, but I do love taking photos and got some good action shots! We all had fun being outside and active!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 9:46pm

What a day. We had language in the morning, which crawled by at a very slow pace, and then we finally had our Sports Day in the early afternoon.

As far as activities go, it definitely wasn’t the worst – but it probably wasn’t the best either. We had a pretty modest turnout (around 15-20 students at any one time, but probably around 40 overall), and most of our attendance was just from students passing by after class. Our methods of advertisement didn’t really work that well.

But we had a really good time regardless! I had so much fun playing frisbee, and I think I’m going to have to look into buying one (or grabbing one from the office) before I get to site. It’s a sport that I’m actually not too terrible at, though I took pictures through the entire Ultimate Frisbee game because it got too competitive.  Continue reading “COD Practicum Part 2: Ultimate Frisbee”

Site Placement Day

It’s Site Placement Day, also known as the day in which all the trainees learn where they’ll be living for the next two years. It’s a huge moment in our Pre-Service Training, and emotions are running high! After a long and drawn out day, I’m cautiously optimistic about my placement and excited for the future!

Friday, April 21, 2017, 9:47pm

It’s been a long week full of many, many, many emotions, and today we finally learned where we’ll be spending the next two years of our lives. So no pressure.

The Hub sessions today were a pretty good distraction from the main event. We talked through our practicum experiences, listened to a presentation on youth councils (including a Q&A with the students themselves, who were all very impressive), and sat through a long session on sexual assault. Then finally, finally, finally the moment came for site announcements.

Throughout the day whenever I’d let myself think about site placements I’d get a nervous shiver down my spine and a knot in the pit of my stomach. So I tried to focus on other things while doing my best to ignore the elephant in the room. But as we sat down in the Hub, things became very real very quickly.  Continue reading “Site Placement Day”

An Asian in Albania

As an Asian in Albania, I’ve had to learn how to deal with unwanted attention. I share three stories of truly overwhelming days, but for the most part I’ve learned to accept the extra stares as a part of everyday life here in my new home.

One of the things that’s been most difficult for me to adjust to in Albania has been the extra attention that comes with being a racial minority in a very homogenous society. I took my ability to blend in for granted when I was in China, and now I’m experiencing a brand new culture from the perspective of an obvious fish out of water.

UNWANTED ATTENTION

Most of the time during Pre-Service Training (PST), I would experience pretty low-levels of unwanted attention:

  • I’d hear whispers or outright exclaimations of “China” or “kineze” (which means Chinese in Albanian) as I walked past groups of people
  • I’d get a lot of extra stares
  • I’d be followed by children on the street
  • I’d be greeted with “Ni hao” and once even “Konnichi wa

But for the most part I lived a pretty quiet life in Librazhd. And not all of the attention was negative. People would sometimes come up to me and praise me for my Asian looks or Asian eyes, which is a different problem but at least they meant well.

I was able to shrug off the majority of unwanted attention because I knew that the comments and staring didn’t come from a place of malice. People were understandably curious about me and where I came from.

ADJUSTMENT AND COPING

On the other hand, when that extra attention rains, it truly pours. I don’t want to sugarcoat my experiences, so I’ll freely admit that at times I felt really down and discouraged, and I doubted that I’d ever truly fit in to this new culture.

In those instances, I really relied on my support network of trainees and family and friends back home to find the silver lining in every cloud. And for me coping is all about finding the right method for my mood and patience levels for the day. There will be times where I’ll want to address the name-calling head on and other days when I’ll just ignore the extra attention. Continue reading “An Asian in Albania”

Turning 23 as a Peace Corps Trainee

I celebrate my 23rd birthday (and first birthday in the Peace Corps) with lots of coffees, pizza, and good friends! I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve been given throughout the years, and I’m looking forward to two more wonderful birthdays in Albania!

Sunday, April 9, 2017, 10:35pm

Happy 23rd birthday to me!

I started off the morning by sleeping in until 8:30am. (So late!) Then I lazed around the house playing cards, eating breakfast, cleaning my room, and playing on my phone until I finally got dressed and went out for a walk with my host family. The weather was beautiful, and we ended up at a nearby restaurant for coffee.

After coffee I had a bit of downtime. I painted my nails on the balcony and enjoyed the feeling of having absolutely nothing to do. But soon enough it was time to meet up with the Peace Corps gang for birthday coffee. To my surprise, two of my friends had prepared small gifts for me (a super cute apron and a chocolate egg), and another friend had even brought cake from his host family’s house. It was so thoughtful of them!  Continue reading “Turning 23 as a Peace Corps Trainee”

A Week in the Life of a Peace Corps Trainee

My second full week at my training site is filled with lessons and new experiences! It’s a pretty typical example of the intense Pre-Service Training schedule.

Life as a Peace Corps trainee was packed with trainings and language classes. Our time was  scheduled to an extreme degree, and at the beginning of Pre-Service Training (PST) our training manager even remarked, “I’ll be able to tell you exactly what you’ll be doing on Tuesday at 3:00pm three weeks from now.”

With that said every week in training is a little different. There are some weeks with more language lessons and some weeks with more days spent at our Hub site (the consolidation point for all the trainees). During PST, there are some activities that are for all volunteers (like sessions on health and safety) and other activities that are sector-specific.

So without further ado, here’s an example of a typical week in PST (at least from my point of view):

MONDAY.jpg

Continue reading “A Week in the Life of a Peace Corps Trainee”

Conquering Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park

In my very first full weekend in Librazhd, my host family took me and five other volunteers on a hike in the mountains! I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself (and my friends) into. What I thought was going to be an easy walk ended up becoming an 15 mile trek and a fitting metaphor for my entire Peace Corps service.

Sunday, March 19, 2017, 8:14pm

My host mom arranged trip to the mountains for this weekend, and all of the Peace Corps volunteers in Librazhd were invited. Unfortunately two opted out (for various reasons), but the remaining six of us were all game to come.

We ended up in a giant group, which consisted of almost forty people – mostly strangers who were also there on the guided hike. We started the morning bright and early at 6:30am but the travel party didn’t actually move out until about 7:15am.

Once we got on the road, we drove up winding, narrow roads into the mountains. The views from the furgon (mini-bus) were absolutely gorgeous (and terrifying if you looked out the window at how close we were to the edge of the mountain). We saw tiny villages, famers working in their fields, and truly beautiful views of the mountains surrounding Librazhd.

After a trip detour at a mountainside lake, we arrived at the start of the trail. Little did I know going into the hike that our route would take us 15 miles deep into the mountains and incredibly high up in elevation. Continue reading “Conquering Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park”

My First Week of Pre-Service Training

During my first official week of Pre-Service Training (PST), I get to know my host family, experience my first language classes, and reunite with all of the other volunteers in the big city! Long story short, the food is amazing, Albanian is hard, and according to the mayor of Elbasan, “There’s no other country that loves Americans as much as Albania.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017, 9:45pm

This morning I woke to the sounds of the bustling city center below my balcony window and the shouts and laughter of my host family in the living room. Eventually I pried myself out of bed, got dressed and made up for the day, and joined the family in the living room for breakfast. To my surprise, I was served an entire bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. It was delicious, but not what I was used to in terms of breakfast foods.

After breakfast, Lusi (my host sister) and I played Uno outside on the sunny balcony. The weather was a little chilly, but the sunshine kept us warm. Around 10:30am, my host mother got the children dressed up and the four of us went out to a coffee shop! The cafe was at the peak of a minor hill, but it was still a bit of a trek. We were joined by two of my host mother’s friends and Klodiana, my host mother’s cousin-in-law. Three out of the four women spoke English, so every once in awhile they’d ask me questions or tell me about their lives.

One of the friends spoke to me in depth about the challenges she saw in Albania – mainly that there wasn’t much work for many young people, that the salaried jobs didn’t pay enough money to raise a family, and that there might not be as many opportunities for Albanians to move abroad in the future.

However she also said that despite the hardships, life in Albania is good for the most part. People make the most of what they have and try to enjoy the little moments that make up every day. Continue reading “My First Week of Pre-Service Training”