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Meeting My (First) Albanian Host Family

After orientation in Tirana, I travel to Librazhd and meet my Pre-Service Training host family for the first time! Long story short, it’s a day filled with ups and downs as the reality of Peace Corps hits me all at once and I experience an embarrassing mini-meltdown.

Saturday, March 11, 2017, 9:26pm

Whew. It’s been such a long day, and there are so many things to write about that I hardly know where to begin. May as well start from the beginning of the day.

By 8:30am, everyone had eaten breakfast, gathered for a picture, and packed into the bus for our departure to Elbasan. The ride itself was very stop and start along twisty, narrow roads, and we drove up into the mountains almost the entire time.

When we arrived at the hotel in Elbasan, we headed straight into language training. I’m afraid not much of it really sunk in – I was way too overwhelmed to categorically put new words into my short term memory bank. After the language class, everyone filed upstairs to a dining area to meet our host families and share our first meal together.

Continue reading “Meeting My (First) Albanian Host Family”

First Impressions of Albania

After a long plane ride, I arrive in Albania! The first two days in Tirana are a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and emotions. From orientation sessions to our first language classes, we are kept very busy! In a nutshell: I love the food, the language is really difficult, and I’m at information-overload!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 7:45pm

Whew. The worst is over (for now)! After two plane rides and lots of napping, I’m finally in Albania! It still feels like a dream – like I’m not really here at all.

Our Peace Corps crew got going in the late morning. We piled onto the buses, said goodbye to our facilitators, and then headed for the airport. Check in was organized chaos, and despite all of the confusion no one got left behind in Miami.

I mostly slept for the entire nine-hour flight, and when we arrived in Frankfurt we had a really difficult time trying to find the right gate. We got turned around and retraced our steps – all while maintaining a very brisk “Amazing Race” pace. It was kind of intense.

The final plane ride was only two hours. When we landed in Albania we went through immigration, and then there was another flurry of organized chaos as we all tried to find our checked bags and board the bus for Tirana. Our staging manager greeted each of us at the airport by name (first and last!), and he could recognize us all by our faces!

Getting off the plane, I think everyone was in a state of extreme exhaustion – though adrenaline kept some people awake and energized. As I looked out the airport windows at the beautiful, scenic mountains I felt a burst of excitement – but that pretty quickly faded as I boarded the bus and exhaustion took over again. Continue reading “First Impressions of Albania”

What to Expect During Staging

So now that you’ve gotten your invitation, been medically and legally cleared to serve, and packed all your bags – what’s next?

Staging.

Staging is an an event that serves as an orientation to the Peace Corps and the general demands of being a healthy, safe, and effective Volunteer. While only a brief one or two days, staging is filled with an intense amount of activities and training. Also staging takes place in the U.S., which allows all the volunteers from the same cohort to gather and fly to their country of service together.

Here are some general things that incoming Peace Corps volunteers should expect from their staging experience: Continue reading “What to Expect During Staging”

The Night Before Peace Corps

On the night before the beginning of my Peace Corps service, I reflect on my upcoming journey – my emotions, expectations, and hopes for the next two years.

Welcome to the first post in my Peace Corps Albania series! I’ll be sharing my experiences these next two years through select journal entries and topic-specific posts.

I promise do my best keep things as real as possible. From the good to the bad, it’s all a new adventure for me, and I’m grateful for every minute!

Friday, March 3, 2017, 11:54pm

Well, the time has finally come for me to say goodbye to my comfortable vacation in back home. I tried to keep things as normal as possible today, so apart from a flurry of packing in the afternoon I mostly just lazed around the house like usual.

I’ve been hit by moments of anxiety randomly through the day. When I first woke up and took a shower, my hands were shaking. I felt almost short of breath as I began to pack. And now as I’m trying to fall asleep I can’t get comfortable until I write down my pre-Albania thoughts. Continue reading “The Night Before Peace Corps”

My Peace Corps Albania Packing List

Packing for any length of time can be a chore, and when I first began to assemble the items that I’d need for two years abroad I was completely overwhelmed.

What should I bring? What should I leave behind? How many bags should I take? How many jars of peanut butter is too many jars? 

But thanks to the help of multiple Peace Corps Albania blogs (especially The Lone Blonde, An Idiot’s Diary, and Holy Shqip Xhilli is in Albania), Reddit posts, and the Peace Corps website itself, I was able to put together my own personal list of items for my service.

This is a living, breathing list – at least for the next two years! As I experience different seasons in Albania I’ll add any new items that I think would be helpful for new volunteers!

Just keep in mind, Albania is a unique country and some of the items on my list won’t necessarily be applicable to other Peace Corps posts. Continue reading “My Peace Corps Albania Packing List”

3 Do’s and Dont’s of Peace Corps Prep

Applying and preparing for Peace Corps service is a long process, and unfortunately everyone’s timeline is different.

Here is my Peace Corps application timeline in a nutshell:

May 23, 2016 Applied
June 3, 2016 Placed Under Consideration for Albania
June 17, 2016 Received an interview request
June 23, 2016 Interviewed
July 20, 2016 Invited to serve
August 11, 2016 Received legal clearance
October 28, 2016 Received medical clearance
March 4, 2017 Departed for Pre-Service Training
March 8, 2017 Arrived in Albania

For me the invitation was just the beginning of a long period of preparation filled with paperwork, medical appointments, and lots of difficult waiting.

And after completing the entire process, I have a couple tips for new volunteers about the pre-service preparation process: Continue reading “3 Do’s and Dont’s of Peace Corps Prep”

7 Tips for the Peace Corps Application

Applying to the Peace Corps can be incredibly intimidating. When I first began my application, I was totally overwhelmed by the process. I had dozens of questions, and I didn’t really know where to go to find the answers I needed.

For Peace Corps applicants, here’s how the process works in a nutshell:

  • Search openings and decide if you’d like to apply for specific postings or if you’d rather leave your options open and “go anywhere and do anything”
  • Complete the online application, which includes a resume, motivation statement, and two recommendations (one from a good friend and one from a more professional connection)
  • Interview (usually via some form of videoconferencing software)

Today I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania, and I thought I’d share my tips for navigating the Peace Corps application. But if you don’t want to take my advice, there are many other online resources as well! Just Google searching “Peace Corps application process” yields a lot of really useful results, like the Peace Corps Application Step-by-Step Guide from the University of Montana.

I can’t guarantee that my advice will work for every Peace Corps applicant, but I hope that my experiences will be helpful! Continue reading “7 Tips for the Peace Corps Application”

Why Did I Join the Peace Corps?

Over the past few months (both in and out of America), one of the questions I’ve been asked most often is, “Why did you join the Peace Corps?”

I first learned about the Peace Corps through television shows and other media, but I never actually considered it an option until I was living abroad in China. I’d been in the country for a few months, and as I was scrolling through Facebook I came across a message in my university department’s group – an alumni had posted about an urban planning position through the Peace Corps in Albania.

I was still almost two years from graduation and at that time I was in no way ready to commit to becoming a volunteer, but that single post planted an idea in my mind and it quickly began to take root. Continue reading “Why Did I Join the Peace Corps?”

Breezing Through Baltimore

My internship with the Office of Sustainability at my university took me all the way to Baltimore! I tried delicious seafood, walked along the harbor, and learned about the many ways colleges are making the world a “greener” place!

As an Environmental Studies major, I’m passionate about making the world a more sustainable place. And as a junior I was given the opportunity to work in the university’s Office of Sustainability as a Campus and Community Engagement intern.

For a year and a half, I helped the department plan marketing campaigns, plan big events, and manage different social media platforms. This past October, I attended the AASHE Conference, which is a sustainability event that brings together hundreds of university professionals working on environmental issues.

This year the conference was held in Baltimore, Maryland! I’d visited Baltimore twice before, but it had been so long since I’d been on the East coast that the city was almost entirely new to me.

Here are some of my favorite experiences from my Baltimore trip: Continue reading “Breezing Through Baltimore”

Three Memorable Moments from Maui

On a family trip to Maui, I learn to surf, hike a volcano, and go cliff diving on the Road to Hana! It was a definitely a vacation to remember!

Living in the middle of the Midwest, my family has always been landlocked – save for the few times every four or five years that we’d take a big vacation. I’ve been to the beach a handful of times, and my time in Hainan taught me a lot about living near the ocean (mainly that sunblock is a necessity, not an option).

In 2015, my family decided to take one last big family trip to Hawaii! My mom’s cousin Lisa lives on Maui, and we were extremely lucky to have her as our guide. She was able to show us all of the best local seafood, beaches, and hiking spots – and I learned that I’m a big fan of all of the above! I would absolutely go back to Maui if I ever got the chance.

While nearly all of the experiences in Hawaii were new to me – here are the three most memorable moments from my Hawaii trip:

Continue reading “Three Memorable Moments from Maui”