I’ve been traveling a lot this summer, all over Europe. Being in the Peace Corps in Albania has been such an amazing opportunity for me to see other countries since it’s right in the heart of everything. It’s literally in the middle of the map. No kidding. Go look it up.
But I’ve come to realize that every time I leave Albania, I develop a kind of homesickness for this crazy place. It’s so easy to rag on developing countries and what PCVs lack or give up when we commit to 2 years of service abroad. But honestly, I think I’ve gained more than I’ve given up.
Just last week I was sitting in Munich, Germany with my parents drinking a local draft brew and stuffing my face with bratwurst and sauerkraut. And I thought I was in heaven. Oh my god, words cannot describe how good food tastes when you haven’t had it in a year and a half. But after five days of binging on pretzels and hefeweizens, my body craved the fresh vegetables and fruit stands of Shkoder, the light pale ales served in .2 L glasses rather than 1 L drafts bigger than my head, and the simple clean fish straight from our lake.
It’s a weird feeling, to be homesick for a place you’ve only lived in 16 months. To find yourself mumbling Albanian expressions at passersby or during dinner conversations because there just isn’t a good enough direct translation in the English language to capture the moment. To miss the things you thought you hated most (like xhiros and cheap wine and flea market shopping). And strangest of all, to find your parents more technologically savvy (and straight up glued to tv, internet, and their cellphones) more than you are.
But one thing is for sure, the more I travel and see my friends and family from back home, the more I realize that Albania has made me a better person. A calmer person. A more stress free and go with the flow kind of person. A more accepting and tolerant and easy to please person. And for those of you who knew me before Peace Corps, you’ll understand just how much that means.
You can say that before living in Albania I was little high strung. Okay, more than a little. A lot. I was a perfectionist and a control freak and stubbornly determined. (Yes, as you can see, I’ve had a lot of time here for personal reflections. It passes the time on cold and lonely winter nights when the sun sets at 3pm and the power is out for hours on end.) So thank you, Albania. I think I needed it. Here’s to 9 more months of living and learning and eating my way through this beautiful place I can now call home.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”