This week we had our Close of Service conference so now I can officially say I’ve reached the beginning of the end of my time in Albania. What a whirlwind.
When I first arrived in Albania and was suffering through training (affectionally known as PST), I thought this day would never come. I was living with a host family in a village outside of Elbasan, and the weeks dragged on as I went from session to session and listened to speakers explain with monotonous detail what the next months of my life would look like. I was so anxious to get my assignment and get to work that I let those precious moments of awkward cultural integration slip right by me. For better or for worse.
But now that the time is nearing for me to go back home to to Washington, DC I can’t help but reflect on what has been an incredible journey in Albania. Without a doubt the next few months will be bittersweet. I know for some volunteers it may be more sweet than bitter to be going home to the amenities and luxuries of life in the USA, but for me I think it’s quite the opposite.
Serving as a TEFL volunteer in Shkoder has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. And coming from a very non-religious person, I chose the word blessing for a reason. When my group of 40something volunteers first got our assignments, I remember physically jumping up and down out of pure joy at being place in Shkoder. I also remember the looks of resentment mixed with jealousy and confusion on the faces of my fellow PCVs. Life in Peace Corps isn’t always fair. For one reason or another some of us get placed in big cities while others are placed in small remote villages. Some of us spend our days with the support o NGOs and big foreign donors while others go it alone in the face of adversity and resistance. Some of us live with host families, some in run-down apartments with turkish toilets and 1 hr of water a day, and others in private homes with internet and electricity 24/7.
They emphasize over and over again how everyone’s service will be different, but I don’t think we really understand the extent of that difference until we arrive at our sites and see what we’ll be doing for the next 24 months of our lives. So yes, I was blessed to be placed in Shkoder. I haven’t had nearly as many difficulties and I didn’t suffer nearly as much as many other PCVs in Albania (not to mention PCVs around the world). But if there’s one thing I hate most, it’s trying to compare the service of PCVs to one another. You simply can’t do it, so please don’t try.
At COS conference this week, we focused a lot on how to sell our PC service to future employers and how to describe it to friends and family back home. But honestly I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do that. The last 2 years of my life here have been full of personal and professional transformations that are impossible to describe. I’ve made some of the best friends of my entire life in this country. I’ve had both the hardest day imaginable and the best day ever, and probably back to back. My service in Shkoder was a mixture of every single paradox you can think of. It was difficult yet simple; rewarding yet frustrating; uplighting yet depressing; challenging yet mind numbing. Which I think is a commonality amongst PCVs world wide. It’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
But if you really want to understand what it’s like to be a PCV in Albania, come and try it yourself.
It’s a strange feeling having an official day that marks the end of my time here. But when I got off that furgon and arrived in Shkoder after the conference ended, I took a deep breath and tried to let it all sink in. For the next four months I want to savor every moment. Remember every detail. Etch it all into my brain so that I never forget the way this country looks and feels, the way it’s changed me as a person, and the mark I’ve left on this place. There will always be a place for Albania in my heart, that I know for sure.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”