All good things must end

COS is hard.

For those non-Peace Corps Volunteers who may be reading, allow me to explain. COS is one of 623 million government acronyms that we like to use. It stands for “close of service” (or “continuation of service” for people who extend and stay another year in country). And it’s the best and worst time of a PCV’s 27 months in country. I’m speaking from personal experience here, as this will be my last blog post. I return to the US next week.

Never in my life have I been simultaneously ecstatic and depressed, filled with excitement and overwhelmed by dread. One minute I’m jumping up and down at the thought of eating sushi and burritos and hugging my mom, and 3 minutes later I’m sobbing at the thought of never stepping foot in my school again and never having coffee with my counterpart. My poor little brain can’t handle it.

You see, part of our job as PCVs is to integrate into our communities. They tell us over and over again during training that to be successful we have to adapt our habits, adjust to Albanian customs, get used to new cultural norms. We have to forge new relationships and find a way to feel at home while abroad. We have to bring pieces of America here and take pieces of Albania with us. So we do that, and we do it well. But then just 2 years later they tell us it’s time to go, and inside I’m thinking “Wait! I’m not ready! First you tell me to make Albania my home and now you’re telling me I have to leave? How is that fair?!”

We have so many times in our lives when we have to say goodbye and move on. We graduate from high school and go to university. Then we graduate from university and get  a job or go to grad school. Maybe we get married and maybe we move. Over and over again we go through this process of ending one chapter and starting a new one. But for some reason this feels different. I can’t just hop on the metro and see my college friends again. I can’t just take a road trip and a long weekend. Yes, America is a big place but people travel, it’s not that uncommon, so saying goodbye is easier. Leaving Albania is different.

I now have 2 homes and 2 families- one in the US and one right here. How can you say goodbye to people you love who’ve supported you and been there for you and built you up to the person you are today, and never know when you’ll see them again? I won’t be there to celebrate their future successes or hug them when they fail. I won’t get to encourage them to take a risk or stop them from making a big mistake. And that’s the hardest part. Not saying goodbye to all the memories but missing out on what’s to come.

If you had asked me 2 years if I thought I’d become so attached to this place I would’ve have laughed and say no way. I thought this was just a job. Just something I’d do for 2 years before moving on to the next thing. I never thought a little country in the Balkans would come to mean so much to me and become such an integral part of who I am. But somehow these people and this country and this language and this culture became a part of who I am. I get excited when I see Albania in the news or hear a reference made in a TV show. And I keep having to tell myself “Danielle, you’re not actually Albanian, remember? Calm down.” But I can’t, because I feel like I belong here. And that’s all thanks to the wonderful students and teachers and friends who I’ve met in Shkoder who welcomed me in and made me their family.

I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had here as a PCV and as a Shkodrane. I’ve made some incredible friends who I will never forget. And I hope somewhere down the line our paths will cross. Because in the end that’s the only thing that gives me the strength to get on the airplane. I just have to hope I made a difference and hope I left a mark and hope they remember all the things we did together and all the things we dreamed of doing. And then I just have to wait and see what happens.

…and thanks to my incredible students who put together this video for me. I love you all and good luck with everything you do!

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”