Volunteer Visit: Round 2

Every year, during pre-service training (PST), new trainees travel to different cities all across the country to visit current volunteers and experience real volunteer life. PST is an intensive experience where practically every minute of every day is planned out for new trainees. Last year, I visited a volunteer in Rreshen for my volunteer visit. I remember being so excited for the future and had a blast taking some time away from the strenuous schedule of PST. We drank American coffee, went on hikes, explored castles, and had our first taste of independence in Albania. Since I enjoyed my experience so much last year, I wanted to pay-it-forward and host trainees in my home this year.

This past weekend, three new Group 17 trainees came to visit me and my site-mate. Quinn and Jefferson are English education trainees that shadowed Kate and Olivia is a health education trainee that shadowed me. We spent the weekend having plenty of coffees, exploring my site and Durres, taking pictures, binging on American food (Girl Scout cookies and tacos – can it get much better?!), and having nightly movie marathons with my new projector. It was so much fun meeting new Americans and showing them some of the basics. Then on Monday, the trainees had the opportunity to shadow us at work. My counterpart and I planned to do a lesson on the harmful effects of smoking and implement the lesson with a jeopardy game that I created. This lesson went over very well thanks to my new projector; big thanks to everyone back home that helped donate money. Having the projector completely changed the entire lesson. The students were extremely engaged and interested. Some of them seemed shocked to find out some of the different chemicals that are found inside cigarettes. It was, hands-down, the best health lesson that we have implemented thus far! I am glad that Olivia was able to witness the success.

Now, my time in Peace Corps Albania has officially reached over the half-way mark. I am going into my second year serving as a health education volunteer and life finally feels like it is going smoothly. I have integrated into my community, built better relationships with my counterparts and coworkers, speak the local language enough to get by in most situations, and ultimately feel good about my service thus far. Having the trainees here really reminded me of how far I have come since I first arrived in Albania in March of 2012. I can’t wait for my second year in country and I can’t wait to get to know the other awesome Americans in group 17 that I will be spending this next year volunteering with!

The new trainees

The new trainees

Getting together the presentation

Getting together the presentation

Smoking presentation

Smoking presentation

The new projector is AMAZING!

The new projector is AMAZING!

 

 

Our First Fundraiser!

Several weeks ago our Outdoor Ambassadors youth group decided to hold our first fundraiser. We wanted to begin raising money to do different projects in the community like garbage cleanups, community gardens, planting trees, and painting trash cans to beautify the city. The students felt other people in the community would be interested in a movie, so the club voted to play the second film in the Hunger Games series.

During the initial planning phases of the fundraiser many things went awry. Luckily, since working in Albania, I have become accustomed to working last minute conditions. In order to have the fundraiser, there were several steps we had to take in order to have the activity. First, we had to get permission from the Mayor and the Culture Center to hold the activity without a venue fee. The students wrote a short proposal for the mayor outlining what kind of projects we will use the money for and then the mayor agreed to let us use the venue. It took several days for us to receive permission and this made many of the students nervous because we did not want to start promoting the activity before receiving the proper go-ahead. We finally received permission to have the fundraiser two days before the event.

After that, I spoke with some of my community connections to find us a projector and the other necessities for the fundraiser. The students found the movie with Shqip subtitles online and did all the promotion. Much of the promotion was done through social media. The students created a Facebook event and endorsed the event in different Facebook groups. We made two big posters and hung them up in town, but sadly the posters were torn down within a day. The club also made fliers and hung them up last-minute. I am not sure if it was that helpful to hang the fliers an hour before the event, but it definitely didn’t hurt either.

The students were very hesitant throughout the planning stages of this project and were constantly arguing about small details. They wanted to cancel the event because of all the last-minute planning, but I put my foot down and forced them to continue on with the event. In the end, the event was absolutely amazing and a BIG success. It was definitely worth all the drama beforehand. I set my expectations low for the event because I didn’t know what to expect, but the students blew me expectations out of the water. In the end, the club raised over $200 and over 100 members of the community came out to support the event.

Even though the event was a success in my books, it is noteworthy to mention that the participant’s behavior during the event was absolutely horrid. Many students were talking loudly during the whole film. People were shining their phone lights all over the theater. There were several incidences of profanity directed towards me. Students continued to try to smoke inside the theater (which is common in Albania – people smoke everyone, including inside schools). And someone ended up unplugging the projector during the middle of the film.

The event made me realize how patient I have become since working here. None of the incidences above even fazed me. I was just so pleased that the students put in all the hard work and in the end had something to be proud of. Nothing like this has ever been done, by students in my community, before. After the event, all the students were smiling from ear and ear and I was genuinely so impressed and proud of them for pulling it together despite all the difficulties. This fundraiser has been the highlight of my service thus far and I am looking forward to having more events, such as this, in the future. These students are the voice of the future and give me hope for this wonderful country.

The students selling tickets before the show.

The students selling tickets before the show.

Our lovely Outdoor Ambassadors youth group.

Our lovely Outdoor Ambassadors youth group.

The president of our group.

The president of our group. I don’t know why I am wearing those glasses…

Some more awesome club members!

Some more awesome club members!

The boys setting up all the technology before the showing.

The boys setting up all the technology before the showing.

So many people came out for the show!

So many people came out for the show!

Trying to get everyone's attention... wasn't that successful.

Trying to get everyone’s attention… wasn’t that successful.

Celebrating our success after the show!

Celebrating our success after the show!

That Won’t Work

The phrase, “that won’t work,” is one of the most common sayings that I have run into while working in Albania. Albanians are regularly telling me that certain ideas I have won’t work for one reason or another. I can understand certain projects or activities being somewhat idealistic and unrealistic based on available resources here, but I hear this phrase constantly – even with simple ideas.

While working with my Albanian counterparts at the Directory of Public Health I have tried to implement several strategies to help promote health education more effectively in our community. My main push has been trying to execute games or activities into our health lectures. Usually, my counterparts decide the day of whether or not they feel like giving a lesson that day. This can be based on many different things including the weather (if it’s raining we for sure will not be giving a lesson), how well they slept, or a wide variety of other reasons/excuses. If they decide yes, the lesson usually consists of a 10-20 minute lecture on a topic. Typically, materials such as posters, Powerpoints, and games are not included into these lessons. If they are included, there are maybe five copies of a word document that several of the students can look at during the lecture. When I mention including games and activities, I am quickly shut down with the answer, “that won’t work.” What is the reasoning behind why things won’t work, you may wonder? To be honest, I am still not sure. I have explained several times how planning ahead with directors and teachers would allow us more time to spend with the students giving a quality lesson that they would learn from. Slowly, my counterparts are becoming more open to planning ahead, but even if we have a great plan and the rain comes then “that won’t work.”

Another example of the “that won’t work” phenomenon I have experienced working with the Outdoor Ambassadors youth group. My site-mate and I recently started a youth group working with students at the high school to promote leadership and environmentalism in the community. We are in the process of planning our first fundraiser to help raise money for future projects in the city. We decided to hold a movie night fundraiser in the theater of the culture center. Along the way we’ve come across a couple snags and several “that won’t work” moments, but we’re still chugging. Hopefully the event will be successful and we’ll be able to continue to have more fundraisers to beautify the city.

Many Peace Corps volunteers in other areas of the world face different challenges, but here in Albania we are faced with trying to change mentality. And trying to change mentality can be very tricky and discouraging. I am a firm believer that you cannot change others, they need to have the desire to change themselves.

Personally, it can be difficult for me to work here when people feel my ideas will not work. I came to Albania and to Peace Corps to help spread new ideas and to help develop capacity of those that I work with. I think the “that won’t work” trend is abundant here because people are resistant to change. It is apparent to me why many Albanians would be resistant to change after the fall of communism, but that doesn’t make it any easier to work within this system. There are many reasons why people are resistant to change and I think there are 6 main reasons why many Albanians I have met are hesitant to alter their behaviors.

  1. Uncertainty: Many are unsure how making changes will affect their lives. They don’t know what to expect when things begin changing because they have been working within a broken system for so long. People are uncertain of how implementing changes will affect their status within the community. They do not want to be seen as having a failed project.
  2. Competency: It is common for people to pay for their degrees here. That means that the doctor you’re visiting for an exam may not be skills. The teachers who are working with your kids may not be knowledgeable and they often lack creativity outside the daily workbook exercise. (Note: Even though some people pay for their degrees, I have met many competent, hard-working Albanians.)
  3. Mistrust: Many Albanians do not trust each other and do not want to work (or be friends with) people outside of their daily circles. My friend who is a doctor has experienced this firsthand on several occasions. In America, she would constantly rely on her coworkers to help out with certain cases in the hospital, but here doctors will not consult each other. Some doctors will travel over 45 minutes to consult with her instead of working together with other doctors in their offices. My friend feels part of this could be that they do not want others to realize their incompetence in the medical field.
  4. Changes to routine: Albania, much like the rest of the world, is a culture that relies on routine. Families wake up, women clean the house and cook breakfast, men go out to the coffee shops and have their morning espresso and raki with friends, men work outside the home – women inside the home, families eat meals together, young boys and men hang out in cafes and grungy internet shops, students attend school, people sit in their offices and sip Turkish coffee for hours while gossiping, etc, etc. Changes to this routine throw people off balance.
  5. More work: Another one of my good friends has mentioned that he feels his counterparts do not want to work with him because he equates more work. What is the point in doing more work if everything is going fine now? My coworkers are required to make a monthly plan, yet they rarely follow it.
  6. Workplace hierarchy: This is probably one of the main reasons why people are hesitant to change in Albania. Workplace hierarchy is extremely important and all the final decisions are in the director’s hands. This holds true for the health centers, schools, community centers, and all government organizations. Someone could have a really great idea, but if the director doesn’t agree then it just won’t happen. Many people are scared to even bring ideas to the director because of his position in the organization. There is a definite presence of fear when it comes to dealing with many directors here.

My reasoning behind this blog post is not to put Albania or Albanians down. If anything, you all should know how much I love Albania by now. Yet, this is something that I face daily and it can be extremely frustrating. Even though things can be difficult it is important to maintain a positive outlook and continue trying. Don’t give up, ever. During moments of uncertainty I like to think of this quote:

“Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will!”

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Special Olympics Project UNIFY

As many of you may remember, this past summer I helped volunteer at Special Olympics Albania alongside many awesome Albanian volunteers. The Albanian volunteers and Peace Corps volunteers worked together to make the participants’ experience one to remember. Special Olympics Albania is starting a new initiative this spring called Project UNIFY.

What is Project UNIFY?

Project UNIFY is an initiative through Special Olympics that aims to bring together youth and people with intellectual disabilities through sports and education programs. All the participants come together and unify through sports and other projects. Everyone is equal on the game field. Project UNIFY works with students to develop skills as change agents in their communities to begin advocating for those with intellectual disabilities. The program works with schools to develop youth leadership, community collaborations, communications, professional development, unifying programming, and sustainable relationships. Through inclusive sports and programming friendships are formed amongst all participants creating an environment of respect, dignity, and advocacy for all.

Youth working together: Project UNIFY.

Working together: Project UNIFY.

Project UNIFY in Albania

The program has been around for seven years and is just coming to Albania. The pilot program in Albania is focusing on two schools in Tirana, the country capital. During Spring break last week, students from the high school were invited to a short 3-hour training to learn more about the program and benefits of participating in unified sporting events. The students learned about Project UNIFY, appropriate terminology when working with people with intellectual disabilities, and brainstormed ideas on how to include all people within community activities. Another Peace Corps volunteer and I were invited to share our volunteer experiences from this past summer with the students. We also helped facilitate some of the small group work during the training.

Later on in the year, these two pilot schools, alongside Peace Corps volunteers, will come together with people with intellectual disabilities for unified sporting games. I am hoping their will be a possibility to include the youth group at my site in some of these games. The sports that were offered during the last Special Olympics games included basketball, table tennis, bowling, and soccer. These same sports will also be part of the Project UNIFY programming. After the initial games, Project UNIFY aims to have students and their communities begin grass-roots games to continue the initiative in their neighborhoods.

To learn more about Special Olympics Albania visit their Facebook page.

The participants from the first training.

The participants from the first training.

Some of the key leaders of Special Olympics Albania.

Some of the key leaders of Special Olympics Albania.

The participants at the second high-school training.

The participants at the second high-school training.

 

How Social Media Completely Changed My Peace Corps Service

Growing up as a Millennial, part of Generation Y, technology has almost always been a big part of my life.  Once I hit middle school, I began spending copious amounts of time on AIM, Myspace, and other social media outlets. The constant connection to people through technology and social media continued into high school when I received my first Facebook in 2004. Facebook was originally only a social outlet for college students and then it opened up to high school networking. When I first joined Facebook, users had to be invited to join and you could not join without an invite from a current member.  Oh how the times have changed! Technology and social media have been a central part of my life; I have almost had Facebook for half my life. That being said, I have always been connected to these sites, spending hours chatting with friends, posting photos, and catching up on the Newsfeed. I probably like Facebook and social media a bit more than your average person (or I can at least admit my time-consuming love). Sometimes social media is somewhat of an addiction, but it is what it is. I was initially worried when I applied to join the Peace Corps that I would not be able to stay in contact with my friends and family back home, but luckily I was sent to Albania – where internet connection is prevalent and there is an opportunity to get wireless internet set up in volunteer’s homes through the local internet providers.

After I finished Pre-service training in the village, I moved into my own apartment and had the opportunity to set up internet in my home. At first I decided to not have internet because I didn’t want to use it as a crutch for my boredom (which I definitely do at times – it’s inevitable).  After a couple weeks without internet, I caved and set it up. It was definitely a good choice because a lot of Peace Corps communication is sent via email and since I am on several committees we also use email and the internet to do most of our communication. Being in Albania, two major social media outlets have completely changed my experience here for the better: WordPress and Facebook.

WordPress: My Blog

At first my blog was just a small attempt of updating my friends and family back home about my life and adventures here in Albania. When I first began writing the blog it was very mundane and just followed my daily happenings in the community.  It was hard to update my blog during pre-service training because I did not have consistent access to internet in the village while living with my host-family.  After writing blogs mainly about my daily routine, I decided to describe “50 Unique Observations about Albania” based on my initial impressions of the country and my small travel experience abroad. A lot of my observations that seemed unique to Albania, can actually be seen in several parts of the Balkans. However, at the time I had only traveled outside of the United States to Mexican resorts with my family, so I didn’t really have much experience abroad under my belt. Sometime in the late summer that blog post went viral and received over 50,000 views in under a week. Super overwhelming, to say the least. At that time I was still in culture shock, having a hard time adjusting to living and working on my own in a completely different culture.  There was nothing that I could do to stop the attention. People had gotten a hold of my blog and began sharing it on Facebook, and then their friends shared the link, and so on until I received thousands and thousands of views per day. Some people were mad; others found my posts inspirational and eye-opening. Can’t please them all.  Since my blog went viral, I have used my presence on WordPress to educate people back in America about my experiences abroad, as well as Albanians within the country. Several publication companies, including the Tirana Times, a newspaper in the capital of Albania, have contacted me to publish pieces. Pink Pangea, an online community for women abroad, published the most recent piece regarding sexism in Albania. Now over six months later, I still continue to receive hundreds of views a day. Just the other week, I was stopped while traveling outside my community by a nice Albanian woman who is an English teacher in Tirana. She recently read my blog and was using it in her classroom as a discussion topic! Hopefully, sometime during my service I will be able to guest lecture in one of her classes.

My blog acts as an avenue for discussion about Albania today and how we can all work together to improve this beautiful country for the better. I am so happy that I decided to begin writing a blog because this experience will forever be a part of me, even if my bad-memory persists. I will always have this journal of my time here and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to all the Albanians and people around the world that do read my blog and continue to praise me for my work and time spent here. All of your comments really do fuel my fire and help me feel better about the work that I’m doing here. I am glad that I can serve as an inspiration and fresh perspective.

Facebook

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After my blog went viral I decided to set up another Facebook account under my Albanian name Xhilli Xhastin (it is how you spell Jill Justine in Shqip). This Facebook account opened up so many new doors for me because it became a way for me to network with Albanians all across the country.  Students from national Outdoor Ambassadors events, followers of my blog, other volunteers I met through Special Olympics, people in my community, and anyone who adds me is welcome to be my friend and get an inside look at some of my experiences in Albania.

Through this Facebook account I created a health promotion page called Këshilla për Shëndetin Shqipëri (Advices for Health in Albania).  The page posts information according to annual health calendar distributed by the Ministry of Public Health.  I post information in Albanian about health advice, community health events, and basic health information.  My Albanian counterparts help me with the page through translation and identifying pertinent information. As of now, the page has 497 likes and I hope to have at least 1000 likes on this page before I finish my service. Hopefully, after I leave Albania, this page will become sustainable through the work of other health education volunteers in group 17 and their Albanian counterparts.

I am also in charge of several other Facebook pages including ATIP Albania, Outdoor Ambassadors Albania, and Outdoor Ambassadors Kavaje. These Facebook pages follow the work of Peace Corps volunteers and students in their community. The ATIP Albania page focuses on the anti-trafficking efforts in Albania through the Peace Corps anti-trafficking committee. The Outdoor Ambassadors Albania page highlights the work of environmental youth leadership groups across the country and the Outdoor Ambassadors Kavaje page shows what activities the youth group in my area is working on.

Having Facebook pages has been a wonderful way to promote my service in Albania, as well as a great way to promote the work of awesome Albanians and other organizations in this country. Along with Facebook pages, Facebook groups have been a wonderful way to communicate with students in my community.  These groups allow for Peace Corps volunteers and students to discuss youth group initiatives, homework help, etc. We use a Facebook group to plan Outdoor Ambassadors projects and community work in my site.  It is an easy way to communicate because a lot of the students have a Facebook app on their phones.

Facebook has been such a great way to keep in contact with Albanians and people back home. It has also introduced me to another aspect of Albanian culture, because Albanians LOVE Facebook.  Observing how Albanians use social media and Facebook has really given me another insight into their culture and has allowed me to become better friends with people that I wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise. A big thing that I have noticed about how a lot of Albanians use Facebook is that they love to “like” everything. I will post a photo and within the hour it will usually have 20+ likes and some photos even have over 100 likes. Especially selfies, most Albanians love selfies. I enjoy using Facebook and having another account has vastly improved my service. My online persona is just as important, if not more so, than my persona within my own community.

So, if you haven’t already, please add me on Facebook and follow these Peace Corps pages. Peace Corps Albania is even hopping onto the social media buzz and we are the first Peace Corps country to have our own Facebook page. Social media is a powerful tool and using it to my advantage has been an integral part of my time here.

20 Life Lessons Learned in the First Year of Peace Corps

1. Life is all about perspective. Perspective can make or break your Peace Corps service, and your life. If you look at everything with a negative lens, everything will seem negative. It is important to maintain a positive perspective on life.

2. Networking is important. Networking and establishing relationships with people is an vital part of maintaining work and community connections. I learned that in order to get any work done in my community it was imperative to have a positive relationship with my Albanian counterparts.

3. Patience truly is a virtue. This is especially true when working in a community outside the hustle and bustle of the states. Things that would normally happen in a day in America, often take a week or more here. Things that happen in a week, usually take a month and things that happen in a month could often take up to a full year. I often remind myself of the mantra, “just breathe” because I am in situations daily that test my patience. Whether it be waiting for over an hour to catch public transportation or dealing with a difficult work situation – patience is key.

4. Don’t measure success only through work. This one was especially difficult for me to comprehend because my whole life I have been conditioned to think that success comes from work, but in reality, to be successful in life is so much more than doing a good job at work. It is better to look at success through how many positive relationships you foster in your life, or how many people you make smile in a day.

5. Know when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’. People are always going to want things from you and it is important to know when to say no. Personally, people are always stopping me, asking to help them get to America or learn English. I honestly don’t have time for certain things and have learned the skill of letting people down easily. I am not going to have a billion coffees with people everyday because my alone time is important for my sanity. Guard your time and know when to accept and when to decline.

6. Be grateful for something everyday. I spent a good majority of my life in a depressive state of mind, often feeling sorry for myself for things that happened in my past. The only person that this negative attitude really affected was myself. Everyday is full of special moments and something to be grateful for. Even just being grateful for a warm bed or the sun shining can turn a negative day in a positive day. Changing your mindset and having gratitude really helps in fostering a happier, healthier lifestyle.

7. Admit faults and failures. Failures are merely stepping stones and life lessons. If you never fail, then you are never pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. My service has been full of ‘successful failures’ and admitting those failures have helped me grow and find projects that are truly worth my time. No one is without failures.

8. Don’t waste time in one-sided relationships. This has been a continuous struggle for me for most of my life. I have put a lot of time and energy into relationships and friendships that were mostly one-sided. It isn’t worth it to stay in unhealthy, unsupportive relationships just because it is comfortable or easy. If people don’t treat you with the respect and support you deserve – drop them. I am a hopeless romantic at heart, yet I seem to always fall for those who don’t treat me right. Relationships and friendships should be built on mutual understanding and compassion.  Surround yourself with supportive friends. I have realized the most important relationship in my life is the relationship with myself. Like Carrie from Sex and the City says, “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. If you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

9. Mental and physical health is key to maintaining sanity. Taking time out of my day everyday to exercise and meditate has been my savoir here. I am now in the best shape of my life because I have taken time to work out everyday. Fitness doesn’t just happen overnight, it is a process. I am still working towards a more healthy, fit lifestyle. Now I can proudly say that, for the first time in my life, I can do a real pushup and I can run for over a mile outside without stopping. These are great accomplishments for me.

10. Kindness is more important than correctness. This one can be hard for me sometimes because I often get into discussions with others where we do not agree on certain topics or issues. I now take these conversations as an opportunity to be kind, rather than to be correct. We all have different experiences, perspectives, and ideas in life. Sometimes it is better to nicely disagree, rather than arguing about who is correct.

11. Time is of the essence. Time flies by. Life flies by. Sometimes the days felt like they were years, but looking back at my first year in Albania I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have already been here for a year. Now my service is almost half-way over. Use your time wisely. Whether that means picking up a new hobby or spending time reading or exploring. Do one thing everyday for yourself and remember that time doesn’t stop for you.

12. No one is going to hold your hand through life. I definitely learned this one quickly after Peace Corps dropped me off after staging with my host family and I could barely say, ‘how are you’ in the local language. Awkward. Then relearned this again after traveling to site and having the overwhelming feeling that no one will be there to hold my hand along the way. Self-motivation is key to being successful in life and in Peace Corps. Staff will not be following you around or calling you everyday to see what you’re doing. You have to motivate yourself to do things in your community that you want to do. You have to motivate yourself to have successes.

13. Everyone isn’t going to like you. Ain’t that the truth? I have always wanted everyone to like me. Really who doesn’t want to be liked? But the truth is, not everyone is going to like you. And sometimes people don’t even have a good reason not to like you. Everyone in life is not going to always get along and like each other. Spend time with people who do like you and forget about those who can’t see how amazing you are.

14. Love yourself. Cliché I know, but if you don’t love yourself how can you expect anyone else to. I have spent so much time not liking myself and not liking certain aspects of the way I look or the way I react to things. I can honestly say, that I truly do love myself now. It took a move across 5,869 miles to finally realize that I am worthy of love and that I am worthy of self- love.

15. Don’t judge what you don’t understand. Sometimes it is so easy for me to judge things here that I don’t understand, but I often have to put myself in check and realize that there are lots of things here that I will never understand. Rather than judging people or things, I try to learn from these experiences and expand my mind regarding differences in all of us.

16. Comparing yourself to others is deadly. This one is a killer of most Peace Corps volunteers that I know. We are often all comparing ourselves to each other (whether we admit it or not). This isn’t only a Peace Corps thing, but also a life-thing. It is easy to envy others and things that they have that you don’t. In Peace Corps specifically we all may be in the same country, but we all have vastly different experiences. Two people may even live in the same town, but have completely distinctive understanding of life here. Men and women live dissimilar lives here and it’s often hard to imagine the other side of things. Instead of comparing ourselves, it’s better to just support each other in our successes, failures, and everything in between. Remember that your Facebook feed is full of people’s happy moments and things they want to share with friends. Usually people don’t post things regarding disappointments, depression, or the like. Facebook is not a well-rounded reality, so don’t compare your daily routine to the fake reality of social media.

17. Slow down. Like I mentioned before, time is of the essence. Slow down. Take time to smell the roses or go on a bike ride to the beach. Take time to sit and have coffee with your coworkers, even when you just want to work, work, work. Life is too precious to rush through without noticing the little things that make it wonderful. Xhiro, and xhiro slowly.

18. Set realistic goals, and set them often. I came into Peace Corps knowing that I wouldn’t change the world, but I still wanted to try. I had a lot of unrealistic expectations about what my service would entail. After being here for a year, I have realized the importance of creating reasonable goals and reevaluating them often. Having sensible goals makes for a successful service and a successful life.

19. Everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher. Just because I am here, as a health educator, does not mean that I am the only teacher in the equation. I have learned so much from my Albanian friends, students, coworkers, and other volunteers. Everyone has something that they are good at, and everyone knows something that you don’t. Take time to learn from others. Even those who may drive you crazy are teaching you different things, such as patience and compassion. As my Albanian tattoo says, “Sa të rrosh, do të mësosh,” which in essence means, “You are never too old to learn.”

20. Be yourself. I was so worried that I needed to act a certain way because I am living in a completely different culture. It is good to be culturally sensitive, but also maintain your true character through it all. I feel like I have impacted far more people just by being myself and sharing a positive life outlook than I have with actual health sector work. Be yourself, because YOU are awesome!

At my parents house the night before I left for Albania.

At my parents house the night before I left for Albania.

In my host-families village during pre-service training a year ago.

In my host-families village during pre-service training a year ago.

Hanging out in my city over the summer.

Hanging out in my city over the summer.

Happy Women's Day!

Celebrating Women’s Day recently. One year down! One to go!