A Forthright Fusion


Hello everyone! I’m back at blogging from a different account. Please follow my new blog ‘Forthright Fusion’ to hear more about my travels, grad-school, and my life in general!

Originally posted on forthrightfusion.:

Life is all about change. I’ve realized how true that statement is as I’ve gotten older, especially in the past several years of my life after I graduated from Colorado State University in 2012 with a Bachelors degree in Social Work. Undergrad was great; I had way too much fun and drank way too many PBRs.

Throughout my youth I always wanted something different, a fresh start, new friends, you name it. I felt trapped in Colorado – the only place that I knew as home. It wasn’t because I was unhappy, although I definitely dealt with bouts of depression, but I always had this desire to explore and experience new things.

So… I did what any rational twenty-something would do and I decided to join the Peace Corps to move halfway across the world. I always considered volunteering for the Peace Corps, so during my final year of undergrad I decided…

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What Is vs. What Was

I often wonder about what people think when they look at my life under a magnifying glass. I served my country; I spent two years abroad in a developing country working on the grassroots level as part of a community as one of the people. Yet, in a sense, I was always an outsider; I was always someone separate. I was the American in the community. I was “special,” whether or not I deserved that status. I think back to my time as a Peace Corps volunteer and sometimes it literally just feels like a dream… like a far away, distant land that I made up inside my head. I still keep in contact with my friends and students, but it is different. And honestly, I can’t expect for it to remain the same because I no longer live in Albania. I don’t even live on the same continent. Everything is so different. Despite my best efforts to try to keep everything the same, especially when it comes to my students and the relationships I built while living in Albania. Everything is not the same. It will never be the same. I have a completely new life now.

This new life… well, it’s strange. I can’t deny that it is amazing. It is great. It is new. It is challenging. It is everything I ever dreamed for myself. I am learning new things about myself and about the United states, but… is this what I want? I think this is a question that so many people, especially Millenials, struggle with. What do we want? We are all pulled in so many directions. We are socialized to desire two conflicting lifestyles. On one hand we should be independent and strive for our own personal desires and success in life, but on the other hand we should settle down and pick a partner, pick a career, pick a “life”. I know that I have made many good decisions in my life (and I am extremely happy, and satisfied, with where my decisions have led me to this point), but still I don’t have all the answers, and that is f*cking frustrating. Why does society make me feel like I should have all the answers?!… when in reality nobody has all the answers… and that’s the point…

In Albania, I met so many people that changed me, that shaped me, that made me a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experience that I had serving in Peace Corps. Coming back home is harder than most people anticipate. Being replaced – by new American Peace Corps volunteers, by sustainability, or not being replaced at all – is difficult. And then readjusting to the culture that once was my own, but now feels so foreign. I don’t know, honestly. It’s hard. Harder than one can imagine. The day that the new Peace Corps volunteers in Albania wanted to kick previous volunteers out of our Facebook group (a group that once meant solidarity, trust, and so much more beyond a social network) was the day that I realized how much my life had changed in the past half-year. I realize that sounds lame to base so much upon a social network group, but when I was in Albania Facebook and other social networks were my only connection to other volunteers and my family/friends back home. But, I’m not a current Peace Corps volunteer anymore. I am not there everyday to serve my community. I can’t relate on the same level to volunteers that are still in country anymore… because I’m not there anymore. It’s hard to come to terms with that.

To join the Peace Corps I had to give up my entire life in the United States. I had to give up my friends, my lovers, my hometown, my entire life, to become something different. And yes, some people thought this decision was “selfish” and self-serving, but at the same time… it was so much more than that. I wanted something more from life. I received everything I wanted and more from my experience in Albania. I just wish people could understand how much I had to give up to come back home….

These girls were my everything

These girls were my everything

We liked having coffee together

We liked having coffee together

I miss walking down the stairs of my apartment complex for fresh fruits and veggies

I miss walking down the stairs of my apartment complex for fresh fruits and veggies

I created bonds with many wonderful people in my group and now we don't even live within driving distance

I created bonds with many wonderful people in my group and now we don’t even live within driving distance

I loved spending holidays together with my new family

I loved spending holidays together with my new family

Or having my Albanian family cook me amazing meals, just because...

Or having my Albanian family cook me amazing meals, just because…


It’s weird how quickly life goes by. It feels like just a blink of an eye and my entire existence in Albania has dissengrated. One moment I was saying goodbye to my students, my home, my boyfriend, and my life in Albania – shedding quite a few tears along the way. Now I sit in my apartment in a completely new place in the United States and a completely new life. This is one of the first times since I started school that I decided to take the night off and take a step back from homework. I can’t even begin to explain how incredibly busy I have been since returning back to the states. I got used to living a lifestyle of leisure in Albania. It was definitely a slower pace abroad and I can’t deny that I definitely enjoyed that. I miss sitting for hours at a coffee with friends and chatting about life. Now the only reason why I would be sitting at a coffee shop for hours is to do homework and I can attest to the fact that homework is not necessarily as enjoyable and sipping on kafe express in Kavaje with Chuck. I have three jobs including my internship for school. I am an enrollment specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. I also work for the admissions office at Wash U and I am one of the official bloggers (the blog hasn’t gone live yet, but I’ll provide the link once it does). And my practicum placement is in East St. Louis School District 189. It’s been super enlightening to work these new jobs and I feel like I’m learning a lot about my community, as well as the apparent inequality and oppression that Americans continue to face to this day.

I don’t know how to describe my transition back to the states. It hasn’t been easy. That’s for sure. But at the same time, it’s been okay. I have gotten used to the new normal of my life. Missouri is vastly different than Albania (and even vastly different from Colorado), but it’s exciting and new. I am experiencing different things all the time and I’m getting a great education. I am happy because I know that I’m on the right path to do exactly what I want to do with my life. I am a great social worker and now I am finally in a position where people appreciate the skills that I bring to the table. It doesn’t hurt that I attend the number one social work program in the country either. And it isn’t that people didn’t appreciate me in Albania, but there were always so many additional barriers that made it difficult to get things done.

I still listen to Albanian music everyday. My laptop desktop background is a picture of me and all the KYAC students on my last day. And I still talk to Quinn daily. I yearn for the familiar and my time in Albania. Yet, this is my new normal now. And it’s not bad. It’s actually pretty great.

It’s the Little Things

Sometimes Peace Corps volunteers might not feel like they were effective during their service. They feel like they could have done something more. Maybe spend more time out in the community rather than binge-watching Netflix in their apartments. Maybe starting more projects or whatever.

My Peace Corps experience was more than I could have ever hoped and dreamed for. It changed me for the better. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. I am stronger because of joining the Peace Corps and I am happier because of the time that I spent in Albania. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect and smile about all the wonderful times I spent there.

There were times that I wanted to pull my hair out and just give up. There were times that I wanted to hole up inside of my apartment. But there were also times that I laughed with good friends over coffee. There were times where people invited me inside their homes and showed me what true hospitality is. There were times that projects were successful (despite many of the “failures” along the way).

I still talk to many of my Albanian friends everyday. I have even received a few phone calls from them. Luckily Albanian phone plans are pretty great and many people I know have at least thirty international minutes a month that they can use (to call me!). Every time I receive a call or a message I feel eternally grateful to still have these people in my life, even though we’re not in the same place anymore. I was really worried that when I left Albania I would lose a lot of the relationships that I created during my service, but thankfully that is not the case.

Today my friend Joan called me and was telling me all about how he has been spending the summer. He is currently with his family at his beach house having a bonfire next to the sea. They are BBQing fish that they caught yesterday. I can imagine it as if I was there and that makes me homesick for Shqiperia. Joan began telling me about how my presence in Kavaje changed him and the others that I worked with for the better. He said he is more “American” now (which I take pride in). His family has noticed a change in him and even they have begun to interact differently within the family. Joan said, now “we work together and mind our business. We’re starting to reason like you do. We plan things out. We can’t forget you. You’ve been here during a very delicate part of our lives.”

It’s the little things that really matter. I’m so happy that I was able to help influence my friends and students to take small steps to change their lives. I miss them so much, but I know someday we will all reconnect.

Me and Joan during an Outdoor Ambassadors activity my first year of Peace Corps

Me and Joan during an Outdoor Ambassadors activity my first year of Peace Corps

Getting Easier

As each day goes by it is beginning to get a little bit easier. I am not quite as emotional about leaving Albania and I have begun to look back on my experience there. I have been swapping stories with other travelers and it’s been good to share about some of my time in Albania. There are things that I miss greatly, but there are also things that I am glad I don’t have to deal with anymore.

Last week I had a swift kick back into first world reality and received a fifty-eight euro fine for not buying a bus ticket in Innsbruck. That is definitely not something that I am used to, but teaches me a lesson. Things are quite as lenient in other parts of the world and it is important to play by the rules. I am sure that as I continue to readjust back into another culture more things like that will continue to happen. I was annoyed, but honestly not even that upset. I didn’t follow the rules and now I have to pay the consequence. There is nothing I can do about it, so no point in dwelling in my mistake.

The same goes for my time in Albania. There is no point dwelling in the past. I have to enjoy this experience. Enjoy the now. And look forward to the future. Just because I am not in Albania doesn’t mean that I won’t continue the relationships with people in Albania that are meaningful to me. I’ve tried to keep in contact with my students and other Peace Corps volunteers. These connections won’t falter just because I am not physically there anymore.

Even though this trip has been long, I think it has been good for me. I do think that this will help me readjust back into American culture and I can honestly say that I am looking forward to getting back to America. Europe is great, but I am ready to be back with my friends and family for a bit. I am excited to have a burrito again. I can’t wait to go up to the mountains and hopefully reconnect with a few of my Peace Corps friends back in the states (especially my Colorado buddies Susan and Paul). I think grad school was the right decision and I think that going back to school will be hard, but rewarding. My future is bright. It’s time to look back on my past with feelings of fondness and appreciation, rather than missing something. Everything changes in life, but I have to just take solace in the fact that I know everything will work out for the best.

In Between

Saying goodbye to Albania was unreal. To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real. Leaving Peace Corps and leaving Albania was much harder than leaving America. I think it is because of the unknown. It’s difficult to say when I will be able to return to Albania because of school, money, and life in general. I can’t deny, however, that more than anything right now I wish I was still there. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about Peace Corps and about Albania. Peace Corps told us that reintegration would be rough, but my reintegration hasn’t even really started yet and I’m already all mixed up.

Most of you know by now that I have started traveling across Europe by myself before I head back to the states. Don’t get me wrong, traveling is great and I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, but it is still challenging. This is my first time traveling solo and there are definitely pros and cons. I just miss having my travel buddy Quinn around to share the experiences with me, but luckily I have met a bunch of cool people along the way.

I’m in limbo at the moment. Traveling and taking in new experiences. Trying to process where I have been vs. where I am going. How will my life these past two years shape me into who I am going to be. It’s such a strange feeling.

Giving up everything that you’ve worked for is exhausting. It’s weird not knowing the direction that the new volunteers will want to take the projects I poured my heart into. Recently, one of new volunteer in my city told me that the girls at the youth center said I was their role model when they were having a discussion about leaders. It made me cry. I wished that I could have been there to do GLOW camp with them again and to continue to build on the activities that we’ve started. But I’m not, so now what?

I am trying to soak up this lifestyle of having no obligations, no responsibilities, the freedom to do whatever I want and go wherever I want. Even though I am sad, I am also trying to be optimistic. I am on vacation, so I better try to enjoy it at least. Everything will work out in the end and a little piece of Albania has changed and a little piece of me has changed too.

Just FYI: I started traveling on June 5th and thus far I have been to Ljubljana, Bled, Budapest, Prague, Kutna Hora, and now Vienna. Tomorrow I’m off to Salzburg.