For the New Recruits

Eleven months ago I was scouring the internet for anything I thought might prepare me for my imminent service in the Peace Corps. I watched hours of YouTube videos, spent a lot of time fine-tuning my packing list, and read a lot of PCV blogs. This is an open letter to the members of Group 17 – PC Albania. Below I will cover a variety of topics that I hope will give you greater insight into the life of a volunteer in Albania. However, you should bear in mind that such advice is inherently subjective. No one’s advice and no amount of preparation is enough to ensure a smooth transition into the Peace Corps. It is an iterative and participatory learning process – one you must undertake for yourself.

Life in Albania

Let me first say this: Peace Corps Albania is probably very unlike what most people think of when they think about the Peace Corps. The hardships here are not those of many other Peace Corps countries. We have running water (though some volunteers are on water schedules during the summer months), we take warm showers (sometimes hot ones, rarely cold ones), we have electricity and internet (though both “go out” on occasion), and it is relatively easy to get around the country (warning: in-country travel may lead to nausea). So, as you may be able to tell from the frequent use of parentheses above, there are a lot of buts, almosts, althoughs, and caveats to be considered when discussing life in Albania. That’s the reality.

Basically, you have many things here in Albania that you used to have in the States, but without the consistency. You look around and you think, “I got it pretty good here”, or “This Western toilet sure beats hand-dug latrines.” But sometimes it’s all just for show, and you might as well visit the village well or dig your own shit hole because those things that look like they should work, don’t work all the time, and sometimes don’t work altogether. That said, taking a hot shower most of the time is better than settling for cold showers all of the time.

By any objective account, life here is a strange amalgamation of the old world steeped in steadfast traditions and the new world born of flashy stilettoes, fast cars, and gradually shifting mentalities. Standing in one place, you might see hungry dogs, fastidious cats, rummaging children, and destitute men all digging through the garbage bins for sustenance as they are passed by a man and his donkey cart, and he, by a sunglass-wearing Mafioso in a brand new Mercedes. It is a country separated by a developing line – those areas benefiting from national and foreign investment, and those areas left behind. It is a formerly communist, newly capitalist society that still has a lot to figure out.

Packing

With great effort I diligently prepared my packing list for Peace Corps. I left for the airport sporting a 70-liter military duffle bag across my back, 60-liter Osprey backpack hanging off my front, 35-liter day pack slung across my left shoulder, and a camera bag across my right. I was probably carrying close to 125 lbs. I thought it might be easier to carry the load than to pull it through what I imagined would be the wet, muddy, and pot-hole-ridden roads of Albania. Besides, I liked being hands free. Had I known what I know today, I probably could have gotten away with bringing about half of what I brought.

Here are a few pointers to help you put the finishing touches on your own list. First, as I’ve said, remember that this isn’t your typical Peace Corps country. Chocolate, pizza, ice cream, and other comfort foods are equally as accessible as warm jackets, new underwear, stylish dress pants, space heaters, and functional kitchen items. So, if you’re packing like you’re preparing for the apocalypse, you can probably leave the gas mask, dry-freeze dinner packets, and Everest-ready parkas behind. To second that point, you can always have things sent from home. The cheapest USPS flat-rate package I’m aware of costs about 70 dollars. As a caveat, there are some things you won’t be able to find in Albania.

Ultimately, you should bring what is important to you. If you love playing the flute, bring it. If you enjoy blended smoothies and can’t live without your Vita-Mix 5200, bring it (just be sure to bring a Simran Voltage Transformer along with it). Or, if you have a favorite painting that you’ve had hung up over your bed since college, bring it. These are the things you won’t be able to find or replace in Albania. They may seem impractical from a packing standpoint, but they do a lot for your sanity in the borderline insane moments. We’re not surviving here, we’re living here. So, bring whatever you think you’ll need to make this place your home. (Shout out to Ian Fornshell who brought along his flute, guitar, and top-of-the-line blender).

You will also struggle to find items of similar quality to those you can find in the States. Yes, you can find a warm winter coat, maybe even a hand-made wool one, but you’re not going to come across any REI or other outdoor brand-name apparel items. No sleeping bags. No hiking packs. No Ipods – at least, none from franchised Apple Stores. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find high-quality electronics from most recognizable brands. Bring these things, if you think you’ll need them, because you won’t find them here. And, there are plenty of borderline-sketchy “Apple” maintenance stores to help when you’re in a fix.

Albanians are extremely fashionable people. You’re just as likely to come across a Gucci handbag (though probably a knockoff) as you are to never see cilantro again. Even poor farmers work in their “Sunday best”. You’ll easily find Euro-style, fashion-forward outfits and accessories if you’re looking to dress-up your wardrobe. And, you’ll find it for cheap. If you’re less worried about dressing for success and more concerned with dressing to avoid freezing to death, rest assured that you can do both with relative ease. The winter here has been far less mild than it has in the States. Unless you’re from Hawaii or Florida, you will probably have suffered a far harsher December, January, and February than you would have had you been in Albania. That said, it does get cold here, but so much depends on where you are placed in-country, that it makes it really hard to advise you on how to prepare yourself for Albania’s four seasons. The North and East are objectively the coldest areas of Albania, but the rest of the country doesn’t suffer from anything much worse than Spring and Winter rains, albeit long and cold ones. Considering this, I highly recommend wool thermals and a good rain jacket. These are things you will use regularly no matter where you are placed in the country, though I can’t say the same about snow boots.

To sum up: Winter is cold and rainy, Spring is cool and rainy, the Summer is hot, and Fall is perfect. But no matter what time of the year, the PST office is freezing. And, that about covers it. Here’s an itemized list of everything I packed for my 2-year stint in the Peace Corps. I hope it will help you be a smarter packer than I was.

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Item Quantity/Unit

(+ / –)

Footwear Running Shoes 2 pairs

+

Hiking Boots 1 pair

+

Dress Shoes 1 pair

+

Casual Shoes 1 pair

+

Sandals 1 pair

+

Clothing Underwear 9 pair

+

Dress Socks 5 pair

+

Athletic Socks 5 pair

+

Wool Socks 4 pair

+

Dress Pants 1

+

Casual Pants 3

+

Sweat Pants 1

+

Casual Shorts 2

+

Athletic Shorts 2

+

Dress Shirts 4

Short-Sleeve Shirts 8

+

Long-Sleeve Shirts 3

Sweaters/Hoodies 4

+

Rain Jacket 1

+

Winter Jacket 1

+

Accessories Gloves 2 pair

+

Belts 3

+

Ties 3

Sunglasses 1

+

Tie clip 1

Watch 1

+

Replacement Watch Strap 1

+

Gear Large Hiking Pack 1

+

Large Duffle Pack 1

+

Day Pack 1

+

Camera Bag 1

+

Sleeping Bags 2 (20°, 45°)

+

Sleeping Pad 1

+

Hammock (with straps) 1

+

Close-line 1

+

Water Bottles (Nalgene) 2

Head Lamp 1

+

Backpack Rain Fly 1

+

Misc. Quick-Dry Towel 1

+

Laundry Sack 1

+

Toiletries Deodorant 3 sticks

+

Toothpaste 2 tubes

+

Toothbrush 2

+

Floss 5 packs

+

Electric Beard Trimmer 1

+

Razor (with blades) 1

+

Biodegradable Liquid Soap 1 bottle

+

Nail Clippers 1

+

Comb 1

+

Hand Mirror 1

+

Toilet Paper Roll 1

+

Toiletry Bag 1

+

Electronics Laptop Computer 1

+

Replacement Battery 1

+

Replacement Cord 1

+

Outlet Adapter 2

+

Ipod (with charger) 1

+

Camera (with charger) 1

+

USB drives (32 gigs) 2

+

AA Batteries 1 pack

+

AAA Batteries 1 pack

+

Battery Charger 1

+

Electric Hair Shaver 1

Supplements Weigh Protein Powder 1 pack

Fiber Tablets 1 pack

Multivitamins 1 pack

Tools Pocket Knife 1

+

Multi-tool 1

+

Bike Multi-tool 1

+

Duct Tape 1 roll

+

Sewing Kit 1

+

Hand-held Bike Pump 1

Carabiners 2

+

Camera Tripod 1

+

Copy Books (the paper kind) 4

Notebooks 2

+

Pocket Notebooks 2

+

Course Notes 6 subjects

Magazines 1

Stationary 1 pack

+

Stamps 1 pack

Other Frisbee 1

+

Basketball 1

+

Host Family Gifts 5 gifts

+

DVDs (The Buried Life) 2 seasons

Replacement Shoelaces 1 pair

+

Mechanical Pencils 1 pack

+

Large Trash Bags 2

+

Lace-up Ankle Brace 1

+

Travel Wallet 1

+

Passport/Bank Cards

+

Cash $500

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Packing List Notes:

I brought a lot of shoes with me, thinking it would be difficult to find shoes in my size. If you have big feet, you might consider doing the same. Along the same lines, long-sleeve shirts and size-appropriate pants may be equally hard to come by if you’re on the larger/taller side.

Dressing up is almost mandatory for Albanians, but it’s not the shirt and tie business look you’re accustomed to. Think, Euro-chic. Or, imagine you’re dressing up to go out to the clubs. Slim sweaters. Jackets with lots of zippers. Tight pants. Sporty, narrow dress shoes. My American business attire seems a bit out-of-place.

You can’t/shouldn’t drink the tap water if you’re in any of the major cities (e.g. Tirana, Elbasan) or if you’re along the coast (e.g. Saranda, Vlora, Kavajë). In most other places it’s probably OK to drink, especially if you’re in the mountains. You will also be supplied a water purifier in the last few days of orientation. The water purifier they give you holds roughly 2 gallons, so you should be set on potable water.

I’m an “Old Spice” guy. The deodorant here sucks. I’m happy I brought a couple sticks with me but I wish I had brought more. Toothpaste and other toiletry items fall in the same boat. That is, you can find what you need here, but it won’t be Crest or Johnson & Johnson. If you’re particular about a certain brand, stock up.

I’m not a tech guy. Hence why I packed actual books and DVD sets. I also brought my hand-written notes from grad school. I could have saved a lot of weight had I gone the techie route. E-readers and tablets are probably the way to go and I probably should have found time to type up those notes. In short, the more tech-savvy you are, the lighter you’ll be. With file sharing, you’ll find everything you need from other volunteers including books, TV shows, and movies. Most people bring an external hard-drive to amass a greater virtual library. Maybe one day I’ll catch up with the rest of my generation.

For those of you who prefer to cut your own hair, don’t bother bringing your electric shaver. Most likely, you’ll need a voltage converter to use it, and besides, haircuts are ridiculously cheap here (about 150 lek).

Along with my books and course notes, supplements took up a lot of space in my bags and accounted for much of their total weight. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to maintain good nutrition in my diet, so I brought everything I thought I might need to keep me healthy including vitamins, fiber tablets, and weigh protein powder. These things ended up being completely unnecessary for me. It is relatively easy to maintain a nutritious diet in Albania. You have greater access to fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables. Though there is hardly any variety in what people eat, both omnivores and vegetarians won’t have too much trouble maintaining a healthy diet. That is, as long as you don’t mind eating the same thing every day for months at a time. Variety usually comes with the seasons. My only other complaint about the food here is both the overuse of salt and underuse of almost any other spice. Also, if you’re worried about maintaining your health, I can tell you that Peace Corps’ medical benefits are probably the best of any healthcare plan you’ve ever had. You will be given a medical kit upon arrival, and any medication or medical attention you require beyond what is afforded to you in your med kit will be covered by the medial office.

To avoid unnecessary bank charges and to give you peace of mind against those “just in case” moments, cash is a good idea. Bring it.

Finally, a few things I wish I had brought with me: (1) More long-sleeve shirts, (2) Zip-lock bags, (3) An E-reader or tablet.

Language

If you’re worried about learning the language, you’re not alone. But, there’s no secret for achieving proficiency. And, certainly no recipe for fluency. All you can do is try your best. “Try” being the key word. You have to put forth the effort. Though, as any Peace Corps Albania staff member will tell you, no one has ever failed to be an effective volunteer as a result of poor language skills. You make it work one way or another. Some people never learn the language because their work and living circumstances don’t require them to speak it. Others prosper if for no other reason than because they have to. Occasionally, sink or swim does apply. That said, our Peace Corps staff is wonderful and would never place a volunteer in a situation where they would drown. You’ll either swim, or be tossed a life preserver.

PST

Pre-Service Training (PST) is exactly what it sounds like – Peace Corps’ attempt to prepare you for your full two years of service. It is an attempt, because to adequately prepare every incoming volunteer for their individual service is an impossible task. We all come from different places and backgrounds. That applies to our work experience and professional lives as well. This means that a recent undergraduate in Public Health attends the same information sessions as seasoned doctors with twenty-plus years of experience. It means listening to a lot of redundant information, much of which is well known by almost everyone, but that perhaps one or two people might benefit from hearing. It makes since if you look at it from Peace Corps’ perspective. Their job is to make sure everyone has the basic information they need to be functional and effective volunteers. They cover their own asses by covering ours. So, when you’re pulling your hair out during an information session on Sexual Health, Safety and Security, or Stages of the Volunteer Life Cycle; save what remaining years you have left with a full head of hair and occupy yourself with something. I suggest doodling. Everyone has to sit through it, so find a way to pass the time and suck it up.

During PST you will be living with a host family in one of the training sites surrounding the city of Elbasan. At least twice a week, you will commute to the PST office in Elbasan to meet as a whole group. On “hub days”, as they are called, you get a chance to catch up with the volunteers in other training sites and are allotted an opportunity to use the internet. On hub days, you will have to sit through both large group information sessions and sector specific technical trainings. Early on, you will have the opportunity to visit remaining Group 15 and Group 16 volunteers at their sites. During these “Volunteer Visits” you will spend one-on-one time with current volunteers and will gain a better sense of what life is like outside of your training site. Later on, when your permanent site is announced, you will be allowed to visit your site, check out your new digs, meet with your assigned counterpart, and get acquainted with your host agency. Following these “Site Visits”, you will return to your training site to complete PST, and at some point down the line, swear in as an official Peace Corps volunteer.

During PST, your weekly allowance covers only those meals not provided by your host family as well as transportation to and from required events. If you plan to stay on budget, you will have to be careful about any incidental purchases. It’s generally smart to stay away from imported items, as they are typically equally as expensive as they would be anywhere else. Or, if you can’t resist, opt for the imported item from the nearest approximate country. For instance, a Snickers bar, which is made in the US, costs 50 lek (about 50 cents). You might instead consider purchasing a Winergy bar, which is made in Turkey and costs only 20 lek (about 20 cents). Either way, local items are always your cheapest bet, although you won’t find any Albanian chocolate. Below is a short list of commonly purchased items by volunteers, along with their approximate prices. Bear in mind, prices differ according to site. Typically, things cost more in larger cities.

  • Bottle of water – 50 Lek
  • Apples – 80 Lek (per kilo)
  • Mandarins – 140 Lek (per kilo)
  • Cherries – 120 Lek (per kilo)
  • Bananas – 3 for 100 Lek
  • Tomatoes – 90 Lek (per kilo)
  • Loaf of Bread – 50 Lek
  • Café Express – 50 Lek
  • Yogurt – 50 Lek (0.25 liter cup)
  • Draft Beer – 50 Lek
  • Bottle Beer – 100 Lek
  • Raki – 50 Lek
  • Byrek – 30 Lek
  • Sufllaqe – 150 Lek

Host Family

After roughly three days of orientation in Elbasan, you will repack your bags (adding to them stacks of new Peace Corps materials and a 2-gallon water filter), and hop on a furgon (van) to be delivered to your host family. That first day is awkward. If you’re lucky, one of your host siblings will be able to speak English. At least, it seems lucky on that first day. Being forced to speak nothing but Shqip while at your training site will actually pay off in the long run. Some of you will be placed with a big family, complete with grandparents, parents, children, and maybe even grandchildren. Others will be the only bird in the nest, and will be treated as such. Some host families are accustomed to volunteers. Some aren’t. There will be misunderstandings and plenty of awkward moments. Push through them. These are wonderful people and they have nothing but your best interest at heart. The will dote on you. If you’re an extremely independent person, learn to accept your host family’s seemingly overbearing behavior as affection. Let them do things for you, even if it seems silly. But don’t be afraid to set boundaries when you think they are necessary. You’ll be with these people for roughly two months. The days will go by slowly, but the time you have with them will pass in an instant. Eat with them. Drink with them. Sit with them. Listen and observe. Speak with them when you can. And, think of them as family. That’s how they will see you.

Lastly, if you’re wondering what to call them, their first names are just fine. Mami and Babi work too. I made a point of calling my host parents Mami and Babi from day one, and they love me for it.

Expectations

The best advice I can give you is to work on managing your expectations. You really can’t imagine what your experience here will be like, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much research you do before hand, and no matter who tells you what to expect. What I can say with certainty is that you will be impacted more so by your experience in Albania than you will impact lives or influence change. Whatever your intensions are in coming to Albania, let them go. Arrive with an open mind, allow things to come as they may, and try to be flexible. After being here for a while, you will be able to set realistic expectations and personal goals for your service. For now, understand that you have a lot to learn, and be prepared for an education like no other.

Coffee

The first time I ordered a coffee in Albania I expected a “Tall” Vienna roast from Starbucks, or, at least something of similar proportions. What I got had a handle I could barely fit half a pinky through. What you’re ordering when you order a “kafe” is a shot of espresso. A macchiato – a shot of espresso with a dash of milk. Anything else (e.g. frappe, cappuccino, Americano), will either be one of the former, or mostly milk. That said, I’ve come to appreciate Albania’s giant affection for such tiny coffees. Coffee is the key to any friendship and the start of every meeting. If you get invited, go. If you go, pay. Or, at least offer. The unspoken rule is, if you invite someone for coffee, you pay. Most Albanians won’t abide by that rule in the beginning and will offer to pay, but as time goes on, make an effort to overrule their ardent protests against your offer to foot the bill. And, hold off any pressing business until your coffees have arrived at the table.

Safety and Security

Name a crime. It exists here. It also exists everywhere else in the world. That said, I believe Albania is a safe place to live, especially for Americans. Albanians are extremely family oriented. This perpetuates a culture of close personal ties. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. I think it is for that reason why theft and robbery are relatively infrequent crimes in Albania. Of course, such things happen. But, what you will likely confront more often is more subdued and gender specific.

Wandering eyes, verbal harassment, groping, domestic violence, and various sexual crimes. Sometimes these things are obvious. Other times, they are obscured by patriarchal cultural norms. For instance, at the dinner table, men are always served first. Women are expected to perform all household duties including cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and the like. In many other ways, women are expected to be subservient to men. And, this ideal is manifested through various inappropriate behaviors exhibited by some men towards women. Stalking isn’t even considered a punishable offense.

Being a rather large male, I completely miss a lot of the bull shit female volunteers have to put up with here. I won’t pretend to know more than what I have been told and what I have observed. If you want to know more about what life is like for female volunteers in Albania, I would encourage you to ask one. I suspect most of them would tell you that it really sucks sometimes, but that the many positive aspects of this experience make up for it.

Success

We are not building wells or constructing latrines. We are changing mentalities and behaviors; or, we are attempting to. This is very hard to see. Many complete their service without “seeing” the fruits of their labor. That’s not to say that the seed you planted won’t one day grow into a strong fruit-bearing heirloom of a stronger and better Albania, but it is to say we must all learn to redefine success. If you are results oriented, you will have a difficult time here. Sometimes success is just making it through the day. Know that Peace Corps is an iterative process. There’s a reason why the minimum service requirement is two years. There’s a reason you are the 17th group, and that Peace Corps Albania didn’t close after the members of the 1st Group COSed. There’s a reason your group won’t be the last. We build upon the work of those before us and lay the groundwork for those who will come after. At the same time, it is not our responsibility to initiate change. It is the responsibility of Albanians to improve their own lives. If we can be a resource, if we can transfer skills and knowledge, if we can learn from each other, and if when we leave, we can leave something behind, we will have been successful. Often times, it is ourselves that undergo the greatest change, but we do leave our footprints along a more prosperous path. Just remember that your footprint is not always easily discernible.

Volunteers

Before coming to Albania, I thought a lot about what my experience might be like. I was daydreaming more so than I was setting unrealistic expectations. I thought about what Albanians would be like, how I would fair living amongst them, what I wanted out of my Peace Corps experience, and other things I’m sure aren’t much different from what you’re thinking about now. What I didn’t think about was my volunteer group. I overlooked the fact that these people would become my closest friends and confidants in a world far away from my closest friends and confidants. Value these people. Learn to accept them for who they are. And, draw on them for support.

Structure

If you’re coming right out of school, or have been working a nine-to-five for 20 years, prepare yourself for a vacation away from structure. You won’t have it, so don’t expect to. It drives a lot of people crazy. If you’re used to having people tell you what to do, when to do it, and how, you’re in for a dramatic reversal in workplace dynamics. When you’re out here, you’re out here by yourself. You have to be your own boss – your own motivator. You will have to set your own hours. You will have to assign your own tasks. It’s easy to stay in your bed and watch movies. It’s much harder to put yourself out there in a work environment where many of your coworkers behave as if they couldn’t care less. You’ll have to find a way to make it work. If things aren’t working out at your primary assignment, pick up a secondary project that you do care about and pour your energy into that. If you let the idea that there is nothing for you to do take root, you won’t make it. Find something. Search for something. Be vigilant. You will have to take the initiative. No one is going to serve it up to you on a silver platter.

Site Placements

I’m willing to bet that most of you thought Peace Corps meant living in a mud hut in Africa before receiving your assignment for Albania. If so, your perceptions about Peace Corps have already undergone a transformation. They will likely transform yet again upon arrival and after spending some time living in the country. You will forget that you once saw yourself sleeping under mosquito nets and going to the well for water and expect instead to have running water, warm showers, and a comfortable bed. You may even begin to associate larger urban sites and coastal cities with a better experience than serving in small rural villages and mountain townships. Look up pictures of Saranda on Google and tell me you wouldn’t mind being placed there. You will see that life here can be comfortable. You will associate the North with “cold and miserable” and the South with “warm and contented”. The coast will become synonymous with “tanned skin and bikinis” and the interior with “X kilometers from the coast”. But there is a much different dichotomy at play.

The place is not what will define your experience in Peace Corps. It is the people. Oftentimes, the luxury of living in a larger site with greater available resources comes at a cost to your integration. Consider this correlation: more people, more anonymity. Sometimes anonymity is good. Sometimes it makes it hard to build lasting relationships. You blend in with the tourists. You can become lost in the background if you don’t make the effort. Smaller sites mean you are the center of attention. Sometimes you don’t want it. Other times, you appreciate the fruit people bring you from their gardens and the “Si je Xhesi?” ‘s and the “Ç’kemi mo?” ‘s as you walk the two blocks from your apartment to your office.

All this is to say, you don’t know what you don’t know. During PST, you will be meeting with your program managers to discuss possible site placements. You will hear many different things from many different people about the different sites around Albania. These sources are mostly unreliable due to personal biases. Two people placed in the same city can have two very different perspectives about their site. Try to avoid having any preconceived notions about specific places in Albania until you have visited them and spent time in them. Trust your program managers to make the right decision for you. You think you know what you want, but you don’t really. The fact is you don’t have any idea about what life is really like in any of these places.

I can tell you the experience of a friend of mine who was a volunteer in Saranda. He won the lottery right? Wrong. He hated it there. Maybe you will be placed there and maybe you will love it. All I’m trying to say is to taper your conclusions about a place until you have experienced it yourself and to place your trust in the people who know Albania best. It will save you a lot of worrying. As you will hear time and time again; “Every PCVs experience is different”. It’s a threadbare aphorism, but nonetheless true.

Travel

Albania is a small country. In two years, you’ll be able to see a lot of it. You will mostly be traveling by furgon (van) or autobus (bus). There’s no ostensible rhyme or reason to the furgon system until you spend some time as a patron of it. If it existed in the States, you might expect to see hoards of middle-age men yelling profusely at passerby’s, demanding that you join the one or two other people they have managed to convince to pay them a modest fee in return for safe passage to their desired destination. Back home, you would surely consider this a sketchy method of transportation. In fact, it is. But it really works wonderfully here in Albania. You’ll learn the various spots in different cities around the country where you can catch a ride to almost anywhere you’d like to go. The drivers usually wait until they’re full to capacity, or over capacity, before taking off. They make frequent stops along the way to drop people off and pick people up. You can call them “shofer” or “xhaxhi”, the latter term meaning uncle.

The roads oftentimes lengthen what would be much shorter trips in any other European country. If you can bear the bumps and bruises and find a way to entertain yourself, it’s really not that bad. From the top of the country to the bottom, you’re looking at a ten-plus hour trip. In the summer, the furgons are cramped and muggy. You can smell everyone sitting around you, and sometimes those a few seats down. The entire van takes on the communal stench that accompanies dirt and sweat laden suit jackets, which Albanian men refuse to abandon even in the swell of the summer heat. In winter, the smell of the furgon is replaced by dampness. But, there’s usually more leg room. It’s also much harder to find a ride in the winter as there are fewer travelers than in the summer.

During PST, don’t expect to travel much. First of all, you won’t have enough money in your budget to afford extra travel costs, and second, you won’t have any time. Your days are consumed by language learning, technical sessions, and spending time with fellow volunteers and your host family. Once you get to site, you’ll have much more freedom to travel. Technically, we’re allotted eight days a week out-of-site. Some people travel every weekend. Others stay at site for months before venturing out. There will be plenty of Peace Corps trainings and various camps and other activities to draw you out of your apartment and out-of-site. And, there will be plenty of places you will want to visit when you can’t stand to be in-site another minute. Just be wary, frequent travel can influence your ability to integrate into your community. That said, don’t feel too bad taking full advantage of the summer break. Almost everyone, including your counterparts, take vacation throughout the entire month of August. Don’t feel like you have to be the sole person stuck in the office while everyone else is tanning on the beach.

____________________________________

I hope this is helpful to you as you make your final preparations for departure. I want to conclude by saying that Albania is a wonderful and beautiful country that is home to terrific and gracious people. If you can overlook the difficulties and frustrations of your work and living circumstances, you will thoroughly enjoy your time here. I promise that the two years will fly by in an instant. I also promise that if you stick it out, you’ll return a better and more knowledgeable person than when you came. My final advice is to spend what remaining time you have in the States enjoying the company of friends and family. We all look forward to your arrival and wish you safe passage to Albania. Gjithë të mirat (All the best).

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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “For the New Recruits

  1. Lots of good sound advice here. I’m in Mongolia, so the details are different, but overall basically the same. Nice post!

  2. Pingback: The Top Three Clichés of Peace Corps (and Life!) | WildKat Formation

  3. Tyler, very good post but…..are you really as neat as that packing looks? Wow, you need to get married dude.

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