5 (ish) days, 4 nights spent in Gjilan, Kosovo for Orientation.
Picking up right where my last post ended:
Once everyone in KOS5 had their luggage from the airport, we got on a bus and made the drive from Pristina to Gjilan. Though I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, I absolutely could not risk taking a nap on the bus and missing the gorgeous view of the Kosovar countryside. I spent the bus ride looking out over the rolling, green mountains in awe, thinking: what a privilege it is to be able to stay in such a beautiful country for 2 years of my life.
After a bus ride that felt too quick to truly bask in the beauty of the landscape, we were in Gjilan. We gathered in the small lobby of the hotel we would be staying in, and were assigned our rooms.
I went into Peace Corps with minimal expectations. That being said, I guess my expectations for the size of the hotel room for Orientation were a bit different than what we had (this is post-putting all our luggage to last us 2+ years in):
But, in the Peace Corps spirit, we all utilized our flexibility and made it (kinda) work. Looking on the bright side, the small quarters made for an easy excuse of getting to know my 2 roommates really well. Even though the size of the hotel room was less than desirable, the view of the square in Gjilan was gorgeous:
After laying in bed for a few minutes, texting my family to update them that I was safe, it was time to go back down to the lobby of the hotel for a quick language fair where everyone in our cohort gathered materials we’d need for both Orientation and PC service in general (i.e: SIM card, language material, trainee handbook, other literature, etc.). After we got everything, we could go back up to our rooms for an hour or so.
I knew that the smart decision would be to nap because it had now been over 24 hours since I had slept, so I eagerly sprawled out on my twin sized bed and dozed off.
It was during my nap that I had my first Hey, I’m Not in America Anymore!™ moment. That moment was being woken up by a call to prayer mid-nap. We don’t have those where I’m from in America. It had somehow worked its way into my dream and left me completely disoriented.
After getting just a little more sleep, the rest of the night was great; dinner was marvelous, and I loved getting to talk to more of my cohort. After dinner, some of us ordered a glass of red wine. That was my second Hey, I’m Not in America Anymore!™ moment. This moment was discovering that a glass of red wine at the restaurant was €1, gratuity included. The exchange rate for the US dollar to the Euro that day was something like .85, so the glass of wine was well under $1.50. We don’t have glasses of wine at hotels that cheap in America.
Despite a few hiccups (i.e: the shower in our hotel room breaking on me the first morning, trying to find where I put stuff in my suitcases without being able to unpack, getting used to not having AC), orientation was great. The next few days flew by. Our schedules were packed from breakfast at 7:30 to around 5, and essentially gave us a crash course into our Peace Corps service. Aside from our scheduled coffee breaks that featured macchiatos from the hotel, we had safety and security sessions, small sessions to learn some basics of the Albanian language, interviews with the Country Director, Program Managers, Director of Programming and Training, and an introduction to the medical unit. My intimidating, 40-person cohort grew to be much less intimidating and much more accessible, and bonding was becoming second nature. Every day of Orientation made me more and more excited to start my training, followed by my service.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, it was time for our cohort to travel to Kamenica and meet our host families that we’d be living with for the duration of Pre-Service Training. I felt nervous… but less nervous than I thought I should be feeling at that moment in time. Meeting our host families was lowkey a big deal: this family would be my roommates, my home, my meal provider, my language helpers, and my first real connection to Kosovo. Would they have kids? How old? Had they housed a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) before? Did they understand Americans need a little bit of personal space? Would anyone speak any English? Would I be stuck awkwardly gesturing to things for the next few months?
After having these thoughts swirling around in my head during the bus ride over, the time had inevitably come to meet my new family.
(This is so dramatic)