I had more fun at semi-prom in Kosovo than I did at my own high school prom.
In Kosovo, students have prom when they have just finished their 12th year, much like in America. However, also in Kosovo, students have semi-prom when they are going from 9th year to 10th year (starting high school here), unlike in America. Additionally, Kosovars don’t have a traditional “graduation,” therefore semi-prom and prom mark the end of schooling. Again, this is unlike America, where we have graduations for pre-K to Kinder, Kinder to 1st, 5th to 6th, 8th to 9th, and finishing 12th grade. The repetitiveness kind of ends up negating the symbolism and importance.
My host sister here is 15 and was just finishing up her 9th year when I temporarily joined her family. On the first day of meeting her, she had already pointed out where her semi-prom would be while on the drive from Kamenica to her house, showed me her shoes and dress that she had gotten to wear for semi-prom within minutes of me entering her house, and continually emphasized just how excited she was for it.
The next day, my first full day of being a temporary part her family, my host sister told me that her dad was talking to the director of schools to see if I could come to semi-prom with her the next day. Not gonna lie, my first reaction was a forced smile while consciously pretending that the idea of going to semi-prom didn’t sound awful. Considering how unremarkable my prom was, I was a bit wary about attending Kosovar semi-prom. At least at my prom I knew the people, as well as the music being familiar and in English.
Regardless of my actual feelings towards attending semi-prom, I thanked my host sister and father for welcoming me into their family so readily that they wanted to take me to a special event with them. And with that it was more or less decided, without my actual blessing, that I would be attending semi-prom with my host sister the next day, after a full day of Peace Corps stuff (as well as language classes at 8:30 the morning after). I told myself that I would end up being glad that I went… if nothing else just so I could say that I did.
The next day, my cohort and I had a gorgeous field trip to Novo Brdo. Aside from some fun history lessons, the views were unreal.
Long field trip story short, the day was tiring. I tried to nap on the bus ride back to Kamenica but was unsuccessful. After getting back to Kamenica at 4:30 and taking a taxi back to my village, I was immediately thrown into prom-mode. I was offered coffee when I walked through the door to my house and then proceeded to spill said coffee on the sofa (not off to a great start). My host dad reassured me it was no big deal, but kept telling me I had to hurry and go to my host mom’s salon to get ready. I had to persistently and firmly insist that I needed to shower before, proceeded to take a super quick shower, ran to my host mom’s salon, got my hair done, went back to the house hoping to redo my makeup before having to go, but was surprised (…a nice way of putting it) to find that my host sister was all ready to go. After making this observation, I ran into my room, found something to wear super quick, put some powder on, and ran back outside to take pictures (looking like a hot mess).
Then, to my confusion, we went to the school where I had been taking language classes and where my host sister went to school. Everyone in my sister’s grade was dressed to the nines, proceeded to get “coupled” up, and all the onlookers (family + friends + …me) cheered as the students walked through the crowd. My host dad later explained that it was Kosovar tradition, kinda like in lieu of graduation.
Then, we drove to where semi-prom was being held. It was a dance hall attached to the restaurant where my host uncle works (it’s super nice looking, with a gorgeous view). I was thankful that 2 of the girls from my cohort were also going with their families, which calmed my nerves immensely. We went inside, followed my host dad to a table on the far side of the room, and had a seat. I quickly realized that the front side of the room was full of students and the far side (where we were) was full of chaperone-types: dads, some moms, teachers, and us: 3 Confused Girls From America™.
My host sister later told me that there were around 300 students there; students leaving year 9 all over the municipality were in attendance. I spent the first part of the night gaping at how unbelievable everyone looked, especially for being 15. I looked around and thought: I didn’t look like this at 15. Followed by: I still don’t look like this. I’ve noticed (it’s hard not to) that Kosovars are super attractive, especially the women, and semi-prom was confirmation that it starts young. Think: Instagram model meets Rita Ora and Dua Lipa (both Kosovars).
We were served some salad, and then the dancing started. My cohort had learned a bit during Orientation about the “circle dance” that Kosovars do at weddings and other events that involve dancing (i.e.: semi-prom). The “circle dance” involves (you guessed it!) circles – more specifically holding hands with people to make big circles while following a certain stepping routine – as well as moving your wrists, some waving of scarves or handkerchiefs, and adapting this all to whatever tempo the song playing consists of. I had assumed they probably did this kind of dance for a few songs, but I was wrong. There ended up being different versions of it the entire night, getting more of a free-for-all vibe later in the evening.
Once everyone had danced for a while, we were served the main course, and then the dancing continued. After being offered some Peja (the beer of choice here), myself and my 2 friends joined in on some of the fun.
To throw in some millennial / Gen Z terminology: semi-prom was lit. I thought it was lit at the beginning, but the energy only increased. Some of the students brought chairs onto the dance floor so they could stand on them, continuing to dance. Standing on chairs then transitioned into holding chairs up on the dance floor and dancing with them as well. I also saw a guy standing on a chair holding a bottle of Coke and taking swigs of it towards the end of the night. I’d take this over awkward grinding in America any day.
It appeared that everyone knew all the words to every song that came on and were excited whenever a new song started. Even though I (clearly) didn’t know the songs, it was easy to see why they were so excited. I’ve grown a love for Albanian music; it’s so much more fun than American music. That opinion might just be because it’s new to me, but also because Albanians just know how to make bops (and that’s a fact). Aside from straight bops, some memorable songs that were played at semi-prom included Gasolina in Albanian and an odd Happy Birthday remix. It was a relief to not hear the Cupid Shuffle, Wobble, or any other tired American song featured at every dance in America ever.
By the end of the night, all the boys were drenched in sweat and most of the girls had undergone a wardrobe change. The 4 hours had flown by and I was actually disappointed when it was time to leave at midnight, after hours of dancing.
If this was only semi-prom, I can’t even begin to imagine how intense prom is here. I had an amazing time, and am so glad I got to experience such a fun Kosovar tradition so early on in my being here. Here’s to hoping I get to attend semi-prom or prom at my permanent Homestay.