Why vacationing during Peace Corps service is the best and worst thing.
I had mentioned in a previous post about vacationing in Budapest during Winter Break, which made for a difficult transition back to daily PC life. The main difficulty for me was going from having control of what I ate, when I ate, what I did, and when I did it, and giving that control up again for my regular homestay. 27 month homestay has its highs and lows and post-vacation was definitely a low. Peace Corps service as a whole is filled with various highs and lows. Vacation is a high, and the transition back is generally a low (or at least it is for most PCVs I’ve talked to).
This remained true for my last vacation during Spring Break to Paris.
Paris was a literal dream.
I visited The Louvre, Catacombs, Luxembourg Gardens, Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, and Notre Dame to name a few, as well as wandered around charming Parisian streets.
It’s almost been a week since I’ve been back in Kosovo and it’s been a rough transition. It didn’t help that the weather the day we got back to Skopje (where we flew out of) was gloomy; it kind of embodied the mood of being back to reality from a dream. I told myself that I’d let myself be dramatic and sad for the rest of the week and then I had to suck it up and get back to life as usual.
The transition from Budapest back to site was difficult mainly due to the aspect of control, but this transition has been difficult mainly due to the stark difference of culture.
I’ve grown accustomed to Kosovar culture during my time in country and have adapted to it and adopted it as my current “normal.” France, specifically Paris, has an entirely different culture from Kosovo, and the Balkans in general, and the cultural differences I had gotten used to while serving here for an extended period of time were re-highlighted upon my return from a Western country. In Paris I saw women drinking openly at 3 in the afternoon, couples outwardly displaying affection for each other, treating each other as true equals, and, most importantly, I coexisted with people of all different ethnicities, speaking different languages, with a diversity of thought. In Kosovo, minorities are minorities; the vast majority of Kosovars, and literally everyone in my village where I live, are Albanian. So seeing people with different skin tones from different walks of life was refreshing and reminded me just how incredibly monochromatic the Balkans can be. It was a difficult adjustment when first arriving in country, and this past week I’ve has to readjust to the lack of diversity.
The first day or two back at site I was particularly mopey, but my host siblings giving me kisses and seeing my students back at school telling me they were disappointed about not having English Club this week (Tuesday was a holiday), have been sweet reminders that I do have a place here.
Vacation can serve as a great motivator and a great reward during service, kind of like the light at the end of a series of small tunnels, because as PCVs we are “on” 24/7, especially when living with a host family. However, vacation can also serve as an intense dose of reality outside of the bubble that is your service and your host country. Which, I guess, can also be a good thing in helping you stay grounded.
All in all, I’m incredibly grateful for this vacation and am slowly getting more excited to finish out my first year of service (I can’t believe that I’ve almost been in country for a year!).
To close out the post, here are two more pictures of me living my best life in Paris. Au revoir!