It finally came: I got my Peace Corps invitation (official assignment/placement) via E-MAIL today! “E-mail” is in all caps because I was not expecting to receive my assignment so casually, aka digitally. (BYU does their acceptance letters the same way: I would much rather wait a few days for a nice, crisp, sentimental envelope! Am I the only one who feels this way?) Anyway, I rolled over in bed this morning to begin my usual wake-up routine, starting with the Internet of course. And there it was: “Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Albania for Peace Corps service. You will be joining thousands of Americans who are building stronger communities around the world. This call to action gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and to find the best in yourself.”
Luckily I had the day off, so my mom and I spent hours researching a country that we knew very little about, other than the fact that the bad guys from Taken were members of the Albanian mob. (Hee hee.) At one point my mom attempted to read aloud the word Shqipëria, which is how Albanians refer to their homeland. After struggling through the first few syllables and trying to decipher the odd marks above the Albanian alphabet, she asked: “Why are there all these little oodles on the letters?” It struck me that, over the next 5 months, we are in for oodles of emotions and information and preparation and questions. And probably more paperwork.
It has been quite a day. Speaking of questions, the most common ones I’ve heard from friends and family are:
1. “Congratulations! …But where’s Albania?”
2. “I thought you were going to Middle East/North Africa?”
3. “Why are you leaving in March instead of January?”
First things first…Albania is a small, beautiful Eastern European country on the Balkan Peninsula. It borders Greece and has a long coastline along the Adriatic Sea across from Italy. They speak Albanian–and is the only country in the world that does so, other than pockets of Albanian immigrants elsewhere in Europe; to put it into perspective, Rosetta Stone doesn’t even offer language courses on it because there are only 3 million speakers. BUT they have the coolest flag I have ever seen!
I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching what my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer might be like there. (Check out the Links tab on the right of our homepage to see some blogs by PCVs currently serving or who have returned from service in Albania.) The food and the weather are excellent, the people are very friendly and hospitable, and they definitely have a favorable view of both the US government and American people. However, Albania is impoverished, has very conservative traditions when it comes to gender roles, and has a bad (and not entirely deserved) reputation of being a violent post-Communist state. I have already received annoying comments along the lines of: “Oooh, Albania! Be careful, it’s dangerous there.” (How much you wanna bet that the people who say this are basing their knowledge of foreign policy on a Liam Neeson movie?) To get some idea of how much this irritates me, just look back to my post Doubt. To be clear: I don’t need anyone’s opinion on the level of safety in parts of the world they’ve never been to unless I’m speaking to a State Department official. Kthxbye.
Okay, rant over. Anyway…because of my seasonal asthma, Peace Corps granted me “provisional medical clearance,” meaning that I had to be assigned to a region that could give me access to the healthcare I might need during service. That basically ruled out Middle East/North Africa because much of it is so isolated. My placement officer worked very quickly to find the next available program that could accommodate my respiratory system. So, my region and departure date changed–which actually ends up being the case with 50% of applicants–but I am too excited to be upset! It is so nice to have a specific location to learn about and a solid date to look forward to.
So I’m looking at another 5 months in Las Vegas, which is just enough time to save money working at a job I like, get fit with lots of yoga and hiking, and make a few trips (Disneyland? Eugene?). Be prepared for oodles of posts about my adventure in Albania!