I have learned a lot since moving to Albania. With no stone unturned, I have discovered things, not only about myself, but about this culture halfway across the world. Some of these lessons came as no surprise, while others caught me completely off guard. Which seems to come with living in a foreign world.
– I have discovered I do not like to eat brain, whether it is cow, sheep or goat. I gave them all a fair try. And while we are on the subject, I don’t care for eyeball, tongue, cheek, or intestines either.
– I have officially become addicted to the STRONG espresso that is served everywhere in this coffee culture.
–I still like living alone. However, serving in a Peace Corps city with very few Americans near, takes the alone factor to a whole new level.
–There is no harm in throwing yourself a pity party. Just don’t stay there too long.
–Loneliness won’t kill you. And lucky for me, my loved ones are just a skype call away.
– Catcalls and obnoxious boys can be ignored. But will get to you some days. Sometimes walking around with headphones will save the day.
–Running is still my sanctuary. Even though I have to deal with stares and questions, it can still be my saving grace. For that I am more thankful than you can imagine.
–Patience truly is a virtue. And if you want to get through life smiling, it’s something you can’t live without.
–When it rains, it pours. Bad stuff tends to happen in threes. Or fours. The only thing you can control in those situations is your attitude. For me, that is harder than it sounds, but it is a work in progress.
–Cooking and Baking for others is a universal sign of love. Even if you can’t speak a word of the same language, a homemade cookie will put a smile on even the crabbiest of faces.
–The quote “Travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer.” is 110% true.
–True friends will make an effort to keep in contact, even when you’re halfway around the world.
–Don’t be afraid of change.
–Trying to fix things can work out great. But if you have no idea what you’re doing, maybe it’s best to ask for help. Or you might get electrocuted. (Whoops)
–Snail mail will brighten someone’s day a lot more than an email.
–When shopping for products that are written in a language you don’t understand, look at the pictures. But when in doubt, always take the time to translate the word. Don’t just assume it’s salt because it looks like salt. (Personal experience here.)
–In order to keep your sanity, set boundaries for yourself and others. But at the same time, try to embrace the awkwardness that comes with sitting outside your comfort zone.
–Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning a new language has cured me of worrying if I look like an idiot. Most days, it’s inevitable as I stutter through sentences like a third grader!
–When traveling, sit in the middle back. It’s the safest spot. Unless its a 95 degree day, then sit by an open window.
–ALWAYS use your water filter!
–Slowing down from the American pace of life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Welcome those afternoon siestas with open arms.
–Ants can literally crawl out of your outlets. And kitchen sink drain. And holes in the walls. I swear, they are invincible.
–Empathy is a powerful thing. Lean on those who understand what you’re going through.
–Nothing is 100% reliable. If your electricity doesn’t come back on for eight hours it isn’t going to kill you. But maybe throw out the raw chicken in your fridge.
–Bartering in another language is an important milestone. Celebrate those small successes.
–You can’t save every stray dog you see, no matter how badly you want to.
–Just because it’s different than what you are used to, or how you might do it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
– Kids in underdeveloped countries LOVE getting their pictures taken. When you take the time to print them off and hand out, you can become the neighborhood celebrity.
Above all, the biggest lesson I have learned is to stop comparing myself to others. This is no “the light-bulb burst on with a bright flash” epiphany type of moment. But it has literally made or broke the small achievements I have reached here. There will always be someone who speaks Albanian better. Who blends in easier. Who learns faster. Someone who is bigger. Stronger. Faster. In the Peace Corps and after. In Albania and America. Comparing yourself to them only takes away from you. It’s okay to redefine what success means to you if it helps keep your head above water. Keep redefining and improving, each and every day if that’s what it takes.
So, I guess, that’s it. My one piece of advice to future PCV’s on how to have a successful service. Stop the comparathon. The only thing that matters is that YOU make an improvement from yesterday.