Packing Tips for Kosovo

There are probably hundreds of Peace Corps packing lists out there, so instead of making a comprehensive list of what you should bring, these are my tips for volunteers coming to Kosovo or an Eastern European country. (And sorry guys, but a fair amount  of this is specific to women.)

LUGGAGE

You can bring two 50 lbs bags, a carry-on, and a personal item. The specific dimensions and restrictions will be sent to you about a month before your departure. Volunteers disagree about the best types of bags to pack, but here’s my two cents.

  1. Make sure you can move it all at once. Fill up your bags and pretend you are moving through an airport or bus station. Is it easy to handle?
  2. You will likely do a lot of traveling during breaks. What type of bag would you want to bring on a week-long vacation? Will you be backpacking Europe? Do you plan on going hiking? Bring bags that will work for your future travel needs.
  3. We have trainings that last anywhere from one to five days sporadically throughout our service. People also meet-up in the capital on the weekends. So bring a good overnight bag or small duffle.

And ladies, bring a purse. I didn’t and ended up trying to find one here. I guess bringing a purse didn’t seem very “Peace Corps” to me. I don’t know what I was thinking. If you use one in the US you will use one here.


TOILETRIES

Most toiletries are available here, so there is no need to pack shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, etc. If you plan on using a hairdryer, straightener, or curling iron, I would wait and buy one in Kosovo. They are only about 10 Euros here,  and if you bring one from the States you’ll have to use an adapter and it may start a fire. So wait and buy them here.medical kit

There is also no need to bring a first aid kit or common medicines. You will receive a pretty large Medical Kit when you arrive in-country. It has bandaids, cold medicine, antibiotics, gauze, ibuprofen, bug spray, condoms, cough drops, and lots more.

These are the toiletries you should consider packing:

  • Stock up on feminine products. If you only use pads, then don’t worry about it. Pads are easy to find here. If you use tampons then bring a TON.
    You will not be able to find them here, as the majority of people are either weirded-out by tampons or think using them is a sin. You can also bring the Diva Cup or Lunette, which I think is the easiest option and is beloved by many female PCVs around the world.dry shampoo
  • Contact solution, if needed. I’ve heard it’s hard to find.
  • Dry shampoo. I love this stuff. When the power/water is out and you haven’t showered in days, it is a life saver. Also, people here don’t shower as frequently as Americans, especially in the winter, so being able to spray some dry shampoo makes life a lot easier.
  • For some reason lotion can be kind of expensive here. And you might want to bring some sunscreen if you are prone to sunburn. Your medical kit comes with one bottle, but after that is gone Peace Corps does not supply more. (Maybe aloe vera gel too. Some of us got painful sunburn during PST.)
  • Deodorant: Stock up on some quality deodorant because I guarantee you will be sweating in the summers. Most of the deodorant here is the aerosol kind and it is not so good. *Someone informed me that you can find some roll-on Nivea deodorant that works pretty well. I’ll have to try it out!

A random tip: Buy some Poo-Pourri. When I had horrible diarrhea for my first month at site, this stuff helped me preserve some shred of dignity by preventing a bathroom stink cloud. Sorry if that’s tmi, but welcome to Peace Corps.

poo pourri adProbiotics

As long as we are on the topic of poop, you should also consider bringing some probiotics. They help regulate your digestive system in case things get out-of-wack. I began taking them every couple days after that first month at site and I haven’t had issues since. Thank you probiotics!


TECHNOLOGY

I know a lot of Peace Corps posts say that you shouldn’t bring valuable electronics because they may be stolen, but that’s not the case in Kosovo. Bring your electronics. Most people here have smartphones and wifi is everywhere.

Absolutely bring your laptop, iPhone, and Kindle. I use each of these things daily.

  • iPhone: Even if it is not unlocked, you can use it as an alarm, calendar, etc, and you can connect to the wifi to use it for everything else. You can also pay to have it unlocked (15-20€) if you want to use it as a phone.adapters
  • Adapters: Buy a pack of the simple two-pronged adapters like these:

adapters on amazon2adapters on amazon

  • Chargers, extra chargers, & earphones: Bring extra chargers for your stuff because these are easy to lose and you will not be able to find quality ones here. (Just while writing this post one of my laptop chargers got fried because I plugged it into a questionable outlet at a cafe. Oops. Glad I have a back-up.
  • Nikon L830A camera: You can always use your iPhone if you are not into photography, but I’m really glad I brought a camera. I bought a certified refurbished Nikon L830 for about $165 and it has been great. Not overly fancy or expensive, so if it is damaged or stolen I won’t be crushed.
  • An external hard drive: PCVs will have hard drives full of movies, shows, and language materials, and they will probably share all of the files at orientation, so don’t miss out! Having a hard drive of movies is great when there is no internet. 
  • Bluetooth speaker (or two): These are great for presentations or teaching activities.
  • Rechargeable batteries: Batteries are expensive here, so if you need any for your flashlight or camera be sure to bring rechargeable ones. I bought these and have been very happy with them:

2016-04-28 (2)


Random other stuff

  • mirrorWater bottle (I highly recommend Contigo bottles. I’ve used Nalgenes and Camelbaks, but my Contigo bottle is the best!)
  • Flashlight (power outages are frequent)
  • Earplugs in case you live next to a mosque or have crazy roosters outside your bedroom window like I do. Now I’m used to it, but sometimes earplugs were invaluable.
  • Quick-drying towel (great for travel)
  • Mirror (not necessary, but helpful when the only mirror is in the bathroom that you share with a whole family)
  • Gifts for your PST host family and permanent host family. I’d recommend small things, like pins or a photo book. Any decorative items that say USA are a big hit.

Clothes

Typically Peace Corps volunteers are told “bring stuff, not clothes.” In Kosovo (and most Eastern European posts) the packing advice is the opposite. BRING CLOTHES. You can find toiletries, decor, and teaching materials here, so dedicate as much space to clothes as you can. And remember that you need to pack for hot summers and very cold winters.

1.) Teaching/work clothes:

Kosovo is not a shorts & t-shirts place. It gets hot in the summer, but people don’t dress nearly as casual as we do in America. Definitely bring some clothes for running or hiking, but I would focus on bringing clothes for teaching.

The teaching wardrobe varies by site. At my site people dress very professionally. Women wear pencil skirts with nice blouses, dresses, heels, and outfits with a blazer almost daily. Some volunteers get away with wearing jeans to teach, but I believe they are in the minority. Men can get away with dressing a little more casually, but women in Kosovo take their appearance very seriously. So pack plenty of interchangeable work clothes.

2.) Fancy outfitsPresident chat

Most Peace Corps packing lists tell you to bring one nice outfit. You’ll need a lot more than that. Within the first month of arriving, we had a meeting with the Ambassador, another one with the President, and then we were invited to the Ambassador’s 4th of July party. All of these were events that required dressing up. Then we had to dress up for Swearing-In. Men, definitely bring a suit.

In addition to these professional events, you need to bring wedding clothes. Think prom. You will definitely be invited to a wedding (or several) during your service. Women go ALL-OUT for weddings and circumcision parties. They wear full length gowns with elaborate hair and make-up. I wish I had brought one evening gown with me to Kosovo. I have just worn my knee-length professional dresses, but I was definitely under-dressed.

3.) Worried about modesty?

Although the culture here is very conservative in many ways, dress is not one of them. In some of the small villages female volunteers cannot wear sleeveless tops, but at most sites PCVs haven’t had issues. Keep in mind that you are representing the United States, so don’t bring your club-wear, but there’s no needs to dress like the Duggars.

  • Swimsuit: Absolutely bring one (or two). Most cities here have pools, and trips to the Albanian coast are frequent. Feel free to being a bikini. Almost all of the women here wear bikinis regardless of age or body shape, so don’t think you need to buy a tankini or one-piece for the sake of modesty.

4.) Shoes

  • I’ve never been a shoes person. I typically alternate between my two favorite pairs until they fall apart. I go for function over fashion. But people here take their shoes seriously. Sadly they are heavy and hard to pack.
    • Running/hiking shoes (at least 1 pair)
    • Boots for the fall & winter (at least 1 pair)slippers
    • Fancy shoes for weddings and other formal occasions (one pair)
    • Sandals that are comfortable and look decent (people here will not appreciate Chaco’s or Teva’s, but if you love them, bring them!)
    • Work shoes: For women here that means heels, but don’t overlook the fact that you will be walking a lot in them. My walk to work is 25 minutes each way, so I wear nice-looking shoes with just a small heel.
    • Slippers: You can buy these here, but just know that you will be REQUIRED to wear slippers inside at all times.

Keep in mind that volunteers are also given a “settling-in allowance” after PST. This money is intended to help volunteers buy whatever they need at site, whether that is clothes or supplies for their room. So don’t panic if you forget something!

If you’d like to read another volunteer’s packing suggestions, check out April’s Packing Tips for Kosovo.

And remember to begin packing early. I stayed up all night before staging to finish packing and it was not pleasant. It takes longer than you expect!

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Departure & Staging

I am officially a Peace Corps Trainee writing to you from Kosovo, my home for the next 27 months. The past two weeks have been a blur, and I was a bit sleep-deprived when I wrote this, so please forgive any typos. For info about Staging, you can skip to about halfway down the post. Train pic 2

My final days in the states were spent saying goodbyes to friends and family in Alaska, Arizona, and then Minnesota. It was an emotional and stressful couple of weeks. After packing my life in Alaska into two bags, I was able to take the Alaskan Railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage, traveling through Denali National Park. It was a 13-hour train ride, but absolutely gorgeous. And I got to make the journey in first class with the McCann Clan, my dear friends and coworkers in Galena.

mountains by train

After flying out of Anchorage I arrived in Phoenix, where I spent six days with my family. It was the first time my immediate family has been together for seven years. We sat out by the pool each day and naturally I got awful sunburn on my first day in Arizona. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t see the sun for most of the year.

My immediate family reunited at last.
My immediate family reunited at last.

My final days were spent at my parents’ home in Minnesota, unpacking, storing my stuff, shopping for supplies, and attempting to pack for two years in Kosovo.

Heads-up to future volunteers: Packing takes much longer than you think it will. Hence, I was up until 2:00 AM packing on Thursday night and had to wake up at 4:00 AM to get ready to leave. You can find my packing tips for Kosovo here.

Side note: I also had a horrible sleepwalking experience during those 2 hours of sleep. (In case you didn’t know, I am a chronic sleepwalker.) I couldn’t say exactly what happened because I was asleep, but I woke up crawling on my little sister’s furniture, fell down, and received two massive bruises on my legs that are still visible two weeks later.

So anyways, on June 5th I woke up at 4:00 AM to depart for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for my flight to staging. Goodbyes to my family were not very emotional, which I was thankful for. I think I was too sleep-deprived to cry. I arrived in Washington D.C. around 10:20, and from there I took a taxi to the hotel where our group of volunteers was meeting for staging.


What is staging?            Staging refers to brief orientation that Peace Corps Invitees attend before departing for their country of service. It is usually 1-2 days in duration. It marks the beginning of 11 weeks of training, known as Pre-Service Training.

Where is it?                    Staging takes place at hotels in major U.S. cities, depending on which country you will be serving in. The Peace Corps covers your flight or reimburses you for driving costs. Kosovo’s staging was in Washington, D.C.

staging

What does it involve?    Staging began at noon on June 5th and went until 7:00 PM. First we had registration and ate lunch in smaller groups. Then we had a few sessions on the Core Expectations, our anxieties, and basic get-to-know-you activities. I was expecting staging to be pretty boring and basic, but it was surprisingly interactive. However, it is difficult to give an accurate evaluation because of how much adrenaline we had pumping through our systems. The entire day I was thinking, I can’t believe I’m about to leave the country for 27 months. Many of us were also in a daze because we didn’t sleep the night before.

Initial Impressions of the Volunteers:Picture3
Staging involves a lot of introductions and small talk. I have to say I was pretty impressed by the group. People seem very intelligent, well-traveled, and experienced in teaching. It was crazy to look around and realize that these people will be my friends and support system for the next 2+ years.

The group was younger on average than I expected. The average age is somewhere around 24. There is a sizable chunk who just graduated from college, but the majority have been in the workforce for 1 to 3 years (most as teachers). There is only one volunteer in our group of 36 over the age of 40. The vibe was reminiscent of college orientation.

PST overview with titleThe Overall Schedule:
After our registration at noon, we had group sessions from 2:00-7:00 PM. Then most of the group went out to dinner and some went site-seeing. Our group was lucky, because we did not have to leave the hotel until noon on Saturday. I was able to catch up on sleep and do some re-packing before we checked out of the hotel.

Then we took a bus to the airport and began the long process of checking in and checking our bags. We each had two 50-lbs bags plus our carry-ons, so most of us were hauling 140 lbs of luggage through the airport single-handedly.

Tip to future volunteers: Make sure that you can handle all of your luggage yourself! You will be hauling it through airports and onto buses on your own, so make sure that you can carry what you pack. (I brought a hard rolling suitcase, a duffle bag, a rolling carry-on, and a small backpack.) You can find more packing suggestions here.

Our flight on Austrian Airlines departed Saturday evening, arriving in Vienna at 8:00 AM Sunday. Our next flight was to Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. From there we took a bus to the city of Gjilan, where we stayed for three nights while completing a brief orientation to Kosovo and the Albanian language.

Next up: Read about my first month in Kosovo and Pre-Service Training.