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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
The 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.