Prom Kosovar Style!

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I never expected that my Peace Corps country-of-service would have prom. Not only do Kosovars have it, but it puts American prom to shame.

Because I taught 12th grade English for most of the year, I was invited to celebrate prom with the graduating class and the other teachers. All throughout the year I heard people referring to prom, so I quickly realized that it was a big deal.

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Me with my counterpart, who I co-teach with at the secondary school.

Turns out prom in Kosovo is not just teenagers grinding on each other like it often is in the States. It is primarily a graduation celebration for the 12th graders. There is no graduation ceremony, so prom night marks the end of their schooling. At the end of 9th grade students have a semi-prom, which marks their transition into high school and is also taken very seriously.

The first thing that stood out to me about Kosovar prom was how impeccably dressed everyone was. The students have style. Women here are also experts at doing hair and make-up.

Speech 3The evening began at 8:00 PM and took place at a luxurious venue on the outskirts of the city. The teachers entered first, followed by the students walking down the grand staircase in pairs and posing for pictures. We then had a traditional meal served in a fancy ballroom, with live Albanian music to accompany it. Then the school director, class president, and Minster of Education addressed the students. I was also asked last minute to address the hundreds of graduates. So I gave a short but sincere congratulations speech. (Side note to future volunteers: You never know when you’ll be asked to give a speech in Peace Corps, so get ready to improve those public speaking skills!)

Then the dancing began. Albanians LOVE dancing. I’ve always been pretty shy about dancing, so I was planning to sit it out most of the night. The students and teachers, however, had other plans. I was quickly pulled onto the floor to participate in valle, the traditional Albanian circle dance. We then transitioned in to the clubbing type of music I’d expect at a prom, but the dancing stayed classy. Even the teachers danced for most of the evening, which is a major difference from American prom.

A few key points about Albanian dancing:

  1. Lift up yours arms. Wrist movements are key. In American dancing it’s about the butt. In Kosovo it is about arms and elegance.
  2. Consider holding a handkerchief in one hand to emphasize wrist movements.
  3. Possibly place a glass of water on your head while dancing to showcase your poise. (Really, I’ve seen multiple people do this at each dancing event.)
  4. Men love dancing just as much as the women. Maybe more.
  5. If trying these things alone on the dance floor is intimidating, grab hands and join the circle dance! All you do is (to the right) step, step, step, touch/kick and then (to the left) step, touch/kick. Then repeat. It’s very simple!

If you are having a hard time picturing this, check out the video I made with clips from the evening at the bottom of this post.

The students also prepared a little comedy show where they impersonated some of the teachers. Even though I could only understand 70% of it, it was still pretty funny. After the comedy show we had a couple more hours of traditional dancing, with me trying to dance like an Albanian but probably still moving my hips too much and my arms too little. Oh well, I’ve still got a year to improve.

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With the school’s director

One of the reasons that prom is so serious relates to one of the differences in the school system. Students here are placed in a class of approximately 35 students when they enter secondary school. They have every subject with that group of 35 students until they graduate. They literally spend 6 classes, 5 days per week, with the same group of people for three years. This leads to very close bonds between classmates.

Prom included a lot of celebrating, but also tearful goodbyes at the end. It brought back memories of my high school graduation and saying goodbye to friends before we all parted ways and moved away for college. I was struck by how similar people are across cultures. Here was a group of Kosovar teens experiencing the same types of emotions that I was at 18.

The celebration lasted until nearly 3:00 in the morning. And 85% of it was dancing. Although I was exhausted by the end, it was a memorable experience. I look forward to another prom next year!



Swearing-In Ceremony

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Pre-Service Training is like the Peace Corps’ version of basic training, but with a lot less push-ups. (But just as much sweat thanks to no air-conditioning.)

These 11 weeks of in-country training conclude with a formal ceremony, where trainees take an oath and become official Peace Corps Volunteers.

Our Swearing-In Ceremony was on Saturday, August 22nd, 2015. The night before we were busy re-packing our bags and eating our final meal with our PST host families. I was also busy practicing for the speech I was asked to give at the ceremony in Albanian. My host family probably thought I was crazy as I paced my room, packing and mumbling in Albanian.

The day began extremely early. I woke up by 5:00 AM to get ready and finish packing. The ceremony was being broadcast by several television stations, so we were told to look our best. I left the house at 5:45 with all of my bags to meet in the center of Kamenice, where we all boarded a bus to the capital Prishtina, where the ceremony was being held.

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Receiving my official Peace Corps certificate from the US Ambassador

Before the ceremony we were given instructions on how to enter, the order of speakers, how to receive our certificates, and how to take the Oath of Service. It felt a lot like rehearsing for graduation. We also signed copies of the oath and were addressed by our Country Director.

The ceremony began at 10:00 AM and it was a pretty fancy affair. All of the Peace Corps Kosovo staff were in attendance, along with our PST host families, numerous government officials, and lots of news reporters. The ceremony included a speech by our Country Director, the new U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie, and President Atifete Jahjaga. We then took our oath of service:

An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath:

I,_________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

After being sworn-in, Brett & I took the stage to give our speech on behalf of the Speechvolunteers. My primary goal was to not throw-up on the President on national television. There were several news stations broadcasting the ceremony, especially because it was the first public event for the new U.S. Ambassador.

It is with great relief that I report that I did not embarrass myself on TV! The speech was definitely a success, and it even brought several Kosovars to tears. You can see a couple of the short news clips here:

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Chatting with President Atifete Jahjaga after the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the ceremony I was able to chat with the President, got interviewed by a news station, and then took pictures with the other volunteers and my host family.

After saying our tearful goodbyes we were responsible for traveling to our permanent sites on our own. It was a surreal moment. After being together as a group for 11 weeks, suddenly we are thrown out of the PST nest and told to fly. It’s a frightening and exciting moment. I’ll also say that moving 150 pounds of luggage in a dress and heels through Kosovar bus stations was quite the challenge.

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Over the next few days I had the crazy experience of seeing myself on the news and hearing my Albanian speech on the radio. I guess it was my 15 minutes of fame!

Now begins two years of service as an official Peace Corps Volunteer!


If want to read a summary of the end of PST and my first week at site, read PST August: Training Ends, Service Begins!