Friday, April 27, 2007

Hi friends and family,

Sorry about the long time between posts, training has kept me quite busy these past couple of weeks and finding spare time for writing has been difficult. First a brief overview of the fist five weeks of training...

A typical week of training consists of 5 days of intensive language lessons from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. I have two language teachers that rotate every other day and listen to us butcher their language. I feel like I'm progressing with the language but there are some things that are quite tricky to learn such as declension on nouns that have 6 different cases and are different for definite/indefinate and masculine/plural. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it. You don't want to know. I am able to communicate basic need and am starting to talk more with my host family.

Aside from language classes I am working on my teaching practicum, developing a community project, and attending sessions on medical issues, safety and security, and cultural issues. I have observed several classes taught by Albanian teachers in the middle and high school and started teaching classes this past Thursday. Generally, classes are qiute chaotic with 40 students crammed in a small room and sharing seats. There are often behavioral problems in the classes and teachers often have to talk over students. Sometimes there are only 5 students in a class of 40 who actually understand and follow the lesson. I was lucky to co-teach my first classes to 12 year old students who were well behaved, attentive, and participated. After a lesson about food and shopping, Julie and I were bombarded by students wanting our signatures and giving us flowers. One girl even asked me "Jenny, can I give you a kiss?"

Living with a host family is a unique experience and even though this is the third host family I've stayed with abroad I still am not used to it. My host family is a young couple with two young daughters who are 3 and 8 years old. I've taught the 8 year old several card games so we spend most evenings playing war after we finish throwing a ball around outside. We also brush our teeth together every night before bed so I like to think I'm spreading the importance of good dental hygiene. It's a big adjustment living with small children since they always want to play cards, draw pictures, or use you as their personal jungle gym. Personal space is smaller in Albania as it is and I feel like its even more so with Albanian children. When I'm not playing with the kids I hang out with my host mother and her friends from the neighborhood. Since the men are always out of the house at cafes, the women socialize in their homes and invite each other over for turkish coffee in the afternoon.

I currently live in a small town outside of a larger city named Elbasan. I spend most days in the village and when I'm not in the school teaching, observing, or attending language classes I go on walks in the area with my sitemates or we hang our in the lokals (small restaurnats) to plan projects. My village has hills on one side and we often explore small paths that are mainly for sheep but go through some beautiful olive groves. The other side of the town flattens out to form a valley with another range of hills and mountains farther off in the distance. Sometimes I go on long walks through the fields surrounding the village where there are several houses spread out and crops growing or fields of poppies. I have lunch in the village at the lokals with my four sitemates almost everyday. Typically we eat either pilaf, salads with really fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and a feta like cheese, or the Albanian version of french fries with some cheese on top. On hub days in Elbasan I meet up with the other volunteers for training sessions. Elbasan has some nice amenities since it is a large city such as fast internet, execellent gelato, and interesting historical sites like the old city walls and castle.

This past week I received my site announcement that told me where I will be living for the next two years. I will be teaching English in a village called Levan which is outside of Fier and on the way to Vlore. It is in the central west part of the country close to the sea. The area isn't as mountainous as the interior which cuts down up aesthetics but also means it won't be as cold in the winter. I will not have a sitemate and will be the only American in the community but there will be two volunteers in both Fier and Vlore which are both less than an hour away. Vlore is a coastal town with nice beaches and Italian influences so I will probably visit the volunteers there a couple time over the summer. I don't get to visit my site until four more weeks so I will take pictures and write as soon as I find out more! Until then I will be busy with my practicum and community project as well as still adjusting to the realities of my service in Albania.


Gaby said...

Jen, learning Albanian sounds a lot like learning Slovak. I hope you do better than I did (which probably won't be hard)!

Shelley said...


The JOYS of declension.
That was a nice suprise when I started learning Russian.
It gets easier after awhile. And you can't be worse than I am at it :)

oh man, my post sounds exactly like Gaby's!

Sounds very interesting over there!

DavyP said...


I totally know what you mean about having to speak over the children... Just recently I and another med school friend went to teach "disadvantaged" middle schoolers about diabetes prevention. At the end of my talk my throat was hoarse; Though I didn't realize it, I had actually been yelling the whole time just to be heard.

Are the students still being nice to you? Will you have internet in Levan?

Host families are great! Your little host sisters sound so cute!

Nell said...

Jenny, can I give you a kiss?

Paul said...

I'll just echo Shelley and Gaby and say that I feel your pain with the declension business. You will get used to it, unless, like Russian, you have an irregular genitive plural. If that is the case, well, good luck.

It sounds like they are keeping you busy over there, but I'll bet you're learning a lot of interesting and helpful stuff. We all miss you and keep you in our thoughts!


PS: I promised to be a good pen pal and I will front no longer. I'm going to write you this week, forreal.

victoria said...

ohh it sounds like you're missing the good old days of learning spanish. have you taught your host sister manotazo yet?? let me know if she's at skilled as juanito :)

your placement sounds really exciting...keep us updated!!