I have the same conversation with my Albanian students over and over again: “Kate, Albania is a bad place to live. There are no opportunities here. I want to leave and study in [Italy/Germany/the UK/America]. I want to find work and have a good life. I can’t do that here.”
And, seeing things as I always do through my rose-colored Peace Corps lenses, I beg these bright, progressive students not to abandon their country. Because their country needs them. If all the best minds leave, then who is left to help Albania? So I tell them, “Sure, leave! Study abroad in Italy or Germany or the UK or America. But then come back. See the world, learn as much as you can, and then come back and give to your country to make it better and share what you’ve learned.”
As some of you already know, I am back in the USA now, about half a year earlier than I planned. I have been “medically separated” from Peace Corps, which means that I’ve developed medical condition(s) that can’t be accommodated in Albania. I understand that people are curious, and that’s only natural, but health is a very personal matter and it’s not something I want to go in to great detail about in a blog post. Please do not bother my family or friends or fellow PCVs if you have questions. You can ask me directly if you really need to know that badly.
Suffice it to say that I have been through the wringer, and I’m very happy to be home so I can recover. As a friend told me before I left, “Mos luani me shendet,” or “Don’t play with your health.” And I don’t intend to.
I used to think of Peace Corps service as a 27-month marathon, and everyone had to cross the finish line. But now, I’ve realized that everyone is just running a different race. Mine was 19 months long rather than 27, but I truly feel like I’ve finished. I can look back on my service and know that I have done what I could to help Albania. And I have learned things and changed in ways that I don’t think would have been possible had I not had this experience. I can say that I have no regrets.
Now that everything has come full circle, I can take off the rose-colored lenses. My students are right: Albania is a difficult place to live. I had good memories there and will miss some things about it, but I also had some bad memories there and am happy to be relieved of some of the struggles I had. At the same time, I now know that the advice I gave to my students applies just as much to me. I think about myself even just a year ago, the state of mind I was in and what I wanted out of life. I was hustling to get out of America and experience something new. I grew fatigued of my hometown and was bursting at the seams to escape the familiar. I wanted to leave, maybe forever.
Then I joined the Peace Corps and did what I did. And now that it’s over, I’ve come back. My home stands to benefit from what I learned in Albania as much as Albania stands to benefit from one of my students studying abroad. I appreciate my country and my family and my old life now. I know it’s cliché, but I’m grateful to live here, because there are lots of people suffering around the world and I’ve met some of them. I will never forget this experience. This is why Peace Corps is a thing. This is why it works.
I spent all of last week saying some very difficult goodbyes. I could write fifty blog posts thanking all the people who helped me through this, but I’ll narrow it down to just PCVs, because they’ve been my rock this past year-and-a-half:
- Mary: Thank you for coming to my house, peeling me off of my bed, feeding me, and doing an EXCELLENT job packing my bags for me. (Because, let’s be real, you did all the packing and I did all the vomiting-and-curling-up-in-the-fetal-position that night.) If Suitcase Stuffing were an Olympic event, you’d put Michael Phelps to shame. You said I would do the same for you, and you are right, but I would have been way suckier at it.
- Ian: Thank you for hitch-hiking from the airport to my site in the middle of the night to see me off. Thank you for staying the next day, lugging all my crap around, and missing your furgon home in the process. Thank you for fixing my sink this summer. Thank you for all the Real Talks. And thank you for always being there for me.
- Jill: Where do I even begin? When we first got our assignments, little did I know that my sitemate would become my best friend. I majorly lucked out having you with me and don’t know what I did to deserve it. You are a great Volunteer and an even better person and I’m so proud of how far you’ve come during our service. Thank you for putting up with my constant bitching, doing favors for me, and lifting me up when I was feeling down. Thank you for taking all of that extra stuff from my apartment and helping me move out. I love you and will miss you and have no idea what to do without you.
- Susan: Thank you for your advice and expertise and for checking up on me the week I was in the hospital. I wish I could’ve seen you and Paul before I left.
- Jessica: Thanks for being my Medevac buddy and for supporting me physically, mentally, emotionally the past several weeks. I really enjoyed the time we spent together and wish you all the best with your service.
- James and Colby: Thanks for the day-drunk dial. Love you.