welcome back! i can’t believe the time that has passed since i started this blog – the very first day that i left nashville for pre-service training (PST) starting in philadelphia – march 18th, 2013.
now, november 8th, 2018 – not only time that has passed, but all that has happened. my 3+ years in albania were the best and hardest that i’ve every experienced. not only did i get the experience of a lifetime becoming emotionally & personally invested in another culture and people, i learned much about myself, and honed skills that i never thought that i had.
after completing the requisite 27 month (3 months of training + 2 years of service), i was able to extend for a 3rd year and moved to elbasan – a city that i spent much time in due to the hiking group and friends.
i had been put into contact with two amazing women who worked with the psychiatric hospital and community health center in elbasan. i told them about the cognitive-behavioral therapy training and asked if they would like to work with me. they accepted. so, in june of 2015 i moved from gjirokastër to elbasan.
leaving gjirokastër was bittersweet. i had made a really good friend in my language tutor, who became not only a tutor but amazing counterpart. she and i began a roma community project at the nëntë-vjeçare (elementary school) outside gjirokastër – and, because of that i connected with the Qendra Komunitare Rome Elbasan in elbasan – utilizing the amazing language teacher resources available through peace corps, and creating another weekly project with the roma community center in elbasan with besa.
during my year in elbasan, i offered many trainings – the cognitive-behavioral therapy training for mental health professionals and teachers, focusing on groups for both adults and children, in elbasan, fier, and tirana. i was also able to offer a quick training to the new group of peace corps volunteers that were in pre-service training during my last few months. oh, and i presented at a conference in tirana on the CBT trainings. i also had the opportunity to work with a group from the bashkia of elbasan for a project that was started by a COD volunteer for high school students focusing on speaking english. for 5 months i had the privilege of working with a talented and hard-working group of high school students, learning about their community, politics and the world – in english.
the anti-trafficking peace corp group that i was involved in during my two years created and offered a training-of-trainers (TOT) in tirana that was a great success – a community outreach that helped reach all parts of albania.
thinking back, one activity while not the most successful, but one that i was particularly excited about starting was an animal group with a fellow volunteer and dedicated group of albanian animal lovers – Elbasan Cares About Animals. while we presented to the bashkia what we thought was a workable plan to sterilize the stray dogs of the city in under 2 years, we weren’t able to convince the city to undertake the project. thankfully though the core group that i regularly worked with continues to advocate and keep a watch on the stray dogs of elbasan.
needless to say, the last two years went fast. that first year was rough – i’m the first to admit. but, i wouldn’t trade any of it.
i guess the biggest news was that i met someone while in albania. and, over the course of my three years, we became good friends, dated and decided to come back to america together. i won’t bore you with the fiancé visa details, but that process was not for the faint of heart (and, if anyone tries to say it is easy to get into the US legally – they’re full of it). fredi received his visa in time for my end of service – so, we took 6 weeks and traveled through the yugoslavian counties that i had not visited yet (montenegro, croatia, & slovenia), then up and around europe until we landed in amsterdam to iceland then boston on august 8th, 2016.
our first two days states-side were spent at an extremely kind high school friend’s home, catching up before departing for home (nashville). we had a welcome home committee with my mom and brother. i’ve had two years home now, and there is nothing like coming home.
needless to say, we were under some pressure to get hitched. with a fiancé visa, you have 90 days to get married from the time you enter the country and send in the next part of the paperwork. with the help of my mom and two, very dear friends – in six weeks, with a lot of prodding from those lovely ladies to stay on track, we got married.
and, on october 2nd, 2018 – we celebrated our two year anniversary. it seems unreal that two years has gone by. in those two years, i took a temporary job at vanderbilt, then was fortunate to get offered a full-time position in a research administrative job. fredi, my albanian bear, got his work permit, took a job with my father’s old company, six months later was offered another job as a maintenance supervisor. his co-workers have been supportive and impressed with his dedication. his green card came through finally 9 months after we returned home. in the big scheme of things, not very long – but the waiting was challenging. in the current political climate, each day felt like a year – would he get a green card or no? the issue came to: will we be able to stay or will we need to move to another country? thank goodness it worked out how we hoped.
and, now circling back to where we started with this entry – mirësevini (welcome in albanian)… we’ve returned to albania for vacation.
so, there is more to come, but as i remember from before – these blogs take time. we’ve been having a great time… visiting with friends, family & hiking! i have some great photos – and, will keep working to get those up soon. HUGS to all.