What Is vs. What Was

I often wonder about what people think when they look at my life under a magnifying glass. I served my country; I spent two years abroad in a developing country working on the grassroots level as part of a community as one of the people. Yet, in a sense, I was always an outsider; I was always someone separate. I was the American in the community. I was “special,” whether or not I deserved that status. I think back to my time as a Peace Corps volunteer and sometimes it literally just feels like a dream… like a far away, distant land that I made up inside my head. I still keep in contact with my friends and students, but it is different. And honestly, I can’t expect for it to remain the same because I no longer live in Albania. I don’t even live on the same continent. Everything is so different. Despite my best efforts to try to keep everything the same, especially when it comes to my students and the relationships I built while living in Albania. Everything is not the same. It will never be the same. I have a completely new life now.

This new life… well, it’s strange. I can’t deny that it is amazing. It is great. It is new. It is challenging. It is everything I ever dreamed for myself. I am learning new things about myself and about the United states, but… is this what I want? I think this is a question that so many people, especially Millenials, struggle with. What do we want? We are all pulled in so many directions. We are socialized to desire two conflicting lifestyles. On one hand we should be independent and strive for our own personal desires and success in life, but on the other hand we should settle down and pick a partner, pick a career, pick a “life”. I know that I have made many good decisions in my life (and I am extremely happy, and satisfied, with where my decisions have led me to this point), but still I don’t have all the answers, and that is f*cking frustrating. Why does society make me feel like I should have all the answers?!… when in reality nobody has all the answers… and that’s the point…

In Albania, I met so many people that changed me, that shaped me, that made me a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experience that I had serving in Peace Corps. Coming back home is harder than most people anticipate. Being replaced – by new American Peace Corps volunteers, by sustainability, or not being replaced at all – is difficult. And then readjusting to the culture that once was my own, but now feels so foreign. I don’t know, honestly. It’s hard. Harder than one can imagine. The day that the new Peace Corps volunteers in Albania wanted to kick previous volunteers out of our Facebook group (a group that once meant solidarity, trust, and so much more beyond a social network) was the day that I realized how much my life had changed in the past half-year. I realize that sounds lame to base so much upon a social network group, but when I was in Albania Facebook and other social networks were my only connection to other volunteers and my family/friends back home. But, I’m not a current Peace Corps volunteer anymore. I am not there everyday to serve my community. I can’t relate on the same level to volunteers that are still in country anymore… because I’m not there anymore. It’s hard to come to terms with that.

To join the Peace Corps I had to give up my entire life in the United States. I had to give up my friends, my lovers, my hometown, my entire life, to become something different. And yes, some people thought this decision was “selfish” and self-serving, but at the same time… it was so much more than that. I wanted something more from life. I received everything I wanted and more from my experience in Albania. I just wish people could understand how much I had to give up to come back home….

These girls were my everything

These girls were my everything

We liked having coffee together

We liked having coffee together

I miss walking down the stairs of my apartment complex for fresh fruits and veggies

I miss walking down the stairs of my apartment complex for fresh fruits and veggies

I created bonds with many wonderful people in my group and now we don't even live within driving distance

I created bonds with many wonderful people in my group and now we don’t even live within driving distance

I loved spending holidays together with my new family

I loved spending holidays together with my new family

Or having my Albanian family cook me amazing meals, just because...

Or having my Albanian family cook me amazing meals, just because…

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Now

It’s weird how quickly life goes by. It feels like just a blink of an eye and my entire existence in Albania has dissengrated. One moment I was saying goodbye to my students, my home, my boyfriend, and my life in Albania – shedding quite a few tears along the way. Now I sit in my apartment in a completely new place in the United States and a completely new life. This is one of the first times since I started school that I decided to take the night off and take a step back from homework. I can’t even begin to explain how incredibly busy I have been since returning back to the states. I got used to living a lifestyle of leisure in Albania. It was definitely a slower pace abroad and I can’t deny that I definitely enjoyed that. I miss sitting for hours at a coffee with friends and chatting about life. Now the only reason why I would be sitting at a coffee shop for hours is to do homework and I can attest to the fact that homework is not necessarily as enjoyable and sipping on kafe express in Kavaje with Chuck. I have three jobs including my internship for school. I am an enrollment specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. I also work for the admissions office at Wash U and I am one of the official bloggers (the blog hasn’t gone live yet, but I’ll provide the link once it does). And my practicum placement is in East St. Louis School District 189. It’s been super enlightening to work these new jobs and I feel like I’m learning a lot about my community, as well as the apparent inequality and oppression that Americans continue to face to this day.

I don’t know how to describe my transition back to the states. It hasn’t been easy. That’s for sure. But at the same time, it’s been okay. I have gotten used to the new normal of my life. Missouri is vastly different than Albania (and even vastly different from Colorado), but it’s exciting and new. I am experiencing different things all the time and I’m getting a great education. I am happy because I know that I’m on the right path to do exactly what I want to do with my life. I am a great social worker and now I am finally in a position where people appreciate the skills that I bring to the table. It doesn’t hurt that I attend the number one social work program in the country either. And it isn’t that people didn’t appreciate me in Albania, but there were always so many additional barriers that made it difficult to get things done.

I still listen to Albanian music everyday. My laptop desktop background is a picture of me and all the KYAC students on my last day. And I still talk to Quinn daily. I yearn for the familiar and my time in Albania. Yet, this is my new normal now. And it’s not bad. It’s actually pretty great.