20 Life Lessons Learned in the First Year of Peace Corps

1. Life is all about perspective. Perspective can make or break your Peace Corps service, and your life. If you look at everything with a negative lens, everything will seem negative. It is important to maintain a positive perspective on life.

2. Networking is important. Networking and establishing relationships with people is an vital part of maintaining work and community connections. I learned that in order to get any work done in my community it was imperative to have a positive relationship with my Albanian counterparts.

3. Patience truly is a virtue. This is especially true when working in a community outside the hustle and bustle of the states. Things that would normally happen in a day in America, often take a week or more here. Things that happen in a week, usually take a month and things that happen in a month could often take up to a full year. I often remind myself of the mantra, “just breathe” because I am in situations daily that test my patience. Whether it be waiting for over an hour to catch public transportation or dealing with a difficult work situation – patience is key.

4. Don’t measure success only through work. This one was especially difficult for me to comprehend because my whole life I have been conditioned to think that success comes from work, but in reality, to be successful in life is so much more than doing a good job at work. It is better to look at success through how many positive relationships you foster in your life, or how many people you make smile in a day.

5. Know when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’. People are always going to want things from you and it is important to know when to say no. Personally, people are always stopping me, asking to help them get to America or learn English. I honestly don’t have time for certain things and have learned the skill of letting people down easily. I am not going to have a billion coffees with people everyday because my alone time is important for my sanity. Guard your time and know when to accept and when to decline.

6. Be grateful for something everyday. I spent a good majority of my life in a depressive state of mind, often feeling sorry for myself for things that happened in my past. The only person that this negative attitude really affected was myself. Everyday is full of special moments and something to be grateful for. Even just being grateful for a warm bed or the sun shining can turn a negative day in a positive day. Changing your mindset and having gratitude really helps in fostering a happier, healthier lifestyle.

7. Admit faults and failures. Failures are merely stepping stones and life lessons. If you never fail, then you are never pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. My service has been full of ‘successful failures’ and admitting those failures have helped me grow and find projects that are truly worth my time. No one is without failures.

8. Don’t waste time in one-sided relationships. This has been a continuous struggle for me for most of my life. I have put a lot of time and energy into relationships and friendships that were mostly one-sided. It isn’t worth it to stay in unhealthy, unsupportive relationships just because it is comfortable or easy. If people don’t treat you with the respect and support you deserve – drop them. I am a hopeless romantic at heart, yet I seem to always fall for those who don’t treat me right. Relationships and friendships should be built on mutual understanding and compassion.  Surround yourself with supportive friends. I have realized the most important relationship in my life is the relationship with myself. Like Carrie from Sex and the City says, “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. If you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

9. Mental and physical health is key to maintaining sanity. Taking time out of my day everyday to exercise and meditate has been my savoir here. I am now in the best shape of my life because I have taken time to work out everyday. Fitness doesn’t just happen overnight, it is a process. I am still working towards a more healthy, fit lifestyle. Now I can proudly say that, for the first time in my life, I can do a real pushup and I can run for over a mile outside without stopping. These are great accomplishments for me.

10. Kindness is more important than correctness. This one can be hard for me sometimes because I often get into discussions with others where we do not agree on certain topics or issues. I now take these conversations as an opportunity to be kind, rather than to be correct. We all have different experiences, perspectives, and ideas in life. Sometimes it is better to nicely disagree, rather than arguing about who is correct.

11. Time is of the essence. Time flies by. Life flies by. Sometimes the days felt like they were years, but looking back at my first year in Albania I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have already been here for a year. Now my service is almost half-way over. Use your time wisely. Whether that means picking up a new hobby or spending time reading or exploring. Do one thing everyday for yourself and remember that time doesn’t stop for you.

12. No one is going to hold your hand through life. I definitely learned this one quickly after Peace Corps dropped me off after staging with my host family and I could barely say, ‘how are you’ in the local language. Awkward. Then relearned this again after traveling to site and having the overwhelming feeling that no one will be there to hold my hand along the way. Self-motivation is key to being successful in life and in Peace Corps. Staff will not be following you around or calling you everyday to see what you’re doing. You have to motivate yourself to do things in your community that you want to do. You have to motivate yourself to have successes.

13. Everyone isn’t going to like you. Ain’t that the truth? I have always wanted everyone to like me. Really who doesn’t want to be liked? But the truth is, not everyone is going to like you. And sometimes people don’t even have a good reason not to like you. Everyone in life is not going to always get along and like each other. Spend time with people who do like you and forget about those who can’t see how amazing you are.

14. Love yourself. Cliché I know, but if you don’t love yourself how can you expect anyone else to. I have spent so much time not liking myself and not liking certain aspects of the way I look or the way I react to things. I can honestly say, that I truly do love myself now. It took a move across 5,869 miles to finally realize that I am worthy of love and that I am worthy of self- love.

15. Don’t judge what you don’t understand. Sometimes it is so easy for me to judge things here that I don’t understand, but I often have to put myself in check and realize that there are lots of things here that I will never understand. Rather than judging people or things, I try to learn from these experiences and expand my mind regarding differences in all of us.

16. Comparing yourself to others is deadly. This one is a killer of most Peace Corps volunteers that I know. We are often all comparing ourselves to each other (whether we admit it or not). This isn’t only a Peace Corps thing, but also a life-thing. It is easy to envy others and things that they have that you don’t. In Peace Corps specifically we all may be in the same country, but we all have vastly different experiences. Two people may even live in the same town, but have completely distinctive understanding of life here. Men and women live dissimilar lives here and it’s often hard to imagine the other side of things. Instead of comparing ourselves, it’s better to just support each other in our successes, failures, and everything in between. Remember that your Facebook feed is full of people’s happy moments and things they want to share with friends. Usually people don’t post things regarding disappointments, depression, or the like. Facebook is not a well-rounded reality, so don’t compare your daily routine to the fake reality of social media.

17. Slow down. Like I mentioned before, time is of the essence. Slow down. Take time to smell the roses or go on a bike ride to the beach. Take time to sit and have coffee with your coworkers, even when you just want to work, work, work. Life is too precious to rush through without noticing the little things that make it wonderful. Xhiro, and xhiro slowly.

18. Set realistic goals, and set them often. I came into Peace Corps knowing that I wouldn’t change the world, but I still wanted to try. I had a lot of unrealistic expectations about what my service would entail. After being here for a year, I have realized the importance of creating reasonable goals and reevaluating them often. Having sensible goals makes for a successful service and a successful life.

19. Everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher. Just because I am here, as a health educator, does not mean that I am the only teacher in the equation. I have learned so much from my Albanian friends, students, coworkers, and other volunteers. Everyone has something that they are good at, and everyone knows something that you don’t. Take time to learn from others. Even those who may drive you crazy are teaching you different things, such as patience and compassion. As my Albanian tattoo says, “Sa të rrosh, do të mësosh,” which in essence means, “You are never too old to learn.”

20. Be yourself. I was so worried that I needed to act a certain way because I am living in a completely different culture. It is good to be culturally sensitive, but also maintain your true character through it all. I feel like I have impacted far more people just by being myself and sharing a positive life outlook than I have with actual health sector work. Be yourself, because YOU are awesome!

At my parents house the night before I left for Albania.

At my parents house the night before I left for Albania.

In my host-families village during pre-service training a year ago.

In my host-families village during pre-service training a year ago.

Hanging out in my city over the summer.

Hanging out in my city over the summer.

Happy Women's Day!

Celebrating Women’s Day recently. One year down! One to go!