My time in North Macedonia continues to pass quickly as work has picked up, and there were a few back-to-back long weekends. As of today, I have a couple of weeks left of teaching for this school year. Every day I look forward to classes, and I am now accustomed to my hectic schedule of juggling different grades in all my schools. While some might see this schedule as daunting, I enjoy switching things up, and I can finally say I have taught in every classroom in the five schools I am assigned to teach!
Living in a small village has its pros and cons. My days usually consist of classes between 7 am to 1 pm and then a combination of the following: exercising, studying and receiving tutoring in Macedonian dialect, playing sports with friends from the area, cooking, and preparing my lesson plan for the next day. Sometimes, I will go to the nearby town of Kochani for lunch or coffee with a colleague, but most of my time is spent in my village. Life is quite laid-back compared to what it was like in the United States. A famous Macedonian saying is “Имаме време” which means “We have time,” and that phrase truly represents the mindset where I live.
A few weeks ago, I started my first after-school club. We usually play sports such as soccer, basketball, and American football. I am slowly teaching them how to play a laid-back version of American touch football, which they love. Some readers may not be happy with the kids’ new favorite saying when someone scores – I taught them to yell WAR EAGLE! They do not know what this phrase means, but it makes me laugh whenever they scream it! Even though I am teaching the kids how to play football, they continue teaching me how to play soccer. I was never really interested in the sport back in the US, but as one might guess, it is the game of choice here. Last week I slightly sprained my ankle after a 2nd grader dribbled the ball around me. The kids and I have a great time playing sports, and I hope to expand the club as time goes on to include different activities and more English instruction other than screaming “War Eagle” at the top of their lungs.
What surprises me the most about many of my students is how little they consume English media (such as Tik Tok, movies, music, etc.). Most of the other volunteers across the country located in larger cities have stated their students consume a lot of English media which helps their English. For my after-school club, I bring my Bluetooth speaker to play music (this is one of the best things I brought with me from the States — it has been helpful in so many ways). The kids always request specific songs in Macedonian, Serbian, German, or Bulgarian. I recently started asking the students to pick English songs to make a playlist that we can listen to during our after-school club. While this was a simple trick, I noticed changes in the student’s interest in English. I have a few more ideas to try for the summer months.
Looking back on my previous months of service, I believe January was easily the most challenging month. Overall, I think it boils down to having a ridiculous amount of free time and being unable to leave my site. Also, it was freezing, and I spent most of my time sitting next to my wood furnace. Luckily, during the summer, I will have the opportunity to travel, work with students in my clubs, and will have other community projects as well. My Macedonian friends often tell me how brutal the summer months are here, with consistent 100 + degree days and more mosquitoes than one could ever imagine. While it is late spring, I have started mentally preparing myself for this summer and stocking up on bug spray and mosquito nets.
While not every moment of my seven months of service has been easy or perfect, I look back with pride on what I have accomplished. In addition to learning Macedonian and teaching in the schools, I have learned so much about the culture, history, and people in this country. I feel fortunate to be in the position I am in, with the people who surround me, and I can teach and learn from others every day. Peace Corps is truly “The toughest job you’ll ever love” and the best job I have ever had! До Крајот! (Until the end).
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