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Patrice Koerper, American Corner, Bitola, Macedonia

That’s me. Happy and fulfilled because I was using my strengths and was very grateful to be where I was, doing what I was doing – talking about positive psychology at the American Corner in Bitola, Macedonia to a great group of people!

For my next project I am heading to the Republic of Georgia for three months as a Response Corps Volunteer with the United States Peace Corps. I love the Peace Corps; 2011 is their 50th anniversary. Who knew during the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps I would be a volunteer with them again! That’s the fun of creating the life you want, it is often a mystery – until it unfolds in front of you, like Macedonia and Georgia have done for me.

I will live in the capital of Tbilisi, and will work with the Ministry of Environment Protection writing a public relations plan for them. Before becoming a life coach, I worked in public relations for 25+ years, but could never have predicted I would someday be using those skills in Macedonia or in Georgia.

Georgia and Macedonia have a number of things in common, they have both been republics since 1991, and they are both beautiful mountainous countries with lots of vineyards; wonderful, warm people and rich histories. Their climates are similar, and much like Cleveland, Ohio were I was born and lived for 36 years.

I cannot wait to begin my assignment in Georgia, but it is just as difficult to say goodbye to Macedonia and my friends and “family” here, as it was to leave my family and friends in the States. Change and courage go hand in hand with each new adventure. We can never be certain where our journeys will take us, but I know that happiness is my constant traveling companion if I only remember to open my suitcase!

I hope wherever you are in the process of creating the life you want, you are experiencing fun, flow and fulfillment and are surrounded by friends and are finding ways to use your strengths, because as noted on the screen in the above photo those five things combined are the key to creating the life you want, PERMAnently.

Below is the next stop of my journey, where will yours take you? (Please remember, the internal places we travel and the friends we make are as important, and are usually more life changing and lasting, than the locations we visit.)

The Republic of Georgia

And, in true Georgian tradition, I will toast to you and your journey as soon as I can in my new location. You see, in Georgia . . .

“Toasts, however, are not simple declarations; they are expected to be speeches mixed with mirth, spoken verse and insight. Toasts are usually made with wine, toasting with beer is an insult to the one toasted. We are very generous with our wine, but since toasts are the only time you are supposed to drink your wine, we have many toasts (we have always been a practical people). In fact, we will use just about anything as an excuse to toast, a foreign guest happens to work quite well. So get used to your family, your country and friendship and your character being toasted. ”

http://georgia.travel/culture/food/toasting/

And, since Georgians never toast without a table laden with delicious homemade food, I know I will be feeling at home very soon!

PS  This post is filled with interesting links and videos about Georgia and posts about Macedonia and Wishful Thinking Works. Please take a minute to scroll up and click to learn more about where I am heading next, where I have been and what I’ve been thinking about along the way.

Stepping back

 

 

Going to the rural village of Dihovo just outside of Bitola, Macedonia is like stepping back in time.

I think stepping back, taking time to absorb life and see what rises and what really matters is a very good thing. In 2005, stepping back from my life led me to one of the best decisions of my life – to join the Peace Corps. In 2006, I found myself in Macedonia and soon after in Dihovo.

Dihovo is a place where the word quiet is a way of life and soft-edged stone homes hug the winding narrow roads. Natural time is the only clock that really matters here – the light of the sun and the tilt of the earth’s axis predict activities.  If you rise early you may meet a shepherd and his flock heading up the mountains, if you stay-up late you will experience the deep, rich sounds of silence. If you visit in late spring, lettuce will be ready to pick and flowers will be blooming everywhere. If you wait until fall, someone is sure to be stirring ajvar or fermenting grapes. 

Dihovo is nestled in the foothills of the Baba Mountains, where each step you take, every move you make is an uplifting experience – all puns intended. 

Under the protection of the mountains, the summers are cooler; the winters a bit warmer. Fall weather adds vibrant color to the surrounding hills, and on a snowy day nature’s gifts seem to almost too much to bear. Like an over-eager guest, who brings more than wine or chocolates to dinner, nature has presented Dihovo with an abundance of goodies. 

I first visited this tiny enclave at the invitation of one of its summer and weekend residents in 2007, my love of the village and its people quickly grew and has expanded over the years. Dihovo is alway on my mind, often on my lips, and can easily be found on my virtual fingertips as I find new ways and places to write about its peaceful wonders.

This weekend I was in Dihovo when Macedonia’s summer-like weather abruptly ended as rain fell and the temperature dramatically dropped. This brisk change served to enhance the village’s beauty as the dark sleek colors of stones emerged and the aroma of wood burning stoves, roasting red-peppers, and slow-cooking meat dishes filled the air. Walking the streets with my collar-up and umbrella opened, here is a bit of what I was lucky enough to enjoy this weekend in Dihovo. There is an emphasis on the chimneys that warmed the homes and my heart:

 

 

 

As always, lots more photos, but will save for another day. If you want to visit Dihovo, I suggest Villa Dihovo or Villa Patrice (named for me, not mine). Both are also listed in the Macedonia section of the Lonely Planet Guide Western Balkans (pg 315) and on Facebook. You can “Like” us all there! Also there are lots of great videos for Macedonian foods on You Tube. 

If you would like to create the life you really want, try stepping back by giving yourself a bit more free and alone time to see what happens. Turn off the TV, put down your book, and stop trying to do everything at once. Stretch a bit or take a walk and try not to think too much. It might feel odd at first, but if you keep trying you may find there is something entirely new or something you have wanted but have ignored, waiting for you. Stepping back can help you discover your dreams.

Stepping back is leading me on a new adventure; next Monday I leave Macedonia for the Republic of Georgia for a 3 month assignment with Response Corps Peace Corps. I’ll tell you more about it when I’m settled in there. Until then, I will be spending time with all my wonderful friends in Macedonia.

Gratitudes from abroad

 

“He stumbled upon the thing he had forgotten he was searching for and in that moment lost not his mind but his heart.”            From Mark Slouka’s collection of short stories, “Lost Lake”

My thoughts when I visit Macedonia. My heart is constantly being refreshed, and expands with each passing moment. The reasons vary minute to minute, scene to scene, encounter to encounter, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Here are a few of my favorite things thus far . . .

Being on hand to share a friend’s wedding; we met on Skype when working on a project after I returned to the States. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate Skype?) Last fall when I visited, we  had dinner with one of my favorite people in the world, who introduced us. We spent an evening of laughter, grilled meats and salads with a current Peace Corps Volunteer. Time and distance has not affected the friendships. This year the wedding brought us together again for a fantastic evening of music, singing, dancing, and laughing. The evening and their friendships are very special to me.

The Happy Couple borrowed from their FB page!

 

Spending my days and nights with the dear friends, who have opened their home to me while I am here. We pass the time talking about life, family, work and clothes; eating the delicious foods she prepares between work and play;  and critiquing the movies we watch good and bad, and laughing our way through both.

 

And, yes, I ate them. They were grilled to perfection, with a side of tiny potato and red onion salad.

 

Walking here, there and everywhere. Feeling like a kid each time I step out a door and into the sun, not knowing what lies ahead, but knowing my heart will be affected by it all. (Many more photos to share, but here are a few.) 

One of Ohrid's beautiful streets

 

The view in Stenje, Macedonia, a village on Prepsa Lake, a few kilometers from Albania

 

Behind the glass at Villa Jovan in Ohrid

The colors and angles never cease to delight me.

 

Planning road trips with a group of friends; arguing over (discussing) destinations; and yet, knowing wherever we go, we will have fun. And, we do. Last year Struga, Vevchani, Makedonski Brod and beyond. This year, Luktraki and Edessa, Greece. Next time, who knows?

 

 

Gyros are pork or chicken, usually served with French fries with options for mustard and/or ketchup! A dab of tzatziki is there for the asking. I hate to admit it, but I prefer American.

 

The warm mountain waters of Loutraki, Greece our first destination that day

 

A natural pool at Loutraki, Greece, I call it "Watching the clock in paradise."

 

Looking down the falls in Edessa, Greece

Now, looking up in Edessa, Greece

 

Chestnuts, roadside in Greece

 

Coffee – lots of coffee – with friends at outdoor cafés watching the world go by, and in backyards and balconies enjoying the fresh air and sun. 

 

Cappuccino, enough said.

 

Music is everywhere. Concert violins on opening night of a classical music festival; American rock-and-roll blaring from cafés and being sung by a talented bride at her wedding; Pavarotti and Joe Cocker on a road trip; traditional Macedonian in the villages, mountains, cities and towns –  when and wherever Macedonians gather.

 

 

Music in the mountains from my Peace Corps days.

 

Food – salty, sweet; mild and hot;  fresh, slow-cooked; tangy, tasty and all of it made with love and attention to presentation. Here are a few of the Fall’s freshest.  

 

Kiwi, almost ready.

  

Pomegranates - red, ripe and delicious in just a few weeks

 

Hope wherever you are, you take a moment to savor what you love and time to explore the rest.  And, to consider the possibility as Mark Slouka notes that:

“living appropriately sometimes requires a drawing back, a slow renunciation of  much that mattered once.”

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting and watching

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

G.K. Chesterton via Jason Miko’s web page

My three years in the Peace Corps taught me the value of waiting and watching to see what unfolds. Here’s a few moments that unfolded while having coffee in the market this week.

 

Shoemaker, making things better.

Not so much a throwaway society.

I like the idea of second chances.

 

Wishful Thinking Works: Create the life you really want.

Patrice Koerper is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who served in Macedonia from 2006-2009. She is happy to have traveled back to Macedonia in the fall of 2010 for two months, where she hosted 5 Americans for 3-4 weeks while visiting friends and working on projects. This year, she is thrilled to return to Macedonia, hosting one American, working and playing in a country she loves. Next, she is heading to the Republic of Georgia for a three month Response Corps assignment with the United States Peace Corps.

Patrice’s main passion and occupation is Wishful Thinking Works life coaching and workshops, which combined with her family and friends, and travels are all part of the life she is really wants. 

 

Peace Corps, Up Close and Personal V

 

Peace Corps turned 50 on March 1, 2011. During the past 50 years more than 200,000 Volunteers committed to spend 27 months abroad in a place very far from home that they accepted but didn’t choose.  

 Sound scary? It is. Sound adventurous? It is. Sound wonderful? It was!  

To celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary and the personal commitment and courage of five of those Volunteers, each Wednesday in March I have been sharing one of their stories.
 
 Today is the final installment for March, and is the story of a currently serving Volunteer.

 

Now, when given a situation and a set of materials, I make it work as best I can. My service has made me more resourceful. I also think my service has made me bolder, more willing to throw myself into new situations.”

 

Katie at the summit, September 5, 2010

 

High praise when you consider that by the time Katie Kalinowski decided to join Peace Corps she had a B.S. in Natural Resources from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Master of Economics from North Carolina State University, traveled to 32 countries, run four marathons and celebrated her 29th birthday, and yet, she credits Peace Corps with making her understand and embrace Project Runway fashion consultant Tim Gunn’s quote to “Make it work.” 

After years of thinking about Peace Corps as a way to work abroad and immerse herself in a foreign culture, Katie joined when she could not longer resist the lure of all the amazing photos of people doing good work in exotic places.  

When she applied Katie was working as a Program Associate at a nonprofit called Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, Oregon, which advocates for renewable energy in four Northwest states. Prior to that, she worked for 3.5 years in Washington, DC at a nonprofit called RESOLVE as a Facilitator. Her primary project was as Senior Outreach Coordinator for the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, a neutral forum for stakeholders to get together and discuss the challenges and opportunities of wind power development.
 
Katie is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Macedonia. Her service will end in November of this year. After she finishes, she plans to travel for a month with two other volunteers through Eastern Europe. Then she has plans to continue on to India, Thailand, and Laos for another two months before she finds her way back to her home state of Colorado. 
 
When the traveling ends – at least for this phase of her life, Katie would like to find a job in Washington, DC working on international, environmental, and energy issues (or some combination thereof) for a nonprofit or government agency.   
 
 
1. What’s your favorite memory of living in Macedonia, thus far?  
 
One of my favorite memories is of hiking the tallest mountain in Macedonia with the hiking club from my community.  Another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), went with me and we wore matching “I *heart* MK” T-shirts which made us a head-turner on the trail.  The weather could not have been better and we were escorted by two friendly and seasoned Macedonian  hikers. There were so many beautiful vistas and everyone had fun at the peak, eating snacks and taking photos. In true Macedonian fashion, on the van ride home, there were more snacks, lots of “refreshments,” and laughter.  
 

Hiking team, September 5, 2010

 
  
2. What’s your funniest memory?
 
A site mate and I were teaching the local kids how to play kickball. Since they had never played baseball either, we were thoroughly going over the basics from “this is a base” to how to tag out players. We thought we had covered everything until, as we were playing, one runner passed the player ahead of him between second and third base.  “There’s no passing your teammate on base in front of you!” we yelled.  It’s the smallest things that trip you up.  
 
 

Kickball with the American Sports Club-Bitola, October 9, 2010

 

3. Best thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer?  

The great people that we get to work with, and I mean the other Peace Corps Volunteers and Macedonians. Both groups are comprised of people, who want to make a difference in the world; it feels good to be a part of their efforts.  
 
4. Worst thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer?
 
Not being able to fix all the problems that you encounter.  Many problems are seemingly too big to take on, especially as a temporary visitor. Other times, you want people to think about something in a new way to help solve a problem but they don’t seem to be able to do so.  It’s those “unsolvable” problems that make it hard to be a PCV.  
 
5. Best thing about your host country?

The warmness of the Macedonian people, folks will invite in strangers and they genuinely care about the wellbeing of the people around them. And, if I can have a second best thing, then ajvar—a tasty red pepper spread that is like spreadable heaven.  

My host-nephew and host-grandma making ajvar, September 24, 2009

 

6. What do you miss most about the States? 

As much as I want to say family and friends, the real answer is food.  Macedonia has delicious and fresh food but it’s a uniform cuisine. I miss having the world at my doorstep—Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Lebanese, Indian, etc. Not to mention individual foods themselves—sweet potatoes, black beans, roast beef, turkey, sprouts, cheddar cheese, and . . .  I also miss taking a run and having it be a non-event – in Macedonia my running attracts stares from almost everyone I pass.  I also miss seeing other runners, particularly other female runners
 
7. Has your Peace Corps service changed you?
 
Now, when given a situation and a set of materials, I make it work as best I can. My service has made me more resourceful. I also think my service has made me bolder, more willing to throw myself into new situations.
 
On the other hand, I also feel like Peace Corps opened my eyes to how big the challenges are in the world to improve education, the environment, and so on.  


World Water Monitoring Day in Bitola, December 30, 2010

 
8. Has there been a defining moment that made you realize you were making a difference by being in the Peace Corps?

Recently I’ve noticed that my coworker is now regularly referring to a work plan that he started using after we finished writing the organization’s first strategic plan. He’s utilizing a checklist and updating it on a weekly basis, which feels like a big accomplishment in a work culture where the usual approach is simply “ima vreme” (there’s time).   

9. Did you make friendships that will go beyond Peace Corps? 

The friendships that I have with some of the other Volunteers definitely feel like they will go beyond Peace Corps, because we have bonded over all our successes and challenges. I also feel like some of my closest collaborators here will remain friends, because I care about what happens to them and vice versa.  

Baptism of my host-niece, Kijara, as her big brother Mario looks on, August 8, 2010

 

10. If you had to describe your Peace Corps service in one word, what would it be?

“Marathon” (Katie ran her fifth marathon in Macedonia, but I don’t think that is what she meant!)  

Check out this Peace Corps press release about Katie!

 

Final note: Katie and I served in the same city in Macedonia, but not at the same time. We met first via email and then in-person when I returned to Macedonia for a two month visit in the fall of 2010. 


 

Peace Corps, Up Close and Personal – IV

 
 
Peace Corps turned 50 on March 1, 2011. During the past 50 years more than 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers committed to spend 27 months abroad in a place very far from home that
they accepted, but didn’t choose.
  
To celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary each Wednesday in March I’m sharing a PCV’s story. This week’s installment is a bit different; I didn’t write the interview, but wanted to share it because their PC story briefly touched mine.
  
 
“Ron and Nancy Tschetter served in India as community health volunteers from 1966 to 1968. After their Peace Corps service, Nancy worked as a social worker and Ron had a career in the financial securities industry. On September 13, 2006, Ron Tschetter was confirmed by the United States Senate as the 17th Director of the Peace Corps.”  (Source)
 
                                                          

Photo of Ron and Nancy Tschetter in India from http://www.peacecorps.gov

 

I met Ron and Nancy in February of 2008 when they visited Bitola, Macedonia where I was assigned as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from 2006-2009. Ron was the world-wide Director of the Peace Corps (PC) then, and he and Nancy were on an official visit to Macedonia. Since they were scheduled to visit my city, a fellow PCV on the planning committee asked me if I would help with the arrangements for a luncheon PC wanted to have in Bitola. I said “Sure”, which made me the local arrangements liaison. We hosted the luncheon at one of my favorite restaurants in Bitola in the Hotel Millenium.

 

I will be the first to admit, my Peace Corps service was sometimes quite cushy!

 

PCVs from the surrounding cities and villages were invited to attend the luncheon along with local dignitaries and the PC Macedonia Director and some PC Macedonia staff. (Each country in which PCVs serve has an American PC Director along with a program director and administrator officer. Additional staff are hired locally and make up about 90% of the total in-country staff.)

These wonderful, kind and professional folks were the full-time staff, who helped us while we were serving in Peace Corps Macedonia. There were also many great temporary staff, who returned each year to teach and work with Volunteers during training.

 

I really enjoyed meeting and talking with Ron and Nancy. They embodied the vision I had of Peace Corps growing-up – young Americans stepping out into the world to offer their skills, and then finding ways to continue to give back to their country and culture after their return to the States.

I sat next to Ron at the luncheon and we talked a bit about service to one’s country and the different forms it can take. We discussed how great it was that our government offered us the opportunity to join Peace Corps in very different decades, at very different ages – they joined in their 20’s; I joined in my 50’s – and in very different places – they served in India; I was serving in southeastern Europe – and how Peace Corps had still turned out to be perfect for each of us.

We also talked about how you truly never know what life holds for you. Their lives had come full circle from serving as Peace Corps Volunteers to Ron being appointed as Director of Peace Corps more than four decades later. Sitting there talking to him, I realized my life had circled back allowing me to live out my childhood dream of serving in the Peace Corps. In different ways Peace Corps had allowed both of us to create the lives we wanted. 

The interesting thing about creating the life you want is that it can lead you to exciting, exotic places and to amazing meeting and moments, but the most important part of all is whether or not the life you are creating leads you full circle back to yourself – the real you, the person you truly enjoy being. That’s when you know you are on the right journey.

Here’s a bit of Ron and Nancy Tschetter’s journey from the Peace Corps’ Paul D. Cordell World Wise Schools Stories web page, where you will find more interesting tales from those who served in the Peace Corps. Next Wednesday, I will share the last of my “Peace Corps, Up Close and Personal” interviews for March. I am hoping to feature at least one interview a month through 2011 as part of my ongoing celebration of Peace Corps 50th Anniversary.

Peace Corps India, 1966-1968 by Ron and Nancy Tschetter

Ron:
As Director of the Peace Corps, it has been my honor to have met Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world and to have seen firsthand the remarkable dedication, passion, and skill they bring to serving others.

My wife, Nancy, and I were Peace Corps Volunteers in India from 1966 to 1968. We were in our 20s, recent college graduates and newlyweds, when we decided to serve in the Peace Corps. We spent two years living and working with the people of India and learned to speak the local language. We came away from our experience with a great appreciation for the culture and values in India.

Nancy:
The Peace Corps was a bit different back in the Sixties—nowadays Volunteers do their training in-country to become familiar with the culture and language, but back then our training was held in the United States, and we were sent overseas when it was time to begin our assignment. We completed our training on December 15, and, after an evening out and one last dinner in New York City, we left the Big Apple on a plane bound for London and the great beyond.

The following evening we boarded an Air India charter, a Boeing 707 full of anxious Peace Corps Volunteers just like ourselves. We flew all night to Delhi, India. I will never forget when we arrived, stepping off the plane: the smoky haze that rose from hundreds of small brown huts; the exotic smell of dinner prepared over wood fires; the pungent tropical air. We were truly on the other side of the world in a culture very different from our own.

It was midnight Christmas Eve when we finally arrived at our new community. Undeterred by the late hour, Bara, our proud host, gave us a short tour of the village, including the centerpiece of local entertainment—an outdoor movie theater that was in full swing, loud music blaring.

Decades later, I can still recall our exhaustion when we finally arrived at our house. It was situated among a block of shops, all resembling one another. Here, traders would sell their wares from the ground floor and live upstairs on the second floor.

Bara found us some plain metal bed frames, on loan from the clinic until we got our own, and we threw our sleeping bags on the frames and fell right to sleep. We didn’t even realize we had a bedroom on the second floor until the next day! Things were very basic. We had a tank that we would fill with water, and a”basket latrine” inside the house. A little balcony upstairs added a touch of luxury.

Ron:
We gradually became acquainted with our environment. India at that time still revolved around a caste system, and we lived among the people we were to serve; they were called “untouchables.” These were people from the lowest caste in Indian society, and they were very, very poor. Together with our Indian counterparts, we worked in a community health center at the other end of the village about a quarter of a mile away. We came to know our neighbors by walking to and from the clinic. From assisting in the clinic and living in our local community, we quickly learned about the development problems related to rural health. Certain illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, and malaria took their toll, and children were subject to catching every sort of childhood disease. Epidemics such as small pox and cholera could wreak havoc on a population already struggling.

Nancy:
It was natural to wonder then how much of an impact we were making in the face of such widespread poverty. We knew our Peace Corps experience clearly expanded our horizons and taught us a great deal about how life is for people who are struggling in other parts of the world. We learned to appreciate what we have as Americans, and how as global citizens we have a responsibility to others who are less fortunate. But was it really possible for two young people to make a difference? It may be simply that we influenced one person, or one family, or one village in a faraway place. However, the effect was no less significant, for those individuals were the people we had come to know and care about during our years of Peace Corps service.

Two young boys from a lower caste family that lived close by were in the habit of hanging out on our front porch. We gradually got to know them and their family quite well, and we became close friends. We have been fortunate to go back to India five times and have kept in contact with the family we knew so well. We do know that we impacted at least two people—the young boys who used to hang out on our doorstep. Both of them finished school and grew up to be successful businessmen, and each has three lovely children.

Ron:
Since becoming Peace Corps Director, I have had the privilege of visiting Volunteers in 43 countries, from Albania to Zambia . I’ve seen that the challenges now are as great as they were back when Nancy and I served, or maybe even greater. I continue to be deeply impressed by the commitment of our Peace Corps Volunteers.

Though it was many years ago, our Peace Corps experience still reverberates in our lives and the lives of those with whom we were honored to work. You see, once you do something so bold, so enriching, and so all-encompassing, you realize that volunteering and giving to others is actually a gift to yourself. Our lives, and certainly our perspectives, were changed forever.

 

If you or someone you know has a Peace Corps story they would like to share, contact me, Patrice Koerper at wishfulthinkingworks@gmail.com.

Peace Corps Up Close and Personal – III

 
 
Peace Corps turned 50 on March 1, 2011. During the past 50 years more than 200,000
Volunteers committed to spend 27 months abroad in a place very far from home
that they accepted, but didn’t choose.  
  
 Sound scary? It is. Sound adventurous? It is. Sound wonderful? It was.
 
To celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary and the personal commitment and courage of five of those Volunteers, each Wednesday in March I will share one of their stories.

 

What makes a successful 29-year-old Creative Director working at a Madison Avenue public relations firm and living in Manhattan decide to change her life by going into the Peace Corps? Dao Tran, who served in the Republic of Macedonia from 2006-2008 recently answered that and other questions about her service.



After climbing the corporate ladder, Dao decided to take a different path, which led her to the mountains of Macedonia.

 

1. Why did you join Peace Corps?

Joining the Peace Corps was always in the back of my mind, but immediately after college, it just wasn’t possible. After a few years working in a job where each night I was questioning the purpose of my work and what good I had done for society that day, I went to the Peace Corps website and began the application process. It is a decision I will never regret.

As a training project, Dao and another Volunteer orchestrated a village cleanup and Halloween party with the local school children in Chaska, 2006.

 

Dao created a very hands-on-dental hygiene activity as one of her secondary projects* with Romani children in Skopje.

 

Dao having fun on a field trip to the ancient ruins at Heraclea with Romani students from Skopje.

 

2. Favorite memory of living in Macedonia?

I have many great memories of living in Macedonia. One in particular was during training in the village of Chaska when some members of our training group went on an overnight hike with our language instructor, who was close to my age. It was fall and the leaves where changing. The view was spectacular, and we had fun learning and playing a Macedonian card game with the Macedonian hikers in the hostel where we all spent the night.

Hiking the mountains of Jakubitsa with fellow Peace Corps Trainees and our language instructor

 

3. Funniest memory?

I laughed a lot during my service. One memory that still gives me a chuckle was on another hiking trip when one of my best Peace Corps friends was under the weather, and the higher we climbed the worse she felt. We were taking a break along some rocks, and one of the Macedonians with us was sharing the history of the area. When I turned to look at my sick friend, she said, “You guys, I don’t feel . . .” and suddenly all I could see was projectile vomit. But instead of showing concern like good friends should we all burst out laughing. And we laughed even harder when the Macedonian just continued with his history lesson as if my poor friend hadn’t just recreated a scene from “The Exorcist.” It was one of those moments when the humor of the situation far outweighed the reality.

4. Best thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)?

The freedom I felt when I left my old life behind for a brief period to do something I had dreamt of doing but didn’t think was possible because of life’s responsibilities.

5. The worst thing?

How much I missed family and friends and New York City. I lived in the capital city of Skopje, which was Macedonia’s largest and busiest city with about 600,000 people, but was much less diverse.

6. Best thing about Macedonia?

The mountains, the amazing landscape. Every time I went running, the view of the snow-capped mountains in the near distance was a constant reminder that I was living in a beautiful foreign country.

The mountains are visible everywhere in Macedonia.

 

And, where there are mountains, there are sheep.

 

7. Biggest surprise you experienced about yourself, Peace Corps or Macedonia?

I joined Peace Corps thinking that I would go to a foreign country to help people in need, to teach them . . . I wasn’t sure what? It turned out that Macedonians and my Peace Corps family taught me what school and New York City couldn’t.

When I worked in the corporate world, I was extremely uptight, pretty obsessive-compulsive, and wanted things done now, not later. My approach probably stemmed from my belief that I constantly needed to prove myself to my clients and coworkers. In Macedonia, I learned to chill and to relax a bit. Most importantly, I gained tremendous confidence in my abilities and skills.

 

Dao teaching a water conservation session at Boy’s Camp in the summer of 2007.

 

8. Have those changes been lasting?

Most definitely. Since returning from Peace Corps, I stopped worrying about other people’s perception of me, which has reduced my anxiety level by about 99.9 %.

Macedonia taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. After leaving the Peace Corps I moved to a small town in Pennsylvania and became a nanny for my nephew, who was born while I was serving in Macedonia. This past summer his little brother was born, and I now get to spend my days with both of them.

I never imagined I’d enjoy being a nanny as much as I do, and can’t fathom the idea of going back into an office environment. While my days are just as fast-paced and sometimes more stressful than when I was Creative Director, I find my current job more meaningful and rewarding.

9. What did you miss most about the States?

Being anonymous. There are not many Asians in Macedonia so I got lots of stares and unwanted attention.

10. Any memorable readjustment issues upon your return to States? If so, what stood out?

For months, every time I walked into a store in the States, I was in awe of how much we have and how much we believe we need. Whenever I picked up an item for purchase, I asked myself, “is this what I need or is it what I want?” If the answer is that it is what I need, it goes into the basket, otherwise, it goes back on the shelf.

11. Was there a defining moment when you realized you were making a difference by being in the Peace Corps?

Throughout my service, there were a few low periods when I felt I wasn’t making any difference. But looking back, I realize it was mostly my overly ambitious dreams of making the world a happier place. Now I understand that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the changes I made were gradual and though too small to notice at times, I did, overall, have a positive impact in the community.

As a community development volunteer, my primary job was with Open the Windows, Отворете ги прозорците, a non-profit organization that worked to improve the lives of people with disabilities through accessible and assistive technology. One of the last projects I helped develop and received funding for was creating individual anthologies called “My Life, My Dreams.” The anthology included an autobiography, creative writings, drawings, family pictures and a family tree – all done on adaptive computers. The aims of the project were to help users of our computer center develop their writing skills and, more importantly, to encourage them to envision their life and future beyond the confinement of their disabilities. My organization had a ceremony to present the users and their parents the completed magazine. After the ceremony a parent of a 7-year-old boy with multiple sclerosis approached me and thanked me for writing the grant to fund the project. She said because of the magazine, she learned what made her son feel happy and sad. In that moment, I felt I had made a difference.

Dao often used her graphic and public relations expertise to create press kits and promotional materials for her Macedonian NGO, "Open the Windows".

 

12. Did you make friendships that lasted beyond Peace Corps?

Absolutely! I never thought I would meet and connect with so many amazing people, both American and Macedonian.

Enjoying a night out with Macedonian and American friends.

Dao with her host mother at Thanksgiving, 2006. Peace Corps Macedonia hosted Thanksgiving dinner for about 200 American and Macedonian folks each year.

The neighbors in Chaska pealing roasted red peppers to make avjar, a national dish.



Friendly Notes:

Dao and I served together in Peace Corps Macedonia. There were six of us living in the rural village of Chaska during our training. We met each morning for four hours of language class. After class we each headed back to our respective Macedonian homes where we were expected for lunch and where we were, for the most part, treated like guests.

Dao lived the furthest from school and each morning and afternoon walked down a long dusty and sometimes muddy road. (It has since been paved.) Both of Dao’s “host parents” worked and her teenage host sisters were at school, so Dao was usually walking into an empty house. Within a few weeks, we were referring to her as a latch-key kid and jokingly as Cinderella because she insisted on doing her own laundry and helping with the housework and cooking. Dao and her family bonded quickly; she loved living with them, “They were the best host family any volunteer could have asked for.”

Since she has been back, Dao’s love of cooking and all things natural led her to create her website, The Dao of Cooking, which includes wonderful recipes and much more.

 

Her two adorable and interesting bosses make life much more rewarding. 

 



 

 

And, her new location is far from the hectic lifestyle she once knew.

 

  
 
Getting your bearings . . .  
 

Macedonia is north of Greece in Southeastern Europe

 

*All PCVs, who pass their three-month in-country training, are assigned to a primary job. PC also requires PCVs to create a secondary project within their community during their 24-month assignment. Most PCVs develop more than one “secondary” project, and embrace and enjoy the opportunity the projects present.

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