What is there to say about Susan? She’s one of the sassiest human beings I know, hails from Alabama (#rolltide), is always game for delicious food, bursting into song, and is generally an awesome person. We had language classes together during PST and I’m sure you’ll recognize her from our silly training music video. We roomed together this week at our language training, where we made another silly (language) training music video. (It’s at the end of this post. Spoiler: more R. Kelly.) Enjoy her views on Macedonia, big (hah!) city life, high schoolers, and snacks. -Rebekah
Zdravo dechki. (Hey guys.) My name is Susan and I’ll be your guest host this week. You may be wondering who I am and how I know your friend/daughter/family member/random person you’re internet stalking and I can say this: I’m rooming with Rebekah this week at our language training and I brought homemade chocolate chip cookies and chocolate butter cream because of a bet I ‘lost’ so that we could have snacks all week. That should tell you why we’re friends. If that’s not enough I can also tell you that I am a fellow Peace Corps volunteer serving in Macedonia and have been enamored with Beka since the moment we discovered our mutual love of Beyoncé, baked goods, and singing in language class. Basically, we have the same brain which is evident by the fact that we say the same thing at the same time all the damn time and it freaks me out. (It also freaks her out.) [Editor’s note: this is true.]
I’m here to give you a slight perspective change because, unlike Rebekah, I live in a city over here in yonder Balkans. My town is called Prilep and it’s either the 4th or 5th biggest city in Macedonia depending on who you ask. We’ve got night life, a plethora of people, Thai food, a place that serves sushi and tacos, decent shopping, multiple grocery stores, multiple schools, good hiking, and a fair amount of volunteers to hang out with. (Can you hear that? It’s the annoyed sighs of other volunteers when we Prilep folk brag – which we do often. You would too if you had Thai food.) Things to know about living in a city in Macedonia:
- It’s still ¼ of the size of the city I am from.
- I am still woken up by roosters. (And class is often disrupted by them because we city folk were lied to and roosters crow ALL THE TIME — NOT JUST AT DAWN LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO!)
- Donkeys and horses still carry carts and people around town, and everyone in the town still knows each other.
- There are also multiple places to go on weekends for music and drinks, a healthy number of restaurant options and coffee drinking spots, and plenty of people wandering around with carts of food. (These people have kept me alive during school.)
In contrast to Beka, I work in a vocational high school. My students this past year were all seniors and they were exactly like American students: sassy and full of the belief that they know everything. Teaching 4th year students has the added stress of preparing them for the matura, which is kind of like the SATs of Macedonia. Students take this test after they finish high school and it determines which colleges they get into. (Yes, that means they don’t know where they’re going until almost the beginning of their freshman year. Just the thought stresses me out and I’m sure as Rebekah is reading this her stomach is turning — THAT’S NOT WAY TO PLAN). [Editor’s note: THIS IS AWFUL! What do they write in their planners?!]
Another slight difference between primary and secondary school is that by the time students are in their 4th year there is a giant, wide, enormous, gigantic (It’s big people, real, real big.) gap between the students’ knowledge of language. I have students that are fluent and we chat at rapid speed in English with little to no issues and I have students who can say hello and a few cuss words (because of course). In some classes I have these students in the same room and it presents a set of challenges that is both an opportunity to be really creative and also exhausting when you’re in a 7:30 am class and you woke up too late for breakfast and the 30 students in the room are already yelling. We have taught classes where we split them into levels with two totally different lessons. We have taught lessons where some students were just reading a text and others were answering questions about the information. We have played hangman because students needed to practice the alphabet. We have also stressed and laughed and eaten chocolate to get through the day. Yes, I say ‘we’ over and over because my counterpart and I are in this battle together. I respect her a lot and I also like her (which is certainly a plus).
Another fun part of teaching 4th year students over here is, unlike ‘Murica, they can go out and drink (legal age is 18 here) and I have had plenty of slightly uncomfortable run-ins on the weekend when all I wanted was to drink a beer and dance like a foreigner (e.g. dancing at all) without my whole school knowing about it on Monday. That being said, there are days when I head into the center and don’t see anyone I know (though it’s getting rarer the longer I’m there), which means I can blend in when I want to experience a level of normalcy. In the wonderland that is Prilep we also have 8 EVS volunteers. These are European volunteers who, in our city, come from Portugal, Spain, and France. We spend a lot of time playing Mario Kart and eating food stuffs with these people and it adds a layer of cultural weirdness that I find enjoyable. A few weeks ago one of the French volunteer’s friends came through and when they left they told her something to the effect of ‘damn those Americans sure were fun; I thought they were all supposed to be lame.’ (If you’re not paying attention I need you to understand this brag: I convinced French folks that Americans are awesome. You’re welcome.) Our core group includes me, the three other American volunteers living in Prilep, a few of the EVS, and about 3 or 4 Macedonians that we inherited from previous volunteers. They’re a great inheritance and I am consistently thankful that we have such a diverse group of awesome folks.
So basically what I’m saying is if you come visit Beka, you should demand to be taken to Prilep. It’s a great counter point to the village life that she experiences day-to-day and we’ll take you up to Marko Kuli (Marko’s Towers) and have a picnic with the cows and the goats. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.
[Editor’s note: Susan is wearing the Alabama jersey and leads off our IST (in-service training, probably?) verse. When they surprised us with a language presentation requirement, we said, “Duh, music video,” and wore whatever we had. She and I went jerseys, because of course Alex Morgan. #USA.]