Allison Smith

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Site name: Kratovo

Sector: Community Development

How big is your site? What’s something that makes your site special or different?

Kratovo is one of, if not the oldest, city in all of Macedonia. It is most famous for its many towers and bridges, each with their own historic or urban legend story. Every street here is made of cobblestone and it is about 25 minutes away from a natural phenomenon known as the Kuclica (the Stone Dolls). The town gets a few visitors from in country as well as from the neighboring countries of Bulgaria and Kosovo often.

Where are you from?

Born and raised in Sunny San Diego, California!!

How did you react to getting assigned to Macedonia?

I was stoked! I was originally assigned to Azerbaijan, which sounded exciting and exotic, but also extremely challenging (squattie potties, etc.). I was, however, all packed up and ready to accept the challenges head on, but the day before I was to ship out I received a call from the PC HQ in DC stating Azerbaijan had pulled the plug on the program and that I would not in fact be going there after all. After waiting on pins and needles for about a week and a half having numerous phone calls back and forth with Placement, I was told that Macedonia was on the table and I didn’t hesitate to accept. Having read a bit on the Balkans as a neighboring region to Azerbaijan I was ecstatic to travel to this part of the world and experience a brand new culture.

What were you doing prior to Peace Corps?

Prior to the Peace Corps I was working as a Senior Research Analyst for a NYSE company called CoStar Group, Inc. in the famous La Jolla area of San Diego. CoStar is an online utility for the commercial real estate industry that provides information, statistics, and predicts trends. I was responsible for maintaining several high profile (which just means it was one of the companies top paying clients) portfolios in addition to researching the very active commercial real estate market of Los Angeles, CA. It was interesting and kept me VERY busy, but was life in a cubicle.

What is your living situation like? (i.e. homestay family, separate floor, independent apartment/house)

Here in Kratovo I live in the lower apartment of a two-story home with an amazingly sweet family. I have a host Dad, Mom and two Sisters. One of my sisters lives and works in Skopje and is home on weekends from time to time and the other is finishing up her degree at the faculty in Skopje and lives in the home full-time with her parents. My Dad works at the municipality and my mom at the hospital. Both are incredibly giving and very well-known in the town.

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What was one of your best moments or memories in your service?

The best part of my service so far has been the people I have met. I have developed some pretty strong relationships with volunteers from my own group and the groups before me still in country. Friendships that I know will last far beyond my service time. Anytime I am around a group of those people there are too many laughs and good times to single out just one.

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What was one of the hardest days of your service? Why?

I remember it well, Sept. 24th. It was the day that my Grandmother passed away back home. She was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized and placed in hospice care about two weeks prior to me leaving the country. Although she gave me (demanded I go actually) her blessing to leave as scheduled mid Sept. for my service here in Macedonia, it was very hard for me being away from my family during this time. My grandmother was my best friend, life coach and comic relief in life.

Tell us about some of the projects you’re working on outside of your primary job?

My first secondary project has been very successful! It is an after school program for the youth here in Kratovo that helps them learn more about American culture while developing their English skills. We have had game days where we teach them to play interactive Jeopardy, Bingo and Scrabble, we watch educational films like an Inconvenient Truth and teach them about American Historical moments like the Civil Rights Movement.

I am currently awaiting response from the US Embassy for a grant I wrote and submitted for funding for the project that would allow us to take the children on day trips to the American Book Store in Skopje and to fund prizes like a Kindle loaded w free books. You can learn more about our group here.

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What do you do to fill your time when you aren’t working?

I have reunited with my loves reading and film. Having brought a Kindle with me, I have read over 15 books since January 2015. My laptop gives me access to Netflix and any movie I want 🙂 I also hike a lot in the mountain range surrounding my town and journal about my experience often.

Anything else to add?

This experience has been magical, challenging, enlightening, and spiritual for me. I try not to compare my service to anyone else’s and focus on making the best out of everyday I am here.

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