Site name: Delcevo
Sector: A: Community Development J: TEFL
How big is your site? What’s something that makes your site special or different?
Delcevo is a pretty small town, but it has everything we need. There are a couple of small markets, a T-Mobile store, a handful of cafes and restaurants, and a nice pazar on Saturdays. I think the population is somewhere around 15,000, but that includes the surrounding villages. There are several monasteries around. So far, we’ve only been to one. The Bregalnica River runs through the center of Delcevo, and Mount Golak is just a few kilometers from the center.
Where are you from?
We grew up in Silsbee, TX, but most recently we lived in Nacogdoches, TX where we both attended Stephen F. Austin State University.
How did you react to getting assigned to Macedonia?
A: When we applied, we didn’t select any preferences, and had no idea where we might go. I always had Africa in my head. I think that is what many people think of when they think of Peace Corps. Before getting our invitations, we promised each other that we would wait until we were together to open them. Jarred texted me when he got the email. We were both really excited and anxious to see where we had been placed, but we had to wait for several hours for me to get off work. Once we read Macedonia in our invitations, we spent a lot of time staring at the world map that hung in our living room and googling. We had no idea what was in store for us, but we were crazy-excited to be going somewhere, anywhere!
J: When we found out, we had no idea where Macedonia was. Once we located it on a map, we were really pumped to live in Eastern Europe.
What were you doing prior to Peace Corps?
A: I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work in 2013,we got married a couple of weeks later, a month later I started the social work master’s program, and we started our PC applications. I finished my thesis in June of 2014 and graduated in August. We spent our summer traveling, and departed for Macedonia in September.
J: I was working on master’s degree in music while working as a graduate assistant for the outdoor program at our university. After I graduated in May 2014, we spent the summer traveling and hanging out with friends and family.
What is your living situation like? (i.e. homestay family, separate floor, independent apartment/house)
We live with a super-sweet couple. They are both retired and in their 60s. We live on the second floor of their home. We have a separate entrance, our own kitchen and bathroom. It’s really like our own apartment. We love it. Honestly, it is bigger and has more amenities (wi-fi, washing machine, terrace) than our apartment back in Texas. We like having our own space with the benefits of a family. We have coffee with them regularly, and they are always bringing us food.
What was one of your best moments or memories in your service?
A: Work has been kind of off and on for me. Some days I’ve felt totally lost, and some days things have really clicked, reminding me that there is a real reason for me to be here. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Bulgaria with my organization for a grant informational seminar. We spent most of the day in a hotel conference room listening to presentations about the new grant period and what kinds of projects they were looking for. I was doing my best to understand as much of it as possible (It was all in Bulgarian). I was really pleased with how much I could understand, I felt I was on the same page as the others from my organization, and we had fun checking out a little of Bulgaria. The whole day re-energized me, and reminded me to keep pushing at work.
J: After a long winter, Andreya and I went to Prilep (a city in Southwestern Macedonia) to visit other volunteers, and I was hopeful to get out and do some bouldering while we were there. In my early research of Macedonia, I learned Prilep was known for its rock climbing and was excited to see it for myself. A few weeks before our trip, I found the contact info for the president of the rock climbing club in Prilep. With my limited language abilities, I explained that we would be in town, wanted to climb, had limited gear, and asked if there was anyway he could help us out. He was really helpful. We met up with him, he personally showed us a few good climbing sites, and lent us crash pads and a guide book. It was the first beautiful weekend of the year. It was warm, and nice to spend the day outside. It was reassuring to me to know that there are people here with similar interests who are passionate and generous.
What was one of the hardest days of your service? Why?
A: There isn’t one day that stands out from the rest. Adjusting to life here as a PCV in a new place has been much harder than I expected. PC tried to warn us all in training about the ups and downs, but there is really no way you can be prepared. Trying to carve a place for myself in a new country/culture/community/organization has been difficult – creating a lifestyle that blends how I lived in America with Macedonian culture and learning from that. Winter in particular has been hard. I’m from Texas. I didn’t even know what Winter was really like until I moved here. The constant freezing temperatures, snow, and ice made me feel trapped in our apartment. Good news, though, we recently joined a hiking club, and they are teaching us how to remain active in the winter months.
J: There have been a few days where I’ve felt ineffective at work. I teach English at a high school. I work with 3 of the English teachers there. Some classes go better than others, but some days it really feels like an uphill battle. It has been difficult to get the teachers to plan with me, so often I don’t until a few hours before class what I’ll be teaching.
Tell us about some of the projects you’re working on outside of your primary job?
J: The school I work at already had an English club. I meet with them every couple of weeks. Its an opportunity for students who are passionate about English to get extra practice through games and group activities outside of the classroom. I don’t have any official secondary projects, but I spend a lot of time helping out at Andreya’s organization.
What do you do to fill your time when you aren’t working?
A: Reading, crocheting/knitting, watching too much tv, cooking/baking, yoga, hanging out with my counterpart and her family.
J: I watch tv, play guitar, read, play soccer with a group of guys at the local sports center every week, and run.
Anything else to add?
A: So far, my Peace Corps experience has been nothing like I imagined. It has been much tougher than I anticipated, but it has been so fun. I’ve met so many fantastic people, started learning a new language, and immersed myself in a new culture. I’m really excited to see what happens next.
J: Peace Corps is cool. Be chill. Live big.
Learn more about Andreya and Jarred by reading their blog at aandjtaylor.blogspot.com.