Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dreaming of America

I have been meeting with a few high school students in town to chat in English and give them a better idea of what life in America is like. They all want to go to America if possible either in high school as exchange students or to an American university.

There is a fantastic program here organized by American Council, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, that gives talented youth, from countries with significant Muslim populations, the opportunity to win scholarships to study at an American high school for a year. The process to win the scholarships is lengthy (September-May) and very selective. Yesterday, I went with three students from Kamenica to Shtip to start the process.

The kids have quite the process before they are accepted and the first two steps were yesterday with a full day of English language testing. In the first stage, the kids are given a 16 question multiple choice English usage test. While the kids were testing, I hung out with the other volunteer who brought kids, Anna.

Our kids came out saying the test was really easy and lucky for us, most of our kids passed the first test! While the administrators were correcting the tests, we went down to a restaurant with one of my students and a girl who had participated in Camp GLOW this year. It was great to catch up with her and to talk with two fantastic English speakers!

I had 2 of my 3 students pass. Anna had 10 of her 14 pass. We were so proud of them! There were around 200 total kids at the test and just over 50 passed. Those who passed, had a second test in the afternoon where they were asked to write three short essays. The kids now have a month of anxiety ahead of them waiting to hear if they passed the second round and move onto the final stage- interviews. I know Anna and I are going to cross our fingers hoping for the best from our kids and this fantastic opportunity they have.
Oliver (my student and YMLP alum) and Anna
Hristina (GLOW alumna) and me
Anna and Hristina
My two students who passed Round 1- Karolina and Oliver
Anna and I both walked out of there feeling like proud mothers because our kids did such a great job! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye

Now that I am finally caught up on travel posts, I can mention what I did during my 4 day break between the Great Balkan Adventure and Athens. While Mike and Phil got to relax, I jumped on a bus and headed to the far eastern part of Macedonia for the Mak-16 COS (Close of Service) Conference. It was held at the lovely Aurora Resort and Spa in Berovo (where my friend Anna lives).
Aurora Resort and Spa in Berovo
Yup- pretty sweet digs for our final Peace Corps conference. We had 2 1/2 days to learn about the piles of paperwork we have to fill out and papers we need to write before we are allowed to leave the country, watching videos about the medical coverage available to us after we are done, the career center Peace Corps operates, and discussing what it will be like to return to America and the reverse culture shock. We also got to participate in a lottery to choose the day we officially are RPCVs. We had heard stories from previous groups of selling days or trading them for rakija and ajvar, but our group was quite calm and everyone got a day they were happy with. The first Mak-16s leave October 30th, which is so soon!
Everyone chose their days, with most people leaving the end of October or first week in November. I am at the end with Anna, leaving November 22nd.
It wasn't all work though. We did get some time to enjoy the lovely infinity pool, play games, and enjoy our last time as a whole group.
Lori, Julie, and I enjoying the pool.
Dinner with some PC Staff.
Hana, Faron, me, Julie, Michelle, Lori, and Amy
We were told to take a funny photo, however Hana and Faron weren't listening.
Taking one last photo with our Country Director before he heads to Kosovo to run their new Peace Corps program. 
But he still was able to find time to take a "Julie" photo with us.
Lori is the Ohioan version of me. 
Time for a Lozovo family photo. Not sure we know how to take a normal photo.
I guess this one is a bit more normal.
The Ladies of Lozovo: Amy, Julie, Shannon, Claire, me, Anna
And of course a "Julie" photo was necessary.
To end the conference we had a traditional Peace Corps cake (there must be a room in Peace Corps Headquarters filled with these cakes!). We also got homemade chocolates with our Country Director's face on them in celebration of his new job.
Even Peace Corps is unable to succumb to the need of certificates for everything.
Our Mak-16 collage that will be hung in the Peace Corps office. Clearly the best one yet!
One final group photo. 36 came, 31 made it to COS.
This was actually the final photo.... one big crazy family.
As the title says, my Peace Corps service has passed in the blink of an eye. I never thought that time could pass so slow (the days where I have sat in my room with absolutely nothing to do and no one to talk to), but yet so fast (only 72 days left in Macedonia). It seems fitting I post this today, because my group left America for this wonderful country two years ago today.

Happy Anniversary Mak-16s!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Š¢raveling Summer- The Final Chapter: Athens, Greece

To learn about the Greek flag- check out my post on Thessaloniki
Our final vacation of the summer was to Athens, Greece. Lots of people have said Athens isn't that great so go elsewhere, however, after living so close for two years, we felt we needed to see what Athens is all about. Our original plan was to spend two days in Athens and then take day trips to the island of Aegina and to Mycenae, however Mycenae turned out to be too big a cost/hassle, so we had three days in Athens. This allowed us a fair amount of down time, which was appreciated as we left for Athens only 4 days after returning from the Great Balkan Adventure and were still quite tired.

Much of our time in Athens was spent checking out the archeological sites- the Acropolis, Temple of Jupiter, etc- and eating. We had a good time, but were a bit traveled-out. Just as I am a bit written-out about our vacations. I don't think Phil will guest blog this one, so pictures it is.

Olympic stadium.
First view of the Acropolis.
Hadrian's Arch
Temple of Zeus
Athens' main government building.
Sundays there is a very large changing of the guards ceremony complete with the military band.
The military band.
Traditional military outfits. 
Statue of Damaskinos
Tower of the Winds
One the very top of the mountain there is a church. We climbed up there.
On our way out to the island of Aegina.
First views of Aegina.
The port at Aegina.
We swam in this water. It was beautiful. 
This was our ferry ship.
We visited the Temple of Apollo and had the entire place to ourselves.
The Temple of Apollo. 
Acropolis at night- our view from dinner one night.
This is the view we had from up on top of the mountain I mentioned earlier.
There is a church and restaurant on top of the mountain.
We went to Brettos bar that makes its own liqueurs and such. This is also where Phil got to meet his childhood hero, Dan Majerle. 
Our final day we spent the evening up at the Acropolis. While there were still quite a few tourists, it wasn't overrun and was quite the sight.
Entrance to the Acropolis.
The Erechtheum 
The Parthenon.

Someone needs to shave!

Best friends!