Monday, March 5, 2012

COS Conference: Korça

Group 13 after 2 Years 

After much anticipation and a week postponement, due to serious snow storms and road closures, the COS Conference finally happened! 

This conference was 3-4 days long and designed to educate us volunteers on the process, procedures, and paper work that needs to be completed by the time we are scheduled to leave the country. We were also informed about our re-adjustment allowances, the Peace Corps medical insurance options, and were even given some tips for re-integrating back into the US culture. I am making this sound short and sweet, but these sessions took up most of the days with a few lighter and fun sessions thrown in the mix. 

There were a few sessions that were organized, created, and run by fellow volunteers. No offense to PC Staff, but these were much more exciting and fun. Two of my closest friends, Laura H. and Kim, created an Albanian Olympics. During this session we broke up into groups, according to our site locations (I was in the southern coastal group), and competed against each other in order to complete or be the best at various Albanian tasks. One of the challenges was to see who could squat the longest in the position in which one would take when using a Turkish toilet. Another was completing the lyrics to various traditional and pop Albanian songs. The Olympics was a fun way for us to blow off some steam while reminiscing on all the crazy and funny things we have encountered over the past 2 years. 

Toward the end of the conference, there was a volunteer-led session that focused on the cultural differences between the US and Albania. This was also a competition-based exercise (I don't know if you have gotten the hint by now, but we are all super competitive and anytime we get the chance to make it a head to head challenge we are game!). It was set up like the game show Family Feud. An example of one of the questions is, 'When you ask for buke (bread in Albanian) in the US, what will you get?' Answer: 'a book'. Many of us made silly mistakes when answering these questions because a. we were on a time limit and b. because we have become so used to the Albanian way of life that it has become second nature to us. It was a pretty creative way to jog our memories of what day to day life is like in the States. 

The few nights we had in Korça were fun and (I know this sounds corny, but it's true) filled with tons and tons of laughter. We went to a couple great restaurants that I had never been to before. One night we went to a place that served 'modern' Albanian food. The food was absolutely delicious and it was a new perspective of traditional Albanian food. This restaurant also distills it's own raki (a strong, hard liquor that is commonly made from grapes). What was different about this raki was that it was made from honey. The honey gave it a much sweeter taste and a dark amber color, as well as made it much more enjoyable than any other raki I have tasted while in Albania. The last night my whole group met up at a traditional Albanian bar/restaurant, had some beers, and circle danced till the wee hours of the morning. Some of the staff joined us later on and showed off with some of their fancy traditional Albanian dance moves. It was a party, to say the least!

The conference concluded with a slide-show made by my friend Jeff. This video included all aspects of the 'Peace Corps Experience' as well as everyone from my group. It was absolutely wonderful to see everyone and everything that we, as a group, have accomplished since we arrived in Albania two years ago. COS was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun. It was great that we, Group 13, got to spend a few more days together in one place, all at the same time. 

Created by Jeff Knoche

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