Before I began my internship in Kosovo, I was a big ball of anxiety–and rightfully so. I had never been to Europe, much less the Balkan region. I did not speak a single word of the local language, Albanian. And I knew not a single soul except for my internship coordinator/colleague. I wasn’t just anxious, I was terrified… but also very excited to dive into unchartered territory. However, all these that seemed like challenges before I had gotten on a plane ultimately became strengths.
Precisely because I’ve never been to the region, I was much more eager to explore the place and get to know the local culture. Many of the people I met, especially Kosovars, felt flattered that Kosovo was the first country I’ve ever been to in Europe and because of that, many of them were so proud and willing to show me Pristina. Strangers have even offered to take me to the different cities in Kosovo, usually their hometown. Additionally, not knowing the language became a way for me to meet and bond with locals. Eventually, as I got to know the baristas in my regular coffee shop, learning Albanian was a way for me to also get to know beyond just the people who serve me coffee while we small talk. I’ve come to learn that even though the few words and phrases I know in Albanian are easily understood by locals if I said them in English, Kosovars find it endearing that I at least try to familiarize myself with their language. It has been a very unique way for me to connect with people. Further, not knowing anyone at all forced me out of my comfort zone and motivated me to go out and meet new friends.
One of my favorite experiences during the course of my internship has got to be my involvement in preparing for KIPRED’s (crime) tracking mechanism launch. I was initially not part of the event at all. However, I ended up helping out after a shuffle of schedule led to the team needing all hands on deck, including me. I was in-charge of creating and designing fact sheets for the launch to hand out to the guests from other civil society organizations and delegates who included Kosovo’s ombudsperson and a representative from the EU Office in Kosovo. Even though I did not anticipate having to use my skills in design and Photoshop, I was certainly excited to have been able to apply them during my research internship. That experience reinforced and reminded me the importance of being well-rounded and ready to respond to ad hoc tasks.
I cannot rave enough about the people I’ve come across and the place that has now become my home in the Balkans. I feel very lucky that I’ve gained a community just by doing the things I enjoy–yoga and drinking my weight in coffee. And I encourage future interns to do the same! Just because you’re in a different country, doesn’t mean that you have to pause on the things you enjoy doing back home/your usual routine. I’ve ended up meeting innumerable amazing people in cafes and in my local yoga community who have definitely made my time in Pristina so much more homey.