Kiara Elliott :: Macedonia
I arrived at the Skopje airport a day or two after the first big snowstorm had hit the city. Being a Seattle native and having only just driven in the snow myself for the first time not 2 weeks before, I sat in the passenger seat of the car with my eyes wide and seatbelt tightly fastened as I watched drivers maneuvering in an and out lanes or over sidewalks across patches of ice. I thought that this reckless yet skillful driving was only as a result of the snow, however as it melted I soon realized that the main rule for driving safely in Macedonian is to disobey the majority of traffic laws. If you follow the signs or lights, you’re more likely to end up in an accident, and I also learned very quickly that as a pedestrian you do not have the right of way. I’ve become more familiar with the layout of the city over the past few weeks and I feel much safer walking around the city here than I do in Seattle.
All of the people I’ve met have been incredibly open and welcoming – it’s been quite a shock for me to have people I’ve known only a day or two invite me over for a birthday dinner with their family or for coffee with their parents. People also take a greater interest in how you are, what you have been doing or what you might like to do after work/over the weekend. Friendships are made very easily in such a hospitable environment! I've been lucky enough to be invited to the homes of co-workers for the celebration of Orthodox holidays or other events and so I've been able to try a lot of traditional foods eaten at celebrations as well as those generally eaten on a regular basis. For instance, I tried pacha which is a dish made from the marrow from pig's feet along with onions, red peppers, garlic etc. It is considered a delicacy of sorts and is usually eaten in the winter – I can’t say that I loved it, but I’m glad to at least have tried it! With bread and pastries being staple foods, a popular meal is burek, a pastry filled with meat, cheese, or spinach and cheese with which you drink yogurt (semi-fermented milk).
The office for the Primary Education Project (PEP) where I am working is a house that has been converted into the organization’s headquarters, and there are around 25 employees working in the different component sectors. PEP has five major components: school renovations, ICT in education, improving math and science, improving assessment, and the recently added workforce development. While I am here, I will mainly be working in the workforce development component and conducting focus groups with students regarding career development. PEP wants to gauge the level of awareness students have about career opportunities and what they need to do in order to achieve their higher education and career goals. I will also have the opportunity to observe activities of the Green Schools Project, which consists of five pilot schools across the country that have student clubs promoting the recycling of plastics and general environmental awareness. As a developing nation, Macedonia does not have an effective system for the disposal of trash let alone recyclables, so I’m interested to see how this Green Schools program will operate.
I have been able to visit schools throughout the country to see how the renovations have come along, and I’ve been able to accompany co-workers to the signing of Memorandums of Understanding between the mayors of municipalities, school directors, and our organization. It's been great to see the different stages of work from the pre-renovation stages to the completion. I also attended an assessment training session for teachers in the Skopje region which that was also great to see because PEP emphasizes active teaching methods as opposed to lectures, and this training session broke teachers up into groups to work and talk together about things as opposed to having someone from the organization deliver a lecture. It seems that the organization has put a lot of thought into each activity and event it plans, and I don’t doubt I’ll be learning a lot over the coming weeks.
My apartment is right next door to Keith's house, and so I have been invited over for dinner with his family a couple of times, which has been lovely. He has taken me into the city center and shown me around, and I am slowly beginning to familiarize myself with the layout of the city. I started my internship Wednesday afternoon and have mainly been reading reports and various documents in order to get a better understanding of the organization. I have also been meeting with coworkers and talking to them about the sections they are in charge of. Everyone is incredibly nice and very welcoming which has been great.
I had a meeting with Keith and two other coworkers to discuss my plan of work for each of the coming months, and I'm very excited about all that I have ahead of me. I will be conducting the focus groups with students on career development as planned, and I will also be involved with other projects, such as one called the Green Schools Project that is working toward increasing recycling in schools.
I'm just finishing my second week here in Macedonia. I've become a lot more familiar with the city and am able to walk around with the knowledge of where I am and where different roads lead, which is a nice feeling. The food here is very good - there's a lot of bread and mayonnaise is an ingredient used in most dishes (though the texture of it is different from the mayonnaise in the US - this one has a fluid consistency). A popular dish is burek, a pastry filled with meat, cheese, or spinach and cheese with which you drink a tangy/sour yogurt to balance the flavors. It's quite good! I've also been lucky enough to be invited to the homes of coworkers (and even the homes of their parents) for the celebration of Orthodox holidays or other events and so I've been able to try a lot of traditional foods eaten at celebrations and those just eaten in general. For instance, I tried pacha which is a dish made from the marrow from pig's feet along with onions, red peppers, garlic etc. It was very interesting and I'm glad I tried it, though I don't think I'll be eating it regularly!
I was able to visit a few schools throughout the country to see how the renovations have come along, and was able to accompany two coworkers at the signing of Memorandums of Understanding between the mayors of municipalities, school directors, and our organization. It's been great to see the different stages of work from the pre-renovation stages to the completion. I also attended an assessment training session for teachers in the Skopje region which that was also great to see because PEP emphasizes active teaching methods as opposed to lectures, and this training session broke teachers up into groups to work and talk together about things as opposed to having someone from the organization deliver a lecture. All in all it's been great so far, and I'm sure it will only get more interesting as the weeks go on!
the weather here was similar to winter Seattle weather (foggy, a bit rainy, etc) but on Sunday I went on a walk through Matka canyon with some friends I've made here and it was absolutely beautiful. It's just outside Skopje and there is a former monastery in the canyon called St. Andrew's that dates back to the 14th century, and a church w/ a convent near the entrance to the canyon (I have to double check on the name) we were also able to visit and even see the workshop where the nuns make the robes/altar covers and other beautiful things for the churches. It was quite an experience.
Last Friday I gave my presentation on career development and I feel that it went very well - the resources will be useful in the workforce development component as well. That same day was the last day of work for the other two interns, so there was a little celebration for them with cake and all. It was very nice, though of course it was sad to see them go. There is one new intern now, but no word yet on the second replacement.
Last week there was a big event for the organization as a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Ministry of Education and Science and our organization (Here's a link to the event in the Macedonian news - http://www.vlada.mk/?q=node/2227). Aside from preparing for that, last week I was working with two colleagues on a baseline questionnaire that will be distributed to teachers before they participate in a workshop. It's been very interesting to see how one goes about formulating questions and making sure that they will allow for clear answers and useful data. This week I will be assisting in the preparation for a robotics workshop for primary schools and the training will be in Struga (on Lake Ohrid) starting on Thursday, and I'll be staying for the duration of the workshop that ends on Monday.