A Visit from Randy’s Sisters

We were fortunate to have Randy’s two sisters visit us in Albania the second week in September. Carol lives in Oklahoma City and Ellen lives in Springfield, Missouri. They spent a few days in Rome before heading our direction. We are grateful that they took the time and money to come visit for a week!

IMG_8232

We picked Ellen and Carol up from the airport on a Friday and headed straight for Apollina, a two hour drive south. I have written about Apollina a couple of other times on my blog when we have taken other visitors there. Just as a refresher, Apollina is an ancient Greek city dating back to 600BC. Julius Caesar declared Apollina a “free city” as a reward for supporting him in a civil war that was fought with Pompey. Julius Caesar’s nephew, Octavius (also known as Caesar Augustus) studied in Apollina in the 1st century BC.

More of Apollina…

28b69fd2-eaaf-40f9-889a-a68591392621.jpg

After we finished in Apollina, we drove another hour to Berat. Once again we stayed at Guesthouse Kris. The charm, comfort, delicious breakfast, welcoming host and price has brought us back here several times. Guesthouse Kris is located within the castle walls of Berat Castle which adds to the ambience of the whole experience.

More pics of Guesthouse Kris.

Taking a tour of the Berat Castle grounds.

f92d3fb9-fd2c-4875-ba42-258a76899d81

That evening we left the castle grounds and went down into the town of Berat for dinner. Berat is known for the 1,000 Windows which is shown here. Thanks for sharing this great picture with me, Carol!

5992c1d3-f4b2-4c61-b470-f8a9aa57ac4d

The next morning we drove along the Albanian Rivera towards Himarë.

6D9D7B93-6764-4AEF-A7C0-A280B1D04CC0

Here we have stopped in Vlora at Proper Pizza for lunch. Yum!

fullsizeoutput_f5ee

The big brother and the little sister with our Himarë hotel in the background.

Putting our feet into the Ionian Sea.

IMG_8267fullsizeoutput_f4a7

Sitting on our hotel balcony enjoying a gorgeous sunset.

fullsizeoutput_f4aa

Before we left Himarë we made arrangements to take a two hour boat tour along the coast ending at Pirate’s Cave.

d6cfda1a-29c3-4f03-ab68-32166d073faf.jpg

Waiting for the boat captain so we can get started on our tour.

IMG_8280

…and we are off!

We visited a few isolated beaches where we were the only swimmers. It was amazing and magical! Every time I think I know a lot about what Albania has to offer, another opportunity presents itself. We loved this experience!

Our final stop was Pirate’s Cave where the boat actually went into a cave and we took these pictures.

fullsizeoutput_f4ad

We are now driving back to Tirana along more curving, twisting roads. Can you see the road up on the mountain as it zigzags back and forth?

As we drove along we watched a paraglider float along beside us, very cool!

The following Monday I went off to work and Randy took his sisters on a walking tour of Tirana…

…followed by lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC came to Albania about a year ago. Last spring Burger King also came to Albania. There are a limited number of international businesses willing to open stores in Albania because they have a hard time getting clear title. When communism fell almost 30 years ago it caused up to three different groups of people to claim the same piece of land:

  • the people that re-claimed land that the communists had taken away from them
  • the people that were given the land to use during communism time
  • squatters that claimed the land as theirs after communism fell

The government is still working to figure out what land belongs to which people. So when an international company wants to build their business on a piece of land it is very difficult to get clear title so they are hesitant to build.

Randy is becoming very well versed on Kruje because he has taken so many of our family and friends there.

670a6860-5f3f-44d8-9d2a-42b0fd555a4e

We took this picture of Ellen Wilson standing at Wilson Square in Tirana (no relation). You can see a statue of Woodrow Wilson in the background. Wilson (and the United States) are well loved in Albania because after World War I, President Wilson said the borders of Albania would stay the same even though Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy wanted to break Albania into parts and keep the land for themselves. There are a few schools named after Wilson plus it is not uncommon for people to name their sons Wilson.

Of course a visit to Tirana would not be complete without coming to visit Albanian College.

Carol and Ellen (and me too) were intrigued by the traffic lights that lit up all the way down the light pole. These are not common throughout Albania but do show up on a few streets.

Thanks again to Carol and Ellen for making the effort to get over to visit us. We loved hosting you!

No more traveling until October when we have a week off of school. Our good friends, Sarah and Marty, are coming to visit at that time. We will be headed to northern Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Looking forward to it!

As always, thanks for reading my blog!

September, 2019

Earthquake!!!

Yesterday afternoon Randy and I were sitting in our 7th floor apartment visiting with a friend who had dropped by. Then the whole room started to shake, the overhead light was swinging back and forth, some empty plastic bottles fell over and the leaves on our house plants started moving. Randy said, “I believe we are having an earthquake.” Randy and our friend seemed quite calm but I was not. I said, “what should we do? This is so scary.” etc., etc. We decided to move to the doorway because we had heard that was the safest place to be. It seemed like the earthquake was going on and on but it probably only lasted a minute or so but that seemed like a very looooong time!

When the movement stopped we left the apartment. We took the elevator down which was not the right decision. Usually our apartment elevator is fast and quiet. As we went down the elevator was really slow and made a lot of horrible sounds but we made it down. If you are ever in an earthquake, don’t take the elevator!

When we got outside, the streets and sidewalks were full of people, some of them crying but no one appeared to be hurt. After standing around for 30 minutes or so we went to a nearby coffee shop where we sat with a group of school friends and exchanged earthquake stories. The police were driving up and down our street using a loudspeaker to tell people not to re-enter their buildings.

After a couple of hours we weren’t sure what to do and everyone else appeared to have re-entered their buildings so we all headed back to our apartments. As we walked up the seven flights of stairs we noticed many new cracks in the walls along with broken plaster on the ground but other than that everything seemed okay.

Last night as I was brushing my teeth to go to bed I noticed the towels in the bathroom started swinging. It was one of several aftershocks that continued through the night. None of the aftershocks was as powerful as the initial earthquake, thank goodness!

Here is a link to some coverage of the earthquake on the Weather Channel.

Weather Channel link

Thank you for all the calls, texts and messages of concern. We appreciate it so very much.

 

 

Starting Year Two at Albanian College

My second year of international teaching started on September 3rd with a precious group of 10 grade one children. I was scheduled to have 16 children but as happened last year, they did not all show up. This discrepancy seems to happen primarily in grade one. There is more consistency in the higher grades between the expected number of children and the actual number of children that show up on the first day of school. Anyways, here are my grade one students this year:

fullsizeoutput_f423

Ana Bela

fullsizeoutput_f425

Darius

fullsizeoutput_f59f

Emili

fullsizeoutput_f427

Amela

fullsizeoutput_f42f

Klesti

IMG_8163

Isabella

IMG_8166

Elena

fullsizeoutput_f42d

Donat

fullsizeoutput_f429

Eden

fullsizeoutput_f42b

Blin

Aren’t they adorable?!?! This year I only have two non-English speakers. Most of the rest of the students have been at Albanian College for up to 3 years, ever since they were three years old. Since many of them have been at the school for so long they have had plenty of time to become fairly proficient in English.

The children are arriving at school and getting their folders and water bottles to bring into the classroom. It is not safe to drink the water in Tirana so there are no water fountains at the school. Instead the children bring water bottles of drinking water from home each day. The school also has water coolers full of bottled water for the children to refill their water bottles as needed.

The children are checking out the toys in their new classroom. Just like my students in the States, the children LOVE playing with the Magna-tiles.

Each day we spend 10-15 minutes using a program called Jolly Phonics to teach the children the letter sounds. Jolly Phonics is a British program that includes songs, hand motions, puppets, rhymes and a book to learn how to write the letters.

Books, books, books, these children love books! Some of the children are already reading and some are on the cusp of learning this skill while some will probably not be reading independently for a couple months. Regardless, they all enjoy our classroom library. You may recognize some of these books as ones that were donated by Dudley School in Fairport, NY.  🙂

c40cbd9a-cca8-4e56-b475-07d45d74288d

Here, the children and I are discussing how to make a chart to show when the classroom birthdays will be celebrated. This would be a difference between how I teach in the States versus using an inquiry approach that is encouraged at ACT. In the USA I would have the birthdays already posted before school started using some type of visual that I purchased from a teacher supply website. Here the chart is made by the children using their ideas of how to note when they have birthdays. I love this way of giving the kids so much ownership over how the classroom looks and is run.

My birthday was during the second week of school so here are the kids singing happy birthday to me in Albanian.

Here the children are working in small groups to sort pictures as we start our first transdisciplinary theme called Who We Are. At grade one this theme teaches the children about the physical, social and emotional characteristics of ourselves and others. After they sorted the pictures they explained to their peers how they sorted and why.

The children are playing a math game called Collect 20 which is part of the math program adopted by Albanian College. The program is called TERC or Investigations, the same program I used in Fairport a few years ago.

Over the past summer all of our administration resigned and one was fired. 😦 I found out through various emails over the course of the summer. Needless to say, the whole thing was depressing. I had such a good year last year and was looking forward to one more year of teaching and living abroad. Randy and I had many discussions in July and early August as to whether I wanted to return to Albanian College. The deciding factor was that I have grown to love Albania, my students, their parents and the Albanian Assistants I work with. I wanted to try to give it one more year and hopefully have at least a small positive impact on the lives of the people I have met here. Another reason I wanted to return is that I love international teaching and the  way it stretches me to think about my teaching in new ways. We decided we would return to Tirana and if I was miserable in my teaching position we would simply come home to Fairport.

I am happy to report that so far school has gone well. We have an entirely new administration who are working hard to make the best of a difficult situation. As you know from previous posts, I have become friends with many of the other foreign teachers since living here so that helps with the transitions. All the teachers have been very supportive of one another which has gotten school off to a good start. Glad to be here for another year.

Next weekend 17 of the teachers (including me) will be attending all day trainings on Saturday and Sunday (a total of 15 hours). The training is being given by a trainer from the International Baccalaureate community who is flying in. Although I am looking forward to receiving the training, I am not looking forward to teaching for 5 days, training all weekend and then teaching for 5 more days. Ugh!!!!!

Hiking from Valbona to Theth

The weekend before school started Randy and I and our friends, Edlira and Aldo, took a big hike in northern Albania. This part of the country is often referred to as the Albanian Alps. We hiked between the small villages of Valbona and Theth. We had heard about this hike for a year and were anxious to try it but the whole trip takes three full days so we could not do it as a weekend trip. Also the hike can only be completed between June and October because of all the snow in the mountains during the rest of the year. We were so glad we had the time to go before school started!

IMG_7665

We took the trip with a tour group of 13 people, 10 Albanians, a man from Dubai and Randy and I. We met the bus in Tirana at 5:00AM and drove north for three hours where we walked through this tunnel to Komani Lake to board a ferry.img_7669.jpg

img_7671.jpg

Trying to figure out which ferry is ours…

We were on the ferry for not quite 3 hours and the whole time we were treated to one beautiful scene after another, an absolutely gorgeous ride!

fullsizeoutput_f446

After getting off the ferry we took a two hour bus ride to Valbona where we ate lunch at this charming farm. All the food was either grown or made here.

IMG_7716

After lunch we took an hour long walk to our guesthouse.

IMG_7707

We even walked with some cows at times, loved it! Do you see the backpack I am carrying? We each carried everything we would need for three days because after we got off the bus for the ferry there would be no cars or buses available until after we made the hike to Theth.

IMG_7721

Look at this charming old mill we passed by during our walk.

Putting our feet in the VERY cold, clear, beautiful mountain water.

f76a2ede-b364-4928-86d4-d31ef463cd42

Randy and Aldo kept us well supplied with fresh wild berries during our trip, yum!

1526d3d3-fb8d-4524-b3bb-6ca2e3b94391

Even though there does not appear to be much going on with recycling in Albania we were glad to at least see they are making an attempt.

On the final road to, and then arriving at our guesthouse.

e465b67c-d051-4385-ba92-b729a72ecb37

After we settled into our guesthouse, the four of us went for coffee (or Lemon Soda for Randy and I).

fullsizeoutput_f447

The next morning we were provided with all of this food which we used to pack ourselves a lunch for the hike.

fullsizeoutput_f2be

We are at the trailhead and ready to hike!

737ca999-5f0b-420b-9f66-5d7fb93793fa

IMG_7759

fullsizeoutput_f548

IMG_7758

If you know Randy, you know he NEVER wears shorts no matter how hot it gets. Here he is showing us that he broke down and wore shorts on our hike because of the heat. 🙂

IMG_7780IMG_7778

We are headed over the pass you can see in the distance.

96ca671e-2927-4ba1-ae77-c10b37963cd1

e451c218-0da9-4448-bb62-ce38f481dce2

Can you see the permanent snow in the distance?

fullsizeoutput_f452fullsizeoutput_f4501e19dc17-ee9a-47a2-b515-706816cf9540

Yay, we made it to the top of the pass!!!

fullsizeoutput_f541d7594cc4-63fe-4b91-814c-57ec90e0e968

On our way back down the other side of the pass.

IMG_7806IMG_7810

Believe it or not there were three coffee shops along the hiking trail!

Remember when I said you had to carry everything you needed with you for three days for this hike? If you did not want to carry your things or if you had too much stuff, you could hire a horse or mule to carry your things for a cost of 50 euros. I was really intrigued with the horses so the man leading the horse let me hold the horse’s lead. 🙂

IMG_7828

fullsizeoutput_f248

Continuing down the mountain…

fullsizeoutput_f247085f918f-1afc-4e1f-9002-9f5f9f6c5a3d

These are some of the people we hiked with, such delightful people! The young man in the foreground is our guide, Endri. He is 18 years old and headed to the University of Tirana to study civil engineering starting this month. Endri leads hiking groups on weekends as a part time job and seemed super responsible considering his age.

IMG_7847

Look what we came across near the end of the hike.

IMG_7848

Almost to Theth…

448cd9c4-bb16-407a-8cd3-31f8413132a5

One of the people we hiked with sent this screenshot of our trip. We were exhausted by the end of the hike but so glad we made it!

def56b21-d284-4e9e-99e7-2a3df0c0ca99

That evening we hiked outside of the village of Theth for about an hour to the Grunas Waterfall.

IMG_7860

On the way back from the waterfall we stopped at the Defense Tower and heard this man tell us about the history of northern Albania including blood feuds, the Kanun and his family’s ownership of the Defense Tower.

Before we left he played this tune using a simple green leaf from a tree. The tune is one of the very first traditional Albanian songs.

7ea574a0-c4ed-46bc-9b1a-ccc99a816ee1

The next day we took a very bumpy, twisty-turny ride from Theth as we headed for Tirana. One more stunning picture of the four of us overlooking the Albanian Alps. This trip was tiring but so very worth it especially since we could travel with two of our very good friends!

September, 2019

Driving Through the Balkans

Randy and I arrived back in Albania from the USA the second week of August so we could spend some time traveling before school started for me on the 26th. We rented a car for nine days and drove through the countries of Kosovo, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. We stayed in each country for one to three days depending on what we wanted to see. We only had one long driving day of 8 hours, the other driving days were between 2 and 5 hours. The unknown was always how long it would take to cross over the borders. At each country’s border we needed to wait in a line to leave the country and then wait in another line to enter the next country. Sometimes the total process only took about 15 minutes but sometimes it took up to 2 hours.

IMG_7104

This picture was taken as we were driving into Kosovo. We have used Google Maps to navigate our way all over the USA, Albania, Greece and several countries in western Europe. When we tried to use Google Maps to navigate through Kosovo the app would not work properly. I immediately blamed the problem on my weak technology skills and kept wondering what I was doing wrong. When we arrived at our hotel in Kosovo I asked the reception clerk if he knew why Google Maps would not work for us. He said Google Maps will not work in Kosovo because the country of Serbia has made the app unusable in Kosovo. He also pointed out that the weather app that we have used all over the world will not work in Kosovo for the same reason. Up to this point in the trip I had no pre-conceived ideas about Serbia but this was the first example of why we left the Balkans feeling like Serbia is not a friendly country.

Since Google Maps was unusable in Kosovo we depended on another navigation app called Waze. After leaving Kosovo we used a combination of the two navigation apps and usually ended up having very few problems driving through the Balkans.

IMG_7114

Our first stop in Kosovo was Prizren considered to be the cultural capital of the country. Here is a picture of the Old Stone Bridge built in the 1600’s. Kosovo and Albania are closely tied since 90% of the population in Kosovo is ethnically Albanian. Both the spoken and written language used in Kosovo is Albanian.

This is the Sinan Pasha Mosque, the oldest and one of the most beautiful mosques in the country. 95% of the population in Kosovo is Muslim. Prizren has more than 20 mosques, many more than Tirana has because almost all of Tirana’s mosques were destroyed during communism time. This destruction of mosques did not happen in Kosovo.

img_7128.jpg

Do you see the fortress on the hill in the background of this picture? That is where we are walking to next.

IMG_7131

Up, up, up the hill…

fullsizeoutput_f198

We made it to the Kalaja Fortress which was built in the 11th century.

A beautiful, panoramic view of the city at sunset. In the picture on the right you can see the Old Stone Bridge lit up.

fullsizeoutput_f240 We were headed back down the hill when I took another picture of this gorgeous mosque.

fullsizeoutput_f1ea

On the following day we drove an hour and a half to Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. We passed a car flying the Kosovo flag. The people of Kosovo love and are proud of their country.

fullsizeoutput_f242

When we arrived in Prishtina we went to the meeting point to take a free walking tour of the city. We have found this to be a great way to get to know a new city. The tours are usually about two hours long and are often given by young people who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their communities. Another part of the tours we have enjoyed is getting to know the other tourists. They come from all over and it is interesting to compare notes of where people are going or where they have been. I had conversations with people from Germany, Romania, Canada, Russia, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and others over the course of our trip. So interesting!! Love it! One other interesting part of these free walking tours is that Randy and I are usually the oldest people on the tours by about 25 years. 😮 Not sure why that is…

Anyways back to the picture above, our meeting point for the Prishtina, Kosovo tour. In the city center was a statue of the Albanian hero, Skanderbeg. There is a similar statue at the city center in Tirana. This was just another reminder of how closely Albania and Kosovo are linked.

IMG_7160

This banner was also in the Prishtina city center. We found out through our tour that people from Kosovo love Americans because the USA and NATO forces stepped in to stop the genocide by the Serbs in 1999 at the end of the Kosovo War. Also the US was the first country to recognize Kosovo as a separate country after Kosovo withdrew from Serbia.

Touring an Ottoman home owned by a wealthy family from 300 years ago.

Although only 2% of the population in Kosovo is Catholic this gorgeous cathedral was recently built in Prishtina. When our tour guide was asked how it was funded he explained that donations from outside of Kosovo made the building of the church possible. The cathedral is dedicated to Mother Theresa.

fullsizeoutput_f1eb

The Kosovo War was fought because Serbia did not want Kosovo to be an independent country. They wanted Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. This monument was built after the Kosovo War as a tribute to the 20,000 women who were raped by the Serbs during the war. The Serbs were not being successful militarily so they decided to try to break the spirit and family ties within the Kosovo community by raping the women and murdering 3,000 young children under the age of four. All of this happened in 1998-99! Absolutely horrible and sickening! The USA had stayed out of this conflict until this information became public but then became involved in stopping this genocide.

IMG_7175

This is a close-up of the monument from above. Each of the 20,000 medals represents the rape of a woman during the Kosovo War.

Onto a  lighter subject…

Our final stop in Prishtina was visiting a bear sanctuary. Up until 2010 it was common for restaurants in Kosovo to have live bears in cages in front. The restaurant owners did this as a way to attract customers. It was decided that this was inhumane and so in 2013 this sanctuary was opened to house the bears. It was a beautiful facility that houses 19 bears.

fullsizeoutput_f1ec

Serbia does not allow tourists to enter Serbia through Kosovo since they do not recognize  Kosovo as a country. So we had to drive out of Kosovo to Macedonia and then enter Serbia through Macedonia. This was about a two-hour drive out of our way.

Our first stop in Serbia was to visit the Red Cross Nazi Concentration Camp outside of the city of Nis. It was used to detain as many as 35,000 Jews, Serbs and Romanis between the years of 1941-44. The concentration camp is best known because of the escape of 105 prisoners from the camp. The largest number of escapees from any concentration camp. During the escape 11 German soldiers were killed. The Nazis then murdered 100 prisoners for each German soldier that was killed as punishment for the prisoner escaping.

fullsizeoutput_f1e8

The tall building in the background is our hotel. It was lovely hotel at a very reasonable price. The only downside was that smoking was allowed in the hotel restaurant and lobby. Yuck! This was the only place on our trip where smoking was allowed inside, thank goodness!

The next morning on my run I came across this fort that included Nisville, obviously a play on Nashville, Tennessee.  🙂  I immediately thought of our friends. Sarah and Marty, perhaps you need to plan a trip to Nis, Serbia. 🙂

 

These are two maps that we saw as we toured Serbia. Both maps show Kosovo as part of Serbia. The maps have no indications that Kosovo has been recognized as a separate country by 154 of the 193 United Nations countries.

IMG_7270

95% of Serbians are Christian, primarily Christian Orthodox. This beautiful church is in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

knez-mihailova-pedestrian-street-in-belgrade-eb4nrx.jpg

This is Belgrade’s city center which we thought was similar to many other European city center’s we have visited: vibrant, lots of good restaurants and shops, great people watching. We found the people of Serbia to be friendly and welcoming. We did not get the opportunity to talk with many Serbs but on our walking tour the guide made it clear that he thought Serbia was the best country in the world and that the mention of Kosovo was taboo. Serbia seems to be a bully to other countries: Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia. To me it seems like Serbia is wanting to claim as much land as  possible after the break up of Yugoslavia.

More pictures from Belgrade.

fullsizeoutput_f1ef

As many of you know, I LOVE ice cream. This was my favorite treat in Serbia!  🙂

fullsizeoutput_f3bc

When we checked out of our hotel we were given this form. They said we might need it to prove that we had stayed in Serbia and to allow us to exit the country. We were never asked about it at the border but it made me feel a bit unsettled about being a tourist in Serbia.

fullsizeoutput_f1ee

As we drove through Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria we passed by fields and fields and fields of sunflowers. Beautiful!

fullsizeoutput_f1e9

IMG_7302

As we drove into Romania the first thing we saw were the two images above. Romania is one of the most religious countries in Europe as evidenced by the cross. 92% of the population is Orthodox Christian.

IMG_7313

When we were trying to figure out where to visit in Romania, our reading suggested that Transylvania was in the heartland and specifically recommended two villages. We settled on spending two nights in Sighisoara and were not disappointed. This charming well preserved Saxon town was full of cobbled streets and architecture that reminded me of Rothenburg, Germany. Our hotel was located on the right at the top of these stairs.

IMG_7412

Look how very German our hotel in Romania looks! During our visit to Sighisoara we learned that in the 11th century the king of Romania wanted to increase the population of Romania so he went to the Saxony part of Germany. He offered free land, no taxes for 50 years, freedom of religion and self rule to anyone who would resettle to the Transylvania part of Romania. They had to agree to help defend Romania from the Barbarians. This explains why so much of Transylvania has a German feel to it.

 

More German (Saxon) influence…

 

 

We visited the small village of Biertan with it’s fortified church. In the 13th and 14th centuries many small villages did not have castles to protect them so they fortified their churches as places for protection. This church had three walls built around it and eight towers as a defense against invaders. It was known as the strongest fortified church of Transylvania and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We visited another beautiful Saxon village called Malancrav where Prince Charles visits twice a year to enjoy the peaceful, natural surroundings.

The village included this Saxon Fortified Church with frescoes dating back to 1350.

 

We climbed to the top of the Clock Tower, the centerpiece of Sighisoara.

When we sent some of our pictures from Romania to our kids, Elizabeth sent us the picture of the puzzle on the left. Wow! We are standing in the exact spot where the puzzle picture was taken. Elizabeth said her family had just finished putting together the puzzle so easily recognized where we were.

 

This Romanian woman with her marionette was performing outside of the Clock Tower. I loved watching her!

Our final stop in Romania was Bran Castle. This was really our only disappointment on the whole trip. It was extremely crowded with loooooong lines to get in. Our guide was very marginal with limited English and it was obvious that she was an inexperienced guide. We went there because this castle is known as Dracula’s Castle and since Randy read the book and saw the movie he wanted to see what it was like. When we got into the castle we found out that the castle had very little to do with Dracula but instead was owned by Romania’s royal family specifically Queen Mary, daughter of Queen Victoria.

img_7508.jpg

As you can tell from the picture, we are now headed into Bulgaria. As we were leaving Romania the toll collector wanted us to pay 150 euros to leave the country. We questioned it and the toll collector became frustrated and ended up throwing our passports and rental car paperwork at us and waving us through. A big part of the problem was a language barrier. There was no signage indicating this type of toll was due. We never could figure out if we really were supposed to pay this large amount of money as a highway tax or if the Romanian woman was just trying to “line her pockets.” Who knows?

IMG_7494

As we drove through the countryside is was common to see horse drawn wagons carrying people, hay or some other crop.

img_7549.jpg

We have arrived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria which was one of my favorite cities we visited. It was clean, had a good combination of a charming Old Town and a bustling New Town and delicious food. Plovdiv claims to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. I wish we would have had more time to explore this city and it’s surroundings.

IMG_7515

Here is a model of a stadium built by the Romans in the first century. The stadium was large enough to seat 30,000 spectators! It was not until the 1960’s that this stadium was found in the city center of Plovdiv.

IMG_7517If the entire stadium was to be unearthed then many of the city’s buildings would need to be destroyed so Plovdiv made the decision to uncover only part of the stadium which is pictured above.

IMG_7555IMG_7554

We were told that if we went into the H&M Store we could see more of the stadium. Sure enough, as soon as we entered the store there was part of the ancient stadium. So interesting!

img_7534.jpg

At the top of the city was this ancient theater which seats 5,000 people. It was also built in the first century and was not discovered until the 1960’s. Plays and concerts are frequently held in this theater where the acoustics are perfect.

IMG_7539 The cover to this menu made me smile. The food in Plovdiv  was excellent!

IMG_7538

About 60% of the Bulgarians are Bulgarian Orthodox with the next largest sub-group being 20% of Bulgarians who are undeclared about their religion. This orthodox church is named Church of the Holy Mother of God.

img_7523.jpg

Another beautiful sunset in another beautiful city. Plovdiv is often referred to a city with seven hills. Here you can easily see three of them.

img_7575.jpg

As we are headed out of town the following morning, I snapped this picture to show how in Bulgaria two written languages are used, Cyrillic and Latin. Both languages are taught in school and Bulgarian citizens can easily move between the two. This was true in Serbia and Macedonia too.

fullsizeoutput_f3d8

We spent the last night of our trip in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. Up until a few months ago North Macedonia was simply called Macedonia but because of ongoing disputes with Greece the name was changed.

IMG_7587

Look at our hotel! This ship/hotel was in the city center and the price was right so we decided why not. There is no historical significance to the ship or it’s location plus the river that it sits in is much too small to ever accommodate a ship of this size. It all seemed so random but fun at the same time.

Skopje is a city of statues.  They are everywhere with little information about their significance. It seems overdone at times.

fullsizeoutput_f3eb

There were also huge beautiful buildings like this throughout the city. We found out that many of them have a faux front and the building is actually only a few feet deep.

IMG_7634

This was probably the most imposing (and beautiful in many ways) statue. Our walking tour guide said she was to call the statue “warrior on a horse”. It seemed obvious to us that it was a statue of Alexander the Great. This scenario also has it’s roots in disagreements with Greece.

Visiting another fortress on top of a hill…

My favorite part of Skopje was visiting where Mother Theresa’s home originally stood. In the picture on the right you can see the brass cornerstones of the home. Mother Theresa was born in Skopje to parents of Albanian descent.

fullsizeoutput_f3db

IMG_7649

This museum was built within the last few years as a tribute to Mother Teresa.

The museum included several copies of letters Mother Teresa had written over her lifetime. I was surprised to see that they were written in English. I then learned that when she left Macedonia at the age of 18 she went to Ireland to become a nun. It was in Ireland that Mother Teresa became proficient in English. She then went from Ireland to Calcutta, India. Since Mother Teresa is considered a saint all of the original documents, letters and paperwork from her life are housed in the Vatican.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip around the Balkans. At times, it was hard to keep up with the different types of money in each country: Kosovo Euro, Serbian Dian, Romanian Lei, Bulgarian Lev and the Macedonian Denar. We came home with lots and lots of coins! One of the overarching themes we discussed after our trip was that the Balkans have a long history of turmoils, wars, border disputes, some of which are still continuing. When a country has to put so much of it’s time and resources into settling these disputes then they can’t put those same resources into developing their countries. After this trip we now have a better understanding of why western Europe is more developed than eastern Europe. The people we met throughout our Balkan travels were wonderful. We wish them a peaceful future in this beautiful part of the world.

I am a bit slow in making this post because school has started. Yikes, all of a sudden I have limited free time again. We took one more weekend trip before school started which I will post about and then I will update you on Albanian College.

Thanks for reading my blog!

September, 2019

 

Reflections After Teaching Abroad for a Year

Now that I have completed my first year of international teaching I want to share some input about the experience. A year ago when we were getting ready to leave for Albania, I remember thinking, what if I don’t like this?, what if it is not what I had expected?, what if Randy is unhappy with our choice? A year later, I can say that overall this was a wonderful experience that I am glad we took a risk on. There were ups and downs throughout the year but Randy and I are happy that we took on this challenge.

I was scheduled to have 15 grade one students but only 11 of them showed up. Half of my students spoke no English at the beginning of the year and the rest of them spoke English in various degrees from a few words or phrases to being able to have a simple conversation. My Albanian Assistant, Edlira, was assigned to me on a full time basis. She was wonderful not only because of her help with translating but also because she did so much to help me understand the culture of Albania.

I have never taught children whose first language was not English so I was not sure how to go about it. Our Deputy Head of Primary and PYP Coordinator, Joe, did an excellent job talking us through the opening of school and answering our questions. One of my first questions was to ask if when I said something in English, was Edlira then to translate it all into Albanian. I was told that this was not how it was to be done. Joe explained that Albanian College is an English immersion school so teaching should be done in English. He said that I would know when the children needed to have something translated and I could then ask Edlira to translate. At the beginning of the year I had Edlira translate fairly frequently but by the end of the year I only had her translate if I was teaching a concept with more complex vocabulary. Also, I had her translate if the children were having behavior issues and I wanted to make sure they understood the expectations. My students who started the year with no English were very quiet at the beginning of the school year. I remember wondering what their voices sounded like since they could not yet talk to me. Joe had told us that by the middle to end of October the children would start talking.  It takes the children about that long to develop their receptive language to a degree where they can express themselves using language. Joe was right, the kids did start talking by the end of October. It was so exciting to witness! By the end of the school year all the children were not only speaking English but they also were doing well with reading and writing in English.

After this year of teaching, I really do believe that kids are kids no matter where they live. For the most part, I taught these children using many of the same methods as I do in the States. As many of you know, I have many years of teaching special education so my teaching includes structure, repetition, multi-sensory experiences with clear expectations. This may have helped when teaching children for whom English is their second language but overall I think the kids picked up the language so quickly because they are young and young children are the perfect age to be taught a second language. I have been asked a few times about the behavior of these children. I do not think there were any more or less behavior problems than what I had in the States. Once again, kids are kids.

IMG_5574

Some people have asked what a typical day’s schedule was in my classroom. This picture shows the schedule I had posted in my classroom for the children. Every day the schedule changed slightly depending on what single subject classes we had. Here are a few more details:

  • 7:45 children arrive in my classroom
  • 8:00 read aloud and morning meeting including reading the daily message, looking at the calendar and discussing the day ahead
  • 8:20 all children go to the canteen for a breakfast provided by the school
  • 8:40 math instruction
  • 9:20 writing instuction
  • 10:00 recess
  • 10:20 literacy centers- this was the time of the day where I met with the children in small groups to provide differentiated reading instruction
  • 11:00 Albanian class taught by an Albanian teacher (this was a planning time for me)
  • 11:40 all children go to the canteen for a lunch provided by the school
  • 12:00 recess
  • 12:20 more literacy center time
  • 1:00 performing arts- a combination of music and drama (this was planning time for me)
  • 1:40 recess
  • 2:00 snack provided by the school
  • 2:10 inquiry time which was time spent focusing on the current transdisciplinary unit to go with the international baccalaureate program
  • 3:20 children go to their buses or are picked up

This school day is an hour longer than my school day in the States but I also have more release time than I had in the States.

Did you notice that the children have three 20 minute recesses? In the States my students only had one 20 minute recess a day. In the States I was constantly providing extra movement time with activities like Go Noodle but I found that this was unneeded at Albanian College. By providing adequate recess time the children could focus better in the classroom.

I was required to supervise one lunch, two breakfasts and four recesses each week.

IMG_5576

This is the inquiry board from my classroom. It changed every 6 to 8 weeks throughout the school year. This was always my challenge. I feel very confident teaching children math, reading and writing but when asked to incorporate that into an international baccalaureate (IB) curriculum I felt overwhelmed at times. I knew that with an IB curriculum the children are given much more choice. Usually when I start the school year I have assigned seating for my children at tables, in their cubbies and on the rug. Since IB meant more choice I decided to do away with all these assignments. After the first day or two of school I felt like things seemed out of control too much of the time. I talked with our PYP Coordinator again, Joe, and he explained that IB means more choice but not less structure. The next day I had the children in assigned spaces and it all went much better. That was my first lesson about teaching IB.

Going back to the picture above you can see that I have posted the most current:

  • Transdisciplinary Theme: How We Organize Ourselves
  • Central Idea: Public spaces give people opportunities to make connections and establish community
  • Lines of Inquiry:
    • the characteristics and purposes of public spaces
    • the reasons people use public spaces
    • people’s responsibilities when using public spaces

The above was the structure I used to teach that unit. All of our activities and lessons came from this. Every 6 to 8 weeks the theme would change.

As the year progressed I became more and more comfortable with teaching in an IB curriculum. Joe was helpful but also I was assigned a buddy teacher, Kelly, who was fabulous! She had graduated from an IB high school and then previously taught at an IB school in another country. She really stretched my thinking and helped me use a more inquiry based style when I taught. I learned how to give children a choice on how they learned new things. I learned to give the children a choice on what type of field trip they wanted to go on to learn about a topic. I learned to let the children lead discussions while I simply facilitated those conversations when needed. The best part about teaching this way was watching the children’s excitement. They really were taking ownership with their learning and it was exhilarating to be a part of it. My IB teaching was not perfect but I definitely think I learned a whole new way to think about how children learn and am blending that new knowledge with how I have taught in the past.

IMG_5201IMG_5204

Here is a serious and silly picture of my students near the end of the school year. They are getting ready to perform in a talent show that was their idea as part of our unit about public spaces. I thoroughly enjoyed being their teacher. As with many teachers the end of the year is bittersweet. I am happy to have time off for a few weeks but sad that I will not have these children as my students next year.

I feel like I have done a lot of blog posting over the last month. If you are still reading, thank you! Right now I am in the States for about three weeks, enjoying time to get caught up with family and friends.

I signed a two year contract with Albanian College so am headed back for my second year. My school district in the States very kindly granted me time to pursue this dream of international teaching. After this next school year I will definitely be headed back to Fairport to finish my teaching career there. On August 9th Randy and I fly back to Albania. I do not need to report to the school until August 26th but we we are going back early so we can do some traveling before school starts.

Now my only hope is that the upcoming year goes as well as the past year…

 

Reconnecting in Belfast

When our kids were younger and lived at home we spent many summers hosting kids ages 10-14 through the Irish Children’s Program of Rochester. The Irish kids were from Belfast and would come to visit for 5-6 weeks. The program was timed so the children would not be in Belfast during the Troubles (conflict between the Catholics and Protestants) which always escalated in July. The first young woman we hosted was Lee-Ann who stayed with us when she was 13 and then returned to us for two more summers when she was 16 and 17. Later we hosted Daniel starting when he was 11 years old and then again when he was 12 and another time when he was 16. They were wonderful kids or we would not have continued to invite them back summer after summer. We have been fortunate to continue to keep in contact with them. Both Lee-Ann and Daniel returned to the States for Elizabeth and Ben’s wedding in 2007. Lee-Ann was one of Elizabeth’s bridesmaids. When Randy and I were planning our trip back to the US from Albania we decided to stop in Belfast for a few nights so we could reconnect with Lee-Ann and Daniel.

IMG_6212

Daniel’s mother, Jayne took us out for dinner the first night we were in Belfast.

IMG_6223IMG_6226

The next day we headed to the northern coast of Northern Ireland and on the way stopped where a scene from “Game of Thrones” was filmed. This tunnel of beech trees is called Dark Hedges.Image result for cerek a rede bridge northern ireland images

fullsizeoutput_d847IMG_6232fullsizeoutput_d848IMG_6251

Daniel was so kind to take time off work and drive us all over to see the sights. We are at the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge which was originally built 350 years ago for salmon fishermen to get from island to island.

img_6258.jpg

IMG_6276IMG_6266IMG_6271img_6281.jpg

The next stop was the Giant’s Causeway which is a group of 40,000, mostly hexagonal, columns that were the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. This is such an unusual UNESCO World Heritage sight. We really enjoyed it.

IMG_6299

IMG_6294

That night Daniel took us to listen to some live Irish music which we loved!!!

img_6309-e1564027526395.jpgfullsizeoutput_d82aIMG_6302IMG_6303fullsizeoutput_d849

 

The following day Lee-Ann and her long time partner, Alan, took us to visit the Titanic Museum. We really enjoyed this well done museum. Not only did it give us lots of information about the Titanic but it also helped us to understand some of the history of Belfast.

IMG_6304

IMG_6332

That evening we went to dinner with Lee-Ann, Alan, their two teenage sons and Lee-Ann’s mom. Lee-Ann’s aunt and uncle were visiting from Liverpool so they also joined us. It was good to meet many of Lee-Ann’s family after all these years.

Lee-Ann drove us around Belfast the next day so we could see some of the murals. As you can see some of the murals are politically related, some are about Belfast history and some are about sports.

IMG_6341

Outside of Lee-Ann’s house with her son, Jay.

fullsizeoutput_d82dfullsizeoutput_d832

Later that day we met Mark, a former Irish Children’s Program chaperone for lunch and then ice cream. The little girl in the picture is Daniel’s daughter, Naomi. She is a darling six year old who we enjoyed getting to know. Mark’s son, Micah, also was able to join us. So great meeting everyone’s kids!

fullsizeoutput_d83a

On our last night in Belfast, Daniel’s granda took us for a lovely dinner. Daniel’s brother, Anthony also joined us.

IMG_6385

We believe we have lifelong friends in Daniel and Lee-Ann. We loved hosting them so many years ago and are so proud of the adults they have become.

After our four day stay in Belfast, we flew to the States and are here for a three week visit before heading back to Albania so I can teach for another year.

July, 2019