Week 1 - Jumping In

Going into this summer, I knew it would be filed with multiple first-time experiences for me: this is my first time traveling solo; this is my first time traveling to Kosovo and to Europe in general; this is my first time I will be outside of the United States for longer than five days.  I could not have been more excited for this adventure and I could not wait to start my internship. I arrived here in Kosovo a little over one week ago and I spent my first day meeting my landlord, wandering around Pristina and trying to deal with the jetlag. On my second day here, I caught the No. 4 bus across the city center and started my internship.

My first day at Democracy for Development was both welcoming and warm.  All of the employees greeted me and made me feel at home from the moment I entered the office.  I was given a great deal of autonomy to choose which projects I would like to be directly involved with.  D4D had a wide range of projects spanning numerous interesting topics, from projects outlining good governance policies to local volunteer organizational outreach programs.  In the end, I chose three projects to become involved with during the course of my internship.  

The first project involves helping D4D during the snap elections that were called in Kosovo two days prior to my arrival.  D4D, in past elections, has participated as an observer and a source of unbiased information about the parties involved, and we plan to perform the same function again.  Already we have joined the social media campaign #AsUne to warn against voting for corrupted candidates.  Since the elections were called unexpectedly, we are working hard to get prepared and send out correct information to promote free and fair elections in Kosovo.  As a result, a majority of the projects we are working on are put on hold for the time being.  The snap elections will be held on June 11th.  So far, my involvement here has been minimal because the Albanian language barrier has hindered my ability to communicate with political parties.  However, as the date of the election gets closer, I will be more involved with activities my organization is performing.

The second project I am participating in involves the Tuesday Salons that D4D puts on in the community each week. Salons are local meetings, organized by D4D, that take place in coffee shops that dot the cities and towns all across Kosovo. There, community leaders from the government and from other influential organizations (NGOs, media, etc.) meet face-to-face with the local youth to discuss issues around a pre-determined topic.  I have observed two different Salons already. The first Salon I attended was also on my first day of the internship; there I saw firsthand face-to-face interactions between around thirty teenage activists and some of Kosovo’s local and regional representatives in Skenderaj, discussing the pros and cons of university and vocational education, and how it would affect these young adults’ potential job opportunities.  The other Salon that I attended was in the same vein in Suhareka; around thirty youth met with local community leaders and discussed a wider range of issues that youth face in Kosovo.  Each Salon that I have attended so far brought its own unique perspectives and challenges.  For both Salons, I did not have an official translator (they are conducted in Albanian), so I had to rely on quick explanations from my coworkers.  But my overall impression from seeing that level and frequency of local interaction between the youth and authority figures was incredibly positive.  Not only was I impressed with the direct access these young adults had with their community leaders, but I was also impressed by the number of people who came out to participate in these conversations.
The third project I am involved with involves a policy brief that D4D is working in collaboration with other aid organizations to identify the problems that Kosovar women face in the labor force.  D4D has previously conducted surveys, passed out questionnaires, and set up community meetings to gather the relevant information. Now, I am working with others to synthesize that information into a policy brief which will be published.  As of right now, I have spent the majority of my time here pouring over a first draft of the policy brief about women in Kosovo’s labor market.  The draft was translated from Albanian to English, and there was a significant amount of editing to do.  However, throughout my editing process I have learned a great deal about the barriers that women here face in the employment market as well as continued to hone my editing skills.

My first impressions of this country are all positive. The people I have met and worked with are all extremely open and friendly.  They have made me feel at home here and have introduced me to a myriad of new experiences, ranging from tasty fast-food tost to a newfound daily macchiato addiction (as I type this, I am enjoying one!).  The city has its charm as well; it feels like the smallest city I have ever traversed.  My apartment is located next to a small catholic church, and it is interesting to hear the church bells right throughout the day alongside the calls to prayer from the nearby mosques.  I am looking forward to what awaits me in the following weeks!