Saturday, August 28, 2010

Registering with the Policja and my first swim in the Adriatic Sea

The road to Petrovac!

I successfully registered with the Policja (police). It was quite an experience. Montenegro allows foreigners to enter the country without a Visa. However, within 24 hours of arriving you are required to register with the Police. I didn't exactly meet this deadline, but it was okay. When I had my Security Briefing with the U.S. Embassy they provided me with an official letter (one in Montenegrin, one in English) that explained that I will be an Engleski (English) professor at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. My landlord had to accompany me to the Police to tell them in person that I will be living in one of his rental apartments in Podgorica. My landlord speaks very little English. (When I say little, I really mean none.) It made communicating difficult, but it is serves as a crash course in Montenegrin.

Thankfully, I made a great friend (Danka), who I introduced to you in my last post, and speaks excellent English. Danka served as our translator. After registering with the Police, my landlord asked me to go to coffee. I asked Danka to go with us as well. It was nice to learn a little bit more about my landlord, Vasa, and his family. Vasa is the only boy in his family, outside of his father, and he has six sisters. He is married and used to work as a top manager for a home appliance company in the former Yugoslavia. He's retired now and makes his own honey and rakeja (which is the american equivalent to home made moonshine). When he comes to collect my rent for October, he will bring some and I will try it. I am a bit nervous. I heard this stuff is strong and does not go down easily. Many Montenegrins make their own Rakeja. Despite my nervous hesitations, I will definitely try it. On a positive note, the cafe we went to was AWESOME! I found ice-coffee. It was SUPERB.

Yesterday, Danka and her mother asked Danielle and I to go with them to an annual fish and wine festival in Petrovac. Petrovac is about a 45 minutes drive from Podgorica. It's right along the coast and very close to Budva. I had a blast. Petrovac is a beautiful, sea side town literally built on the side of a mountain that cascades down in to the Adriatic Sea. I have never scene anything like it before. The beach was packed and so were the streets.
Dustin, Danielle, Danka, Nikola, and Valentina at the Beach

We went straight to the beach and I took my first swim in the Adriatic Sea. The water is unbelievable. It's warm and relaxing. It was crystal clear and turquoise. As you swim, you can look straight down to the bottom and see coral rocks and tropical fish (they were blue). When you look back to the coast, all you see is this big stretch of beach umbrellas and towering mountains that surround the coast. It's really hard to put into words how beautiful it is here. I mean every time I look at something I want to snap a photo and turn it into a postcard.
Petrovac sunset! Beautiful

After swimming, we had to wait in a long line to get our fish and wine. The wine was made in Montenegro. Unfortunately, they ran out of fish. We arrived late; so next time we will be sure to arrive earlier. I was sad because the fish looked really good. Instead, we ended up going to a great restaurant along the coast. At 9PM, a huge concert began on the beach. The concert went on until 4AM. We only stayed until midnight. The first performer was a famous pop-artist from Serbia. She was really good. I loved listening to music in Serbian and Montenegrin. I could even pick up a few words. I could not get over the crowd. It was insane. I mean there had to be close to 15,000 people or more on the beach. It was a mad house, but totally worth it. There was no form of crowd control and very few police. This was definitely different from
My delicious dinner by the seaside.

I am really starting to get a good since of the way of life in Montenegro. It's calm and the people are laid back. There's no real since of urgency here, which I LOVE! People are welcoming, and eager to engage in conversation. I have only been here for seven days and my networks are building. I have made many great friends. I am comfortable and ready for my first great weekend in Montenegro.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

American Corners Podgorica - The Coolest Place in Town!!!

Today was awesome! Danielle and I had our Security Briefing with the U.S. Embassy. We meet Slavica (Cultural Affairs Assistant) and Shelly (Public Affairs Officer) at Masa Cafe for coffee. It was so nice to finally meet Slavica in person. We had communicated a lot prior to my arrival in Podgorica. She is our primary contact person for the U.S. Embassy Podgorica. She oversees the U.S. Fulbrightor's in Podgorica and a ton of other Embassy projects. Slavica was extremely friendly and she gave us an informative orientation packet. It was filled with a ton of information about Podgorica, the U.S. Embassy, American Corners Podgorica, and more. Our coffee meeting was a huge success and it ended with a few helpful Montenegrin Language tips. Slavica has arranged for Danielle and I to both have a Montenegrin tutor. I plan to contact them right away to start setting up meetings. We also found out that on October 6 the Embassy will be putting on a big reception for us.

After coffee, Danielle and I fixed a quick lunch and it was off to find American Corners Podgorica. I had e-mailed two of the librarians, Sanja and Milena, ahead of time through Facebook. As soon as we walked through the door, they knew who we were. They welcomed us with open arms and warm smiles. There hospitality was so kind and genuine. They gave us a tour of the American Corners Center and showed us the English-Language Library Resource Center. I plan to donate over 100 books to American Corners Podgorica that were provided thanks to Dr. Donna Weimer (Juniata College) and Mrs. Melissa Morral (Williamson High School).

Here is a fun little story. As I was browsing the bookshelves, I came across a book that I fell in love with when I took a course called "Women, Work, and Identity" with Dr. Lynn Cockett at Juniata College. The book is called "The Second Shift" written by Barbara Erhenrich. I told Sanja and Milena about this book and course. Milena told me that she actually just ready it here not to long ago and referenced it in one of her university term papers. It's a great book. So if you haven't read it, (especially if you are in a relationship) I highly recommend that you, and your partner, read it.

We talked for a bit about a number of programs American Corners Podgorica offers. They are definitely a very busy organization. Danielle and I plan to do a number of public diplomacy projects with them. I have two projects in mind. Here is a rough sketch of what we have in the works. I would like to develop and publish a monthly informative newspaper centered around the different programs, initiatives, guest lectures/speakers, and individuals at American Corners Podgorica. Currently, they do not have anything like this, but they do have a well followed and well maintained Facebook group. The neat part about this project is that all of the articles will be written by Montenegrins, or anyone who is interested in writing for the newspaper and wants to improve their English writing skills, learn about American Journalists, learn newspaper layout and photography, etc. It will operate like a University Newspaper Organization/Club. The project is in the brainstorming/development stage right now, but once I know my teaching schedule I plan to pursue this idea further. I am also planning to develop a curriculum for a leadership workshop series that teaches the Social Change Model of Leadership. I will spend the fall semester developing the workshop curriculum and in the Spring semester I will implement my leadership workshop series over a period of eight weeks. In the end, all those that participate will receive a certificate saying they have completed the workshop.

As we were sitting and talking with Sanja and Milena, two young students approached us (Danka and Nikola). Danka just graduated from High School and is brilliant. She speaks English extremely well. She also speaks Italian and Russian. WOW! She has been accepted into the London School of Economics. How cool is that? Nikola is entering the 9th grade, but if you meet him you would think he is a university student. He is very intelligent as well, speaks excellent English, and has developed his own webdesign business. They were very interested in learning about where we live at in the U.S.A. and what subjects we will be teaching at the university. Danka and her mother, who was also at American Corners Podgorica at the same time we were, invited us over to her house for dinner. Danielle and I went. We had an authentic Montenegrin meal. It was pork roasted in olive oil, milk, and rosemary. They also had amazing bread and a variety of cheeses. We had unbelievable Montenegrin cake and ice-cream. It was out of this world.

Well... that was my day! I can only imagine what tomorrow will have in store. Danielle and I are going with our landlords to register with the policja (police).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My First 3 Days...

Wow! I have only been in Montenegro for three days and I feel like I could write a novel. Don't worry. I promise not too. First, you have to know that Podgorica is literally overflowing in endless beauty. As our Montenegro Airlines flight neared the Podgorica Aerodrome (airport in Montenegrin) I glanced out my window, and immediately I saw incredible cascading mountains, captivating Mediterranean red roofs, and rivers nestled into canyons of various sizes.

I am so happy to call Podgorica my home for the next year.

I mean this city is fantastic. The weather is 95+ degrees from 7AM to 9AM at night. The heat even stays with us throughout most of the night. The sky is crystal clear and the sun shines vibrantly. I love it! The moon is so bright and siting on top of Podgorica's Millennium Bridge, gazing up at the sky after a wonderful Montenegrin meal, just feels incredible.

Thankfully all of my baggage arrived (two suitcases at 50 pounds each). A young man by the name of Luka greeted and picked me up from the airport. Luka is Aleksandra's younger brother. Aleksandra is one of the faculty members I have been communicating with at the Universitet Crne Gore prior to my arrival. She is wonderful. Luka was in charge of arranging apartments for me to see in Podgorica. He speaks good English. As soon as we left the airport, it was apartment shopping time. The first apartment Luka showed me was unbelievable. I mean this place ROCKS! It's very modern, fully furnished, huge balcony, bright colored walls, and spacious. My apartment is in the heart of the city, and the Universitet Crne Gore Niksic bus stop is a two minute walk from my front door. I knew this was the right place for me. So I took it! I am going to take a few pictures of my apartment and post them on here for everyone to see.

The last two days have been busy. Lots to do. Lots to learn. I have spent time exploring various parts of the city and getting to know the neighborhood I am living in. I did venture over to Universitet Crne Gore Podgorica. This part of my university is where the President's Office is located and the Technology and Science departments. It's a neat looking building.

However, today was perhaps my favorite day so far. I met with Aleksandra at a cafe called "Masha." It's named after the owner's daughter. It was nice to officially meet her in person and talk about the semester that lay ahead of us. Aleksandra brought her mother, her youngest son (his name is Wolf, he's 5 years old), and her youngest brother Alex. It was a pleasure to meet all of them. We had a great conversation and I got to ask a lot of questions. Her family is outstanding, so welcoming, friendly, and they speak excellent English. I am definitely going to be teaching a number of courses, but I will know more about what I am teaching and when after Monday. I am meeting with the Department Chair at Niksic then to finalize everything. I have proposed to teach an American Culture and History Course, Public Speaking, and Creative Writing. This is in addition to the English Language courses. They loved the idea.

After our coffee, Aleksandra's brother, Alex, who is also the same age as me (23), took me on a great walking tour. He is officially my first Montenegrin friend. We have a ton in common. He helped me get a great deal on a Mobile phone to use in Montenegro, he introduced me to a delicious, famous Montenegrin food called "Borek." It's the most amazing bread you can imagine (I'd compare the bread to a cherry turnover) and filled with meat and onions. DELICIOUS! DELICIOUS! DELICIOUS! He showed me the grass market where I can buy fresh produce, the pakara (bakery), apoteka (pharmacy), and other general goods. We talked about music, university structure, his program of study, films, our families, Hollywood celebrities, hobbies, pets, etc. EH is very bright. I showed him the YouTube Video of Storming of the Arch. He definitely thinks I should use this in my courses to teach about American Culture. I think it might just be a great idea.

I studied the language as much as possible before I left the USA. I am very proud of what I have learned so far. I am able to communicate with those who speak no English whatsoever very well. Of course, it is very basic. I have probably built my vocabulary up to about 15 or 20 words since my arrival. With time, I will get better and the U.S. Embassy is planning to get a tutor or course lined up for me. I am very eager to learn the language. Just being here makes it so much easier to learn.

My day ended on a superb note. Danielle, my Fulbright partner in crime, and I had great dinner at a restaurant called "Opera." We shared a big bottle of Montenegrin Cabernet Red Wine and feasted on magnificent food. I am really surprised at how cheap it is to eat at restaurants here in Podgorica. Coffee is inexpensive too. Even places that are up-scale are extremely affordable. I am sure I will have many more food stories to share with you.

Well, it is about 1:20AM here in Podgorica. It's time to shut down the computer and go to sleep. Tomorrow Danielle and I have our security briefing with the Public Affairs Officer. More to come soon.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Count Down is On!

Ten days! That's it! I now have ten days until I board my Continental Airlines flight in Rochester, NY destined for Podgorica, Montenegro. My exact departure date is August 21, 2010. Rest assured, suitcase packing is well underway. In preparation for Montenegro, I have started to study their language (they use both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet), I have read a detailed book exploring Montenegro's history and contemporary society, and I have shipped two diplomatic pouches to the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica filled with over 100 books to donate to my department at the Universitet za Crne Gore and the American Corners Program.

If there is one thing I have learned so far, it's that preparing to leave your home country for one year is no easy task. There is far more to it than just saying "goodbye" to family, friends, and colleagues. Of course, anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to be on the over organized side, to-do-list in hand, and few scheduled moments for breaks and rest. However, I promise I have taken time this summer to relax, enjoy post-graduation life, and gradually begin checking away at my Fulbright Pre-Departure to-do-list.

Once July arrived, my Fulbright preparations took spark. I attended Fulbright Orientation and Teacher's Training in Washington D.C. with the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State. Fulbright orientation and training lasted five days. I had an incredible experience in Washington, DC. Here, I, along with other Fulbright ETA and Research Fellows, were formally introduced and welcomed into the Fulbright community. Furthermore, orientation and teacher's training answered all of my immediate questions in regards to Fulbright grant administration and provided me with a thorough introduction to methodologies for teaching English, classroom management strategies, ample teaching resources, and practice developing lesson plans.

My favorite part of Fulbright orientation was having the opportunity to meet new and returning (Alumni) Fulbrightor's. Everyone was either a.) extremely social and eager to get their Fulbright Fellowship underway or b.) willing to answer any questions and offer pearls of wisdom. My first night in DC I had the opportunity to meet the other Fulbright ETA Fellow going to Montenegro. She is AWESOME! Also, I met many other Fulbrightor's going to other countries throughout the Balkans, Russia, and the Caucasus. I am thrilled to think we will be able to share this once-in-a-life-time opportunity together.

For those returning from their Fulbright abroad, they quickly welcomed our questions and gave us the insider's view into the geographical region, contemporary issues, and culture that we will soon experience first hand. They were completely honest about their overall teaching and personal experiences. I found hearing stories about their classes, university faculty/structure, students, and side-projects to be intriguing. It definitely gave me much to think about and consider. However, by the end of orientation and teacher's training, I recognized that each persons Fulbright experience is entirely different, even for those who lived in the same city. Each Fulbrightor will encounter his or her own unique challenges, obstacles, successes, and cultural adjustments. No Fulbright placement is the same. I can't wait to tell you more details/specifics about mine.

I will conclude this post by mentioning that I have done a lot since my graduation from Juniata College to prepare for my Fulbright to Montenegro (i.e., beginning to learn the language, reading about Montenegro's history, asking questions to returning Fulbright ETA Fellows, applying to present my research at a Global Higher Education Conference in Wales, UK, etc.) Yet, like many of my prior abroad adventures to Scotland, Israel, Uruguay, and Africa, there is no one "right" way to fully prepare for an international teaching experience and that is part of what makes Fulbright so worth while, so worth pursuing. It's going to be an extraordinary experience. I'm ready!