Leigh Kozak has lived in Singapore and Germany, and visited Beijing and Australia, but her biggest adventure begins this fall, when she moves to Kosovo for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps.
“At what other point in my life will I be able to go to a foreign country for two years, learn a foreign language and teach?” said Kozak, a 23-year-old English major and commuter student. “I haven’t set down roots. It’s literally the perfect time for me to go.”
Although she spent her early years living and traveling abroad while her father worked as a managing director at two international corporations, Kozak has called Massachusetts home for most of her life, and she’s ready for a change of scenery.
Got existential dread? Apply to the Peace Corps
The summer before her final year at Lesley, Kozak said she was filled with an “overwhelming senior existential dread.” Not ready to pursue a graduate degree or make other long-term decisions, but wanting to do something valuable with her time, Kozak looked into the Peace Corps volunteer program. Kosovo, one of the Corps’ newest partnerships, quickly rose to the top of her list. The teaching opportunities, small size and opportunities to travel made the country appealing.
Kosovo has had a turbulent history, including the 1998-9 Kosovo civil war between ethnic Serbians and ethnic Albanians after which followed a decade of supervision by the United Nations. In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia but security forces continue to operate in the country as it establishes its government and armed forces. In 2012, Kosovo’s president invited the Peace Corps to work in the country. The organization has since focused on economic development and education.
Kozak has great respect for the country as its citizens work to create a stronger Kosovo, and she’s looking forward to being part of those efforts.
“They’re working together to build a better country. They like having the Peace Corps there to help their kids move into a better future which I think it really beautiful," she said.
With her parents’ blessing, Kozak submitted her Peace Corps application in October. During a senior seminar in mid-November, Kozak received her acceptance email.
“I went into the hallway, freaked out and called my parents. Then I had to go back to class,” said the effusive Kozak.
With her internship in Kosovo a reality, Kozak has spent her final semester preparing to spend two-years abroad, where she will be an elementary English teacher.
So far, she’s started by:
Learning Albanian: “I have decided in my infinite wisdom to learn how to conjugate basic verbs.”
Interacting with other foreigners who have lived in the country: “I’m reading stuff on Reddit.”
And writing packing lists: “It’s very silly, but I’m a big video gamer. (I’m packing) my new computer and a wireless controller so I can play some of my games and photos of my family and a photo of my cat, obviously.”
Kozak knows there will be a lot to figure out when she arrives in Kosovo, and she’s equal parts excited and nervous.
“For the first time in my life, I will be in the minority. I don’t speak the language. I don’t look like the people in Kosovo. I’m going to stick out like a big sore thumb,” she said.
But she wants to fit in as best as possible, which may mean embracing a more reserved demeanor, in keeping with Kosovo culture.
“I’m a very loud person,” Kozak said. “It’s difficult for me to imagine reigning myself in, but I know in the end of the day I have to assimilate to do my job. If that means learning how to be a little more quiet but being more effective that’s what I have to do.”
Kozak will leave for Kosovo in early summer and spend 10 weeks with a host family while she learns Albanian before going to her permanent site.