Kosovo: The Introduction
My first real exposure to the Republic of Kosovo was through the Whitehead School’s Kosovo Study Seminar during the summer of 2012. I had received an e-mail announcing that students would have the opportunity to sign up for a three-credit course culminating in a 10-day field visit to Kosovo, and for both academic reasons and personal curiosity, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in this Balkan country.
For ten days, I studied the transition of Kosovo from its status as a province of Serbia to a newly independent country. Our delegation met with senior government officials, including President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, to receive briefings and participate in discussions to learn more about the country and its history directly from the people who govern it. As a result of these meetings and our additional experiences, my interest in Kosovo and its development skyrocketed. I realized that ten days would not be enough to satisfy my emerging passion. It was then that I pondered whether pursuing an internship in Kosovo would be possible.
Midway through the trip, I had received business cards from a variety of offices and organizations, one of which belonged to a member of the Office of the President. During a break in our Seminar schedule, I e-mailed the contacts I had made reminding them that I was a student of Seton Hall University, and indicating that I was interested in obtaining an internship in Kosovo. Out of all of the connections I had made, the idea of working in the President’s office held my interest the most.
Much to my surprise, everyone responded to me by the next day. Arbër Vllahiu, the President’s political advisor for media and public relations, asked to meet with me to have a discussion about internship possibilities. The meeting was a success. He contacted me the following day to share that both he and the President would welcome my return to Kosovo in September to begin an internship in the President’s Office. Inside the Office of the President
I was truly happy at the outcome and excited that I could resume my experience in the fall. In late September, as planned, I returned on my own to live in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and work at the Office of the President as an intern. On my first day, I was welcomed by Ilir Salihu, the Chief of Staff and my internship supervisor. The hospitality that he and the other members of the presidential staff showed me on the first day alone was honestly unexpected. I knew very quickly that I would enjoy working with them.
Throughout the course of my internship, my work was predominantly focused around a three day conference hosted by the President's office called Partnership for Change: Empowering Women. The purpose of the conference was to facilitate an exchange of ideas for both raising awareness of the progress that women have made in overcoming workplace discrimination, and also, how women can overcome the workplace discrimination that still exists. In total, there were 200 conference participants: 100 from Kosovo and 100 from other parts of the world. Notable female participants included President Jahjaga, Jozefina Topalli, Speaker of the Parliament of Albania, Vlora Çitaku, Kosovo's Minister of European Integration, and Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State.
I attended all three days of the conference. One of the most notable moments for me was travelling to and from the opening ceremony in the presidential motorcade. Following the conference, I worked towards fulfilling the conference objectives. These objectives included transcribing various conference speeches and panel discussions for inclusion in the President’s archives as well as a book written in three languages documenting the conference’s legacy. I also assembled post-conference promotional materials for print and the web. Cultural Immersion
Away from the Office, my new social life ignited rapidly. I met with several other interns from other European countries on a regular basis and made new friends frequently, including internationals, local Albanians, and even a few Serbians. By talking with them and sharing their company on many different occasions, I learned a great deal about them, about Kosovo, about Europe, about the Balkans, and about life in general away from my home in America.
I also traveled extensively. With three local Albanian friends I made, I traveled to different cities throughout Kosovo and through the gorgeous Rugova Mountains. In November, I traveled to Albania with another friend to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence on November 28th. Finally, in December, I traveled to Skopje, Macedonia, to explore and take in the sights. Even though I was in Albania for only two days and in Macedonia for only a few hours, the experiences I had in these two countries were irreplaceable.An Ambassador Returns Home
December 14th was my final day at the Office. I arranged to speak with President Jahjaga to thank her for the opportunity to work there, to take a picture with her, and to request that she speak at the Whitehead School. She responded positively. She also thanked me for returning to Kosovo and told me to send the Whitehead School's Dean her best regards. Finally, referring to me, she said, "I now have a second [American] ambassador." I was truly honored to hear such words from her.
Just before the holidays, I returned home to America. It was very difficult to leave the Balkans. Each day I was there, I was truly happy to live and work in the Republic of Kosovo. It was a three months experience for which I am deeply grateful.
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