Life as an Older Male in Kosovo
The Peace Corps states that “older volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger volunteers.” As an older male living in Kosovo, I have found this to be quite true. It is not unusual for me to be greeted with a handshake by the older men in my community followed by exchanges of pleasantries and conversations. Sitting at a coffee bar and engaging in conversations with employees, or someone sitting at a table nearby. Even within the municipality, I have been able to meet with community leaders and have conversations that are open and insightful. When visiting with my host family, family members would get up and move their chairs so that I would be sitting with the older family members. In my daily interactions with my counterparts and others, my input is sought and valued. While I realize I have experience and education, it is because of my age that I am afforded these opportunities.
In my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the majority of people that I work with are ages 15-25 and mostly female. Not surprisingly, I am shown the same respect and courtesy with the youth as I have experienced elsewhere at site. However, with the younger generation, there is a flip side to all this – it can be a barrier to developing relationships. Because of my status as an older male, discussions initially tend to be more one-sided as my input is sought and heard, but others withhold giving their input. I recall having a conversation with a group about their community and possible opportunities for projects when I commented that I can learn from them and their community. One member of the group began saying that I have so much experience and then asked “what can you learn from us?” It became apparent that perhaps the youth feel their input has little value. In accordance with our main initiative as Community Development Volunteers, our goal is to help youth and women build sustainable futures in Kosovo so I decided a good place to start would be to begin building relationships by supporting, encouraging, and establishing trust and mutual respect.
As I look ahead to the rest of my service, in addition to workshops and activities, I plan to use my position as an older male to help the youth work towards their future. Helping them develop skills, to find their voices, have confidence in themselves, learn to become active, and help drive their own future as well as their communities.