Looking for something to fill her time this past winter, as her fellow teachers in Kosovo were on strike, Gina Larson turned to Instagram. Rather than opting to fill her time with endless scrolling, she decided to create @artistofpeacecorps. Through her awesome micro blog, Gina shares art created by volunteers and the local artists in communities where volunteers serve. We talk about her service, secondary projects, and more on this week’s episode.
Photos from Gina’s Service
Gina Larson’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I serve as a TEFL volunteer in the Sharr Mountains in Kosovo. I teach at a small Albanian school built beautifully on the face of a mountain. School staff and I have collaborated on the development of a music program at the school, teaching musical instruments and dance choreography. During my free time, I occasionally volunteer at an art-based NGO in a Serbian community in Kosovo. I feel fortunate that my country of service has allowed me to explore two cultures. I drew inspiration from these artists to start a blog on Instagram. Artists of Peace Corps is a submission based Instagram page. It is a virtual gallery of art created by PCVs, RPCVs, and HCNs. The blog has connected me with so many interesting volunteers serving in so many countries. I hope to use Artists of Peace Corps in the future to do some larger projects.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
The flexibility of Peace Corps service offers volunteers the unique opportunity to use their personalities to the fullest in their country of service. It is so fulfilling to see the core pieces of yourself flourish in a foreign setting. I grew up an art appreciator (not necessarily an art creater). When the teachers went on strike in Kosovo for three weeks, volunteers were left with nothing to do. The boredom was a huge test, but in the end it allowed for me to bring art back into my life in a big way. I created Artists of Peace Corps on Instagram to fill my time. However, I never imagined how much joy it would bring me to help people share their art. I love seeing volunteers from around the world commenting their words of support on others art. I also love the ability to show off some of the talent I see in my own Peace Corps community.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
All of my least favorite Peace Corps memories come from the times in service when you feel more like you are in a survival training course than volunteer service. There were times with mice in my room and ice frozen on the bathroom walls. Sleeping with a 2 liter CocaCola bottle full of hot water is common winter practice. Sometimes I would slide backwards on ice down a hill for 2 meters before coming to a stop. However, these moment build solidarity within communities. The cold winter is definitely easier (still not easy) when you are experiencing it together with people.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
There is no other experience like Peace Corps. I will always value the opportunity to live and grow in a new culture, while being backed by the most supportive staff. One of the Peace Corps core expectations asks that YOU serve where Peace Corps asks you to serve. To me, this means Peace Corps wants you to utilize yourself and your own talents to work in the most compatible way with your community. This freedom inspires self discovery and encourages growth. I have recognized the huge role music and art play in my life and happiness, and Peace Corps has allowed for me to share that with other in an impactful way.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Peace Corps has taught me the difference between naive confidence and mature confidence. Arriving in country bright-eyed and ready to try a new challenge like the Peace Corps, is a lot different than how you feel later in service. Peace Corps is notorious for testing confidence. Peace Corps has taught me that, with the right effort, you can learn enough of a language and culture in a year to function comfortably in a foreign country. This is extremely empowering. (I also have learned how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to travel.)
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying that you’d like to share?
Iku macja, lozin minjtë
“when the cat leaves, the mice will play”
I know from experience that this is true. Especially in the Winter.