Arnela is a former governor of JSA Northern California. She was introduced to JSA by a friend who brought her along to a Chapter meeting. And at that moment, she found a passion, a family, and a new path. Arnela would rise through leadership in JSA from a mayor to governor -- and also attended two JSA summer programs: Georgetown and the Diplomat Program in China.
A refugee from Bosnia, Arnela has always had an interest in politics and international relations. Her family's history of escaping war and relocating motivated her study of Peace building and Conflict Studies along with International Relations at the University of California Berkeley. Learn more about Arnela, her JSA journey, and how she found her way to the Peace Corps where she serves as an English Language Teacher in Kosovo.
What is your most vivid memory of your JSA involvement?
My most vivid memory was giving my last speech as Northern California Governor at Spring State. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to say to the hundreds of students, countless teachers, parents, friends, and advisors who had made my time in JSA so incredible. I was lucky to have the opportunity to thank them all and to close out my term as governor on a wonderfully positive note. It was a bitter-sweet moment and one that I will always remember.
You are serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Describe a day in your life.
A day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is difficult to describe because it’s always changing! Usually, I wake up around 8 and get ready for the day. I prepare all of my materials for the school that day including any activities I have planned for the extracurricular clubs that I run. I walk about 20 minutes to the school in my village around mid-morning and teach classes together with my Albanian counterpart for a few hours. We teach Kindergarten and grades 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8, though we don’t teach every grade each day. After school, I have English Club or English movie-watching events with my students to have them engage with the language outside of a formal classroom environment. Some days I have meetings with my counterpart and other community members regarding the community project we are working on. Once I finish with work, I head back home where I spend the evening drinking tea and chatting with my host family. A Peace Corps Volunteer’s job is a 24/7, 365 occupation! Because we are cultural ambassadors for the US, we are always working to represent our organization and our country as best we can to our local communities so socializing and bonding with my host family and community is part of the job and I never truly “clock out”.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My favorite part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that I am constantly acquiring new skills and forging new relationships! It’s a job that really pushes you to adapt, integrate, and come up with creative solutions to a variety of problems. We have far fewer resources than most teachers or development workers in the US and that presents a unique challenge to make the most of the assets that are present. I enjoy discovering talents that I never knew I had and being pushed to learn new skills to share with my community. Every day I find that I have more to learn and that there is so much that my village and peers can teach me. It's incredibly gratifying to be a part of a community in a way I never have before. My host family, co-workers, students, and whole village all look out for me and I feel so lucky to have them as a part of this experience.
What has been the biggest challenge of being a Peace Corps volunteer?
There is a common saying that the Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love and it is very true! The biggest challenge for me as a Volunteer has been becoming comfortable living outside of my comfort zone. I live in a small Albanian village in Kosovo and integrating into a new culture with a new (and difficult) language far away from my family and friends has been difficult but ultimately so rewarding. Some days can be discouraging or frustrating, as with any job, but those challenges can seem even more overwhelming when you are far from home. Despite those moments - or perhaps because of them - I have grown more resilient and determined, which helps me get through challenges.
How did you become interested in serving as a Peace Corps volunteer?
I was always interested in politics and conflict because of my family’s history. I came to the U.S. as a refugee from Bosnia and my family and friends were greatly affected by the war. I knew as I grew older that I wanted to work to have a positive impact on the lives of people and communities who were disrupted by war so I studied International Relations and Peace Building and Conflict studies in college. At some point during that process, I realized that I had to do more than learn about it. That was the revelation that pushed me to apply for the Peace Corps and what drove me to apply specifically to serve in Kosovo. Working and living in a post-conflict country is a challenge but I am so humbled and thankful to have the opportunity to build relationships and foster positive change in my community here.
In what way did JSA influence your career decision?
My time in JSA taught me to understand how much change I could impact and taught me to take action when I see problems. The focus on activism that JSA provided showed me how we can help one another if we organize, work hard, and care. JSA helped me find my voice, not only in debates and public speeches but in situations where others may be voiceless. All of these skills brought me to serve in the Peace Corps and are constantly helping me venture forward in my life and career.
Describe your most memorable experience at JSA Summer School.
Over the two summers that I spent at JSA Summer Schools, I had many memorable moments. From meeting other motivated and engaged high school students to expand my debate skills and learning about academic fields outside of the normal high school curriculum. However, my most memorable experience was being guided through the Forbidden City in Beijing by our Chinese History and Government professor. It was my first encounter with a living classroom and I was struck by how tangible the history was. As we walked through the palace complex, our professor shared facts and stories about the dynasties that had ruled from and lived within those walls. It was an experience unlike any I had had before and one that has stuck with me since.