Peace Corps experience in Albania changes Hayden woman
'In so many ways, it was so much better, and in so many ways, it was so much worse.'
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
HAYDEN — Mallory McGowen is a native of Hayden, a college graduate, a world traveler and, as of recently, a new addition to the Peace Corps alumni community.
Two years ago, McGowen traveled across the world to a town in south-eastern Albania named Esekë to serve as an English teacher in the Peace Corps. She returned home in May.
McGowan said her experience abroad surpassed all expectations.
“In so many ways, it was so much better, and in so many ways, it was so much worse,” McGowan said.
Some of the struggles included being on a strict water schedule, getting sick often and being isolated in a small town in a foreign country. The first year, no other Peace Corps volunteers were stationed within traveling distance of McGowen.
“I was very alone for a year,” said McGowen.
Nevertheless, she persevered. McGowan found encouragement through the influential words of those who had been involved before her.
In particular, this quote from Sargent Shriver helped sustain, and inspire, her: “Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.”
She found the principle at the core of the quote to be true throughout her Peace Corps experience.
In Albania, she found people who moved her to a depth of emotion she had never experienced.
“It completely changed me and who I am and how I see the world,” McGowen said.
While serving, she developed close relationships with the children she worked with as she saw them grow throughout her two years teaching them. She taught grade levels ranging from early elementary through high school.
After arriving in Albania, she noticed the relationships between students and teachers were foreign and cold compared to what she remembered in the U.S. So, to set herself apart, she had the kids call her by the nicknames “Mellie” or “Mel” rather than calling her “teacher.”
McGowen drew upon her own favorite childhood teachers for inspiration as she taught, and her students seemed to appreciate it. Upon her departure, many classes gave her homemade cakes and cards as they said tearful goodbyes.
Luckily for them, McGowen has plans to return to Albania on Aug. 2 to teach at a school in the capitol. In the meantime, her family is glad to have her home.
“I’ve savored moments like a fine glass of wine,” said Majorie McGowen, Mallory’s mother.
Majorie said the two years and three months that she was apart from her daughter were hard, especially during the holidays, but she is incredibly proud of what she accomplished.
“We give our kids wings, and we let them fly,” Majorie said, “It is a challenge for parents to trust their kids to be in situations that aren’t incredibly safe. But it helps them to grow so much.”
As for anyone who may be considering the Peace Corps, Mallory McGowan has a message.
“The Peace Corps is an incredibly difficult job that has the potential to challenge you and to isolate you and to push you to your very limits, but it also has the potential to completely change your life, and I think in most cases for the better,” Mallory said. “But the important and the greatest part of the Peace Corps has always been the human aspect and will always be the human aspect and our ability to put faces and stories and humans behind what we perceive as an ‘other’ culture.”
Zoe Walsh is a Steamboat Springs High School graduate who will be a sophomore at Pepperdine University next fall. She is freelancing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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