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Column: To Macedonia and back again

Allow me to introduce myself.

I started as News Editor here at the East Otter Tail Focus a couple weeks ago, and figured that it was time to tell you a little bit about myself.

I grew up not far away in Bemidji, Minnesota, and graduated from Bemidji High School in 2005. I went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where I studied American Studies.

I was heavily involved at Carleton with the weekly school newspaper as a writer and editor. This got me really interested in journalism, and eventually led me to Perham and the Focus.

After graduating from Carleton in 2009, I spent last year teaching English in Macedonia on a Fulbright Fellowship, which was just a fantastic experience. Macedonia, if you don't know, is right above Greece and used to be part of Yugoslavia, until it collapsed in 1991.

Why Macedonia, you ask? Because I had been to Spain and London and Rome in 2007, and though I enjoyed Western Europe I wanted a different kind of experience. Macedonia, a tiny country barely the size of the state of Vermont, offered exactly that opportunity.

They speak Macedonian in Macedonia, which is a little like Russian, but actually completely different. I arrived in Macedonia last fall not knowing a lick of the language, which, as you could probably imagine, made it a challenge to get around. More than once I'd find myself nodding and just hope that the situation would take care of itself.

Everyone was extremely friendly over there, though, and many young people knew English, so it didn't take too long for me to get settled in to the culture and the community.

My favorite part of Macedonia was the coffee culture - how everybody would be in the cafes all the time. I once joked with a friend there that life in Macedonia was '8 hours of coffee with some work breaks in between,' which is actually extremely appropriate. Actually, the reason that the cafes are always full is that Macedonia has something like a 30 percent unemployment rate. But I suppose that's not quite as funny.

While in Macedonia, I also had the time to travel around the region. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit such cities as Belgrade, Sofia, Athens and Istanbul, in addition to other countries like Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Slovenia. Some of my favorite stories of the year came during my travels, like the sleepless overnight bus from Istanbul to Macedonia where I sat next to a guy smuggling electronics. Or when I had to prove to Macedonian Border Police that I was not, in fact, Albanian. Those were some good times.

Even though I've traveled all over the world, I'm really a Minnesotan at heart. The Northwoods and the lakes are home for me, and I'm excited about getting to know the Perham and New York Mills communities. I'm also excited about working hard to provide you with the best newspaper we possibly can.