Larsen, 22, graduated from Carleton College in June with degrees in sociology and anthropology and a minor in women and gender studies.
“I’ve been interested in it for about 10 years, but that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” said Larsen, who is the daughter of Steve and Hallie Larsen of Detroit Lakes. She was inspired as a child by her cousin, Hallie Boyer of Chicago, who served in the Peace Corps.
Albania is one of a handful of Eastern European countries that host Peace Corps volunteers. The other three are North Macedonia, Kosovo and (new this year) Montenegro. Those three were part of the former Yugoslavia, and all border on Albania.
Greece is to the south, and Albania is across the Adriatic Sea from the “boot heel” of Italy.
As a place to live for the next two years, Larsen could do worse than Albania, which is poor, but considered largely safe, with a people known for their friendliness.
Not to mention gorgeous Adriatic beaches, stunning lakes, delicious food, an ancient history and a tolerant culture, according to the Travel Culture website.
On the down side, “safety first” has never been a motto on Albanian roadways, and the Albanian language can be a tongue-twister for English speakers.
Larsen has been trying to learn some of the language on her own prior to leaving, but it’s a tough slog.
Many European languages originate from Greek, Latin or Slavic families, but not Albanian. Like Greek and Armenian, this ancient language has its own branch on the linguistic tree.
Shqip (the Albanian word for the language) is unrelated to any other language in Europe, and even if there are a few words that are similar to phrases in Italian, English or other languages, Albanian is unique, according to Culture Trip.
Never mind. Larsen will spend her first three months in Albania with a host family, where she will be immersed in “intense language learning and cultural and social norms,” she said. She will then be sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and be off to her Peace Corps job as a health education volunteer.
“I’m co-teaching high school and middle school classes about health,” she said. Her assignment is “very broad right now,” she said. “I work with teachers and amend their curriculum,” she said. She’ll be one of 12 health education volunteers in Albania. There are 76 Peace Corps volunteers there altogether, working in health, education and community development, according to the Peace Corps website.
She won’t get rich in the Peace Corps, but the volunteer program run by the U.S. government covers plane tickets there and back, and provides “a monthly stipend to live at the level of the people you’re working with,” Larsen said. “You’re not losing money, but you’re not making money, either,” she said. “It’s a huge time commitment, but it’s what I want to do at this point in my life.”
And it will “definitely help me towards that goal,” of going into public policy work and international relations, and, ideally, pursuing a law degree at the University of Minnesota, she said.
The first three months are a time of intense training for Peace Corps volunteers, but after she starts teaching school, she’ll have weekends off and vacation time in the summer, and will be able to do some traveling and receive visitors.
She has a friend, Sophie Priso, who is married and lives in France, and she expects visits from her parents and others. Her sister, Willa Larsen, is a sophomore at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Confident, self-possessed and athletic, it’s easy to see Larsen doing well in the Peace Corps. She was captain of her high school hockey team, playing left wing, and still plays hockey for fun, as well as hiking, biking and swimming, she said.
She recently met with a local civic club, where she answered questions from members and talked about the Peace Corps.
“The community of Detroit Lakes has been very supportive,” she said.