I was on a youth exchange in Tirana from the 9th of October to the 12th hosted by the Western Balkans Youth Cooperation Platform (WBYCP) and I was very excited to have this opportunity to visit Tirana, a city for which my country has a lot of prejudices for. This opportunity let me make my own judgment.
Upon acceptance to the program, I started to tell my friends and family that I was visiting Tirana soon and as expected, most of them were really afraid and asking me: "Why do you really have to go to Albania, do you want to get killed?" These comments just infuriated me because I'm not going somewhere where there is a civil war, I'm simply going five hours away from my city to visit the capital of Albania. Thus, why do people think that something terrible would happen to me right away? My family was very excited although none of them have visited Tirana before, soI would be the first in the family to do so. It is ironic that, outside my family, all of those who asked me "why do you want to go to Albania, something will happen to you”, had never been to Tirana or Albania before.
October came around and I took the bus to Tirana, so the journey started. I was ready to overcome what, in my eyes, was a big challenge. I was about to find out if Tirana was really what they said it would be in Macedonia, or not. I just had to see it for myself and make my own judgment. The moment I came to Tirana I couldn't believe my eyes how modern and beautiful the city is. I met the people from the program and of course they were from the Western Balkan's. Nonetheless, it seemed that almost all of the participants who weren't from Albania were afraid, as everyone had the same opinion about the city. However, this did not last long. because after the first day, I believed that everyone had changed their minds about the city and quickly got attached to it, including me!
During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet many influential people in Albania. I met ministers, lawyers and diplomats, but one of the people that really left an especially good impression on me was the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj. We visited the official building of Tirana (Bashkia e Tiranes). He let us sit where all the members of the Council of Tirana normally do, happily answered our questions and gave a great speech about Tirana and how it is being a mayor overall, while also sharing little details about his personal life.
In the end, Tirana for me was just a beautiful surprise. As youth, we need to experience things on our own, to make our own judgment and not be influenced by the “old” mentality. Because I was listening to others, I was led to believe that the people in Albania were all terrible andall against everyone who is a foreigner, but it turned out to not be true. For example, while in Tirana, I got lost around the Toptani Mall and asked a couple of Albanian citizens to give me directions to the New Bazaar. Because I was a quite far away from it, I had to ask more than five people and all of them were willing to help. Although most did not speak English, they still were keen to help by being very hospitable, no matter in what language we were talking.
Visiting Tirana was definitely an eye-opening experience. I came with a very different opinion, and I left the city with a very good impression! It is really modern and the people are very hospitable.
One of our biggest issues is that we, the young people from the Balkan's, don't use our opportunities for meeting new people from a different country with different experiences. While years ago we didn't have that opportunity, it is fair to say that today all of us can participate in youth exchange programs in the region. By using these opportunities provided by NGO's, the youth from the region can connect and network. Learning more about each other and leaving the prejudices and the past behind, while putting all the energy towards cooperation will contribute to a better future for all!
Author: Jovica Janković