22 Reflections After 2 Years Here

22 Reflections After 2 Years Here

  1. My favorite memory over the past two years was…during one of our trips north to Valbona, hands-down my favorite place in all of Albania. I am a huge stargazing enthusiast, and these remote villages in the mountains away from all the light pollution of the cities have some of the most pristine views of Milky Way I’ve ever seen in my life. One of my favorite memories is sitting under the stars with Max. It was frigid outside, but it was a vibrantly clear night. I remember us fumbling our way through the cold darkness, walking away from the light of our homestay, and then standing outside staring at the sky waiting on our eyes to adjust to such acute blackness. And slowly, one by one, each star brightened into our sights. And soon the whole, illuminated Milky Way shone across the sky, and even though we were both freezing, we didn’t want to go back inside. It was breathtaking and beyond words.
Berchtesgarten, Germany
  1. When I first started this journey, I felt…optimistic! And tired. My very first week in Albania was an overwhelming whirlwind. My parents graciously came overseas to help me settle in, and we jam-packed that visit with a million things to do: setting up my phone, bank, apartment, and classroom were all huge tasks to us back then. I remember walking all day in the hot mediterranean sun, trying to get oriented around town. In the evenings we’d eat alongside the promenade with other arriving teachers. It was such a frantic week, I remember constantly being exhausted with an endless to-do list, but I felt encouraged and excited by meeting other teachers who were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I was so excited to talk to them about all the diverse places they’d traveled and lived, and I loved hearing all their stories.

 

  1. At the end of my first year, I felt… tired, again. The last 3 months of my first year were brutally grueling. Our team was chaotically disorganized, burnt out, and somehow trying to pack numerous school events into a myopically short amount of time. By the time I dragged my lifeless body across the June 24 finish line for summer vacation, I was tired deep in my bones in a way I didn’t even know I could be, and never hope to be again.
Meteora, Greece
  1. Now, I feel… ready. I feel ready and content with the prospect of leaving this beautiful country. It’s been a great experience, but after two years, I’ve done what I wanted to do. I have seen all that I could hope to see. I have experienced enough, and now I am content to begin a new journey.  I have been looking forward to my next adventure for several months now. I have read a million blog posts and researched endlessly about our new cities, jobs, and opportunities. So now I feel ready to pack up, head home, and buy my next plane ticket!

 

  1. The scariest part of this journey was… the plane ride into Albania for my first time. I wrote about the terrifying conversation I had with an Albanian lady on that flight. She really frightened me about my big move, and it took me over a year before I could even tell that story publicly. Now, I have so much more context for why she was warning me about moving here, and I also understand that other than a few cultural inconveniences, there’s nothing at all to fear about moving to Albania.

 

  1. One area I’ve grown in is… now, I’m a much more confident traveler. I feel like I have the resources available to tackle major international travels, and will be able to do it successfully in the future. I will literally never move anywhere more difficult than moving to Albania the first time. I doubt I will ever again move somewhere this remote and underdeveloped, and I will never again move somewhere alone (now that I have Max). So from here on out, any future adventures abroad should be much easier transitions!

 

  1. The things I’ll miss the most are… enjoying a cheap, delicious meal on the promenade at sunset when the weather is just perfect. And ordering freshly sliced fruit…why go through all the mess of slicing up kiwis and melons and oranges when you can have a plate of it for a dollar?? And of course I’ll also miss splurging at our favorite restaurant, Mema House, two to three (okay sometimes four or five) times a week…they make the best soups on earth, I swear! I’ll also miss my kids, of course. I’m so excited to see all the wonderful things they’ll all grow up to do!!! I am proud of how much progress they’ve made here at our school and can’t wait to see them go on their own big adventures.

 

  1. The biggest mistake I made over the last two years here was… bringing workplace stress home with me. As I’ve said before, this has not been an easy experience, especially my first year. I wish I could’ve been better at turning off my anxious mind, ignoring work-related emails, and being fully present at home and on the weekends.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
  1. The most important lesson I’ve learned is… the importance of community. By this, I mean both the people, and the physical opportunities available wherever you live. My community of people here was very small. My coworkers  had to function as both my friends and my family, since we were the only foreigners in the city! So I learned how important these connections were. And, I also learned about the importance of living in a thriving town. Because the larger community of Durres is somewhat limited, my options for engaging in new things and pursuing other interests was also quite limited. So, I learned about the importance of community, and hopefully I learned a lesson to never take it for granted in the future.

 

  1. The most tragic yet funny thing that happened to me this year was… definitely one of the days of our Croatia trip, that turned out to be an absolute disaster! We had a passport mix-up that resulted in us driving 4 more hours back to Albania and then again 4 more hours to our original destination; we got caught in a terrifying hailstorm; the car got stuck in a ditch, and then the car’s engine died; then we got locked out of our Airbnb, AND broke the side mirror off the rental car. It was very un-funny that particular day, but now it’s a great story. Also, we told the Albanian car rental company we’d pay for the damage to the car…and they never called us back about it. So, we got off the hook for that one!

 

  1. If I could give 2015 Briana some advice now, I would tell her… buckle up cause it’s going to be a crazy ride. And, take care of yourself with devotion.

 

  1. The thing I’m most thankful for… is meeting Max here, first and foremost. I’m also thankful for some of my great friends who helped me, laughed with me, inspired me, and taught me wonderful things about myself and the world: Chip and Aleisha, some of the most thoughtful, genuine, fun-loving people I know, and Bob and Joan, who immediately felt like my family to me and have taught me so much. I loved all our long talks and adventures with this crew! I will definitely miss these amazing people, but I’m so thankful I got to experience this year with them all.
Valbona, Albania
  1. My best advice for anyone looking to teach abroad is… do your research, thoroughly. Teaching in an international school is not at all the same thing as teaching English abroad. I also think people should be well-traveled before making such a major move. Really scrutinize the school offering you a job, and scrutinize the city—is it safe? What opportunities will you have, personally and professionally? What type of support system will you have in place? These are the things that need to be considered beyond the surface-level excitement of the opportunity.

 

  1. Moving forward, my personal goals are… to achieve a more peaceful state of being, with an improved sense of work-life balance. The past two years have done a number on my nerves, and moving forward I’d like to focus on nourishing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time sweating small stuff here, because everyone else was stressing out over it too. I want to do better at that in the long run.

    Dubrovnik, Croatia
  2. My favorite experience here was… definitely winning the travel blogging contest and winning a free trip for Max and I around Croatia! I was so excited by the success of my post and winning a once in a lifetime trip! I also never in my entire life imagined I’d ever wind up in the Balkans, and furthermore, I never imagined I would love it so much. For me, all of South-East Europe used to be this amorphous, unknown blob on a map, since I knew so little about it. Now I can easily say that I love the Balkans way more than Western Europe.

 

  1. If I had to given someone traveling to Albania some advice, I’d say… first, bring toilet paper everywhere you go. Second, don’t order the fish unless you like every single part of the fish. Third, be patient. Fourth, don’t mind all the staring, they’re just curious. Fifth, you can count on nothing but kindness and hospitality from everyone you meet. Sixth, if you love the smells of cigarettes and coffee, you’re in luck. Seventh, don’t try too hard to understand seemingly confusing or illogical aspects of the country, you won’t find an answer. Eighth, only take public transit or the local buses if you’re in it for the journey, as opposed to the destination or getting somewhere in a reasonable timeframe. Ninth, Google Maps is both your best friend and your worst enemy – don’t presume its omniscience in a country that has yet to develop an address system or name many of its streets. Addresses are best taken as vague suggestions pointing to the general area where a building might be. And lastly, tipping is not expected, but if you can afford to travel to Albania, you’re wealthier than 99% of the population here, and it wouldn’t hurt to give a little back :).

 

  1. In the past two years, I have changed because… I think I understand human nature a little better. I’m probably less naive, which is probably a normal transition for a young woman entering the workforce. I realized here that kindness doesn’t always mean genuineness, and everyone carries their own emotional baggage into all their daily interactions. I realized how moody and capricious and fickle humans are, and how no one is completely objective. I think I used to be more warm and approachable and open, and now I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to remain kind but, keep my head down and my mouth shut.

    Bratislava, Slovakia

 

  1. My favorite way to spend a day in Albania was… exploring! Our Durres bubble got very small and boring after two years, so my preference was always to be traveling or adventuring somewhere. But if there was nothing on the agenda that weekend, I preferred a long morning workout, eating some deliciously cheap meal by the sunny promenade of the sea, hiking up the hill to Zog’s palace to watch the sunset over the Adriatic, and then cuddling up to watch a favorite show in the evening.

 

  1. What surprised me the most about this experience is… meeting Max! It was definitely unexpected to meet someone so perfectly, divinely in sync with me. It has been a blessing and a privilege every single day I’ve been able to spend by his side. I was never expecting to meet someone like him, but he is the most perfect compliment to my life I could’ve ever imagined.

 

  1. Moving forward, I would like to focus on… myself, my future, and my old hobbies. I had to give up so many parts of myself to do this job: teaching fitness classes, photography, harp, martial arts, and a core church community. I really look forward to reconnecting with these passions in my life.

 

  1. I’m most proud of myself for… coming back the second year and accomplishing many of my personal and professional goals. My first year was just extended survival mode. Coming back my second year, I had new game plans for running my classroom, engaging my kids, and managing my stress. This second year has gone infinitely better, and I’m proud of that. I’m also proud for growing the yoga community at the local gym. Last year when I was asked to teach yoga, I would be lucky if I got 3 or 4 people to show up. By this year, I routinely have 15+ students (and trust me it’s a very small room! It’s always packed in there!), and I have students doing advanced yoga poses I never dreamed of being able to teach them. It is very rewarding to grow a class of complete newbies to strong intermediate students.

 

  1. One thing I still wish I could’ve done… tour a few more spots in Eastern Europe. Also Portugal. But you know my travel list is probably infinite… I do hate leaving my kiddos after two years. Next year, some of my older students will begin the 11th grade Diploma Program, and I’m curious to witness this transformation. I have no doubt that some of them will struggle due to a work ethic that more often than not leaves their teachers underwhelmed, but I’m curious to see which kids will be able to buckle down and succeed when faced with this massive challenge. I also hate leaving some of my younger kids. They’ve made so much progress, I envy the teacher who gets to pick up next year with them and continue teaching them. I’m so excited to see what wonderful things they get to do for their future after this.

 

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3 thoughts on “22 Reflections After 2 Years Here

  1. I do so enjoy your writing
    I totally agree about year one being survival mode, year two a time of accomplishments. ..it was the same for me in Turkey. I wish you all the best as you and Max begin this next week adventurous chapter. With love and prayers, Marie.

  2. Pershendetje! I really enjoyed reading your blog, as it brought back so many poignant memories to myself. I got to spend two and a half crazy, but adventurous years in Albania as a Peace Corps volunteer, so I understood so much of what you were saying. I ended up marrying an Albanian, but we moved back to America. I was totally immersed in that culture, even after I left I was still speaking Albanian and going back for more visits. What will be your next adventure?

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