I added another country this summer to the 40-plus that I have been privileged to visit over my lifetime. The first dozen was in Europe thanks to the military, and the second large group was in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Beyond those the countries have been scattered — more in Europe, one in Africa, the South Pacific, etc. For many I was able to receive grants from Wilmington College and, for a few, grants from other sources.
The country I visited this summer was under somewhat different (and excellent) circumstances.
The country was Albania, and what made it special was the three people who accompanied me. I have often traveled with one son or the other, but this time they were both with me, plus a cousin of my wife. He was from Albania and I had sponsored him to come to the US 20-some years ago using the lottery system our president has demonized in the past year or so.
The cousin has taken advantage of the opportunity this program provides to bring one’s relatives to the U.S. Now, his sister, mother and wife are U.S. citizens. They couldn’t be happier to be here and they are contributing to our society in many ways.
The purpose of the trip was for my sons and I to meet and become acquainted with relatives of my wife, whose father came to the U.S. from Albania as a teenager.
It couldn’t have been a better trip. Traveling with a native who knows the language, the geography. and is a central part of the family we were visiting is a winning combination.
My wife’s cousin made the difference. If anyone has a family in another country I would certainly urge them to take advantage of that and visit them.
Now, there just might be an expectation that after such a visit you will be expected to reciprocate. Even though right now the U.S. is losing favor internationally, it seems that we are a spectacle that most people in the world want to experience.
Albania is small, about 3 million people. It is part of the Balkans bordered by Montenegro, Greece, Kosovo and Macedonia. It has a long coast just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.
It is a candidate to be a member of the European Union, but is not currently. In 2009 it became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) so its relations with the U.S. are strong and we hope that will be encouraged.
It is the last European country to shed its communist identity. It wasn’t too many years ago that Albania and China were the only Communist countries on that side of the world.
What does Albania have that the rest of the world needs?
Not much! Possibly tourism is the growing edge.
To that question one source says, “Notably the country features unspoiled beaches, mountainous landscapes, traditional cuisine, archaeological artifacts, unique traditions, low prices and the wild atmosphere of the countryside.”
We visited one beach and it seemed to be mimicking Coney Island in New York – like so many people, Europeans are seeking reasonable and safe vacation spots, and this fits the bill!
Even though Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, the relatives we visited seemed to be doing quite well. One contrary case was a second-year college student who was struggling to raise her tuition for the coming semester. We asked what that cost would be and the response was clear — 100 US dollars!
When it comes to education, European countries are very different from ours. As one source reports, “The European university system is mostly based on public funding, that is why European universities can provide excellent quality for very low or even no tuition fees at all.”
Such bargains are available to U.S. students, and I recently talked with one who had completed a free MA degree in Central Europe and the classes were in English.
If the U.S. would consider the European system for higher education, there would be many benefits. For one, college graduates would not be left with a $39,400 debt at graduation (the average debt at graduation in 2017) and we would not need to rely on employees from abroad to fill so many highly skilled positions – a situation that would please our president.
Personally, travel has provided me with innumerable benefits. It is difficult to enumerate them, but one certainly learns a great deal about oneself and others – we are one people and we must start acting that way.
I love to travel, and wish everyone could have the opportunities I have had.
One of my goals in teaching at Wilmington College was to assist students in experiencing other cultures. For many it was a life-changing experience, and for that I am grateful.
Travel is more than getting away and this trip to Albania (and Greece) fit my understanding of adventure – full of interesting people, places and a serious learning experience.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.