SO, I’m sipping my nitro coffee in Florence thinking. Well, mostly laughing about the last 3 months (out of 5) I just spent in Albania, mainly Tirana, the capital city. I guess it’s better to start from when it all began;
June 1, 2019, I arrived in Tirana with a volunteering gig at the English Hostel. But here’s what’s strangely weird, my good friend from the last hostel gig in another Albanian city told me that I would get on really well with the worker at the English Hostel. Naturally, I laughed… with some concern because she really knows me so maybe she is right. Though, I shouldered her comment in a “you’re crazy” kind of way especially after sharing just basic details about him:
Age: 2o | Ethnicity: Albanian | English: fluent | Handsome: Yea
I remember entering the hostel after staying in a hot mini bus for HOURS so easy to say, I looked crazy haha. But then we started chatting, across a table from one another. Then came the thought, damn maybe my friend wasn’t crazy after all?
I was worried the difference in loving someone verse loving his or her culture may had been blurred.
Long chats on the beach… JK! Well, at first it was long chats on balconies. Then with our first weekend trip together to a beach city, Durres, there were walks along the shoreline. Kissing under fireworks, dinners on the water, you know, all that romantic stuff.
At first, I was PETRIFIED. I mean, it hadn’t been long since we met and everything started happening so fast. Nighttime chats to wine dates in the park to our first trip. With just the two of us. TBH guys, I was really nervous it would be awkward. What if we ran out of things to chat about? That would have been a really awkward 3 days but thank god because it was amazing! And making a kilo of rice and frying vegetables\eggs with no oil was quite humorous to partake in HAHA.
Early on I even had this desire to just curse him out, irritated that he’s making me fall in love with him. Then I felt an overwhelming calm when we were together. SO confusing. Even more so when in a foreign land surrounded by a language you can’t understand and different cultural viewpoints. Ugh, it felt like I had no control on how I felt. I was worried knowing the difference in loving someone and loving his culture/country had been blurred. The better decision probably would have been to get some distance for clarity, though I chose to fully dive into the confusion…and I’ve learned loads since.
Truthfully though, love abroad, at least in Albania isn’t easy. From a general Albanian perspective, American women specifically those who travel and explore don’t have the greatest reputation. For example, with a woman who enjoys adventuring around, it would sound something like ohhh be careful, she gets around..she’ll run through you. However, it’s quite bizarro because American men are looked upon with a grand positivity. Like a woman that has sex outside of commitment or has it too early on in a relationship may be considered along the lines of a slut, whereas it’s more celebratory vibes for a man.
So when it came to meeting friends and having parents find out I, a #americana, exist in his life, there were definitely challenges. And there still are, especially trying to break the stereotype of being an american woman. TG, at least being a NY’er with family coming from Italy works in my favor. Sometimes it just feels tiresome to not be liked by people that don’t know you, especially when those people are important to someone you care for.
Through the challenges & commentaries, stereotypical expectations as an American woman, and more, I’ve never been more sure of my decision to keep this going. I can’t even take my past self seriously, the version where I wanted none of this to happen. Because I thought it would limit my freedom. Now, that thinking seems ridiculous. And here’s why:
Each day, I feel listened to and challenged in my thinking, with a deep curiosity to expand what I know. To discover. To be better for the person I love. And I’ve grown immeasurably as a result. What I know in certainty is this, I get to laugh, cook, adventure & more everyday with my friend. And I can’t begin to explain the gratitude I have for not walking away…this time.