Tirana, Albania: History

This is the second post in a three-part series I am writing about my recent trip to Tirana, Albania. — April

Disclaimer: Some of the images and descriptions in this post are graphic in nature.

When we were talking about things we’d like to do in Tirana, my friend suggested visiting BunkArt. I didn’t do any research on it beforehand, and kind of assumed it was an old bunker turned into a modern art museum.

Boy, was I wrong.

BunkArt is a museum dedicated to teaching about Albania’s communist history. When it comes to Kosovo, I feel like I finally have a grasp on at least the country’s recent history. But when it comes to the rest of the Balkans, I am only just beginning to learn.

While Kosovo’s population is largely ethnically Albanian today, Kosovo and Albania have had very different recent histories. Kosovo was a part of the former Yugoslavia and fought a war against Serbia, whereas Albania was not part of Yugoslavia and was under communist rule until 1990.

I am no historian. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Albania’s history. But here are some pictures I took at BunkArt, along with descriptions of those pictures.

“The weapons displayed in this room have been deactivated and turned into museum objects.”

This coat was used to train dogs to attack people trying to illegally cross the border.

From a posted museum description:
“Throughout the communist regime, police dogs were considered as a strategic element to the aid of the police: there were more than 200 dogs that were used along the border mainly to signal those trying to leave the country, or those trying to enter illegally … The use of dogs in the border was so important that, if one of them got sick the General Commander should be informed, until reaching to the level of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs.”








It is hard for me to begin to wrap my mind around such horrors. And Albania was under communist rule until 1990, which means it happened in my lifetime, not in some distant past.

I’d like to end this post with a quote from Mother Theresa (who was Albanian):


“Evil settle(s) roots when a man begins to think that he is better than others.”

Tirana, Albania: Nature

This post is the first in a three-part series I am writing about my recent visit to Tirana, Albania. — April

Hi, everyone! I am back home in Kosovo after having spent the last three days visiting Tirana, Albania. Tirana was high on my list of places I wanted to visit here in the Balkans. I was thinking I would visit there for spring break. But then my friend (who has been to Tirana several times) asked me if I wanted to go for a long weekend, and I figured, why not go now?! We (the Peace Corps) have been on a travel restriction since we arrived in Kosovo in June. But the restriction ended this weekend, so now we are free to start using our vacation time. (If you’re curious, volunteers accrue 7 weeks of vacation for the 2 years we are serving. That sounds like a lot until you realize we don’t get weekends off … any travel done outside of Kosovo counts against our vacation time.)

My friend and I left Pristina, Kosovo on a 6 a.m. bus on Saturday. We arrived in Tirana at 11:30 a.m. After we ate lunch, we took a long walk through the city down the main boulevard.

Tirana is bigger than Pristina. The streets are much wider. The city was decorated for Independence Day (November 28).


Tirana is south of Kosovo and has much milder weather (it’s been freezing at home … I wore my winter coat last week.) I had debated whether to pack my peacoat or my winter coat for the trip, and am glad I opted for the former. We lucked out with the forecast, too. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but it only rained on Monday.

The weather still felt like autumn. In Kosovo, the trees are all bare, but in Tirana there were still pops of color everywhere.



As I said, my friend has visited Tirana several times in the past, and she was commenting on how much the city has changed since her visit 2 years ago. She said it was much cleaner than she remembered.

At the end of the main city boulevard, we reached the city park.




My friend was also telling me about the recent changes made to the park, which included the addition of an awesome playground.


After walking through the park, we reached Tirana’s (man made) lake (which is still very pretty).


Stay tuned for more posts about Tirana this week! I’ll be writing about history, art, and the city as it is today.

Happy Independence Day, Albania!

Hi, Guys! I hope you’re all coming out of your turkey-induced comas so you can read this blog. I am making my way home from Tirana, Albania today. I’ll write about and post pictures from my trip as soon as I can (have you been following along with me on Instagram?).

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few facts about Albania. Geography is not a particular strength of mine and up until a few years ago, I had no idea where Albania was. (But now I’ve been there!) If you are similarly geographically challenged, here is a map:


Today, Albania is celebrating its independence. Here is some more information on that (pulled from the CIA World Factbook):

“Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but was conquered by Italy in 1939 and occupied by Germany in 1943. Communist partisans took over the country in 1944. Albania allied itself first with the USSR (until 1960), and then with China (to 1978). In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy.”

Another thing I find interesting about Albania is that it was once an officially atheist country. Here is a Newsweek article, if you want to learn more about religion in Albania today. I thought I read somewhere that Albania was, at one time, the only country ever to become officially atheist, but after a quick Google search I couldn’t find anything reliable to back that up.

Giving Thanks

I usually reserve Fridays for giving thanks, but ’tis the season now (today), so here we go.

I am thankful for a host family that takes good care of me.
I usually eat meals with my host parents. A few weeks ago, my host mother had an afternoon appointment, and wasn’t going to be able to make lunch. She made sure to tell me that my host father would pick up burek (a bread/cheese combo) from the bakery for me. Sure enough, my lunch was waiting on the table when I got home from teaching. This is just one example of my host family’s kindness.

I am thankful for my counterparts.
Both of my counterparts have welcomed me into their classrooms, and are eager to work with me. I am thankful for their warmth and generosity.

I am thankful for my fellow volunteers.
I am lucky to be part of a cohort where everyone is committed to getting along. My friends here have been my biggest supports, the people who understand exactly what I am going through (because they’re going through it, too!)

I am thankful for my friends and family back home in the U.S.
I know my being away is not only hard for me sometimes, it is hard for my friends and family, too. But the support I’ve received has been astounding. Thanks to all of you for your cards, care packages, emails, and phone calls.

I am thankful to be living in Kosovo.
Now more than ever, I am thankful to have the chance to share American culture with people from another country.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Thanksgiving is by far my least favorite holiday, and I am always thankful to have an excuse to not celebrate it. 🙂 (See what I did there?) I’m not doing anything special today (other than teaching Thanksgiving lessons in my classes), but tomorrow night I’ll see some friends in Pristina for dinner. Then on Saturday, I leave for my first vacation since joining the Peace Corps! (More on that tomorrow.)

Been teaching Thanksgiving-themed lessons all week. One of my counterparts took this photo. 🙂

TEFL Activities Using Little to No Resources, V2

(**I compiled the following list into a downloadable PDF file: tefl-activities-requiring-few-to-no-resources-v2)

How could I have forgotten telephone on my first list? Classic. If you’re unfamiliar with this game, have your students form a line or circle. The first student thinks of a sentence in English, and then whispers it to the next person (and so on). The last person to hear the sentence has to say it out loud. (And then everyone laughs at how much the sentence has changed.)

Four Corners
This game is adaptable to any lesson plan/vocabulary. Choose four vocabulary words, and write them on four separate pieces of paper. Post one word in each corner of the classroom. Select one student to be “it.” He or she sits in the center of the room with their eyes closed (or blindfolded). The other students disperse to the four corners of the room. The “it” student says, “Everyone in the (vocab word) corner, sit down.” Any students standing in that corner must sit at their desks. The remaining students change corners. The pattern is repeated until only one student is left standing. That person becomes “it” for the next game.

Listening to a Song
I brought my iPod + portable Jam speaker to school to play a song for my students. I had them listen to the song once all the way through. Before the second listening, I wrote a list of words on the board. When the students heard those words during the second listening of the song, they had to raise their hands. (If you have access to a printer, you could print the lyrics and delete certain words. Then, have students fill in those words as they listen to the song.)
Choosing a song can be challenging. Things to take into consideration are appropriate lyrics (obviously), choosing a song students would like (I’d say, stick with pop music), and also finding a song where the lyrics aren’t too fast/can be clearly heard. Here are a few songs I would suggest:
Popular by MIKA and Ariana Grande
Beautiful by Christina Aguilera
Happy by Pharrell Williams

Counting (Warm Up Activity)
Have students stand. Count aloud to ten as you shake your right hand ten times, your left hand ten times, your right foot ten times, and your left foot ten times. Repeat the exercise counting down 9, 8, 7 …

Have students come up to the front of the classroom one at a time. Give them an object and let them place it under, beside, between, below (etc.) the desk or a chair. Have the other students use the sentence in a preposition. (Example: “The ball is under the desk.”)

Create a Story
Have each student write a sentence on a piece of paper. Then have students pass papers to their left. Give students thirty seconds to read what their neighbor wrote, and then add a sentence to the story. Then, pass papers to the left and repeat. When the papers complete the circle and the student has their original piece of paper back in front of them, go around the room and have students read their stories aloud.

You can see my first list of resources here.

Seen on the Street

I came across this cool public art display by Swedish artist Samuel Nyholm. After doing some internet research, I discovered he recently presented at a graphic design conference in Pristina.

Processed with MOLDIV

The one of the man with the moustache is my favorite. It reminds me of my grandfather. I am not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because he had a funny little moustache when he was younger. And he’s usually dressed well.

You can see more of Samuel Nyholm’s work on his website.

When I visited Skopje, Macedonia, I saw these fun graphic posters on a public notice board.


I was also impressed with this graffiti rendition of the Macedonian flag (too bad someone added more graffiti on top of it).

Processed with MOLDIV

Settling In

This weekend, I made some changes to my bedroom layout.

Before: Two wardrobes, seen immediately upon entering my room.
I swapped a wardrobe I was barely using (the one covered in white paper in the photo above — it was mostly filled with linens that aren’t mine) for a section of a couch my host family wasn’t using. I’d had the idea for some time, but I was nervous to approach my host family about the change. I didn’t want to come across as ungrateful or demanding. However, after several months of observation, I determined that they NEVER use the couch.

The first floor of our house has two rooms — mine, and an unfinished storage space. The couch (perfectly comfortable and attractive) sits in there, untouched and alone.

After: Look at this cute little brown and cream love seat! Wouldn’t you like to sit on it? (Bedroom door is to the left of the seat.)
My deciding moment happened two weeks ago. The power was out for four hours in the evening. After sitting hunched in my desk chair in the cold and the dark, I decided a nice, cozy seat in my room would be a huge help in facing the winter. A few days later, I screwed up my courage and asked my host dad if we could make the swap. He said yes!

This Saturday, when my host brother was home from university, we moved the furniture. I am much happier with this arrangement. 🙂

After: We moved the remaining wardrobe into the far corner of the room.
It’s funny … living with a host family is like a throwback to dorm living. My entire life is crammed into one room, I share a bathroom, and meals are provided for me. The top of my wardrobe serves as a pantry (thanks for sending all the American food, guys!), and my décor consists of pictures of my friends and family, and cards from the aforementioned friends and family.

I really like my room. It’s got nice floors and big windows. Major bonus: The bed ranks in the Top Three Most Comfortable Beds I Have Ever Slept In (the others being my bed at my parents’ house, and the bed I usually sleep in when I visit my best friend’s parents in Minnesota).

A pile of socks sits on my bedside table. I have yet to determine where to put them. Jennifer the Unicorn keeps my bed warm while I am not in it. 🙂
[Side note: I keep debating whether to buy a bigger quilt for my bed, but I think the smaller one actually keeps me warmer.]

Assuming nothing dramatic happens, this will be my home for the next year and a half. I think it’s important for the space to feel like mine. I’m really happy with the changes!