For almost all of my seventeen years, I have had the privilege of visiting a beautiful little country in Southeastern Europe called Albania. When I was younger, I dreaded when the words “Ilira, we’re going to Albania” came out of my mother’s mouth. These five words were without a doubt, the worst words I could ever hear. It just wasn’t a place I enjoyed visiting. Poverty is an overwhelming issue, among boatloads of others that the country faces. Citizens cannot take showers whenever they please, they have to wait for the water to heat up or in some more drastic situations, they have to boil it themselves. They have their own Mount Everests in Albania, made out of piling garbage in the streets. For the very few who are blessed enough to own a car, the streets are not paved. So, carsickness is an everyday issue for these folks. Probably due to their rough lives, I found that Albanian people were quite rude. Nobody in Albania can be classified as a “high-class” individual money-wise, for even the president of the country faces the same issues. In America, it is a standard protocol to smile at strangers as you pass them by. Instead of getting a simple smile back, you get dirty looks. But one year, into my late teens, I went for a visit that changed my views and made me come to appreciate visiting my parents’ home country more and more.
The scenery in Albania is absolutely gorgeous. There are tons of beautiful castles, glistening lakes as well as bright blue beaches, all of which hold history dating back centuries ago. I was about sixteen years old when I had my epiphany while on a trip to Albania. It was this trip that changed my life and made me realize how truly lucky I am to live in a country as great and as free as the United States of America. It was not so much one big thing that changed my views so much as it was a lot of little things. Seeing how my family lived with no air conditioning for the summers or heaters for the winters was a big thing for me. I also had the opportunity to attend a day of school with one of my cousins. When we got there, I was amazed at the filth in the classes and how mean the teachers were. Having clothes to wear was a struggle for both children and adults. I watched my cousins appreciate greatly all the hand-me-downs of mine that I brought over from America for them. But what really impacted me was seeing my cousins devour any food that was given to them, even if they did not like it.
Even today, I am impacted by this eye-opening experience that I had during my summer of junior year in Albania. Sometimes I get really agitated at something and when I catch myself complaining, in the back of my head I have flashbacks of all that I saw and all that I realized while on my trip and ask myself “would this really be an issue for an Albanian citizen?” At that point, I’m instantly reminded bite my tongue and to stop complaining and acting spoiled when my own blood has much bigger problems. I am much more aware of what I have and how blessed I truly am now. It’s important to remember that someone out there, although you may or may not know him, is struggling more than you are.
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