What would you recommend to UAL students preparing to spend one semester or year at your University?
I would recommend them having an Erasmus exchange at my home university to see another way of learning and different techniques of developing, not only in the studying field, but also gaining abilities in the entrepreneurship area. Students over there are really competitive, which has its pros and cons obviously. But focusing on the bright side, it pushes and motivates you to participate more, being more active during classes and encouraged to think more in terms of a future independent manager, especially in building your own business, studying the market environment and the segmentation of the customers.
In addition, the lessons are taken in English, which means the students can improve more their level of English and (if they are open and curious), a bit of Albanian, which is an unique Indo-European language and really interesting (a way to feel cool and special when they come back in Spain, dominating already two other languages).
They should keep in mind that people over there are a bit different, more narrow minded in terms of the mentality but really hospitable. It is common for people to invite you at their place, introduce your their family, invite to some traditional food (for example: byrek, which is so delicious) made by their moms, trying to speak in your own language (expect a Mexican accent, as it’s common for youngsters to learn Spanish by watching Mexican soup operas), and of course showing the surroundings of the city. Everything in order to make you feel home. The capital, Tirana in itself is very diverse (one third of the population lives over there). You will meet the three main religions: Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic living harmoniously all together - even in the Skenderbe´s Square (the main square in Tirana) you can see the mosque, the Orthodox and the Catholic churches really close to one other. So close that you can even take a picture of the three of them at the same time. If they are open to know a different culture, I am sure they will enjoy it a lot.
The prices over there are really cheap – you can enjoy a full meal for 2 Euros / 260 Leke (our currency is called Leke) so you can save and travel a lot all over the country. There are no subways or metros so prepare yourself mentally to have long trips by bus. In the capital the traffic is exhausting, the best would be to move around by bike.
Which are some of your favourite spots at the city/professors at the university/restaurants/trips/special festivities, etc?
I´ll try to be brief: If you go there, you must try byrek (kind of traditional pie which you can find in different flavors – the most common ones are filled with ricotta or spinach).
There are lots of great corners all over the city – my favorite spot is at Rruga e Kavajes, a street. There you will find lots of restaurants serving grilled food – Zgara Korcare or Zgara Suprem is nice for having lunch or dinner. If you go there ask for Korca beer (national beer) or raki (our traditional drink made of grape, but careful: take just one shot, it’s really strong alcohol) and let yourself to get lost on the different flavors and delicious food.
Another spot that you should definitely try is Blloku, the coolest area of the city and the most expensive one at the same time, full of youngsters, bars, restaurants and pubs (you can find all types of music – not only reggaeton).
If you are looking for a pastry shop I would recommend Cioccolatitaliani. The Italian influence is very common in Albania, especially in the capital – people love to speak Italian, eat Italian food – best pasta and ice-cream you can find it over there, no need to travel to Italy. The best ice cream in this area you will find at La Nocciola Gelateria (again Italian) with its natural flavors – my favorite one is dark chocolate with rum – highly recommended. You can go to Gjiro Kamara to taste some sufllaqe (Greek souvlaki). And if you want to party hard, I would recommend Cinco Cavalli, Lollipop and Folie Terrace.
Close to this area you have the Artificial Lake of Tirana – you can walk, run, bike all over the area and enjoy the nature. A bit further away there is Dajti Mountain, you can see all city from the top and have a cable car ride to reach the peak of the mountain (or you might go hiking and explore the surroundings by yourself, or by local guides – they cover less than 10 Euros). The sightseeing is amazing and you have also an attraction park. Or you can have some romantic dinner under the moon light (best way to date with a girl – Albanian girls and really beautiful and the boys fit enough – most of them go frequently to gym).
Of course, you will end up to Skenderbe Square (our national hero – ask for the story, it’s really interesting), as all the roads lead you there. You can visit the museums, but don´t expect too much, most of our history and archelogy unfortunately is saved in European museums such as Louvre or Vienna Museum. And finally, take a nice picture for your Instagram account.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to travel abroad for several reasons – mainly to get in touch with another culture and meet lots of international students (whom latter became my friends) – something lacking in Albania, since the population over there is really homogenous.
Secondly, to open more myself toward new cultures, new mentalities, new points of view. And test my limits, break my own mental barriers and challenge myself at the same time during this new journey.
Thirdly to get in touch with the Western European Education and their teaching techniques. For example, I improved a lot my ability to work in teams and collaborate with other students, stopped behaving as an individualist and start putting more effort for the team functioning.
Additionally I improved a lot my level of Spanish (even though my accent is a bit weird between the mix of Castellano, Andalusian and Mexican).
Last but not least, I always wanted so bad to live in Spain and having the opportunity to have my Erasmus exchange here was like a dream came true.
Why did you choose Almería?
Without doubts, I would recommend to other students to study in Almeria; the university provides really good teaching techniques, the professors are nice and friendly (even though if you don´t speak Spanish and you are going to have your lessons in English, prepare yourself for some Espanglish), and the campus is really good. You can make great friends – natives (Spanish people are the best, even though careful flirting with them – here they call themselves picaflores, kind of Casanova) and international ones.
The city is small. The advantage is that everything is so close that you go anywhere walking or biking, but you can also find diverse surroundings starting from wonderful beaches of Cabo de Gata, Tabernas Desert (the only desert in Europe – there is also Mini Hollywood if you are a fan of western films), Sierra Nevada if you are a mountain person and plenty of tapas bar (best food) all over the city. Who would say no to Almeria? Once you are here, you don´t want to leave anymore (as it happened to me).
Did you take classes in English or Spanish? Was it hard to get used to the language? How long did it take you?
I took my lessons half in English and half in Spanish. I have to admit that at the very beginning I preferred to attend all my classes in English as I felt myself more confident with this language but due to the overlapping of classes I had to make some changes and ended up having my lessons in both languages. At the beginning it was a bit confusing, especially with the terminology in Spanish, I wasn´t used at it and it cost me a bit, but in 2 months I could manage it pretty well. So, it ended up a very interesting and challenging at the same time learning experience.
How hard were the classes? Was it difficult to pass? Which were your favourite/least favorite classes/professors?
For me personally the classes weren´t hard at all. Like all over, some professors are better and more dedicated and others less, but in general all of them had a good knowledge in their fields and tried to transmit it to us the easiest way. I didn´t put much effort and neither study a lot at home (since I wanted to make some time and enjoy also as a cultural exchange), but tried to attend all the classes (even though it was kind of hard to concentrate on some morning lessons without sleeping at all) and I managed to pass all my exams.
Was it hard to find accommodation? Any advice for future students?
It wasn´t difficult to find accommodation, maybe speaking already Spanish before coming here helped me, since I could contact directly with the landlords in Spanish (just google Milanuncios on the Internet and you have hundreds of posts for renting houses/apartments). But any international student can go to the ESN office. The volunteers over there are really helpful and friendly.
How do you think this experience has changed you?
All this experience has changed me a lot actually. Starting by the fact of breaking lots of barriers, becoming a much more open minded person, accept much more the diversity and enjoy the cultural differences rather than trying to compare which one is the best. It helped me realize that there are amazing people, interesting history, architecture, cities and sightseeing all over the world, all you need is to open your eyes and your heart and embrace the diversity.
It helped me to boost my confidence and stop comparing myself with the others and start competing against myself, trying to improve day after day and love the process throughout all the changes.
I learnt how to work with my emotions, how to manage them (emotional intelligence is the key for a successful career and peaceful life) and listen to myself and let it flow. Let myself free to get the lead by my soul and my internal voice. Found out that, on this consists my real happiness. I am not rather chasing money, I am chasing happiness, what really fulfills me and motivates me to wake up the next morning.
I am enormously grateful for all this experience. Without doubts it has been the best period of my life so far and pushed me to make some radical changes (now that I am able to see all this with perspective it has been the best thing that could happen to me and in the most adequate moment of my life – mature enough to build my future and myself as an independent woman).
Finally, how did you experience the COVID pandemic here at Almería? Are you happy with UAL?
About Covid-19, I would comment that is a new challenge that all of us are currently facing all over the world. We need to take care, try to respect and follow the rules and the restrictions that the government of each country puts for the sake of the wellness of all of us. This is the moment when we need to be together and collaborate in order to minimize as much as possible the spread of this virus.
I am happy that I spent my quarantine here in Almeria (even though it might sound a bit weird, since Spain was one of the most affected countries in the world and it was considered kind of risky staying here) as I met my two best friends (my flat mates) for whom I am so grateful that universe put them on my way.
And the stuff of the university of Almeria was really supportive actually, much more than I expected.
Sometimes it was hard of course (but we need to have into consideration that this was a pandemic situation and was hard all over the world, no matter where you were) but there were always people present who cherished me up when I had my bad moments.
So, I would consider that this is a long reflective period which also had the bright side of making me realize what really matters in this life.