Lessons Learned

What have we learned from our 2+ year stay in Albania? Lots, but we will limit this to a short list. Some of the items have expanded entries and links are provided where that is the case. There is no importance in the order. We tried to rank them by importance, but it changed each day.

We return more engaged citizens, as we understand the value and importance of protecting our democratic processes. We take fewer things for granted and appreciate the small things. And maybe, we return a bit more human, more focused on living and less focused on making a living.

  • Value of Civil Society – Having legal systems that function for the most part in an unbiased manner and political systems that attempt to satisfy the needs of the people are the basis for a strong country. We have taken that for granted until now.
  • Government Spying on Citizens – Under Enver Hoxha Albanian citizens were recruited to spy on each other and report on suspicious activities of friends, family and neighbors. The end result is an entire country that does not trust government, their neighbor or their families.
  • Hospitality – We were made to feel very comfortable in Albania. When invited to someone’s house, we were given a warm and sincere welcoming. Simple is sometimes better than fancy.
  • Value of Education – The opportunity to compare our education system with the Albanian system makes us appreciate the focus on critical thinking and not teaching to a test.
  • Limits of Capitalism – The privatization of public utilities and services has failed to deliver the goods and services needed. For a while, it worked fine, but capitalism has no incentive to build low margin infrastructure and very quickly public utilities are inadequate to support the growing society demands. (Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” theory is not the silver bullet hoped for.)
  • The Value of Speaking to People – The face-saving which prevents you from speaking to those in lower socio-economic positions also creates barriers in business and limits opportunities for everyone. And you just don’t meet some very interesting and fun people.
  • Value of Symbols – We were often asked to attend meetings because just our presence was perceived as an endorsement of the proposal – if the Americans are here it must be a good thing. We became very sensitive to the value a symbol, such as our attendance at a function, and understand how symbols play such an important role in diplomacy.

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