Be Like Ben – Fall in Love With Albania

Lately, IntoAlbania has been sharing the charming videos of Ben Washburn, the American young man who stayed in Albania during the pandemic and really enjoyed it. If you haven’t had the chance to meet him, let us have the pleasure of introducing him. He loves so many things about Albania that he has chosen to make it his home, for the last seven months. From the country’s food to its culture, find out what has brought Ben to Tirana and what keeps him here.

How long have you been staying in Albania?

I’ve been living in Tirana, Albania for almost seven months now. At the moment, I am working with a non-profit organization on projects aimed at expanding education opportunities for local youth in Tanzania, Africa. I’m also working as a freelance researcher. As I am able to do a good part of my work remotely, I am happy to live in Albania for the foreseeable future.

How did you end up coming to Albania?

My girlfriend and I met in 2016 while studying for the same Master’s degree at the University of Oxford. She is Albanian, and I visited Albania with her for the first time in March 2017. During this short visit, we spent most of our time in her home city (Tirana), but also visited Berat, Gjirokaster, Theth, and Durres. I really enjoyed my first trip to Albania, and I’m happy to have moved back here three years later!

Your favorite Albanian place/city?

Although my favorite place to live would have to be Tirana, I’ve really enjoyed visiting Theth and Korca. I visited Theth for two days back in 2017, and I still remember the stunning landscapes and views. We also hiked to Syri i Kalter Thethi (the ‘Blue Eye’), which was an incredible experience. I’m hoping to visit there again sometime soon.
I’ve been to Korca about four times now. I love the nightlife there, as well as the food (especially ‘lakror’). Personally, I felt like there was something special about going out to a restaurant and having diners so engaged in singing and dancing to old serenades. I really love the energy there!

Your favorite Albanian dish?

My favorites would have to byrek and trilece.
Byrek is really a unique dish here, and I can find myself eating it at any point during the day. I’ve tried most flavors at this point, but I’ve enjoyed tomato byrek (byrek me domate) the most! However, it really depends where the byrek is from. There are so many byrek shops in Tirana, and I’ve come across some really amazing ones somewhat randomly! I’ve actually tried making byrek and trilece, but both were not as good as the ones I’ve bought around Tirana.

Have you learned any Albanian?

I haven’t learned too much Albanian yet. I’ve learned greetings with the help of my girlfriend, and a bit more from listening in on my friends’ conversations in Albanian. I love how the language sounds, and I’m hoping that I can slowly improve in both speaking and understanding the language. People here are generally very friendly and patient when I try speaking Albanian!

What do you like most about Albania?

There are so many reasons why I love living in Albania, so I don’t think I could mention only one. Obviously what someone looks for in a home depends on a lot of things: interests, opportunities, transportation, etc. For myself, Tirana has been everything I’ve wanted in a city. I’ve met a lot of nice people here, and I really enjoy the food and culture. I’ve also always wanted to live in a city where everything is within walking distance.
As for Albania as a whole, I feel like there are so many beautiful places within just a few hour drive from Tirana. I’ve enjoyed the culture and history of places like Berat, Gjirokaster, and Korca; the mountains in Theth; and the beaches in Himara. There are still plenty of places that I hope to visit, as I’ve heard so much about them.

Did you expect to reach the popularity you have in Albania?

My videos have gotten a lot more attention than I expected, and I appreciate all of the support and feedback I’ve received.
During the lockdown, I started a TikTok and began making short videos celebrating some of my favorite places and things to do in Albania. Soon after that, I included videos (on both TikTok and YouTube) of me learning how to cook different Albanian dishes, dancing valle, and practicing the language. I also thought it would be fun to document some of the differences I experience between American culture and Albanian culture. I’ve really enjoyed making these videos, and I’ve had so many people reach out offering to help me learn Albanian, show me different places in Albania, etc.

Usually albanian grandparents ask their nephews who live abroad “do you prefer living ‘here’ or ‘there’?” What about you Ben, do you like living “here” or “there”?

Even though I’m from the US, I’ve spent much of the last six years living in different countries. At this point in my life, I’ve enjoyed living in other countries more than the US. Albania has been my favorite place to live thus far, and I see myself staying here for a while. However, I do try to return to the US once or twice a year to see my family.