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A New Perspective

Changing times, social norms, and global societies are generally recognized as the main factors that lead to the perpetual rise and fall of certain cultural traits, but often they do not lead to the most momentous changes. Often it is an internal shift in thinking or sudden enlightenment that is at the epitome of significant cultural changes -- and it seems that Project Exchange’s Digital Exchange Program is a sanctuary for exactly that kind of revolutionary thinking, especially for participant Klaudia Meha.

Klaudia poses for a picture in her hometown of Elbasan.

Hailing from the industrial town of Elbasan, Albania -- located just on the outskirts of the capital of Tirana -- freshman Klaudia Meha took the program after hearing about it from a friend. Though initially skeptical about the amount of time and effort the program would require with its supposedly daunting syllabus, it’s safe to say that thet what she took away from the program was worth any commitment she would have had to make. She was partnered with Leanne Nyguen from California and from the start, she explains that it was a friendship meant to be.

“I wasn’t expecting Leanne to be so friendly. I wasn’t expecting her to be so kind. I wasn’t expecting her to be so nice. I wasn’t expecting for us to be friends. On that first video call we talked for about 3 hours. We talked about everything, It was honestly amazing,” she recounts, her eyes lighting up as she reminisced on those conversations.

A picture of Klaudia's partner, Leanne, in her home in southern California.

Although Klaudia was very pleased with her newfound friendship with Leanne, some of the cultural differences between Albania and the United States just couldn’t be ignored. And for Klaudia, these cultural differences were the catalyst to a more nuanced understanding of her culture and a new paradigm for what could be possible.

“Albanian culture has such old people. We base everything off of culture and old traditions. We’re not very open-minded. There’s a clear patriarchy because men are expected to be the leaders of the family and women are expected to stay home … Leanne’s community and just the U.S. in general seem so accepting and open-minded, it showed me what I wanted to change about my own culture,” Klaudia explains, her passion clear from the strength in her voice.

Through interacting with a typical American community halfway across the world, Klaudia started to see the effects of globalization and modernization across the world. She mentioned specifically how each week’s activities gave her more and more insight into a more modern life, which made her long to live in a community just as accepting and genuinely open-minded as the one Leanne shared with her.

“I’m not against Albanian culture. I love the food. I love the dress. I just don’t love the mindset the people here have. It’s such a closed mindset and they’re so judgemental of others,” Klaudia expresses, her eyebrows furrowed as she tries to voice her hopes for a cultural shift in Albania. “I think being more accepting would definitely benefit our country and culture.

Younger generations in Albania such as Klaudia and her friends are making a conscious effort to be more accepting, inclusive, and shift their culture to become more socially-aware, and Klaudia hopes to see a more substantial change in her country. Through her serendipitous exchange program with Project Exchange and friendship with Leanne, Klaudia has truly gained the confidence to actively try and make her mark on Albanian culture.

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