Reunion to Remember
Former U.S. host family visits sea in Albania with former exchange student

Utah family visits "daughter" in Albania

My host family came to visit and spent around 10 days in my house. They met my family and friends and visited my city, Tirana, as well as the coastal city of Durres. They tried all kinds of Albanian food, from steak, qofte, petulla, and tavë kosi to ice cream, pizza, and sufllaqe.

They visited the BunkArt Museum and learned more about Albania's past during the communist dictatorship. We spent amazing days together, visiting the main sights in the city, trying new places to eat, and staying up late chatting and playing board games. We even got to celebrate Grandma's birthday.

On Sunday, we went to a church of their faith like we did every week during my exchange year, and they met Albanians who share their religion.

They described Tirana as a comfortable city and joked that they felt so loved and welcomed that they should move here someday. It was a rewarding experience, hosting them as they hosted me. It was amazing to see what life had brought each of us and how it wonderfully brought us back together.

—Aleksis (YES Albania 2018/19), hosted by the Gwilliam family (UT)

Our family has been blessed with the opportunity to grow our family through hosting five exchange students over the past seven years. They've truly become family members, and we've kept in touch with them after their time with us. We plan on visiting each of them in their home countries and were able to make our first trip last month. We visited our incredible student Aleksis, who graciously opened her home, her town, and her world to us. 

We spent about 10 days at her home, getting to know her family and her culture. She took us to several restaurants to try local food, which was amazing. She led us on explorations of downtown Tirana, where we visited museums, shops, and local landmarks. We took the opportunity to try to learn a bit of the language and enjoyed being able to connect with the people we met in that way.

Our favorite part of Albania was meeting people and seeing how they live. Everyone we interacted with was so kind. My favorite moment was walking downtown without our trusty guide, trying to read the street signs now that we'd gotten used to how each letter was pronounced. We guessed at a street sign, and the lady walking next to us lit up with a smile and a friendly nod, telling us we had pronounced it correctly. We could tell that people were happy to have foreigners visit their town.

We started hosting students to grow our family, and I don't think we realized at the start how much they would help us grow.

After hosting Aleksis in our home for 10 months, it was so special to be able to spend time with her in her home. Her family is wonderful, and they happily let us invade their space for a few days. We've been connected with her mom since our time hosting Aleksis, and meeting her was like reconnecting with a family member. 

We started hosting students to grow our family, and I don't think we realized at the start how much they would help us grow. We were able to help build bridges by hosting them in our home, and being able to visit Aleksis in her home was like she built the bridge back to us.

We are so grateful for her presence in our lives and for the generosity of her and her family for welcoming and hosting us as we visited Albania for the first time and truly fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, and the history of this beautiful country.

—The Gwilliams (UT), host family of Aleksis (YES Albania 2018/19)