Albania is located in Southeastern Europe, near Greece and Macedonia. Its people have maintained a unique culture for centuries, in the wake of numerous foreign conquests, and today their country is emerging as a democracy and growing economy.
The Albanian national identity has been forged over the course of nearly three millennia, and was shaped by the influence of the Greeks, Romans, and native Illyrians in ancient times. Annexed by Rome in 165 BCE, it was ruled from Byzantium after the fall of the Western Empire, and was later conquered by the Venetians and, finally, the Turks. Albania gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, ending over 2,000 years of foreign rule, but in the ensuing decades was occupied by the Axis Powers. The Albanians gained renown for their valiant resistance effort; their country was the only one in Eastern Europe to evict the German invaders without foreign assistance, and became a safe haven for Jews from throughout the region due to popular refusal to participate in the Holocaust. A Communist regime headed by Enver Hoxha took control of the country after World War II, and while Albania remained fairly undeveloped and closed to the West under his leadership, it also managed to avoid political domination from China and the Soviet Union.
Since Hoxha’s death in 1985, Albania has gradually made capitalist market reforms and opened its borders to the outside world. It is today an increasingly stable country, and is taking steps to broaden its role in European and international affairs, seeking entry into both the EU and NATO. Its economy, while still not as advanced as most Western European states, has been boosted by privatization and infrastructure investment, and performed quite well in view of its transitional state. Tourism is becoming a large industry, due to the country’s ancient history and vast natural beauty; Albania is home to numerous rare and endemic species, especially in the region of Ohrid Lake.
The grand majority of Albania’s population, at 95%, are ethnic Albanians, with small minority and immigrant groups, mostly from surrounding countries. A growing number of Westerners are attracted to the country, both as a vacation spot and for work. The only predominantly Muslim country in Europe, Albania’s traditions differ widely from those of its neighbors, and this distinctive civilization has intrigued many expatriates since the country opened its borders in the 1990s. English teachers are in high demand here, and native English speakers will have little trouble finding employment in this field.
Seven languages and dialects are recognized in Albania; of these, Albanian is official throughout the country. A unique language, occupying its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family, it is divided into two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk, and several sub-dialects which may not be mutually comprehensible with one another. Tosk is predominantly spoken in the south of the country, and is used as the national standard, while Gheg is used in the north. Greek and Italian are the most common second languages, and there is a growing population of English-speakers as well.