Culture Shock and Anxiety; Joy and Adventure — Why I Took a Bus, a Bath, and a Break

Karen Espig
6 min readApr 12, 2022

Experiences of a new expat in Albania

Photo by Cosiela Borta on Unsplash

I recently moved from Canada to Albania and applied for residency. I have learned many valuable things over the past 48 days, not the least of which is that it is easier to be a tourist than a newcomer.

As a tourist, the rules are more or less known. You arrive in a place, see the sights, try the food, and learn how to say “please,” “thank you,” “where is the toilet,” and “I do not understand.” When you move to a place, you survey the neighbourhood you’ve chosen (in my case, arbitrarily, as I had never been to Albania), buy groceries labelled in a foreign language, and hope the few words you know mean what you intend and get you what you need. There is also internal pressure to find your way into your new community.

When you are a tourist, you expect to be stared at in curiosity and amusement. It is not a concern when you know that in a few days or weeks, you will be back in your comfortable surroundings, interacting with people you know.

When you relocate, however, to a new town in a new country, it is very different. You are viewed the same way by locals at first, but when you start buying pots and towels, they realize you will be staying — and then you can bet you are being spoken about. Not in any malicious way, but it is still uncomfortable — for this introvert in any case. In the long run, this is actually a good thing: I want my neighbours to gossip enough about me to know when something is amiss. At some point I might need help, and the chatter on the street about that Canadian lady with the pink glasses might serve me well.

Within a week of my arrival in Pogradec, it became apparent that I could engage with my new environment — whether dealing with my landlady, market vendors, or even just scanning the items at the grocery store — for only a couple of hours per day before needing a nap or at least some quiet time. Every time I went out, I had anxiety symptoms (for me, pressure in the chest and heart palpitations). Once I recognized this pattern, I stopped trying to accomplish so much every day. I planned only short forays into the neighbourhood — only one per day and not every day. This helped, but after three weeks or so, I realized…

Karen Espig

I am a contemporary figure painter, working primarily in oils. I am also a Canadian Expat currently in Albania. Follow my art and travel journey.