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3 reasons why I left Albania to move to UK

By Mirela Sula

Ten years ago when I left Albania to move to London I was scared to answer the question: “Where are you from?”

If I would mention that I was Albanian, many people would get scared of me because. That was the time where streets of London were full of billboards promoting the film “TAKEN”. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend you don’t.

A few months later, one of my best teachers, who trained me in family therapy (non-Albanian) sent me an email asking a favor to write a testimonial about his book. Of course, I said yes immediately – he was a great friend as well. As I keep reading his book, I discover that the main character who was chosen to be Albanian was identified in the worst way possible, which made me feel terrible. I felt I was personally attacked, and asked my friend: “Why does this bad character have to be Albanian? Why?” He answers: “But this is just fiction, it doesn’t mean anything”. In fact, it does mean a lot.  He had been to Albania so many times. We treated him like a king, with generosity and respect. How is it possible he goes back home and writes a fiction book and decides that the bad guy is going to be Albanian? That was of course the end of that friendship. When people would later ask me: “Where is this accent coming from?”, I would not lie of course, but soon I found an innovative response: “Guess”. 

The interesting fact is that everytime I would play this game people would find it so hard to guess. In fact 99% of them never managed to believe that I am Albanian. Even if I volunteered to tell them: “I am Albanian”, you could obviously translate their body language saying: “No way, you don’t look Albanian!” Well, what do Albanians look like? If you never met an Albanian person, you would of course believe that all Albanians should be the same as in that movie, in that book, or if you have been watching the news in the last 2 weeks, you would definitely be scared to get out of the house (especially if you live in Kent), because the way this narrative is created across the media about Albanians is really scary. It even makes me feel scared. 

Having a solid background in psychology, I know the impact of this phenomenon as people are very easily influenced. As women, for centuries we were pushed to believe that we have no value, and we should know our place (wherever others told us to sit). That was believed for many generations before ours. But we had to stand and defend our values, and show that our talents and gifts are needed to the world. So somehow we started creating a place for ourselves in the society,so we could find our seat and stand in our power.

Now we have made quite a lot of progress and being a woman is not seen as negative as it used to be before because there are so many campaigns around the world which made the media change the language towards women and as a result many policies started to change as well. This has brought big results and even a village woman from Albania started to dare that I can find a seat.

Even though a woman, even though from a small village, even though from Albania, even though alone, a single mother and everything is against me, I may try and aspire to change and transform my life. 

I believe that as human beings, we all have the right to evaluate our situation and if we are not happy where we are then we can move because we are not trees. Many centuries ago if you were born poor you were desitin to die poor unless you would marry a wealthy person. If you were born in one place, whether you like it or not, you didn’t have choices. But as always I start the day expressing gratitude for being able to live in this century, at this world which has developed a lot, where people have more opportunities to choose how they want to live their lives, where do they want to live, who they want to become, who are the people they want to surround themselves with. This is such an incredible gift to have and I never take this for granted. So when people ask me what made you live in Albania I give them 3 reasons.

1. I was not happy

I was not happy where I was (not because that was Albania – it could be any place). I wanted to change my life. When I realized I was not a tree and I could move I started making plans and taking actions. I wanted to invest in myself, in my education and give myself a second chance to expand and grow my potential. In the last 10 years I have met people around the world and I have heard so many similar stories like mine, especially women who have taken actions to move for change. More and more people are becoming aware that they can take control of their lives, no matter what place they live or what life circumstances they are, instead of blaming the government, the system, the school and their childhood, they decide to take risks, pursue their dreams and search for their happiness.  

2. I didn’t have the choice where to be born, but I could choose where to live

Many times we hear expressions such as: You can’t choose the place you were born. You can’t choose your parents. You can’t choose your destiny and so on. I wanted to challenge myself. When I was a child I used to believe it, especially growing up in an abusive childhood, with divorced parents, in a remote place, in a dictatorial regime where nobody would dare to move. But as I grow up and I invest in my education, personal development and self growth I realize that I have choices and that is coming from “the power within”. I wanted to experience it, to try and challenge myself. I didn’t have the power to choose where to be born, but I could give myself the chance to choose where I wanted to live. I see people doing this all the time, no matter where they are, Albania, Asia, US, Europe or Africa, people have the right to explore and experience the freedom of life. Isn’t it amazing that we have come so far, so we can use the power within and change everything around us.

3. I needed to find my seat

I remember when I started my career as a village teacher in a very small school, as I was sitting on that chair thinking “I want to stand for something bigger”. But the problem is that “You stand where you sit”. Growing up in an environment where women were suppressed and men had the belief that “hitting a woman” is a normal behavior made me reflect and ask big questions: how do I change this? What do I need to do to stop this phenomenon happening? At least with myself. Mother Teresa (who herself was Albanian) used to say: “If you can’t change the whole world, you start with one, that one person can be you.” As I took myself along that journey of change and transformation, I realised that I had to find my seat, where I could stand not only for myself, but for others as well. And this is how I ended up here in London where now 10 years later I lead one of the biggest organizations in the world for women empowerment, I speak all over the world in front of big stages meeting women and teaching them how to find their seat. 

Of course I had to break so many barriers, overcome lots of challenges and adversities, and I am still on the journey. At the end we all know that this courage to move out of our comfort zone, remove the fear ignited in the subconscious mind from the post regime and dare to believe that we can move and seek happiness because we are not trees. And happiness is something that we can’t blame the country, the parents, the government or the world. We should be in charge of that and if you have a calling you should go for it.

But before you take any action, I would suggest: Search, take information through the right relevant institutions, prepare yourself, invest in yourself because you may end up moving and still not be happy. This year I have been invited to work on a project with IOM Albania, and their projects are incredible, very educational and informative. It’s your right to move, but remember you also have the right to move with dignity and following the legal road. We live in a much better time, where many opportunities are open and waiting for us, we just need to be able to see and be able to make the right decisions.

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