Mirëmëngjes everyone. How are you?
I want to say on the first day of school, not all of us can become teachers, but all of us have been students. So as a former student, let me say thank you to all the teachers out there as you begin the first day. One of the students who spoke earlier, started to quote Nelson Mandela.
And I love this quote, that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. So, Albania is at a critical point, 31 years from the end of communism. It’s a world that’s different. It’s an Albania that is different. Students who are different, a future that must be different. 31 years ago, nobody could have imagined that.
Today, Albania is a member of NATO. You sit with the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China on the U.N. Security Council deliberating on the most important issues in the world. And just a month ago, you formally opened negotiations to join the European Union to take your rightful place as a full participating member of the European family.
The United States strongly supports all of that, and education policy will be key to how quickly you move forward and how far you succeed. Our support is important to us as well, because our policy is that we want to see you fully integrated into Europe and our support for your education policy is just as important for us as our support for justice reform and for combating corruption.
In fact, there is no better way to ensure that reform is lasting and that development builds by ensuring that the most educated and most capable generation is able to rise. In the last 31 years, since we restored our relationship, Albanians and Americans have participated in exchanges through several Fulbright programs. U.S. Fulbright scholars and specialists teach and conduct research here in Albania alongside Albanian peers, and they contribute to important Government of Albania education policy issues.
Most important of all, they come here and they see that Albania has a terrific future and that the students here have incredible potential. We’re proud to have been supportive of your efforts to implement the Bologna process, to improve university administration, to ensure university accreditation and much more. These steps forward truly matter for Albania’s education system, for your future, and for how you connect with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.
I think that you’re going to see more and more U.S. academics and specialists visiting this year. They’ll be based at the Albanian universities in Tirana, Gjirokaster, and Durres, and I hope that they will connect with Albanians across this wonderful country to help achieve goals, including university internationalization, school leadership, and English language teacher training. It’s inspiring to me to see how these exchanges have created new fields of study.
For example, the Agricultural University created a program on landscape architecture based on the experience of one of their professors through the Fulbright program. And, in fact, we have a long history of partnering with the Agricultural University. Ten years ago, USAID connected agricultural university professors with counterparts at the University of Hawaii for professional collaboration and guidance. We continue that tradition now.
And last year, USAID paired Agricultural University professors with counterparts at Michigan State University. This is one of the most positive outgrowths of your decision to take in temporarily Afghans who were escaping from the Taliban. I’m confident that the Memorandum of Understanding on the Fulbright program our countries signed in New York in 2019 will help create more opportunities for talented professionals.
And what’s great is that this is not simply a gift from the United States. This is a joint venture between the United States and the Albanian Government. And we are hoping that this will enable graduate students in the United States, in the fields important to Albania’s development to come here as well.
We have another special connection. Starting in 1992 – 30 years ago – Albania has hosted Peace Corps volunteers, hundreds of mostly young, but some more experienced Americans, have served all over this country. They’ve built personal relationships and often return throughout their lives to call Albania their second home, to continue those friendships, and to deepen the ties that Americans have to Albania. A lot of them have mastered the Albanian language, something that I know I will never be able to do because it’s impossible!
But a lot of Americans come here as Peace Corps volunteers and they decide this is really a home for them. So we’re very pleased to say that after a period of being gone from Albania due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be coming back. And we had an announcement just a few days ago made by the Peace Corps Director and Education Minister Kushi, that they will be back very, very soon.
What’s even better is that these volunteers will focus on English language programs for Albanian children throughout this country. They’ll also focus on organizational development and youth health. We’ve all missed having the Peace Corps here in Albania, and I appreciate the support of the Albanian Government, and most of all, the support of local communities to enable all of these young volunteers to come back. All of these connections are so meaningful for all of us, every American who has ever participated in these exchanges, whether they’re Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbrighters, or those participating in the Humphrey program – they have all been changed forever, and they’ve built bonds forever with the Albanian country and the Albanian people.
And they returned to America with deep respect for Albania’s history, culture, and traditions. And they share this with their neighbors in America. So as your friend and partner, your ally, the United States will continue to support you as you improve your educational system in Albania. I hope you never lose sight of the very students who spoke to us this morning.
We owe it to them and to all Albanians who are coming up to improve the education system here, to give them the best chance to succeed here in Albania, to give them the best opportunity to make an impact here in Albania, in Europe, and in the world. Thank you very much.