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Millsaps Grad Makes Home in Albania

Department of Sociology/Anthropology News


Ever wonder what anthropology majors do after graduation? Most go on to graduate school. Chelsi West, an anthropology major and 2008 honors graduate of Millsaps College, is putting off doctoral programs in anthropology to do some research on her own time. West received a Fulbright grant to spend ten months in Tirana, Albania studying cultural identity, music, oral history, and the Albanian people. She grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and admits that it's the first time that she has ever truly lived away from home.

She first became interested in Albania when she conducted six weeks of field work with a team of students from Millsaps College led by Dr. Michael Galaty, Associate Professor of Anthropology. Inspired by this experience, West chose to delve deeper into Albanian culture while completing her senior honors thesis, focusing specifically on hip-hop and translation of culture.

West took off in late September, arriving in Tirana safe and sound. Though becoming accustomed to the time difference was a challenge, West quickly found herself immersed in a culture very different from her own. Many people asked her why she would ever want to study in a place like Albania, and at the university she attends in Tirana, students cannot imagine why foreigners would want to come in when it is a common dream to get out.

When she encounters people on the street they sometimes catch her off guard with conversation. "Albanians, to say the least, are a lot more forward than Americans," writes West in her online blog. That's the way she keeps track of her adventures, and it also allows her friends in the United States to know what she's up to.

Language has been another challenge for West as she adjusts to life abroad. She knew some Albanian when she received her grant but still takes a class every morning from 9 until noon. The Albanian alphabet has 36 letters and words are made up of combinations that Americans might consider bizarre. In fact, Albanian is ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn. Despite its difficulties, one of her favorite words is Gëzuar, which means, "Cheers!" Beyond the grammar, West is learning that "language has to do with more than just trying to speak the words correctly, it also involves seeing the world as Albanians do."

West says that the motivation behind her studies lies in the similarities she sees between Albania and her home, and between Albanians and herself. "I like the history, the story of the land and of the people," she says. "Albania, like Mississippi, has been plagued by labels and certain assumptions that people hold true." In the long run, she recognizes, "it's not just me trying to learn about Albanians, but also many Albanians are trying to learn about me, too."
Gëzuar, Chelsi, and good luck in your studies!

To keep up with Chelsi's adventure, visit http://chelsialbaniaadventure.blogspot.com/.