From the Arab Spring to Albanian winter

From the Arab Spring to Albanian winter 

Tirana Times -

By: Anastasia Nazarko 

TIRANA, Dec 8 - Sitting in Sofra Turke, one of the few authentic Turkish restaurants in Tirana, Macit Koc, an international sales consultant and professor at the University of New York Tirana, looks right at home. As our interview and doners progress, we are interrupted periodically by fellow Turks who stop by our table to pay their respects to Mr. Koc. 

"You know," my interviewee remarks, "Teachers, especially higher education, are very respected in Turkey. They actually would receive more honor in Turkey than the mayor of a city." 

Given the fact that Mr. Koc has only been living in Albania for two months, the significant number of times we are interrupted by visitors to our table illustrates his point quite clearly. 

In fact, prior to his arrival in Tirana, Mr. Koc traveled to roughly 55 different countries. Beginning with his university studies in St. Louis, USA, the professor's post-graduate career in international business as well as education brought him to countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Cyprus, and many others. 

"In the U.S. I worked for two years with Hussmann Corporation and gained good experience in business; however, my experience after university as an English teacher in Turkey made me appreciate working as an educator," Mr. Koc remembers. 

Thus, he began his professional teaching career, after receiving his MBA in the USA, at Yasar University in Izmir, Turkey-- where he was responsible for designing curricula and programs, and later became the department director. A few years later, Mr. Koc earned a position at the College of Applied Sciences at the Higher Education Ministry in Oman, while simultaneously maintaining his work as an international sales consultant for a Turkish soap company, Atessonmez Group. 

"I love Oman, I really do (except for the unbearable heat). The people are so honorable, dignified, and kind. At the same time, I had to travel a lot as a consultant for the soap company. These travels even brought me to Tunisia the day after the uprising started," Mr. Koc commented. 

The consultant and professor was bound for Sfax, Tunisia as the rebellion unfolded. En route to the North African country, Mr. Koc and his partner first flew to Benghazi, Libya and then to Tripoli. Noting that most of Libya was well-developed and the people were generally content with their lives under Gaddafi's regime, Mr. Koc finds the eventual Libyan revolution one of the most surprising developments of the Arab Spring. Tunisia, however, did not surprise him. 

"I was watching the news in my hotel in Tripoli, when the story of a Tunisian university graduate setting himself on fire broke. I became very worried, since I felt that this was the beginning of something," he recalls. 

This fear was made worse by the fact that Mr. Koc and his partner had to cross into Tunisia the next day with their Libyan car. As the professor explained, Libyans are not received favorably in Tunisia, so driving through the country with Libyan plates at a time of unrest was a risky endeavor.

Indeed, after crossing the Tunisian border, their car was attacked by a group of protesters. 

"I wanted to go back, but we were already too far from the border," explained Mr. Koc. "So we went to the police; however, they weren't prepared to help us. They didn't know what to do with this new situation and told us that they didn't have the power to protect us." 

So, he and his partner were forced to rely on safety in numbers. After meeting up with other Libyan cars, they formed a convoy and made it safely to their destination. 

In comparison to such experiences, Mr. Koc's new life in Albania is very quiet. However, the professor notes that he appreciates the stability after years of extensive travel. 

"I came to Albania for three reasons," he comments. "First, I am in the last stage of my PhD program in the Czech Republic, so I needed to be in a place from which I can commute as needed without too much hassle. Oman was too far for this." 

"Second, when I read about this position at University of New York Tirana, I was advised to take it. Then my mother told me that as a child I had been taken care of by an Albanian neighbor who was like a grandmother to me in Turkey, and this inspired me to come and pay the country back. Finally, Albania allows me to stay close to Turkey and my family." 

Given Albania and Turkey's long relationship, Mr. Koc's transition to the Balkan country has been smooth. In Turkey Albanians are often called arnavut-a term which implies honesty and stubbornness. Since experiencing Albanian life first-hand, however, Mr. Koc has noticed other features as well. 

"As a business teacher, I ultimately look at products and the market," he comments. "In Albania, I've noticed that the textiles and telecommunications sectors have very high prices, which is an obstacle in this price-sensitive economy. However, agriculture and tourism could benefit from more attention and care as well." 

Despite the room for improvement, Mr. Koc is impressed with the Albanian education system as conducted at the University of New York Tirana. In fact, he finds the university's method and professors similar to his experience as an undergraduate and graduate student in the United States. 

"I am very happy here, and try to translate that into giving the most to my students. I look forward to being here for a while."