Hello and welcome to my newest blog post. Today, I'll try to answer everyone's most important question - where to find Albanians.
Say you've mastered enough grammar and vocabulary to roughly survive in Albania a few weeks (I'm talking about Albania only here, Kosovo is another story as their dialect is quite different). You know how to order a coffee, how to understand the menu and order in the restaurant, how to ask for directions to your hotel... but you have only that book knowledge, nothing else. Where on Earth could you find someone to practice with?
Now that is the hard part. Except the obvious answer (in Albania, Kosovo or the neighbouring countries), there are quite a lot Albanians living abroad and usually if you know one, you could meet the whole community in your city, if you want. If you're like me though (a girl living abroad alone without her family), that may be a bit risky, depends on the person in question (don't get me wrong, what I mean is that usually Albanians are very family-oriented and used to living with their parents, so the whole concept of you going abroad by yourself seems a bit awkward). I still have no answer as for why the guys form very wrong opinion of me (but I usually keep my strong card of knowledge hidden). But say you don't live in a "popular" country and you can't meet anyone, except by some chance.
Your second best option is to go on Facebook and join some learner groups. In that way you could a) keep your motivation to learn the language strong as you'll probably meet other learners and b) you could meet Albanians who would be willing to help you learn, or at least willing to answer any questions you may have at that point. If your language level is higher, you could try some Albanian groups in Albanian and try understanding what they talk about, plus they tend to describe good language points in them. Or you could even ask a question, being brave enough.
I have met quite a lot people in different language exchange places (like Interpals or HelloTalk), but I find it hard to find someone who is genuinely interested in practising (I usually offer help with English due to being fluent), and not in hitting on you, if you're a girl, especially one who learns a rare language. It's definitely not impossible, it just takes time and nerves to judge who is worth your time. Another very good option is to ask someone you know to introduce you to a friend of them - in my experience, friends of friends are always the better option, especially if you trust your friend in the first place. You could also try language exchange groups in your city, if there are such (like Meetup).
Now, don't get me wrong - I am the living proof of someone who loves the country and the culture, but has had very disappointing experiences in the past. But I've had very good ones too - so as everything, it really depends on the person in question. So good luck with your search, and I hope that I managed to give you a few ideas of how you could meet people to practice with too.
P.S. The first Albanian I met... it was very unexpected and in person. I've never thought that I'll end up here, knowing everything I learned by myself, writing a blog about it and battling the prejudices of people who think that I'm wasting my time instead of learning something "useful" like German or Spanish. I'm not ideal, but I achieved that level of knowledge using all resources I could find, and I even translate from/to Albanian in my free time (although my translations are still far from ideally fluent). Nothing is impossible if you really want it.
You just have to love what you do.