Winter in Romania

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It snowed! Last Sunday I woke to this beautiful view and promptly realized I had nothing to eat, so I trekked out to the grocery store and back, slipping and sliding the whole way. Wooster snow must have been good training, because I made it back without falling and all of my eggs intact.

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Lest you think I’ve been getting too comfortable, considering my success with groceries and all, worry not! I’ve still been flailing around, the most basic tasks are still tripping me up. Some fun stories:

When I came home to Targu-Mures from Cluj last week, I went to seven (SEVEN.) windows at the bus station trying to buy a ticket before someone finally told me that you buy the ticket from the driver. This came after I decided taking the bus would be easier than taking the train–it turned out there was no direct train between the two cities, contrary to what the Internet told me, and I ended up sitting at a train station in the middle of nowhere (no cafe, no convenience store, no wifi) for three hours between trains. At least the bus only took a bit over two hours and dropped me off at my street.

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I’ve also been getting my paperwork together for my temporary residency permit, which has led me to offices all around town. Yesterday I woke up ready and motivated to face the bureaucracy of the immigration office, but life had other ideas. Instead, my heater stopped working. I called my landlady, who sent her husband, who puttered away and explained the problem to me several times in Hungarian. I still don’t know what was wrong, but by the time he fixed it the immigration office had closed for the day. Since it was only open today during my teaching hours, I’ll try again on Monday. (Please keep your fingers crossed!)

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Today I had plans to give my presentation skills students a short midterm evaluation and talk them through my vision for their final presentations–the end of the semester snuck up on me, and with the holidays, we only have a handful of meetings left. But, it’s a Friday, and the temperatures have warmed up a bit, and most of them have already presented, so I only had about 12 out of 36 show up at the start of class, and a few more showed up halfway through. The laid-back atmosphere was actually nice and fit with what I’ve learned from Romania: expect the unexpected and roll with it.

I capped off my morning with a trip to the bank. Since I’m not allowed to have an ATM card yet for some unknown reason, I have to go to a teller with my account information and passport to get money, which shouldn’t take too long. Except today, when my passport crashed the network at the bank, making my quick trip into a 40-minute one.

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But all in all, I am well. I walked back home with a quick stop for cookies and the skies cleared up and I have a lot to look forward to here.

Stronger Together

It has been a long week, and I feel as though a lifetime has passed between my writing about getting settled in Targu-Mures last week, and my return to this city last night.

I left for Cluj on Sunday, the city where the majority of my fellow Fulbrighters live. Our mood was generally happy: we found each other in restaurants and cafes and bars, went to the theatre, I found a medical history museum.

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Medical history museum in Cluj

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The view from a secret cafe

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The theatre on a Monday night

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On Tuesday night at 8:30, I arrived in Bucharest for an election night party hosted by the US Embassy at the Hard Rock Cafe. I traded gossip with and teased the other Fulbrighters while we danced and drank and ate. Live entertainment kept our minds off of the election. “I feel good,” a friend told me.

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Mihai showed up!

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Romanian boy band

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One of the most surreal moments of my life

The momentum of the party died a bit when an academic Skyped in to explain the electoral college. I sat down for the first time all night and switched my whiskey out for coffee. I chastised my friend for obsessively refreshing election results too early. We waited.

The mood grew more and more somber. The Romanian guests had mostly left. The staff of the embassy watched, dumbfounded, as state after state was called. I colored Montana red. “Smile!” someone shouted. I couldn’t.

At 5am, I had to leave to get on a plane back to Cluj. I reached for my phone every few minutes and then started to feel dizzy. At the security checkpoint, an airport staff member noticed my party swag and asked, “Clinton or Trump?” I pointed to my Hillary pin and explained that we were hoping she could still pull through. I stopped checking my phone and nausea overwhelmed me. “I don’t think I can get on this plane,” I said. I made it, in the end.

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Beginning of the night v. morning. Yikes.

I didn’t look at the news again until I had reached Melanie’s apartment and taken a shower. And my heart broke again and again and again. A young woman I consider my sister is worried she won’t be able to move to the US as she had planned because she’s muslim. Close friends worry they won’t be able to afford medication for serious conditions. Here in Romania, friends are concerned about the economy and our proximity to Russia. In short: people I love are seriously worried about their lives and livelihoods.

Over the course of the day, I thought I wouldn’t come home, that I would stay in Europe after my grant ends in July. I thought about the absurdity of the world: I had been awake for 36+ hours, watching a celebration of democracy devolve into a scramble to find a way to preserve any good we have accomplished as a nation before January. Tuesday night I danced and drank and smiled. Wednesday morning I cried.

Melanie offered me a bed for the night, and I accepted it–to be with friends and Americans, I thought, was important. And I’m glad I stayed, because even as we realized disheartening truths about our country and cried and became delirious from lack of sleep, we found comfort in each other as we talked about the good we are capable of doing.

I am lucky to be here in Romania with intelligent and compassionate and worldly people. Even as I approached hour 40 without sleep, positivity started to creep in again. We found good food, and our questions turned from “What has happened?” to “What can we do?” And even though my heart still breaks, spending time with these people brings me hope.

Maybe I’ll come home in July and maybe I won’t, but I do know that I will fight for love and education and rights in the United States. I am so grateful to my friends who kept me strong through election night, and to my friends in the United States fighting the good fight. I am still processing, but I know that hate will not win.

One Month in Romania

It’s hard to believe that it has been one month. Some days I catch myself telling someone that I was just in Helsinki “like, a week ago” (I left over 4 weeks ago). At the same time, I have a pretty good sense of Targu-Mures now, and my apartment is starting to feel like home. I’m in a happy period: I am still discovering gems of the city (like the cafe I’m writing from, which offered a spicy cinnamon latte as today’s special), but I’m not a stranger here anymore. I’ve taught my fourth week of classes, and my students seem to have warmed to my American style. My Presentation Skills students gave their first presentations today, and they did me proud.

The other day, I went to a home goods store to pick up a few things for my apartment (spare sheets, cookware, a second pillow–I lead a life of luxury). I was frustrated because I had just found out that a Romanian class I had signed up for that I thought was once a week actually meets every day, meaning I would miss half of the classes due to my teaching schedule, and wouldn’t be able to take the course after all. But along came a friendly face: a security guard walked over and held open a bag for me, then walked it to the door while I paid. He asked me a question, and I caught the word for car. I shook my head, “nu,” I don’t have a car. I tried to show him my muscles to indicate I was strong and would carry my purchases. He looked shocked and asked another question I didn’t quite catch. “Taxi?” he said, pointing to his phone. Da, da! In the two minutes it took for the taxi to arrive, he showed me pictures of his daughter and told what I’m sure were interesting stories, and made sure the taxi driver knew exactly where to take me before he left.

This sums up my Romanian experience so far. I’m confused a lot of the time. I understand a word or two per sentence, if I’m lucky. But I find when I get most frustrated, someone is extra nice to me, or I stumble upon a beautiful view I hadn’t found before, or I get good feedback from a class. I’m happy to have reached this point of understanding. My days are mostly good, people are mostly friendly, and if I ever get fed up, I know something good is right around the corner.

Spooky Halloween Weekend

Now that we are halfway through the week, reminiscing about the weekend feels appropriate.

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A few other Fulbrighters and I travelled to Bran, to the castle that might have inspired Bram Stoker’s depiction of Dracula’s castle, and has used that rumor to fuel spooky Halloween fun. It made for excellent bonding (I’m proud to be a member of the Fulbright Fun Family) and good stories.

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My b&b in Bran had friendly sheep, chickens, and kittens. Pretty sure I had this sheep’s cheese for breakfast.

I arrived in Bran after a full Friday. I taught my morning presentation skills class, missed a bus to Brasov, made friends with a German who also hadn’t been as aggressive as he needed to be to get on the bus, found another bus, realized I hadn’t eaten all day, took a rather expensive taxi to Bran, and finally met up with a group at the Transylvania Inn for a dinner of local meats and cheeses with polenta.

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So cozy!

I was glad to meet up with other Fulbrighters. Being the only one in Targu-Mures, it’s hard not to feel a little isolated when dealing with the frustrations of getting settled in a new country. Swapping stories by the fire with a glass of wine was wonderfully comforting.

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Brasserie in Brasov

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Brasov

The next day, I visited Brasov with a few others. We wandered around some shops, peeked inside of the Black Church, and had a yummy lunch at a brasserie looking out on the main square. We found Halloween masks and drove back to Bran in time to wander the markets there and change for the party that night.

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Some of the Fulbright fam

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Vlad himself!!

The night started with a long wait in line, made easier to tolerate with beer, warm street food, and good company. We finally made it to the castle for a tour including secret passageways, costumed actors, and, finally, blood-red wine.

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Bran castle on the night of the party

The castle was festively lit, and we could hear the music from the party throughout. A few of us headed there to dance and have themed cocktails and dance some more.

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Back to Brasov

The next day, on little sleep, I headed back to Brasov with another Fulbright friend. We explored some more, went to the brasserie for a late lunch, and drank coffee to try to fight the tiredness from the day before, but gave up in the late afternoon. We attempted to improve our Romanian by watching TV instead.

All around, a fun and successful weekend! I made it to Bran an Brasov, and back to Targu-Mures, which would have made the weekend a success in itself, but I also made friends, had some delicious Romanian food, and got festive for Halloween. What more could I ask for?