Love Letter to Cluj

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Before I got my placements in Romania, I remember googling different cities and imagining myself walking down their cobblestone streets and having coffee on colorful squares. I imagined visiting the cathedrals and museums of Brasov, Timisoara, Sibiu, Iasi. But something about Cluj drew me towards it–maybe the student culture, or its location in the center of Transylvania.

I was lucky to find friends in Cluj, and that both of my placements have been about the same distance from the city–about 3 hours by bus. I’ve gotten to know the mountains and villages and rivers between my own apartment and the “Tangerine Palace,” my friend’s very orange apartment.

I love staying in Cluj. I know the squares and the courtyards. I know which cafes serve food and which serve coffee with the best views and which serve Coca Cola with ice for Americans.

I’ve been when it’s so cold an inch of frost coats everything–I spent a night cuddling a radiator for warmth. I’ve enjoyed cold lemonade in sunny courtyards in a t-shirt.

I’ve had a few friends visit Cluj. They like it, but I’ve been asked why I spend so much time there. One of my Romanian colleagues answered it best: “Of course you love it there. That’s where your family is.”

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Represent

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Small-d diplomats! Note our Romanian/American flag pins

At the end of this past week, I was lucky to host my friend and colleague Damaris for the first in a series of lectures I will give in Baia Mare. We were given a difficult task: the students and teachers attending our talk wanted to know about “the real America” as opposed to the America represented in movies and TV series. We wanted to keep the presentation around an hour, to hold attention and be respectful of busy schedules. How does one represent a 3,796,742 square mile country with a population of over 320,000,000 in a one-hour presentation?

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Caffeine: an important component of presentation planning

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Celebratory coffee from my favorite place

We chose to focus on diversity: the diversity of our landscape and of our people. We took a visual journey through America, through the National Parks and into our communities, and wrapped up with an emphasis on tolerance and cultural exchange.

We were very happy with how the presentation went: we had a good turnout, especially considering it was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, and our audience seemed interested in what we had to say. It was nice to show positivity and beauty in contrast to the current headlines we are reading about America.

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Spring is here!

It was Damaris’s first time in Baia Mare, and it was also nice to show her around town with the beautiful spring weather. As she discovered this city for the first time, I started to think about how I will represent Romania when I return to the United States or continue my travels elsewhere.

Like the US, Romania is a large and complicated place. I have experienced my fair share of frustrations, but also had some wonderful conversations with so many different kinds of people in cities that are just as alike as they are different. How can I make a general statement about Romania when I have traveled from the very north in Baia Mare to the very south in Craiova? From the capital city, Bucharest, in the east, to Timisoara in the west?

Someone recently asked me to sum up my experience here in five words, and I couldn’t do it. I could only come up with “surprising” as an all-encompassing word. Anything else would be too limiting. I can, however, say that Romania has always surprised me, and I’m sure it will continue to surprise me.

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