Visual Travel Journal

I started painting about a year and a half ago, on a whim. It’s a hobby that has been very calming and fun during tumultuous times. This summer when my Pop and I went to New York, I started keeping a visual travel journal. I use an A4 Leuchtturm journal and a gouache set to keep track of things I’ve found interesting or pretty from place to place. Sometimes I just make a quick sketch, and sometimes I spend a few hours on them. Some of the pages are fairly neat, and some of them are a bit more messy. But they have all been lots of fun to work on, and I’m looking forward to continuing in 2017!

A Tale of Two Christmases (and some New Year Reflections)

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Christmas lights in Targu-Mures

This is the first year I have spent Christmas away from my family. With all of my travels in Romania, I almost forgot it was the Christmas season at all. I have been back and forth from my home base in Targu-Mures by plane, train, and bus non-stop. After our unconventional Thanksgiving in Budapest and my whirlwind trip to Bucharest around my birthday, the season snuck up on me.

I was lucky to have a few days of downtime for the holiday. My Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day were all laid back days. I slept in, had chocolate for breakfast, read in bed, and stayed warm inside.

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I received this beautiful embroidered tablecloth as a gift

On the night of Christmas Eve, I had a Transylvanian Hungarian Christmas with a colleague. The evening started with singing carols and lighting sparklers on the tree (I had to suppress every American instinct to witness this) and continued with several hours cozy around the table with plenty of food and drink. I sampled all of the traditional foods and walked home warm and satisfied.

I spent Christmas evening with Corina, where I again sampled all of the food. Between two dinners, I ate almost enough sarmale to qualify as an honorary Romanian. We spent the rest of the evening snacking on desserts and watching fun movies.

The day after Christmas, I left for Timisoara. As a Christmas present to myself, I booked a trip with a Fulbright friend and her visiting friend from the US. We stayed at a lovely hotel (with cats!) and spent our time wandering and finding places to get in from the cold and eat. We met the friendliest people and ended up having long conversations about everything about Romania and the United States that crossed our minds.

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The walk from our hotel to the city center, over the river

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City center, Timisoara

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City center, Timisoara

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Viniloteca: at the recommendation of another Fulbrighter, we stopped in and asked for the owner and told him “Eric sent us.” We ended up staying for hours!

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We made friends with this young man at a sandwich shop, who told me that his great grandfather fled the first world war to Cleveland. His family received a packet of letters dated 1919 after the 1989 revolution.

I came back to Cluj in time for the New Year. My Dutch friend Melinda, who studied abroad at my high school, joined me for New Year’s Eve. We met up with the graduate student of another Fulbrighter for drinks and an evening chat, and ventured out to the square for the countdown to midnight and fireworks show.

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Melinda had to leave early, and a bone-chilling cold has set in here in Cluj, but I have been reflecting over the past few days on how thankful I am for this past year. I have found such warmth all over the world. I have been lucky to travel far and wide this year, and to have found family and friends in all of the corners I found myself in. What better way to wrap up 2016 and ring in the new year than with an old friend and a new friend on each side?

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Her Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day

Last week, we had our Fulbright winter meeting in Bucharest, which happened to coincide with my birthday and the birthdays of two other Fulbrighters. We coordinated poorly–all of those coming in from Cluj (including me) came in at a different time–but we all reached our hotels and met for dinner. The evening set the tone for the weekend: we spent much of our time around the table in good company.

It was wonderful to hear about everyone’s experiences so far, and to chat about our common challenges and joys. Some of us have become quite close through our travels, and some I hadn’t seen since October, but it was lovely to catch up with everyone. Mihai, who coordinates the Romanian Fulbright program, even called me out as a pioneer as the first Fulbrighter in both Targu-Mures and Baia Mare.

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Fulbright gets fancy

In addition to our meeting, we had a reception at the same location as our fall reception (with the same delicious desserts), an outing to Parliament and Controceni Palace, and a lunch at the famous Caru’ cu Bere in the old town of Bucharest. On our own, we scoped out interesting restaurants, went on long walks in the beautiful sunny weather, and even tried to crash a party.

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Sometimes it can be hard to find, but there is beauty in Bucharest

I spent my birthday, on Saturday, with the Fulbrighters I have gotten to know well over the past 3-ish months. We wandered through the old town, had more delicious food, and got haircuts.

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Pastries for breakfast at Zexe

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A simple haircut became quite the experience

We wandered into a salon because it was open and three of us wanted to trim our hair. Little did we know what we were in for. First, our new friends at the salon insisted that we also needed to get our nails done. We all looked at our hands and agreed they could use some love. After finding out that it was my birthday, the man who made our reservations said that he would make some special drinks for us. He mixed some of the most delicious drinks–although it was challenging to drink them, as I was having my hair done and my nails done at the same time in order to make our dinner reservation on time. Our friends gave us a good price, and we took selfies together before running off to dinner.

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Looking good + feeling good

We ended up with a group of seven at dinner, with a mix of generations and fields of study, but lots in common. It was a perfectly-sized group for talking travel, Romania, and food. The restaurant was small and cozy with excellent food, and we talked into the night. I am constantly amazed by the people I meet here, and really enjoyed being able to take a long evening to get to know the people around me.

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Christmas market in Cluj

I made a quick stop in Cluj before heading home to Targu-Mures on Tuesday. I have considered myself a bit of a “Grinch” for a while now. I don’t enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit as much as many of the people around me. I don’t listen to Christmas music or watch Christmas movies, I don’t love decorating, and I think the Christmas season lasts entirely too long. However, I have really enjoyed the Christmas markets and lights here and was thinking about how they bring people together, even in the cold and the dark.

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With friends at the Christmas market in Cluj

And then I returned to my apartment in Targu-Mures, and Santa Claus (aka my landlady, Gaby) had visited! While I was gone, she left little decorations and sweets–even a tiny Christmas tree. And, like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes. I am so touched by the kindness I have found here, from my fellow Fulbrighters, to my colleagues and students, to the people I meet from day to day. I cling to their kindness when I get frustrated with Romania. I can say now that when this year is over, I will remember the people and their kindness above all else.

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Santa visited!

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.

The Difference a Week Can Make

I am writing this from my new apartment (!)

After a week of many leads, many fallings-through, and much frustration, I found a place within my budget, 15 minutes on foot from school, and got an official lease. I thought this day would never come.

I still feel far from saying that Targu-Mures feels like home, but unpacking my suitcases has been a huge help.

My landlady brought me slippers and homemade honey with my lease while her husband puttered around fixing leaks and making sure I would have heat through the winter. Although he spoke only three words of English (“hello”, and “come see”), he spoke to me kindly and smiled rather than becoming frustrated with the language barrier.

There is a festival in Targu-Mures this weekend, and as I walked to the bank with my papers, I stopped to smell the flowers (and the sausages, and the mulled wines, and and and). I watched artisans paint and carve and taste their creations. I thought about where I was a week ago: tense and nervous, restless without a home and unsure about my place here. And I thought about all of the things that have happened since: new friends invited me out, called me at all hours to tell me about apartment leads they had, and gave me teaching advice. One new friend followed an apartment lead for days, and in the meantime made sure I had food and the Romanian cure for the cold I had come down with–țuică. That apartment didn’t work out, but c’est la vie.

Last night, before my move this afternoon, I couldn’t sleep at all. But I got up this morning and I taught four hours of presentation skills (well, more like three) and packed up all of my stuff and went through a Romanian lease and when I sat down and it was somehow evening already, I realized how much of a difference a week can make.

Now excuse me while I eat an entire pizza in my new home.

Ta-da! I’m here!

Dear friends and family,

I’m safe and have arrived in Targu-Mures, my home for the following semester.

The last week has been a whirlwind, so I’ll start with the main bullet points:

  • Spent a week in Helsinki. Managed two sauna trips with my AFS friend Sara, lots of coffee, and visits to museums.
  • Took a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia, with Sara and new friends Rachel and Shasha.
  • Woke up at 3:30 am in order to make my 6am flight to Bucharest, via Berlin.
  • Fulbright orientation in Bucharest: so many cool people, so much information. Reception dinner: so much food.
  • Fulbright adventure to Peles and Pelisor castles. Another meal.
  • Drive to Targu-Mures with my faculty contact, Corina.

And here I am. Exhausted. Happy. Excited. Still without Romanian SIM card. (Soon, friends. The freedom of cellular data will be mine!)

I want to write about everything that has happened in the past week, but honestly, it’s all gone by so quickly my mind hasn’t caught up yet. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by friends, old and new, to keep me sane.

The next adventures include:

  • Finding an apartment
  • Teaching (starting Wednesday!)
  • Getting my residency permit
  • Romanian lessons (starting in November)
  • And countless more I can’t imagine

I’ll check in again soon–lots is happening, and I’m excited to share.

Twenty Tiny Penpals!

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Little brother was eager to help

This week, I had the pleasure of visiting my little brother’s first grade class to talk to them about Romania and what it’s like to move to a different country. We also practiced introducing ourselves in different languages–I taught them French, Greek, and (questionable) Romanian, and they taught me Mandarin. They asked questions that revealed the deep curiosity of children: “What do houses look like in Romania? What do children do in schools in Romania? Do they have seasons in Romania?”

I answered their questions as best as I could, but in the end we realized that there are only so many things you can learn about a country before you travel there, so each of the children held on to their questions and will send them to me in letters.

It will be heartwarming for me to receive a box of letters from six-year-olds while I’m adjusting to life overseas. But I’m also looking forward to making connections between cultures clear for small children. It’s a skill I hope to hone as a public historian: making complexities of history and culture accessible to everyone.

There are fun things to convey about the history of Romania, such as the (much toned-down) story of the real Dracula that I hope will catch the imagination of six-year-olds. But mostly I want them to realize how alike we all are as humans, even all the way across the ocean and a continent.

Planning for a year in Romania

One of the most overwhelming parts of moving abroad is the planning involved beforehand. Working with the information I have gleaned from across the pond, I’ve filled pages and pages with lists to make my transition to Romania smoother.

I know I’ll be living in the mountains and that winters can be long and cold, so I’m bringing my warmest professional clothes (shoutout to Ohio teaching placements–luckily I won’t have to buy much!)

Moving to Romania is different from both of my study abroad experiences in that I will no longer be a student with the privilege of sitting back and letting someone else fill my brain with knowledge. Now, it’s my job to teach and hopefully fill some brains myself.

Planning my syllabi for my fall classes has been quite the challenge. Having never been to Romania, I can’t gauge with 100% accuracy what kinds of cultural differences I will encounter in the classroom. What level of English will my students speak? Will they be comfortable writing long essays in a foreign language? Will they be used to group work and discussions, or will they expect only lectures?

I’ve made some decisions–my students will do peer reviews, whether they want to or not! After all, Fulbrighters are cultural ambassadors, and although I will strive to be sensitive about my students’ needs, it won’t hurt them to have a bit of an American influence in their educations.

I’ve dug out my warmest wool sweaters. I’ve triple-checked that my passport will be valid through my stay (it will, plus two extra years). I’ve downloaded Dracula on my kindle. As unbelievable as it seems, I think I’ll be ready when I leave in three weeks.

The Road to Romania

When I tell people that I’m preparing to spend a year in Romania, one question always follows: “Why?”

Like many decisions in my life, the decision to apply to teach in Romania came about through a convoluted process of questioning what I would gain from a year in various locations and the practicality of each option. As a historian with global interests, I knew I could be happy exploring almost any corner of the world, so I took into account different factors like cost of living, safety (hi, parents), language, availability of modern comforts (*cough cough* wifi), and the potential for me to continue my work in public history at a cultural institution.

Romania came about as an option with a relatively low cost of living, and while I don’t know the language, I’m hoping that my background in French (another romance language) helps in my immersion class this fall. More research only enforced my choice: the landscape looks gorgeous, the food is right up my alley, and friends who have visited Romania have nothing but good things to say.

I’m especially interested in the museums in the two cities I’ll be living in. Unlike many museums in the United States and other countries I’ve visited, Romania’s museums seem to focus less on important people and events, and more on the history of the common man and folk history. I have some ideas about how to explore this and bring their history to a wider audience–watch this space!

The decision to follow through with this year in Romania wasn’t an easy one. Although I invested a lot of time, energy, and stress in my application and interviews, I didn’t immediately want to accept the grant. I began to question if I could picture myself living in Romania or if it would be practical to move abroad for a year right now. I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for graduate school, and thought about striking while the iron was hot rather than waiting a year.

In the end, I reminded myself of what had drawn me to spend a year teaching abroad, and specifically in Romania. Even with the uncertainty about where I would live and what I would teach, I was confident that I made the right decision. I am still apprehensive about my move, but my contacts in Romania have been lovely and reassuring in every way.

Most of all, I want this year to be an adventure–and something tells me I’ve signed up for the adventure of a lifetime.