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?

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.

Week One

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City Center

I’ve been in Targu-Mures for a week now.

Usually I settle in to a new place pretty quickly, but it has been a challenge for me to figure out my place here so far.

Firstly, I still don’t have an apartment. Although I’ll only be here five months, I’ve been longing for a place to come home to at the end of the day–my own kitchen, my own bed, a place to sit and relax. The university accommodations I’m staying in are very nice, close to school and the city center, but knowing I can’t stay here much longer adds another layer of pressure.

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My school

Secondly, I’m always exhausted. I remember this feeling from when I was 17 and studying abroad in France. Trying to keep up with my lessons in a foreign language, I would return home every night and collapse shortly after dinner, barely able to pry my eyes open when my alarm went off in the morning. This time, I’m sure the immense culture shock is taking its toll, along with the language barrier.

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The Medieval Citadel right outside of my school

Add in AT&T refusing to unlock my phone, trying to open a bank account, navigating a new city, and teaching courses to 70 (mostly) Romanian students with varying levels of English fluency. I don’t even want to think about applying for my long stay permit in a few weeks.

But with all of the stress, I am also taking in the beauty of this new place and taking time to be thankful for the lovely people who are helping to make my transition smoother.

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The park on a gloomy day

My fellow Fulbrighters have been a source of information and support. The professors in my department have also been very supportive: one ended our meeting with a warm kiss on the cheek, another, in a crisp accent, wished me “the best of British luck.” A librarian who lived for some time in Portland, Oregon helped me print course materials at 7:30 in the morning, and my faculty contact has helped me with nearly everything else.

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If I could say anything has gone better than expected, it’s teaching. While nearly everything else around me seems to be a source of chaos and stress, my students showed up to class (I was told they wouldn’t), participated (I was told they would be reluctant), and said some encouraging things in the self-evaluations I had them write. The university has given me a lot of freedom in designing my classes, and I think they’ll go well.

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My classroom

I’m optimistic about a lot of things in the following week. Each day has gotten a little bit easier than the last. I can find my way to school without a map, I know where to find coffee and groceries, and I’m getting a feel for the town–more than I could say last week. It’s tough going, but I’ll get there.

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.

The Big Leap

I’m leaving on Tuesday.

This moment has felt so far away all summer, and now it’s a few days away.

First, I am stopping in Helsinki to see a study abroad friend. After a week in Finland, I’ll spend a whirlwind day in Bucharest, go on a field trip with the other Fulbrighters, and then my faculty contact will drive me to my temporary accommodations at the university.

As a planner, I have been anticipating this moment for a long time: the moment when all of my plans come together and it doesn’t seem inconceivable that everything will go smoothly.

The worrier in me is still having a ball, though. I won’t have an apartment until I arrive and find one. My clothes are shoved haphazardly into the two suitcases I’m bringing and every few minutes I think about something I’m sure to forget (at least 50% of the time I think it will be my passport). I’ve written up syllabi for my two fall classes, but leave them open on my computer so I can click over to them and second-guess myself.

Still, the reassurances of the very friendly people I have been in contact with have helped me to sleep easy at night. It’s hard to believe that the end of September has arrived already–but I’m happy it’s time to stop talking about doing the thing and do the thing!

Just Say Yes

I’m leaving for Europe in just over a week. Now that my departure date is quickly approaching, all kinds of anxiety and excitement that has been lurking for months is bubbling to the surface.

Meanwhile, I’m reminding myself of an important concept that guided me through my time in France and Greece and many other experiences: Just Say Yes.

This concept came in handy last January, when I was doing research in Paris for my Independent Study. Before leaving, I let myself become anxious about being lonely during the week I would be in Paris among the 17th-century books I was afraid to ask for. I worried that in the dark of winter, I would go the whole week without talking to anyone. Even as an introvert, it didn’t sound like the ideal trip.

I set my mind at ease by telling myself that as long as they didn’t interfere with my work at the archives, I would just say yes to any opportunities that came my way.

In just under a week, I met a friend of a friend–a Finnish student at Oxford studying abroad in Paris–for lunch at a bustling, quintessentially Parisian bistro. We hit it off, so we made plans for dinner later in the week as well. We talked about our studies and the importance of a well-rounded education and becoming your own person overseas, away from home. We talked about how lonely it can be until you find someone who understands.

On another night, I met my parents’ friend’s parents at their chic apartment in the third arrondissement, and we ate home-cooked Moroccan food and drank wine while they swapped stories with friends they had invited to share our dinner. Their daughter was applying to college and I recognized her giddy and nervous excitement. They made sure I made it home safely on the Metro.

One evening, when I came home to my Airbnb after a full day at the archives, my hosts invited me to join them for une verre with a few people in their living room. I met a young American violinist living in Paris and trying to make it as a musician and a Parisian man who had just finished his Master’s degree at Stanford. The three of us talked well into the night about the struggle of young adulthood.

Happily, my host family from my time in France in 2011 was also able to visit me, and we spent all of Sunday together, mostly eating and walking, and when it started to rain, I took my host sister to the train station and we had a warm cup of coffee while she waited for her ride home.

I’m lucky to have a network of friends and connections that reaches across the ocean, but I’m also glad that after spending years anxiously and shyly avoiding too much social interaction, I learned how to say yes. I could have spent all of my free time curled up in bed with Netflix (and I admit: jet lag did get me one evening and I did just that). But that week in Paris last January was filled with experiences that I could not have had if I had retreated inside of myself–and they brought me so much joy.

So, to all of my introverted friends out there: just say yes! Netflix/the book you brought/your bed will be there when you reach your limit.

(And for the record, I did actually do the research I went to Paris to do.)

 

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.