The Winding Road to Romanian Citizenship – October 15-20 in Bucuresti

The only place where I can apply for a Romanian birth certificate is at the City Hall of Sector 1 in Bucuresti. Thus, I’ve made the 598km journey by overnight train from Arad to Bucuresti to start upon this winding process to citizenship as soon as possible, seeing as my visa is due to expire in two weeks.

Bucuresti (Bucharest), the capital of Romania, is known as Paris of the East, or little Paris,“micul Paris” in Romanian. It has a population of roughly 1.9 million, all of whom seem to be out on its twisting streets between 8-10am and 4-6pm in the evening, causing a rush hour comparable to that of Los Angeles in terms of its density. Its nickname “little Paris” was earned between the Two World Wars, when neo-classical architecture and carefully-designed green spaces distinguished the city with a sophisticated air reminiscent of Paris. Today, the city visually evokes its more Communist past at every corner, as Stalinist buildings dominate the city’s landscape.

My week in Bucuresti was busy, intense, and extremely insightful.

As soon as I arrived in Bucuresti on Saturday, my aunt took me to the Romania TV ‘s filming of on-the-ground coverage at a pan-Romanian rally in Piata Victoriei, where protestors were calling for unification of Romania and Moldova in 2018 – a century after the unification of Romania’s great unification in 1918, in which the principalities of Moldova, Wallachia, and Transilvania were united to form the area commonly known as modern-day Romania.

The total number of protestors was shy of 300, yet the gendarmerie met the protestors with a robust if not intimidating presence, informing protestors that they must either assemble near the fountain of Piata Victoriei or leave. As they gathered with tents to stay overnight and exercise their right to assemble, their chant of “Basarabia e Romania,” the familiar slogan that graces many graffiti-covered street walls, was accompanied by others that decried the government’s refusal to validate their grievances and give audience to their interests.  Along with Romania TV’s team, we waded through protestors that were vociferously urging Romanians to call their friends to join them in protest through Facebook, “the tool of the modern-day revolution.” Romanians, just like the nationals of many countries around the world, have taken note of Facebook’s momentous potential to mobilize popular protest as it did in the Arab Spring.

The process of submitting all to documents necessary to realize my Romanian citizenship is quite tortuous – that is to say, rather convoluted. On Monday morning, we went to pick up the documents from the notary office, where they were translated into Romanian and legalized. From there, we managed to make an appointment at City Hall for the next day to submit my birth certificate, parents’ marriage license, and mother’s Romanian passport to attain a Romanian passport. (Once upon a time, 20 years ago, my mother had entered the country with me on her Romanian passport as she hadn’t become a U.S. citizen yet.  Seeing as I was only a few months old at the time, the Romanian consulate in Los Angeles let her bring me from the U.S. to Romania on her passport rather than making my own U.S. passport. Thus, once upon a time, unbeknownst to me, I had entered the country as a Romanian citizen. This needed to be verified at the National Directory of Passports, which would be a month-long process in itself.) There’s no centralized office where one can take care of all the steps necessary, you can’t even pay the tax for these services at the offices (you have to go to the post office or bank), so from office to office we bounced around the city for a day. Endless thanks to my aunt for helping me in this process. I would have never been able to make my way through the city and figure out this byzantine bureaucratic system myself. Okay, maybe I could have, but it would have taken me at least 3 weeks and a lot of tears.

Once all the documents submitted by Tuesday afternoon, we were completely exhausted. The fact that we had done it all so quickly in itself was a miracle. From there, I felt a creeping sickness setting in – undoubtedly from all the stress and confusion. I was prescribed bed rest for the next two days, with the only allowances being to go out for food and accompany my aunt to studio of Romania TV. As I’ve had this opportunity to sit backstage at Romania TV almost every evening and gain a firsthand view into Romania’s journalism and media, I’ve been submerged in Romania’s tangled political environment. While I’ve learned how the production room works and sat behind the cameras to watch political debates with former presidents and members of parliament, almost every day, I’ve walked out overwhelmed by the scandals and corruption that plagues Romanian politics.

In the midst of this, I constantly remind myself: this is why you came here. To see what it was really like. It’s one thing to watch the news from the other side of the screen – it’s completely another to sit behind the camera and watch how it all gets made. Thanks to this citizenship process that has required me to go to Bucuresti, I’ve been able to scrape into the depth of issues that everyday citizens face – and now share in them myself. What began as a mere curiosity has become a vested interest in just one week.

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Suddenly a Citizen

It’s been a week of ups and downs here in Arad, but nevertheless incredible all around. This past week has taught me to embrace the whimsical unknown – and my general anxiety that comes with it – to a degree unprecedented. 

I’ve been meaning to write more about my experiences as they’ve been numerous and remarkable. This past week has been filled with university events and acitivites at UVVG (Universitatea de Vest “Vasile Goldiş” din Arad), which I hope to recap in a later post. However, I’ve been quite caught up in a turn of events. 

Last Friday, I presented myself at the local immigration office with all my paperwork in order to obtain a residency permit in Romania only to find out that I am not eligible to obtain a residency permit because my parents are Romanian and this gives me the right to citizenship. This right to citizenship makes me ineligible for a residency permit. In order to legally remain in Romania, I have to either obtain recognition of my Romanian citizenship or leave the country for 90 days before I return. Obviously the latter option is unfeasible, as I would not be able to fulfill my Fulbright grant duties. Effectively, the choice becomes: apply for Romanian citizenship, renounce Fulbright, or stay here illegally until June without leaving the country and pay a fine upon my departure which is assessed by the days that the visa is overstayed. About that – in about 12 days from now, I’ll be an illegal alien here. 

I was born and raised in the U.S. and fully identify as American: I entered the country with no intention of obtaining Romanian citizenship. To say the least, I was caught completely off-guard by the idea of having to suddenly acquire a dual citizenship. To identify as the subject of another country’s laws and owe allegiance to its government is not something I take lightly. Moreover, my Romanian heritage was always something I deeply valued in a rather restrospective manner; while I recognize it has undoubtedly shaped my present interests, I never imagined my present and future identity would be become so wholly intertwined in it. Even more, to find out that I am by Romania’s standards “already a citizen,” left me on the edge of an identity crisis – imagine living your whole life unaware that you’ve been a citizen of another country all along. [Here is where I apologize to all my fellow Romanians for all those accumulated hours spent at border control for my American passport – had I known sooner that I was a Romanian citizen, we would have never had those problems. And the border patrol in Greece wouldn’t have harangued us for not getting my passport stamped in Bulgaria].

That all being said: I’m applying for recognition of my Romanian citizenship. This  was certainly not expected and it still comes with some demurral, but I’m willing and determined to go through with it. I’ve discussed the matter with my Fulbright director, who encouraged me to apply for my citizenship as other Fulbrighters have acquired Romanian citizenship during their grant period; I even called the U.S. embassy, which confirmed that I must obtain citizenship in order to stay here legally (which left me rather distraught at the time). My parents have starting sending over the documents

to obtain citizenship (my birth certifcate and my mother’s birth ceritficate, marriage license, and old Romanian passport), which arrived yesterday; my professors here are completely understanding and accomodoating to help me make the trips to the capital here to sort out my application, even taking me to airport an hour away; and my aunt in Bucuresti has already taken my documents to be translated and legalized.

How lucky am I to be so greatly assisted and taken care of throughout this all. I certainly don’t deserve it.

That all being said, I leave for the capital tomorrow. I’m not sure how long this process will take or when I’ll be returning to Arad: the adventure continues.

In the meantime, as complicated and frustrating as this process may be, I’m beyond grateful for the overall experience and for the people around me.

10.11.16

Just signed my apartment lease today! I’m one step closer to calling Arad “home” (so many papers remain to be filled out before I obtain my residency card, but I’m hoping to sort them out as soon as possible to avoid having visa issues – fingers crossed!). 

All in a day, I visited apartments, signed my lease, paid my first two months, and tomorrow I move in! I can’t believe it all came together in just one day. I’m usually so indecisive that I have minor panic attacks when trying to decide what to order in a restaurant… Here, I decided on the second apartment I visited that it was the one. Call it a matter of strong first impressions (read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink if you haven’t already). The apartment is in the city center, positioned one street behind the main boulevard (Bulevardul Revolutiei), and it’s just midway between the university office I’ll be working at and the train station. My landlords are incredibly sweet: I’ve already been invited over for tea, cakes, and food all the time throughout the winter, which is a sure sign that we’ll get along just splendidly. 

Between all of that, I dropped in on a university senate meeting with all of its departmental and administrative heads, met the University Rector [rector meaning “ruler” in Latin, is the term used in non-English-speaking countries for a university chancellor, or even more simply the highest academic official of the univerity], and a student leader (şef de an) with whom I’ll brainstorm ideas for student activites this semester. Things are moving so quickly, but I’m so glad to hit the ground running and have an action-filled semester here. 

Now, I’m seeking refuge (read: Wifi) in a cafe as I write this and jot down my course ideas for the semester, as I have my first day of classes tomorrow. It seems a little late to be planning the semester given that this is the second week already, but I’ve been assured that everything is done “in the moment” here (which I’ve apparently become very good at given today’s rapid course of events). Tomorrow is a rather informal affair: I’ll get to meet the students and assess their language competency with the professor I’m assisting; then, we’ll develop a course structure for the semester. 

It’s not all sunshine and daisies though (in fact, it’s rather gray and gloomy here, but that’s not what I’m getting at). I was held up by the university’s doorman/security guard for nearly 30 minutes today as he launched into a tirade condemning the great evil that is the US and its actions in the world. In sum, his perspective is that America is a nation of liars, who say one thing and do another, and stole the entire landmass that they now inhabit. To say the least, it was my truest moment of person-to-person diplomacy so far, as I tried to tactfully engage with this stubborn old man – and hopefully I’ll be able to change his rigidly negative perceptions of the US over time (at the very least by proving that not all Americans are terrible).

Overall, I’m in awe of my experiences so far. I’ve already met so many incredibly individuals along the way and I’m so excited for what’s yet to come. More and more, I’m also realizing how lucky I am to have a solid fluency in Romanian as it’s helped me navigate everything so smoothly. My three months here until now have helped me to progress so much in my language skills; I’m conversing much more rapidly and easily in Romanian now than when I first arrived here in July. Hopefully I’ll be able to lose my American accent completely this year! 

Thank you all for your support and well-wishes – it means the world to me!  

Until tomorrow, noapte buna (goodnight).

Day 1 of Fulbright in Arad

And so here I am in Arad, Romania. After three months of adventuring around Romania (and a few other countries – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Greece) this summer, the Fulbright experience is underway! Here’s a succint rundown of my life in the past week:

Last week was absolute chaos, but filled with so many incredible experiences and people. The two days of Fulbright orientation consisted of a one-day session at the Fulbright Commission, where we were briefed on the security, political, economic, and academic environment here; on the second day, we went to Peles Castle, which is about two hours north of Bucharest in the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia. Built by King Carol I of Romania in Neo-Renaissance style between 1873 and 1914, it is one of Romania’s most famous attractions (and rightly so). Everything from its dramatic surrounding landscape to its imposing neo-Renaissance style and richly ornamented wood interior evokes a stunning impression of cozy grandeur. (See the attached picture – one of which is from the Internet to prove that my own pictures don’t do it justice).

On Friday and Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to sit backstage at Romania TV and watch the live television screenings. Romania’s news media is heavily dominated by sensationalist yellow journalism, which makes watching rather frustrating. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for all the insight gained through this experience.

I arrived here in Arad by train on Sunday afternoon with just enough time to settle into my temporary accomodations at Hotel Academica (which is the university’s temporary accomodations for professors here) and wander the city a bit before sundown. Luckily, the city is easily walkable and the weather made it possible for me take almost the entire city by foot. Compared to other Romanian cities I’ve seen so far, Arad’s city center is relatively free of the Soviet-era blocs that dominate the visual landscape of other Romanian cities – most of the blocs are in the surrounding neighborhoods, while the center houses a mix of buildings in neogothic, neoclassical, and renaissance architecture.

Today, I met with my department advisors to plan out this coming semester. So far I have two classes of Economics students and one class of students in International Relations and History. The extra curricular opportunities for involvement are numerous and I can’t wait to see how the semester unfolds.

Tomorrow, the apartment hunting continues with an AM meeting with the real estate agent to visit several apartments. Here’s to adulting and figuring out the apartment renting process here.