The University of Oradea: A Preview

The University of Oradea: A Preview

I didn’t make it back to Arad for classes today as I had originally planned after this weekend retreat in Cluj Napoca, but it turned out well all the same. More than well, I would say actually. This week is a rather slow (almost nonexistent) work week here – everyone has Wednesday and Thursday (and unofficially, Friday) free for the the holiday of the patron Saint Andrew (November 30th) and the National Day celebrations of the Great Unification (December 1st) here in Romania.

I spent the day at the University of Oradea today, where I’ll be working next semester. As I toured around the snow speckled campus, visited the library, and met with the Department Chair at the Faculty of Letters to discuss upcoming plans for the next semester, an overwhelming sense of excitement filled me. I’ve grown incredibly fond of my host university in Arad – the professors and students I work with are truly remarkable. I find myself wishing I could somehow split myself and work at both universities. Actually, truth be told, much of my experience has left my constantly wishing I could be in multiple places at once. However, as one wiser fellow once put it: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Or, in the words of another: Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” —Eckhart Tolle

As much as I wish I could be here and there all at once, the realization that I can only be in one place at once demands a sense of purposeful presence in the current moment. Just think: of anywhere else in the world that you could be right now, you are here. You are now. Isn’t that the most beautiful place to be? This moment of life, with everything that it contains, is a gift most precious. The past week taught me a renewed sense gratitude, a gratitude which fills life with joy and appreciation for each moment given. Here’s a video I shared with my classes on this:

Rest assured, these are the first pictures of many more to come – I finally have a new phone! I’ll be uploading some picture from this past weekend’s adventures once I’m back in Arad tomorrow for the National Day celebrations and festivities of December 1st.

Thanksgiving of the Heart

I didn’t expect my English Conversation Club to leave me in tears tonight. 

To sit around and listen to what each person was grateful for moved me to a next level completely. There were moments that were vulnerable, raw, and pure, all shared between students that had never even met each other before. It was  beautiful to hear those simple things that these students were grateful for – especially for family, and for the unconditional love and the sacrifices family has made for them. One student, who attended his grandfather’s funeral last week, told us that he appreciates the time spent more than anything, and urged those of us who still have grandparents in our lives to reach and call them, because it’s possible that your grandparents love you even more deeply than your parents.  

On my way home, I cried and called my mother. Then, I called my grandparents to let them know just how much I appreciate them. I surely do not deserve the love that I have been shown. 

Truth be told, I knew this week would be difficult: to be away from family during a season such as this is never easy. Physical distance becomes emotional distance when you realize the moments you miss out on, and that pang of realization makes you cherish your relationships all the more. Perhaps it even allows you to see those relationships in a new perspective, and makes you all the more grateful. They say “you never know what you have until it’s gone.” My relationships are certainly not gone, I could certainly say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have found a sense of family here in Arad in less than two months that I’ve been here. I surely don’t deserve it, but you can be sure that I’m immensely grateful for it. 

This week, while there might not be any physical Thanksgiving celebration, I carry thanksgiving in my heart – a thanksgiving to be lived out every day. Wherever you might be reading this, I encourage you to reach out today to those people in your life that you are most grateful for and let them know exactly how you feel. Reach out in love now, because you never know when your next opportunity might be. Life is short and tomorrow is not promised. 

Getting to Know Local Politcs in Arad

One of my main objectives this year has been to get to know the heart and soul of Romanian politics and societal issues. Thanks to my professor here in Arad, I’ve been able to attend the city council meeting on November 21, 2016. This opportunity was also extended to law students at Vasile Goldis Western University of Arad, where we were able to get a firsthand view into the operation and the issues debated by the city council here.


Here’s the office building where I’m at most of the time here in Arad: the Rectorate building of Vasile Goldiș (the one with the flags in front). On this morning’s walk I realized that it’s already week 5, yet this finally feels like the first “normal” week in Arad so far. #fulbrightromania (at Universitatea de Vest “Vasile Goldis”)


Day 1 of the Fulbright experience begins! After last week’s whirlwind of moving and orientation at the Fulbright commission (Oradea 🚂 Cluj Napoca ✈️ Bucuresti ✈️ Timisoara 🚂 Arad) I’m so excited to settle into my new home city! Follow the adventures at (link in profile – name might be subject to change 🙂 (at Centru Arad)

Linking up my social media sites to streamline my posts. Here’s a flashback to the first day of my Fulbright experience in Arad: October 10, 2016.

Life, as “usual” here.

This week felt like my first “normal” week here. Although routine is usually something I despise, it was nice to sort of grow into and immerse myself in my experience here without being physically or mentally absent from the city for a week.

Monday began with article writing for the academic journal here at Vasile Goldis University. After an entire day at the office, my landlady came round to collect rent bearing a box of homemade sweets: prajitura cu mere (literally, “apple cake”) and cupcakes. I don’t know how I managed to have the nicest landlady imaginable, but I’m immensely grateful. 

Tuesday, we had a potluck party with our class of first year students of Modern Applied Languages. Out went the lesson plan, in went the food, and on went the discussion, a great deal of which actually consisted of my recap of the U.S. Presidential elections I witnessed from Bucharest. One student in particular had followed the election very intensely and was extremely knowledgeable on the election results and post-analysis – he was more informed than many Americans themselves, I daresay. I was blown away and heartened by his insight and understanding. 

Wednesday, I began helping a student writing a personal statement for university studies in the U.K. Here in Romania, students never really have to write a personal essay describing what they would like to become in the future. Most of their university applications are based on their baccalaureate and entry exam results. So naturally, my favorite question for icebreakers: what do you want to do after you finish your studies? What do you want to do in this life?

In the evening, I hosted my first English conversation club meeting of the semester with students from the college of Modern Applied Languages. That evening was filled with English conversation, and the students were bubbly and lighthearted, which made the evening all the more encouraging. Student by student shared how they were extremely shy and nervous about speaking in public (especially in English), but were excited for the opportunity to practice in a “safe” setting. Needless to say, I’m excited to be able to offer that opportunity.

Thursday, after courses from 10am-2pm, I effectively finished writing the personal statement with the student. A process that has taken me weeks and even months to complete, I now finished in under four hours. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but looking over the personal statement in retrospect, it flew. Afterwards, I caught up with a friend in the evening. It was ever so lovely to slow down and refocus after the activities of the week and breathe anew. I can’t believe the breadth and depth of friendships I’ve been able to make here. 

Friday, I covered a class for my professor which ended up being one of the greatest experiences of the week. In the pursuit of meaningful and engaging conversations, rather than a forced lesson plan designed to cover the span of an hour, I decided to cover “Storytelling” (a really cool skill-building lesson on LinkedIn that you can check here). As much as I’d like to say that I’m helping these students learn, the truth is that I feel like I’m learning so much more from these students than anything I impart.

Friday evening, I was invited to dinner at a dear friend’s house here with an American couple that lives here in Arad. They moved here 4 years ago to start a non-profit organization housing girls that have outgrown the orphanages here. Most girls in Romania are kicked out of orphanages when they are 14 years of age. Many end up on the streets and are taken into sex trafficking. This wonderful couple moved to Arad from the U.S. to start this non-profit, helping these girls find jobs, and giving them the love of a family that they never had. The hours literally flew by as we listened to their incredible story of sacrifice, redemption, living by faith in face of uncertainty, and unconditional love for these precious girls. 

Saturday, I hoped I would go to Cluj Napoca, but it didn’t happen. I ended up staying here and realizing that maybe it’s okay to be still more often. As much as I love living life constantly on the go, I don’t necessarily need to always be running. But running is exactly what I did. The beautifully sunny and surprisingly warm weather brought about the perfect conditions for a run in the park along the riverside. I also made a spontaneous visit to the local museum of Arad, which is mostly closed for ongoing renovation but still has a rather impressive natural history section (complete with a reconstruction of a cave inside) and an exhibit on the local history of Arad and the events of the December 1989 revolution. Afterward, I found new favorite haunt here in Arad: Diplomat Cafe: a dimly lit, narrow cafe with vintage pictures of renown cities along the walls amidst a seemingly incompatible background of Euro-pop music. The coffee shop culture is quite different than that in the US, as most coffee shops also double as pubs/bars.

To be honest, I never imagined I would like it here as much as I do. This experience so far been one of learning to let go of my own preconceived notions and to simply let life happen. 

Back in Arad – 10.31.16

After last week’s maelstrom in Bucuresti and a much-needed weekend retreat in the hillsides of Cluj Napoca, I’m back in Arad.

I missed out on Accommodation Week for international students, basically a week-long orientation and welcome week introducing students to various aspects of the city, from guided tours around the city to the city hall (primarie), 

Sunday night I took the train to Oradea and spent Monday there until the evening, when I took another train to Arad. All I had in my mind to do was study for the GRE, but as I’m constantly learning that this experience is all about people, I ended up meeting with two other American/Romanian friends studying in Oradea. We exchanged stories and perspectives on adjusting to life here in Romania. 

Suprisingly, there’s a lot to be said about the culture shock of living here. As a child of Romanian parents who has visited the country over fifteen times before, I didn’t think I would experience culture shock to the extent that I have. However, I find that it has been a veritable part of my experience, being confronted with and suddenly immersed in a very different educational system and bureaucracy, I found myself feeling challenged and overwhelmed by the lack of agency that one feels here. 

The educational system here in Romania follows a very structured and rigid course. University students are grouped by their majors and years, and then by groups within each year depending on the size of the class. By and large, students within the same year and group have the same course schedule. Every day, one attends courses with the same students. While there is room for some electives in the schedule, this does not leave much room for flexibility for students who struggle to balance their work schedules. Students don’t have the same privilege (or burden, you decide) of choosing and register for each semester’s courses.

I was also appalled at the lack of student organizations here. At Chapman and Oxford, I had the opportunity to join student organizations that ranged in topic from international justic, effective altruism, intermural and competitive sports, language and cultural clubs, religious groups, student government, and honors societies – every night there were numerous events to attend and endless opportunities for student and civic engagement.

All of that is virtually nonexistent here. Most students simply attend their courses (if that) for the day and then go home. Most of their social interactions happen afterward at local bars, pubs, and cafes. Organized student groups are not highly encouraged here. I’ve been told it has to do with the fact that student organizations are still regarded with suspicion, considering that most revolutionary movements often began with student groups. It struck me to hear this, as I realized just how deeply the past fear of instability remains ingrained in a latent form of current repression.

That being said, I’m looking forward to starting an English conversation club at a local cafe  here to allow students to practice their English in a relaxed environment. I can’t wait to deepen my involvement here. 

On Following the U.S. Elections from Bucuresti

After 40 wakeful hours with only two and a half hours of sleep from a night
watching the elections at the US Embassy celebration at the Hard Rock Cafe in
Bucuresti, I feel both physically and mentally exhausted. From 9:00pm Tuesday night to 8:00am the next morning, we celebrated democracy in
true American style with a program of opening remarks by U.S.
Ambassador Hans Klemm, live performances by the United States Air Force band
and talented Romanian performers, transmissions with professors, a diverting
mock election, a presidential trivial quiz, and a lot of fun all around.

Throughout the night, we followed and colored in the results of
each state as they came in. Along with this was a constant game of prediction
and analysis with each incoming result. If Trump takes “X,” Hillary will
need “Y” and “Z,” and vice versa. Between our updates, live
performances took the stage, local Romanian media covered updates
of the results, and we explained the voting process and incoming results to
curious and confounded Romanians. This confusion only grew as many in the room expected Hillary to win. Confusion gave way to disenchantment, with most of the party leaving the election party early.

By 6:30 am, there were about six of us left watching from the bar, staring
blankly in stupefied, nearly delusional and delirious wonder at the screens as
the results still trickled in. This was certainly not the denoument the night
had in mind. No cheers were made, no final remark or announcement was given by
the Deputy Chief of Mission as planned: all that was left among the laboring
restaurant crew that was cleaning up the mess left behind were four people who
stayed to see the election results to the near end. The ballon drop of red,
white and blue never came. The ballons were unceremoniusly ripped down by some
of the remaining spectators, and stomped upon for entertaining shock value,
much like our ideals in this past campaign season. At 8:30am, we left the Hard Rock Cafe. As soon as we stood up from the bar, the television channels changed from the live CNN coverage that we had been following to the Romanian morning news.

Afterward, I went across the street to the production studio of
Romania TV, which had also been covering the presidential election throughout
the night. Newscasters and analysts had been covering the election from 1:00am to 10:30am, extrapolating the implications of a Trump presidency for Romania, from its security as a NATO ally, bilateral relations, and its own elections coming up in just one month on December 11th. There, I also got to inform the newscasters and analysts on our election process and explain the results during the commercial breaks.

To say that I am mentally and physically exhausted would be an
understatement, but one thing is certain: I will never tire of supporting the
values that makes America the great nation that it is. Our nation was founded
on the basic principles of equality, tolerance, and the inalienable right of
each person to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our
identity is not tied to people, let alone one person, but rather to the ideals and values that we
profess and live out. Yes, we certainly owe the new president-elect our open minds and a fair chance to lead. This does not mean we must succumb to the inflammatory, discriminatory, and deeply divisive rhetoric that has proliferated throughout his campaign. The American public must stand for its integrity and its ideals on its own.  

I’ve sent countless messages to friends from around the world who have asked my
thoughts on the elections from here. America, you can be sure that the world
watches us. Despite the ugliness of this divisive campaign season, I still believe in us. Now is not the time to cower in silence and dismay, nor is it the time to act disgracefully or burn the American flag. Now more than
ever, we need to uphold lithe values that we believe through our own individual actions. May this experience motivate us toward long term civic action beyond the protests of this week. We need to affirm the dignity of human life, to work together with our fellow citizens on common ground, and to remind ourselves that above all else – beyond political parties, religion, gender, race, orientation, or ideology – we are all American. We must aspire and strive to become the leaders we want and that the world so greatly needs. There are pressing domestic and international issues that need to be addressed and approached with grace. So let us work to overcome our challenges together, cultivate kindness, espouse compassion, to embrace our fellow Americans, love others, so that we may affirm the value of every human life and live out our lives with integrity and an unshakable hope in our future.

To all those who yearn for a
brighter future: better days are yet to come if we let light and
love guide us. Keep pressing on.