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.