As my semester in Arad draws to a close, I find myself constantly asking myself: have I made the most of my time here? The answer, despite all my second-guesses and mental meandering is simply, yes.
My semester in Arad was often interrupted by trips to Bucuresti to sort out my Romanian citizenship issues, because as it turns out, I had to obtain my Romanian citizenship in order to remain here legally (there will be a proper post dedicated to this whole process here). Nevertheless, while I wish I could have had more of a consistent time in Arad, I don’t regret a bit of the experience, as my trips to Bucuresti resulted in an internship with Romania TV, which, disheartening as it often was to watch the mess of politics and rampant corruption firsthand, I gained deep insight into Romania’s media and news reporting. All the more, I was relatively grateful to return to the quieter life that awaited me in Arad.
After all the unceasing bouts of activity and going to and fro, this week marked the beginning of it end, as it were.
On Tuesday, I had an interview with Vasile Goldis University television that covered my experience here. I was rather caught off-guard as the interview was done completely in Romanian. This was both daunting and challenging, for as much as my proficiency in Romanian has progressed, I found it quite difficult to articulate as expressively as I would have liked. (The link to the interview will be shared once it’s complete).
By Wednesday morning, the panic had started to settle as the mid-week marker arrived, and anxious thoughts milled about my mind. Moments such as those call for a large cup of coffee and a long chat with a dear friend, which I was extremely grateful to have. It’s remarkable how some people can fill up your life in such short spaces of time, and I’m amazed at the depth of friendships that I’ve made in this relatively short period here. If anything, this whole experience in Romania has been teaching me that it’s all about people. I never really thought I would experience culture shock to the extent that I have: Romania’s culture is highly people-oriented, and oddly enough, I realize that I’m yet in the process of making a noticeable transition from American individualism.
Wednesday evening’s English Conversation Club was certainly the most lively session I’ve had to date with my students, as we discussed questions on “What Would You Do If…” and covered topics on leadership and corruption. The conversation could have continued for many more hours, and I was humored by the frank and candid manner in which students approached these issues.
Thursday morning, I assisted at examination sessions. After a semester-long average of 15-20 students in attendance at our course, 52 students showed up for the exam. I was rather stunned, to say the least. I still haven’t quite grasped how flexible the attendance policy is here in Romania, but when students have schedules are made for them with 8-11 different classes per week (compared to our U.S. average of 3-6), it’s nearly understandable. All the same, it was quite disconcerting to be administering an exam to students who had never once attended the course before. This disconcerted feeling didn’t last too long, as our second session of students included a group of second-year Economics students that had consistently attended the class throughout the semester, and with whom we had shared some truly encouraging moments.
Soon after the exams, I was off to Cluj Napoca to attend my uncle’s wedding on Saturday, thanks to a dear friend that happened to be in town and offered to give me a ride all the way across the country. I find that instances such as these truly reaffirm that you’ve made real friends. Our 5-hour ride flew by (on one of Romania’s few proper highways) as we chatted about Romania’s culture, educational system, and issues that the youth face here – a lot of it stemmed from my conversation with my students the previous evening. For those that don’t know, 1 out of 7 Romanians have left the country. Romania’s diaspora around the world totals around 6-8 million (around 600,000 in the US alone). For a country of 19 million people, that’s quite a significant proportion. Many here are frustrated by stagnant internal reforms and endemic corruption. And they have every right to be. However, many Romanians have succumbed to the gneral expression “Asta e – This is what it is.” Understandably, they’re overwhelmed by the numerous issues that they face to the point where they feel apathetic.
But as Dr. Seuss once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The feeling of being overhelmed mustn’t give way to futility and apathy, but unfortunately in many people, it has. Hope lies with those who despite the challenges, rise to address what they can, given the circumstances. Hope particularly lies with the youth who believe in their voices, causes, and are equipped to address the myriad of issues that their generation faces. That has been one of the many takeaways I’ve gained from this semester.
As the first Fulbrighter to Arad, there was no precedent for my experience here. In these past three months, I have been reminded that it is not the quantity of things that I have checked off that counts, but rather the quality of the investment in the people and relationships that I have encountered that matters most.
Some of these smaller but significant victories include helping high school students successfully apply for university studies in the UK, creating a safe space for students to practice English on a weekly basis – a space where we learn together, and developing friendships and relations that will endure far beyond this semester. Beyond getting to know the city through cultural events, museum visits and researches into its history, attending city hall meetings and meandering down unexplored corners – to know that I have created lasting relationships and impressions is truly the most valuable thing I will take away from this experience.