Oh Romania, well where do I begin? It all started when my grandmother’s family came to Illinois from Satu Mare in the early 1900’s. Coming from a large, multicultural family, I’ve always been interested in my various origins. However, I’ve been especially drawn towards the beautiful language and fascinating history of my Romanian ancestors. Unfortunately, no one in my immediate family speaks Romanian and as I’ve been somewhat disconnected from my culture, I’ve researched and studied everything Romanian for years.
When I found out about the Projects Abroad “Learn Romanian in Romania” programme, I knew it was my chance to return to my roots. Language is, of course, one of the most important and identifiable aspects of a culture, so learning Romanian was essential for me to better understand and further experience what it means to be Romanian.
Arriving in Romania
After almost a year of mentioning the programme every single day (a sure fire tactic to convincing my parents to let me go), I practically walked off the stage at my high school graduation and onto a plane from Dallas to Bucharest, via Amsterdam.
Once I was in Romania, I really felt like myself; as if Romania was where I was always meant to be. Braşov, where Projects Abroad is based, is the capital of Transylvania and was originally built by the Saxons, which can still be seen in much of the architecture today.
My host family
My amazing host family made for an easy transition with their unforgettable hospitality. They were nothing but warm hearts and open arms, and cooked the most succulent homemade Romanian cuisine. I had only the utmost respect for my host family and for many other Romanians who exemplified “Ora et Labora”, yet still deeply appreciated their free time.
I found that Romanians are quite independent and confident yet retain a strong sense of modesty and respect for others. Their devout heritage holds sway over their mannerisms as many Romanians take great pride in their religious identity. Romanian Orthodox Christianity is a huge part of the culture and has produced some of the most beautiful churches and works of art anywhere.
My Romanian language course
One-on-one Romanian classes were held with an experienced teacher and Braşov native. We covered the cases, the genders, verb conjugations, vocabulary, and even Romanian cultural and political history.
My teacher supplied worksheets with fill in the blank, dialogues, multiple choice, and short answer to help me practice. Classes were held five days a week and usually lasted about three hours per session, with a flexible day-to-day schedule. I was often able to use what I had learned in class the exact same day in real life situations, like bargaining with street vendors, which was always fun.
Having a background in French and Spanish definitely made it easier to pick up on Romanian vocabulary and syntax. My accent and conversational skills improved dramatically. I can also read at a much faster pace and was finally able to write fully formed sentences.
Living with a Romanian family worked miracles for the learning process. Before I knew it, I was using expressions I didn’t even study in class, but that I just somehow picked up on by living in a Romanian-speaking household.
Every November, St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church holds a Romanian Food Festival in Colleyville, near Dallas, which draws a larger crowd every year. This November, after having taken Romanian with Projects Abroad, I was finally able to buy my tickets and food, speak to vendors, and catch up with friends, all in Romanian.
When participating in a programme with Projects Abroad, you easily make friends with other volunteers. It’s an international crowd: English, Canadian, German, Belgian, French, Malaysian, Australian and even a fellow Texan. I even had a few opportunities to volunteer with them. We face-painted at the Children’s Day Festival in Prejmer, and also painted the front entrance to a day centre for underprivileged children.
Travelling with other volunteers
We also travelled together on weekends. Braşov was really the perfect place to study Romanian because of its central location, allowing for quick access to every corner of the country. We took a tour of four majestic monasteries in Suceava in the north, including the famous Voroneţi monastery, renowned for its brilliant shade of blue and an exterior depiction of the Last Judgment, earning it the title of “Sistine Chapel of the East”.
The monasteries were hand painted inside and out centuries ago and are still maintained by nuns who adorn the monastery grounds with roses of every colour: red, pink, purple, peach, orange, white and more.
Coming from Dallas, I didn’t expect Romania to be any hotter, but I was wrong. However, it was sometimes rainy in the mountains, so we escaped to Constanţa, the main coastal city in Romania. It was crazy to think where I was on the globe, swimming in the Black Sea, thousands of miles from Texas.
For our last night in Constanţa we went down to the beach again and ate shawarmas on the jetty and watched the sunset. It was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend. We also took day-trips to the ornate Peleş Castle and, of course, the much older Bran “Dracula’s” Castle, both less than an hour outside of Braşov.
There’s still so much more I need to see in Romania and I can’t wait to go back! I miss the food, my host family, my teacher, my friends and the awesome Projects Abroad staff! It was a well-rounded trip full of learning, community service and culture.
All in all, it was the best month of my life. I plan to continue taking Romanian classes as well as becoming part of the Romanian community. I plan on taking frequent trips to Romania and eventually living there for some time.
Mulţumesc foarte mult, Projects Abroad! România a fost perfect!