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Lydia Dening - Drama in Romania

Volunteer’s on a drama placement in Romania

Simply put, I chose Romania because it was the only country where Projects Abroad offered a drama placement. Being a drama student I thought that out of all the projects, this was the one most suited to me – plus it was in Europe so I knew that the flights wouldn’t be too long or expensive. Honestly, I didn’t have any idea what Romania would offer me, I didn’t really know much about it, apart from it being Dracula’s hometown.

In fact, whenever I spoke to friends and family about my trip to Transylvania, no one really understood why I was going to Romania. It’s not known as a travel hot-spot, not like Thailand or Australia, but after visiting the country, living with a Romanian family and working with Romanian people I really don’t understand why it’s not.

Romania and my host family

Romania is a beautiful country, full of stark contrasts everywhere you look. A man steers his horse and cart whilst a BMW flashes past. Coca cola billboards rest on top of crumbling buildings, a woman wearing a headscarf sells her honey next to a McDonalds. It is such an interesting country to be in, one where Eastern and Western Europe collide and fight for space, where there seems to be a constant struggle between the old ways and the modern world.

There is a welcome of global brands and technology but also so much pride to hold onto the Romanian identity. Rodica, my host mother, for instance didn’t speak any English. In a country where children learn the language as young as kindergarten, Rodica is happy to hold onto her own language. Even though there was an obvious language barrier between us, we could still communicate in other ways and I understood most of what she meant. It is a romantic language, to me it sounds like French but with an Italian twang. I loved hearing it all around me when I walked the streets of Brasov, the gorgeous mountain city I called home for a month.

Voluntary drama project in Romania

I loved that the house I would be staying in was called home by Alex from Projects Abroad. When he greeted me at the airport he asked me if I wanted to go straight home and I thought to myself “I’ve only just got here, of course not!” but I quickly realised that he meant Rodica’s house! It was this welcoming attitude that I felt throughout my whole stay.

Every night Rodica would bring me and the other volunteers a feast. It was traditional Romanian food and it was delicious! Over Easter we found a bowl of painted boiled eggs on our table and flowers with Easter bunnies hanging off. Rodica had a caring presence in the house but we didn’t see her all the time or eat with her and the rest of the family. It was a great set up as we knew that we were being looked after but we had our own space as well. The house was a 5 minute walk from the centre of Brasov and 10 minutes from the bus station, making it perfect for going to the Projects Abroad office when I needed to.

My Drama Placement

The route to my placement included a walk down Strada sforii or ‘rope street’ which is one of the narrowest streets in Europe where you can’t help but touch the sides as you walk along - the smooth stone walls offering shade in the blazing spring heat.

Volunteer drama production in Romania

For the first 2 weeks of my placement, I was at the office making props and masks for a performance we were taking into two foster homes. I became good friends with Ali the drama supervisor, as we spent a lot of time together devising a story and buying all the materials. Without her, I’m sure my trip wouldn’t have been as good as it was and I appreciate all her hard work in organising my placement.

I can safely say that the performance in the foster homes was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The children in the homes are named ‘social orphans’ due to the fact that they have parents who cannot afford them but who don’t agree in giving them up for adoption, wanting to take them back when they are old enough to work for them. The kids are certainly well looked after in the foster homes, not just by the care volunteers but also by the women who work there full time. It is a warm environment but the children don’t get the opportunity to go to the theatre and see a pantomime, something I took for granted when I was younger, so instead we brought the pantomime to them.

I worked with the volunteers I lived with; Katie, Soley and Afra as well as Jon, another volunteer who lived close by. Soley helped me make the Castle of Fortune, a pink and glittery castle that the Princess lives in, complete with 3 turrets! After everything was made and the script prepared, we spoke about the different parts for people to play and began rehearsing in our living room. Everyone was great and so enthusiastic; I hope they all enjoyed it as much I did. I really couldn’t have asked for a better reaction from the children; they loved it and it made them very happy.

A traditional Romanian meal

The last 2 weeks of my placement I was teaching drama in a high school 5 minutes away from my Romanian home and also organising rehearsals for the drama group Black Juice. It was a valuable and amazing experience to be able to teach over 30 teenagers a subject they had never been taught before, in their second language. I was so surprised at how talented most of the students were and how quickly their confidence grew with every lesson.

Although it was a short drama journey I went on with them, I hope they enjoyed it and learned something new. Their English teacher, Claudia, was incredibly brave to let someone so inexperienced to take over her class and her support was great, I hope she carries on encouraging drama at the school – I would love to go back and see them again and see how much they would have improved.

A volunteer’s journey to work

Being with the students from the drama group Black Juice was also really great fun. I only had a few sessions with them but I quickly saw how talented they all were and I hope to see their names in flashing lights one day. We practiced monologues and duologues which were all challenging in different ways; some had ridiculous plots or characters with American accents, difficult for someone who isn’t even a native English speaker. I introduced them to method acting (very briefly!) and I was so impressed at how quickly they understood.

Leaving Romania

It was emotional saying goodbye to the drama group and the class I taught, even though I was only with them for 2 weeks it felt like I got to know them very well. It was difficult saying good bye to everyone I had met in Romania. I made some amazing friends, met some great people, and I feel very fortunate to have stayed with such a lovely host family and to have had the support of the Projects Abroad team. I will definitely be visiting Brasov again and be exploring more of the hidden gem of Eastern Europe. My month in Romania was full of good fortune, unforgettable memories and beautiful people.

Lydia Dening

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