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Rebecca McKeown - General Journalism Projects in Romania

Brasov by night

I can barely remember now what my first impressions of Romania were, mostly because after seven months of living there, it’s now a place I feel just as patriotic to as I do to my native New Zealand.

I first arrived in Romania in the springtime, as a part of Projects Abroad’s journalism placement - and the trip through the Carpathian Mountains from Bucharest to Brasov was a perfect introduction to the country. Stunning scenery intermingled with signs of the country’s past - ramshackle roadside houses, quaint villages, horses and carts piled high with hay, and cities packed to the brim with communist apartment buildings - legacies from the reign of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu.

Before I had even arrived in Romania, I knew that I was going to love my host mother Marta. The picture of her sent to me by Projects Abroad showed a dumpy grey haired woman - absolutely beaming at the camera, and she was just as I had expected. Warm, loving, and with a wicked sense of humour - Marta made myself and my room mate feel at home from the very beginning of our stay.

Picnic with volunteers

Despite Marta’s complete lack of English, we managed to have some very entertaining ‘conversations’ around the dinner table - which inevitably involve a great deal of gesturing, and much reaching for the Romanian dictionary. I can’t even begin to describe how rewarding it is to stay with a local family - to eat their food, attempt their language, celebrate their traditions, and become a part of their lives. Romanians are genuine, hospitable, and outgoing people - and truly the friendliest bunch I have ever met!

Romanian cemetary

Friendly can also be said of the staff - both at the Projects Abroad office and at the office of the Brasov Visitor where I spent my time during the week. It was reassuring to know during my first few days in Brasov that I had people to turn to if I needed help or advice.

Catalin at the Brasov Visitor is an experienced journalist and Brasov’s biggest fan! It’s important to take your own initiative when it comes to finding interviews and topics for articles - but if you need a hand, just ask him and there will be an interview set up for you the next day. I was so lucky to meet so many amazing people and see so many amazing places during my time in Romania - such as interviewing the wife of the French Ambassador, spending a day with the patients of a rather forgotten mental hospital, helping to teach gypsies Scottish dancing, and being in the midst of a media storm when the impeached president came to town.

After two months in Brasov as planned, I left to do a care placement with Projects Abroad in Ghana. That was another incredible experience, but after my five weeks there was up - and instead of going back home to New Zealand, I couldn’t resist it - I returned to wonderful Romania. Five more months of fantastic memories.

Walking trip

I strongly encourage anyone thinking of heading out to Romania to use your free time to travel. Eastern Europe is a brilliant place for travellers (I spent time in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey) being cheaper, safer, and less spoilt by the tourist crowd than Western Europe. However don’t forget to explore Romania too. The popular Bran (Dracula’s) castle is a short bus ride from Brasov, as are several beautiful palaces, fortresses and fortified churches. I had the time of my life travelling up to the north of the country in the wintertime - visiting the painted monasteries of Moldavia (you have to see them to believe them) and the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta (an amazing example of Romanian humour and ingenuity) - near the Ukrainian border.

As soon I got back to New Zealand, I started choosing my next destination to volunteer with Projects Abroad! There really is no better way to become integrated in a country than to live and work amongst its people. I met many people of a multitude of nationalities whom I now consider to be among my closest friends, and I was able to enjoy myself more knowing that I had a strong support system around me if I needed it.

I learnt enough Romanian to have some laughs with random taxi drivers (!!!) and as my parting advice, I’ll give you the most basic words now to get you started on your own Romanian adventure!

Buna Ziua = Hello/Good Day
Unu, doi, trei, patru, cinci, sase, sapte, opt, noua, zece = Numbers one to ten
Multumesc = Thank you
Va rog = Please
La Revedere = Goodbye

Use them well! Good Luck!

Rebecca McKeown

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