Sunday, September 19, 2010

Surprise! Time to Teach!

So school has officially started. Teachers have been back for a few weeks and I am one week down in teaching. I cannot explain how happy I am to be finally be doing something. Not only just in terms of the Peace Corps, but I absolutely love to teach, and being in front of a classroom is one place where I am in my comfort zone.

So September 1st was the first day of school for teachers. I arrived at the school at 9 o'clock, welcomed with a cup of coffee and talked with teachers for a couple of hours and went home. Ok, maybe tomorrow we'll do something. Arrive in the morning, get my cup of coffee (which mind you here is strong like espresso), talk with some teachers, and the last half hour of the day we're told what classes each teacher will be teaching, and go home. Ok, somewhat more productive. That would be about as productive as the next week would get. So come Friday, the final Friday before students come along, and I finally find out what each grade is supposed to learn this year. Better than never.

So comes Monday. School is officially starting and I feel like its my first day of student teaching. Basically asking myself, "What the hell did you get yourself into?" But, once again, like the previous 8 days or so of being at school, it lasted for about 2 hours and was extremely informal. Except for one point. So what seemed like half the town in the school yard, the directors begin by welcoming everyone, the local priests bless the school and pray for a good year, and then its time for introductions. Not just any introduction, MY introduction. Now I know what Hester Prynne felt like (Google that if you have to). So I get brought up in front of everyone, and like I said, seemed like half the town, and introduced as the "new American" to the school. Awkward? A little bit.

So Tuesday comes along and I was hoping to just kind of sit back and see how things work every day for each class. NOPE! Class split right away and guess who was teaching. Luckily I have my usual first day planned out, so I did that and it worked out quite well. But, I wasn't expecting in 7th grade to be showing off to the students that I know Romanian. Once I got over the initial shock of teaching unexpectedly, I was good for the rest of the week. Now I'm pretty well set. I'm teaching from this point on, and I have a general idea of what to be teaching. Bring it.

"Throughout my life I've had teachers and professors who have made me change the way I view the world. I was tired of having it changed so much I finally figured out what MY view of the world was. Time to go have students get sick of having their views changed and make up their own minds"

Living at Site

So for the past month or so I have been getting used to living at my site. From trips to the piața, hanging out at the town pool, I've been keeping myself busy in adjusting to my new home. A lot has happened since I moved here so I need to recap, since its been nearly 6 weeks (oops) since my last post.

My first weekend at site was the "Welcome to Transylvania" party being held by another volunteer. I was excited to get out and visit with other volunteers, enjoy some good food, and just relax for a little. While on my way there, I had a good conversation with an older man who was going to the same place as me on the train. Many past volunteers say to sit next to an old bunică on the train and avoid the drunk guys, but sometimes, the old drunk guys are just more fun. Also at the train station I ended up running into another Peace Corps volunteer who had just ended his service in the Republic of Moldova. We chatted for a little while and ended with a little trading of our respective country's swagger.

The next weekend was one which I don't think I will forget in a long time. I decided to meet up with Scott in Fagaraș for their Medieval festival which was being held at the castle. We caught up (even though it had only been 2 weeks since PST ended) over some beers and went walking around the fest. Once it got dark, we decided to go up to one of the castles bastions where they had beer stands and sat over a castle drinking a cold beer. I don't know if I ever would have expected to be doing that in in my life, but it is definitely something I need to do again. I stayed at Scott's place for the night and the next morning go the grand tour of his village.

Next weekend, was Spuneți (Spoo-nets). Spuneți is a quarterly magazine that Peace Corps Romania puts out and talks about whats going on in PCRO. Articles are submitted by volunteers and we put it together. I applied to be an editor and obviously by what I just said, was accepted to be the new editor from our group. we traveled to another volunteer's site, Courtney, as she was our first guest editor. It was a blast putting it together with Mat, Adam, and Courtney and I can tell working with Mat and Adam for the next year will be great. I spent nearly all day (and night) on Photoshop, eventually leading to a kitten falling asleep on my shoulder as I typed away. There's a picture out there somewhere.

I decided to spend the next weekends at home, just getting settled before school starts. Teachers report the 1st and students start on the 13th. More to come soon.

"Sometimes we find ourselves in moments in time where we have no clue how we got here, but we did, and its a matter of enjoying every second of it because it may never happen again."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finally a Volunteer!

Has much happened since over a month ago? Maybe. Not only had I since found out where I would be going for over two years, but I also visited said place, met with my counterpart who I will be working with for the next two years, finished with my training for the Peace Corps, been sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer by Ambassador Gittenstein at his residence in Bucharest, and now moved into my apartment at site. Sound like a lot of stuff happened? Yeah, a lot did. But did it seem like much as the final month flew by, heck no.

So yes, I finally have a place where I will be for the next two years. I will be living in the southwest of Județul Brașov right at the base of the Fagaraș Mountains. I will be teaching 5-12th grades (minus 10th, don't know why) so I think I'll have a pretty diverse load of teaching which will only make me better I feel. My apartment is pretty nice with pretty much everything I would need for the next two years, except for two things which one is trivial but to me the other is more important. So I'll be hand washing my clothes for the next two years since I don't have a washing machine, but mă rog (whatever). The one thing I do not have which I wish I did, is an oven/stove. Who has two thumbs and will be cooking on a hot plate and using a microwave for the next 2 years? This guy! I'm thinking I might buy an electric grill at one of the local stores so I can at least have that so I can have some variety in my diet.

I also finally got my guitar. I had to wait a while until we were able to leave Târgoviște so I could actually buy a guitar someplace since there was a time restriction where we could leave the training site. After I got it, I had to laugh when one of my friends during a language class said, "Has anyone else noticed that as soon as he got his guitar, his Romanian has gotten better?"

The day before we had our swearing in I took my host family out to Toscany which is a pretty good restaurant in Târgoviște as a way of saying thank you for the past 11 weeks. The next morning we boarded the bus to Bucarești on the way to the ambassador's residence. We had the swear in ceremony, which the oath is the same as the military, kind of weird for the PEACE corps, but hey, why not?

The next day I was off to site. Along with a few other volunteers, we took the bus to Brașov which was an adventure in itself. The night before around Sinaia there had been torrential rains which caused landslides along the road. The river which flows along the ride which normally has a trickle of water on a good day was in full blown rapids mode. We also went past the town which was used in Borat to represent Kazakhstan. It's a small town which is mainly populated by Rroma people which is one of the more poor areas in the country. When I first heard about the town suing him back in the day, I didn't really have an opinion, but now I certainly do. I honestly do believe that he exploited the way in which they live for his own comedic gains. They succeeded in suing him which because of that they have paved roads and a few services available to them now. I did not want to watch that movie before coming here because I knew in terms of how E. Europe was portrayed would only make me angry and now after passing through that town there's no way I can have any respect for what he did there.

Anywho, things have finally gotten real. I've done my first grocery shopping along with a trip to the piața (market) to buy some fresh vegetables. I also met some of my students who live in the same block as me. Now comes the fun part where I have to start doing some paper work for the Peace Corps in terms of safety and security. I need to finish un packing a little bit as well as needing to do some laundry. Tomorrow I should finally get internet, at least I'll be telling the company I want it, so hopefully I'll be back online soon.

*From the time I wrote this to when I finally got an internet connection was 2 weeks. So I guess in terms of cross-culture, Romanian cable and internet companies work faster than the US.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Back to routines but also back to teaching (June 16-25)

So we returned from our trip exhausted from all of the travelling and eating ridiculous amounts of food. The routine began again of going to language class, followed by more and more sessions in the afternoon after they have already managed to systematically destroy our brain abilities through teaching us Romanian. However, next week begins our practicum where we will test out our abilities to teach English to students.

We have picked our groups for teaching and begun planning, now comes the real deal where we actually try to teach English. Day 1 was obviously our first day of experimenting, not only with our level of teaching, but with where the students are in terms of English. We are teaching 7th grade which should be fun because the students have begun to have a speaking proficiency yet they can use some fine tuning as we educate them through English.

Day 2 was a lesson completely on music. We were using K'naan's "Waving Flag" as the central piece to teach around. Begin the World Cup's them song this year, we felt it would be accessible to the students since you hear it so much on TV. First Chelsea taught them the song by using different games which required listening and comprehension of the song. I went second and we had a discussion about what the song was about. It went amazingly well as the students were latching onto the ideas of peace and poverty which as extremely prevalent in the song. Kyle finished it up by having the students read an article about another famous musician, Elvis Presley, who also grew up in a tough childhood to have an impact on the musical world, which is obvious.

Day 3 we did a movie themed lesson. Students learned vocabulary about going to a movie theater, they practiced dialogues of buying tickets and snacks, including the wonderful world of upsizing where we then asked them to buy larger because of free refills, etc. Kyle had the students brainstorm different words to describe different types of movies and then had them make movie posters using those words. I was going to close it up by showing movie clips of different movies and seeing if they could describe the dialogue that was taking place as well as describing the scene. It failed miserably at first because they couldn't hear the clips because they were playing on laptops in different stations. So I scrapped it and we decided to make our own scenes. Students volunteered to be our actors while the rest of the class came up with the ideas for the different scenes. It was great because not only were they hilarious, the students had to improvise using a foreign language which is not an easy thing to do, but they handled it quite well.

Day 4 we talked about America. I did a quick history of the founding of America as well as how the government is set up and compared it to Romania. Kyle did a geography lesson about the different regions and cities and how they are different from each other. Chelsea talked about schools in America and how they are organized and the students had to compare them to schools in Romania.

Day 5 was a fun day for the kids. Kyle opened up talking about music again but more on the genres of music. He played different songs and asked the students what genre they thought each song was. They had a blast with it, as well as seeing Kyle dance like Michael Jackson as well as dancing to "I Feel Good". Chelsea talked about Martin Luther King and had a discussion about discrimination and brought it back to Romania and the students even talked about how the Rroma people are discriminated against in Romania. I did team building exercises where the students were not allowed to talk and when we were done we discussed why communication is important. It went nearly as planned, except for the kids who tried to talk, which only made them have to start over.

The whole experience was very reassuring in terms of why I came to Romania in the first place. So far it has basically been us learning and doing very little until now and I cannot wait to get to it at site.

"There is nothing better than having students coming up to you and thanking you for what you have done for them. Any teacher will tell you that most of the time you have to find your own satisfaction in your work, but when students share that with you, it makes everything you have done worthwhile. "

A Relaxing Weekend (June 26-27)

This was one of those much needed weekends of being lazy. Saturday I spent the day watching movies, reviewing Romanian and doing laundry. It felt good to spend some time just sitting back and having some "me time". I also began to plan what I would be doing the next week for classes and I have a pretty good sense of what I hope to teach.

Sunday was more of the same. Watched a few episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and worked on my self-evaluation portfolio for training. After reviewing a little more Romanian, I decided to watch the England/Germany game only to become enraged at now I have absolutely no team I really want to win in the World Cup. It should still be fun either way, but seriously.

After that I decided to watch National Geographic since they had a program on the Holocaust and the Einsatzsgruppen killings before the creation of death camps. Having studied the Holocaust for so long, this was one of the few things which really affected me in terms of what happened. It was more shocking being in a country so close to where these massacres took place just over the border in Ukraine. I know now that I will definitely be using some of my personal leave time to not only visit major sites, but also some of these smaller places which have gone unnoticed for so long.

It also re-affirmed my desire to teach the Holocaust while I am here. In 2003, Romania admitted to having a role in the Holocaust and stated that they needed to make progress in terms of teaching it in history classes. While I was optimistic to those ends, this last week when teaching, when I brought up the word ghetto to my students I asked them if they had ever heard this word when talking about World War II and specifically the Holocaust. They knew what I meant when I said World War II, but the word Holocaust was completely foreign to them. And it wasn't something that was lost in translation, since their word for holocaust IS holocaust, and for the specific event it is holocaustul which literally translates to "the" Holocaust. I'm worried it may only be a very quick skim in terms of what the students are taught when it comes to this. I'm going to teach a lesson this week on the Holocaust to my 11th graders so hopefully they know what the heck I'm talking about. If not, that's why I teach.

This is what I was hoping for (June 12-14)

So this past weekend we went on what the PC calls an integrated field visit, aka IFV (they love their acronyms here in the Peace Corps). My group travelled to Petrila in the south of Transylvania and in the Jiu Valley right in the Carpathian Mountains. While there we met with Joel who is a 2nd year volunteer who is completing his service in August. Another group was visiting Petrosani which is where we were staying in a hotel and they were meeting up with their volunteer Andrew, who actually stayed with my host family last year during his training. Here's the recap...

Saturday: Today was our day of travelling. We left for Bucharest by train around 9:00 and arrived there just before 11. We planned it this way so we could see some of Bucharest. First we went to the university where there are some of the last remnants of the "revolution" of 1989. There was a plaque which read (in Romanian) "Here they died for liberty 21-22 December". The more interesting part though was someone had vandalized it into a pretty cool political statement about the current state of the world. Right between "for" and "liberty" someone had written capitalism. After going past there and seeing the few remaining bullet holes, we went and grabbed a shaorma and headed to one of Bucharest's parks. There we ate our lunch and walked around for a little while. Truly beautiful and very relaxing, regardless of the heat. From there we walked to the People Palace which was built by Caucesceu and now is the Parliament building of Romania. It is the second largest political administrative building in the world next to the Pentagon, and Kyle and I decided to play frisbee on the lawn in front of it. Now to do that in front of the Pentagon.

We met up with the other group and rushed to catch the maxi-taxi (multi-seat van or mini-bus) to Petrosani. We loaded up and went on our way, for about a half hour, until the maxitaxi overheated and we had to wait for a bus to come pick us all up on the side of the road. We took that for most of the trip but then for the last 2 hours we grabbed another maxitaxi to take us the rest of the way to Petrosani. I've never really been carsick, but I was damn close to it this time since we were winding through the Jiu Valley in the night so we couldn't really see much of where we were going other than we were turning like crazy all the time. We got to Petrosani and walked to the hotel and then went out to watch the US play England. After that most of us went back to the hotel and crashed thanks to the long day of travelling.

Sunday: BEST DAY EVER! Today we went on a "hike", or in this case a long walk along a road which took us to where we were going. We arrived at a lodge where we were greeted by Joel and Andrew's friends where we had quite the spread. We sat down, grabbed a glass of beer, maybe a bit of tuica, and then they brought out an amazing vegetable salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion (I couldn't remember for a second when writing this what the English for those were, I could only think of the Romanian). Next came out huge platters of grilled chicken and grilled sausages. Then they brought out the home made wine, which was amazing. Next came out the most interesting part of the meal, smoked and grilled pork back fat served open face on a slice of bread with red onions. While one of the oddest things I've eaten, it was quite amazing.

We decided we needed a little break so we went and threw around the football, the frisbee, and kicked around the soccer ball for a little while. Next we went and talked with some of their friends to get their takes on Peace Corps volunteers and how to integrate into the community. I had a tutoring session with Simona (since we went with our classes on the trip and our teachers were our guides). We were hanging out for a while and they said it was time for mici. Mici (meech) is a casingless sausage that is grilled and is five shades of awesome. Just once you think your done eating in Romania, it's time to eat more. Once that was done it looked like it was about to rain so we made our way back. It's safe to say that most people fell into food comas once we got back.

Monday: Today was one of those days you'll just remember. We went and visited Joel's school and talked with his counterpart and other people who work at the school (most of which we had met yesterday at the cookout from hell). We also met some of his students and played a language game with his students. Once that was done we went on a walk though Petrila to see where he lived. He took us to the Petrila mine where most of the community works. The Jiu Valley is known as a major coal mining area and Petrila was one of the powerhouses during communism. But during the times directly after communism, many were sold and privatized, only for those companies to sell them off for a quick buck. Talking to the students, who's fathers all worked in the mines, and hearing about the working conditions made me think of industrial revolution era tales of mine workers.

2 years ago there was a group of miners in the Petrila mine who were told to go down into a section of the mine which was known to be extremely hazardous. They were told to go, or lose their jobs if they refused. And of course, there was an explosion killing 4 workers. They sent in a rescue crew to recover those who died, only for there to be a second explosion, killing another 13 people. It was a national incident and the press flooded the area. And what do you think happened when the press arrived, the mine management told the workers that if they talked to the press, they would be fired. This was caught on camera by the news companies who were there.

We went back to Joel's apartment and talked with him about the Peace Corps in general and he also opened up his library of books to us for the taking. I totally took to that opportunity as there was a book about workers in post-socialist Romania and what their lives have become since the fall of communism. We then went out to lunch with Joel. We went back to the hotel after that and Kyle and I went down to the bar attached to the hotel to watch the WC and have a beer or two. We also just had a really good conversation about the weekend and what it had been for us.

The next day we travelled back to Bucharest and back to our training site. This trip really reminded me that our training time is only temporary and soon enough we will be in the field and getting to work. It made me forget of the small stupid things which may make me annoyed but in the big picture of things there is so much more to being in the Peace Corps than what I had seen up to this point. Seeing what site is like has given me something to look forward to, past the world that is PST.
The group in Petrila

"Sometimes we meet people in our lives where we may have only known them for minutes, and then never see them again. These people can sometimes have a more powerful impact on your life than those you may have known for your whole life."

Routines and a few important soccer matches (June 7-11)

Classes have become extremely routine lately. My language teacher, Simona, is amazing though and I know I will be able to learn quite a bit from her. I wish there was a little but more excitement to my daily routine, but there really isn't. Luckily the World Cup has started up so we have something to go do right after school and it's been a blast so far. My next post should actually have a little bit more interesting things to it since we are going on a visit to a volunteer in the field so we're finally leaving the training site and seeing the country. I cannot wait.

Simona, figuratively directing us bunch of American clowns to speak Romanian

"There's something great about soccer. You can throw a ball into a crowd of kids anywhere in the world and you can start up a game, regardless of what you speak" -Scott Redpath (fellow volunteer)

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's been a while...(May 26-June 6)

This past week and half or so since I last wrote about what has been going on has been one of highs and lows. Language classes have continued and begun to move faster as we learn more and more every day. My fellow trainees have truly become my support system these weeks and I know I will be relying on them as I move forward in the Peace Corps. Every day after class we go to what we have dubbed "The Old Man Bar" for a beer or two after class as a way to unwind and just enjoy each other's company. For me this is really important since I live so much further away from all of them. Besides, when a half liter beer costs you 2 lei, which is only about 67 cents in America, it's an extremely inexpensive way to unwind.

Last weekend we spent it in the park just hanging out. Some played ultimate frisbee while others, such as myself, just relaxed in the shade. Oh yeah, did I mention it was also in the shade of 15th century ruins? That night, Brad, Juli, and myself went to a pizza place called "Pizza Mexican Hot". Yes there was pizza, no there was nothing Mexican about it, and it was luke-warm pizza, but it had to be some of the best pizza I've ever had. It started to cloud up and look pretty ominous so we decided to leave. Luckily I brought my rain jacket, because it rained like crazy. I was stuck under an awning for about 30 minutes waiting for the hail to stop and I eventually made my way to the bus stop soaking wet. Needless to say the rest of the night was a night of relaxing and drying off. The next day I went out to eat with some friends and had a much more low key day.

The next week was another one of language classes loaded with vocabulary and verb conjugation. It's becoming easier to pick up on things as I gain much more comfort in the language. Overall the week was great until Friday night. A good chunk of the group was going out to celebrate Kyle's birthday at the restaurant which we had gone out to a couple weekends ago where we partied it up with the owner and police chief.

Me on the other hand I felt trapped where I was since I am pretty much restricted to the bus schedule since I live so much further away that everyone else. It's not really the going into the city part that is difficult, it's the getting back part. I don't really know my gazda's address all the way yet so taking a taxi would be next to impossible and there's no way I would be able to take the hour and half walk at 1 a.m. back home.

For the first time in my Peace Corps experience I was wondering what the hell I was doing here. I felt isolated in a country I have only really known for about 2 weeks and being away from my support system made that night fairly hard. So I did what seemed like the best idea to deal with the stress, I went to sleep. It was good choice since I woke up the next morning ready to head into the city (thanks to actually being able to work with the bus schedule) since we were going to be having a picnic in the park for Kyle and Martha who's birthdays were Saturday and Friday respectively.

I got there about an hour early so I sat on the foundation of some ruins that date back to who knows when and looked back through my journal at things which I had written in the past. It was exactly what I had needed to hear at that point in time so sitting on the mortared stones I began to reflect again on how I had to gotten to this point in my life and I had one of those "ah-ha!" moments when you realize you are right where you were supposed to be at a given moment. The night before completely washed away from my mind and i felt renewed. It was pretty much right at that time that people started to show up and I had one of the most fun days in recent memory. Everyone had brought food so there was quite the smorgasbord of whatever you could have wanted. We even had a ceremonious drink of țwika and needless to say, I’m sticking with the palinka from this point on.

So after a good few hours of hanging out, playing ultimate frisbee, playing the guitar (which I still need to find one to buy), and getting sunburnt, I came back home and did some much needed laundry. I had a great dinner of mici and mashed potatoes and passed out because I was exhausted from that day. I woke up, finished up my laundry after breakfast. Watched a movie, did some homework, and then remembered I had forgotten to write in my blog for some time. So here you go, my life in a nutshell this past week or so. I’ll try and keep them coming a little more frequently as time goes on.

"Only when we are at our lowest points can we truly build ourselves up. Reflection in times of pain gives us the chance to re-evaluate our lives and improve them into our most pure forms."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Training begins (May 24-25)

So yesterday was the day in which we began our training as Peace Corps trainees. We're still considered trainees until our swearing in ceremony in August where we will become volunteers. We started the day with many of the same types of meetings in which we have had for nearly the whole week of "Welcome to the Peace Corps" types of things. Seems overly redundant at times, but there is some new information being presented at each so it has its use.

Where we learn Romanian and such

During lunch, some of us decided to play some football (and by football I mean what football is to the rest of the world, not American football) and eventually we began to play a scrimmage with some local children who were also playing in the same yard as us. I can only hope that all days are like this when it comes to my service in the Peace Corps. There is something extremely universal about football which we all can share. I have to agree with Scott, a fellow trainee, that you can bring a football anywhere and people will be able to play and will be enthusiastic about it. It truly is a global sport and I have had my first connections in both Peru and now in Romania through playing.

Once this day's meetings ended, I returned to my host family and after eating dinner I passed out. I think my "first day of school" exhausted me. But around 10pm or so I was very pleased to be greeted by Denisa with a nighttime snack. It was basically French Toast but instead of cinnamon and vanilla it was made with sugar and salt. Served with a little bit of powdered sugar on top, it had to be one of the tastiest things I have had in a while.

Today was our first official language lesson. It seemed somewhat daunting at first but it came quite easily as time went on. We were learning the basics of how to introduce yourself, where you are from, and what your job is. We also began to learn the number system all the way to 100 and how to tell time. Also I was given my first homework assignment. I don't think I had even had an assignment like this is college so this is stretching back to my high school days in terms of what the assignments was like.

In the afternoon we had a presentation from an economic and political officer of the US Embassy in Romania. It was interesting to say the least. While I may not have agreed with everything that was said in terms of why Romania's economy is like it is or how it should be resolved, it was good to hear a different perspective. I also had my first meeting with the program managers who will oversee my work in the Peace Corps as well as place me where I will be most effective.

At the end of the day, we were able to talk about our initial thoughts of being in Romania. My only concerns were the ways in which Romanians have come to know American culture, which in my own observations comes from MTV. So thanks major media outlets for adding to the misinformation of what America is really about. And like I said last time, I would say something on my thoughts through these last two days.

"There is nothing greater in the world than seeing a child smile. Being able to have any part in that only gives your life meaning as we move day to day."

A Day of Rest (May 23)

Today was much needed. With all of the traveling and meetings I needed a day off. Luckily I was able to get that today. After breakfast I, I was introduced to Romanian TV. I found the few channels which play American programming as well as CNN International. Most interestingly was MTV and VH1. Not that they would play Romanian music, but the fact that they actually played music videos. There's a thought, maybe MTV and VH1 actually have something to do with music instead of the Jersey Shore and the countless other horrible shows destroying America's youth. Okay, maybe that's harsh, but seriously.

I spent a good amount of time today doing some self studying of Romanian using the dictionary, info given to us by the Peace Corps, and the Byki program I downloaded. I studied for nearly 2 hours before going downstairs for lunch. We had it out on the back porch (and hey, no rain or hail this time) and afterwards I talked with Ofelia about why I was attracted to the Peace Corps and then we eventually talked about the current situations in each of our countries. It was great to hear about how at least one person feels about what has been happening in Romania for the past few years.

I then went back to studying for another 3 or so hours. I had no idea I could even study like that anymore. Heck, I never even did it in high school or college. I think I just realized that I absolutely need to know this if I am going to be able to survive the next 2 years, let alone just being a successful volunteer. I went downstairs for dinner which was cartof (potato) și (and) pui de gâină (chicken) și pește (fish). And like every Romanian meal I have eaten yet that is not breakfast, there was salad and soup. This has to be one of the best things about Romania yet. I have yet to eat any type of food which I have not liked here.

After dinner I gave the family my photo book on Chicago which I bought for them so they could see where I am from. I figured a book would be much easier to transport than a Chicago style deep dish pizza. After I gave them the gift and looked through it with them I watched TV for a little while with Julian. He went upstairs for a little while so then I flipped through the channels to see what was on. First I found the Germany v. Sweden IIHF hochie game. Then an episode of ”Scrubs" was on so that was great to see and give me a little feeling of home. I watched for a little while then went back up to my room and back to trying my best to learn the language.

Tomorrow we start our formal language training. I’m slightly nervous but I know I will do okay as I have started taking on this whole language thing head on. So I'm off to bed but I figured I'd write down one of my thoughts every day from this point on.

"Language can be a barrier, but love and compassion are universal. People are people regardless of what they speak or where they live."

A Home Away From Home (May 22)

Today was a day which I was extremely excited for, but also very nervous at the same time. This day is the day I would be meeting my gazda, or host family. We awoke and had breakfast followed by our first language lesson. This was mostly the basics which I had already learned though there were some new phrases as well as polishing my pronunciation of the language. I feel as long as I keep working at it, I should do well during these next 11 weeks of training.

We had lunch, and then went to a local flower shop to buy flowers for my host mother. We came back, finished packing up a few last minute things and went back downstairs to our meeting area where we would be meeting our families in only a few minutes. We all sat down right where our names were, with our families' names on the opposite sides. I was slightly less nervous since Denisa, my host family's daughter, had found me on Facebook and sent me a message earlier so I slightly knew what to expect. Then came the rush of families, entering to find there volunteer who would be living with them for 11 weeks. I recognized Denisa as she came with her brother Julian and mother Ofelia. We had a quick talk getting to know each other, and then the Peace Corps staff said a few words before dismissing us to get our things and check out of the hotel.

I met my host family back downstairs in the lobby where we loaded my things into the back of their car and we headed out to their home. On the way, we stopped for a brief while as my host mother went into a store and picked up some special foods as what I could understand it was a religious day to pay respects for those in families which had died. While she was inside, I had a chance to talk with Julian and Denisa and find out more about them. we had a good talk as they found out more about me and I them.

When we eventually arrived home I was greeted by Iulian Sr. I then took my things up stairs and unpacked my bags for the first time since packing them nearly a week ago. I got settled and went downstairs for dinner. We decided to eat out on the back porch since it was nice at the time. Sure enough, in only about 5 minutes it began to pour and eventually hail. Needless to say we went back inside for dinner. After dinner I came back upstairs and wrote for my blog and then felt extremely exhausted so I took a short nap to regain some energy.

About 8pm Denisa, Julian, and I went back into the city where we would be meeting up with some of their friends. We hung out in a really nice place full of character. There was a downstairs cellar area of the pub which is where we were. It was all dark brick with dark wooden tables and chairs. We hung out there for a short while before going to one of their friend's apartments to watch the Champions Cup Championship match. We had to leave as Denisa is taking private classes to help with her final exams in the morning but it was fun to get out and enjoy some laughs and football with people I will be getting to know quite well as time goes on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Look Out Romania (May 18-21)

These past few days have been some of the most eventful yet stressful days in my life thus far. So where do we begin? Tuesday was the big day. I woke up, not even realizing that this would be the very last time I sleep in that bed for over two years. I finished some last minute packing of things which I would be using that morning and I was ready to go. My family and I went out to breakfast before departing for the hotel for staging. The ride up was fine until the last mile on the highway when we got stuck in traffic. It was then I began to feel my heart racing, and me asking, "Is this for real?"

We moved past the traffic and finally made our way to the hotel. I grabbed my bags and went into the hotel with my parents close behind as they wanted to "check the place out" and by that I mean use the bathroom before heading back home. As soon as I entered the hotel I was greeted by Brittany and Ellis who had just checked in themselves. We had been talking on Facebook about what we would be needing, packing, etc so it felt like I knew them quite well. I checked in an said goodbye to my parents. As I grabbed my bags and went to the elevator to my room I watched as they entered the car to leave. This would be the last time I would see them in person for over two years unless they came out to visit at some point. Once I got upstairs and into the room, I met Ellis once again, but this time as my roommate for the evening.
We went downstairs to see if anyone else was at the restaurant in the hotel so we had the chance to meet even more people who I'm sure as time goes on, will be some of the best friends I will ever meet. Eventually it was time to begin staging and as we filtered in, I saw more and more faces which were familiar since I had come to know them thanks to the wonderful world that is known as the internet. I felt as if I were meeting with friends from long past but this was the first time meeting many of them. Now started the program which would make me feel like I was back in high school or college doing exercises on team building as well as doing things about our fears and expectations. Fairly basic things but it was good just so we could get to know each other.

We had dinner, came back to the restaurant for a couple drinks, and went to bed. Waking up in the morning I wasn't really realizing we were about to be travelling for nearly 20 hours between Chicago and our training site. I was one of 6 group leaders and one of the 2 bus leaders so luckily I was busy and my mind was focused on other things. We arrived at the airport, waited to check in, checked in, went through security, and made our way to the gate. After getting lunch, we had a small jam session waiting for our plan to board. I really need to find a guitar here as I know I can't go too long without playing. We eventually boarded and then there was the fun of sitting on a plane, in the middle seat or the middle section, for over 8 hours. Needless to say, that was the BEST* plane ride ever. *Please note the caps lock indication of sarcasm

We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany and decided to hunt down a restaurant for some breakfast. I'm going to go ahead and say we found the best place for a German breakfast. Matt and myself ordered the Munich Breakfast which consisted of two veal sausages, a pretzel, served with stone ground honey-mustard. And of course, as per the restaurant's suggesting, it was all washed down with a Paulaner Heffeweisen. A great way to say gutentaag and alvetasene to Frankfurt. Now there was only a 2 and a half hour flight into Bucharest and as soon as we arrived we were greeted by the Peace Corps Romania staff. I knew they would be one heck of a group to be working with and they seemed like they would all be great fun for the coming years.
We boarded the bus and that's when it hit me. I'm in freakin' Romania for over two years!!! We then headed out to our training site. They made a quick pit stop for those who needed to use the restroom and that's when I saw my first (and certainly not my last) Romanian stray dog. I acknowledged that fact, and fell right asleep against the bus window. I awoke and we were driving through the city on our way to the hotel. It was truly a sight to see and as we pulled up to the hotel it became real once again.

We checked in after getting our bags, and went upstairs and got settled. This meant a small nap, and changing out of the gross airplane clothes which had been on me for over 20 hours. We went down for dinner and all I can say is holy crap do Romanians like to feed you. First course was a fried whitefish served with a vegetable goulash, then the second course of salad, then came beef served with a wine sauce and potatoes, followed by a desert of fruit and Nutella crepes. Way too much food, but so good. Marco (my new roommate for my time in the hotel) and I decided to head over to the Irish Pub in town, The Celt. No it's not my sixth sense in terms of finding a Guinness in a town, but just that it was right across the street. We enjoyed one of those blackened beauties and headed back to the hotel for some shut eye since it had been such an exhausting day. If we only knew what the next day would have in store, we would have slept earlier.

We started out the day with breakfast followed by our introduction to Peace Corps Romania. We had a couple information sessions followed by more information sessions, intermixed with a visit to Dr. Dan (Peace Corps Medical Officer) where he gladly shot us up if we needed it. We had lunch, followed by more sessions in the afternoon until we eventually ended at 5pm. Dinner once again was massive. This time I learned to not eat everything on the plate, unless I want to gain 20 lbs. a day. We had decided to walk around the neighborhood we were in and made our way over to the ruins in the city only to realize the park is closed as that time of night. So we continued to walk around and decided we should go get a drink with it being our last night together as a group. We walked and walked, and eventually made our way into a small restaurant near the city plaza named Restaurant Bavaria.

We entered and put a couple tables together because that was all that was left. There were two other parties there as well so all tables were now filled. We ordered Ursus and were enjoying them when Dan, the restaurant owner came over and we started talking. I told him we were from the United States with the Peace Corps to which he asked if we had ever had the drink which Romania was famous for. I said Twika first, then Palinka, to where he finally acknowledged that and went to the bar. He had a round of Palinka for us all and we were "introduced into the culture" you could say. We were sitting chatting when another PC trainee came in, and then or course the owner returns with another round of Palinka because we had a new friend and he needed to try it. That one burned a little more than the others. Next walks in NIck, who came right as one of the other parties began to dance. Soon we found out that he was the chief of police for the city and now Brad was dancing with them and enjoying life. So we have our fun, and now realize it is late, and decide it is time to leave. But wait, Dan brings us another round of Palinka to say goodbye while also handing me his business card saying if we need anything, to give him a call. I went in with the gang for a celebratory good bye beer, and it turned into one of the most fun nights I can recall in a long time.

We came back to the hotel to find another part of the group enjoying karaoke in the hotel's bar. We stayed for a little while enjoying the fun, recanting our story about Restaurant Bavaria. We worked our way out of the bar and back up to our room where we had certainly one good night's sleep. we would need it as the next day would enter us into a world where I would have to be as easy going as I could have ever expected.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

As I Get Ready to Depart... (an open letter to a friend)

I have just finished packing up everything before I leave for the Peace Corps to serve in Romania and throughout that time I have been reflecting on years past and the people who have really made a difference in my life. Some of you are close friends, friends where we have separated as time has gone on, family, mentors, or teachers, but you have all be influential in making me who I am today.

I cannot relay the amount of gratitude which I hope to convey. While I may be leaving to the other side of the world tomorrow, each one of you will be with me in your own way. Whether you have laughed with me and shown me how to enjoy life to its fullest, or gone into deep discussion together where I learned more about myself through those talks. Or perhaps you opened my mind to the rest of the world in a class in high school, or helped focus that same mind to more specifics in a college classroom discussion, I cannot thank you enough.

When I decided I wanted to be a teacher I never thought it could have taken me many miles away to a place I know nothing about. But I know that I will be able to handle pretty much anything that gets thrown my way thanks to some part you have played in my life. Some of you have helped me realize my potential to help others through trips to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Peru, and the Gulf Coast. It was not only the service itself but the people I was working with who helped my find my altruistic self.

I will never forget things which I have learned from each and everyone of you about what it mens to be a human being on this planet. I know and hope we will keep in touch while I am away but more importantly when I return. I knew this would be a giant leap in my life, but I did not realize how big it would be until I was finishing packing today. While things may seem tough for me while I am gone, I know I can handle it all thanks to you in your own separate way.

Mulţumesc mult (Thank you very much)


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

3 Weeks Out

Since November, I have pretty much been in the same status within the Peace Corps of just waiting for my next bit of news. About a week ago, I received word from the Peace Corps that my official date to depart is May 18th from Chicago. Okay, its really Shaumburg but its basically my home city. Ever since that time, things have started to move much more quickly than I could have anticipated.

The past two weekends had to be some of the hardest days of my life yet, saying goodbye to so many friends. While I know it won't be the last time I see some of these people before I leave, it is still very hard to even think about. But of course life goes on, and takes you down roads you could have never expected.

Now comes the daunting task of preparing as much as possible. The thought of packing really brings this whole thing into reality. But even more than that, the idea of packing up everything else into boxes gives closure to this point in my life. So I know as the next few weeks wind down, there will be a multitude of emotions taking place, and I'm sure they will probably be discussed here before I leave. So for now, things are moving, much faster than ever in this whole process. And the excitement is almost more than I can handle.