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)

Chris