Thursday, December 1, 2011

Video Blog FAIL!

Yeah, so I was in the process of making my next video entry. Unfortunately I forgot to copy the video files onto my computer while I was editing, so I lost my video. Luckily things are fairly repetitive here so I'll be able to make another one in a few days.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Catching up (via webcam)!!!

So here is my first videoblog! I'll be posting one of these every couple weeks or so and keep you in the loop of my life. Its just easier for me to take 10 minutes of my day to tell you than spending a while typing and thinking of what to say.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ok, sorry for the never being on here

I love how every time I say I'm going to write in here, it lasts for like a week, then I just quit.

SO, I decided to change it up. From now on, I'm going to be making videos of my experiences for two reasons. A: This is the 21st century, reading is dead. Sorry friends of reading, you know its true. And B: Its just so much more fun for me to just video blog.

Expect good things. (And by good things I don't mean Speilberg or JJ Abrams style work. But its going to be better than something from Uwe Boll, that I can guarantee)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting back to normal.

So winter was surprisingly difficult. Sure its still winter somewhat, but I still think I've at least made it past what is a Fagaraș winter. So what do I mean by things being difficult? I've had my fair share cold winters so that really isn't the reasoning behind this post.

One thing which always kept me on the sane side of things regardless of where I was, when it was, etc was me having a normal schedule. That was somewhat difficult during winter since the
weather has a tendency for making you want to stay inside and avoid the cold. This also
meant I would sometimes rather be lazy even inside my apartment, taking my time when it came to laundry, dishes, or just keeping the place generally clean. This is just like college when I was in my apartment for the first time. Winter came along and I could have cared less about anything else.

BUT, like in college, there comes a point where I finally just get things back in order. Luckily that happened last weekend. I finally got around to hanging things on my walls I've had lying around
for a while, I cleaned nearly every bit of cloth (clothes, bed linens, towels) I have, cleaned almost every square meter of my apartment, and even had time to actually sit back and make a well balanced meal for the first time in a while. Its surprising to see how much those things can affect your mood.

Needless to say, my apartment is starting to look more and more a home to me. Its definitely become my place now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Was Ferris Beuller Right?

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I've often thought about that quote since I've been in the Peace Corps. Shortly after arriving in Targoviste for training, I was given the news that my sister and brother in law would be having their second kid. Holy crap! I distinctly remember the time when they told me the news back with Kara and it seemed like something out of a poorly written sitcom. We were going out to Maggie Miley's for our usual Thursday night get together when Kim said,"So we have some news..." and I, being the person who must have been written in as the dimwit friend said, "You're not pregnant are you?" There wan't much of a break between the two sentences only to hear, "Yeah." As time went on, I was there pretty much every week through my sister's weird cravings like a toastie sandwich, not toasted and without the meat or butter, AKA a cheese sandwich, with mashed potatoes. Then up through the time when I found out that I was going to be an uncle that day in May, to hearing Kara say words for the first time, seeing her hold herself up on the couch, then start to take a couple steps while still holding on. Those are things I'll hopefully never forget.

So why am I interjecting a story from over 2 years ago?

I knew when I was joining the Peace Corps I would be leaving many things behind. Not only would I be away from friends and family for extended periods of time, but even more important, I would be away from the memories being created. Its difficult to be absent from those people but I know that when I come back, there are going to be new memories which are being made everyday which I wont be around for. Sure, I'm overseas making amazing memories here with my friends, but sometimes you just want to have a guys night out a Finnegan's watching a Blackhawks' game with Sean, Bob, and Otter. I already know that memory has changed with both Otter being in Colorado now and Bob being a new dad, but I guess that will be one of those things to deal with if they are different when I get back.

And now most recently, my life has really changed again. Since I've been gone, I've seen 5 babies come into the world from friends or family, with the most recent being my new nephew, Will. It's safe to say that March 3rd, 2011 will be one of the weirdest feeling days of my life. I was just as ecstatic as the day Kara was born, yet I was also just as sad as the day I finally said goodbye to all of my friends (not super sad, but sad enough). Sure, its not me missing the date of the birth of my own kid, but I still wished I could have been there. That same night, I was able to Skype with them from their iPhone (and video too! Damn that thing is cool) and I was able to see him, and not just through pictures posted on Facebook. I felt like I was there.

Today I was able to Skype with Kim and Charles and the fam and see Will again, and even have time to play some games with Kara via video chat. Seeing Kara hold Will had to be one of the cutest things I've seen. Yes even more cute than this.
(if you can't tell its a tiny kitten sleeping on the back of my neck)

So let's go back to Philosopher Bueller. Yeah, life does move by pretty fast. I can agree with that. I'm a third of the way through with my Peace Corps service. I'm into my second semester of teaching here in Romania. Babies have been born and are already starting to grow up. My grandparents celebrated 60 years of marriage. Oh and the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup. Some important things have happened and milestones have been made. But whether or not I'm there, I am creating my own memories of these things thousands of miles away.

Regardless of how far away I am from everyone, in my head this will be as solid of a memory as the first time I held Kara. Sure, life may be moving fast, but this isn't even a matter of me stopping a looking around. This is just life as it happens. There are some things which we can control when it comes to life. But life happening; we can't control it. Sure we can try, we can live our lives in timidity and with trepidation, or we can just live and let life happen around us. Looking around can be great, but life's going to continue going without you. If you don't decide to take your own steps in life and try and go somewhere, you lose out on whatever you can create for yourself.

Looking back now on nearly 10 months, I have no reason to be sad about anything I've missed. Life is just different. And I've come to the realization that you cannot be there for all of those memories you want to be there for. I could have been in the US and still been missing out on important memories I wish I could have been there for. Life back in the US for me is something I cannot control now and its just a matter of me finally stepping back and saying "I'll catch up with you later. But I'll be around from time to time just to check in."

So, as I ended my conversation with my sister, there was another part of Kara being a baby which I was thrown back into remembering; the changing of the diaper. Some new memories don't need to be Skyped.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Music: My Escape.

As most of you know I love music. I love listening to it, I love playing it, and I love creating it. While here in Romania, I knew I would eventually buy a guitar here instead of bringing one just to save on the amount of bags I was bringing one. My first couple months in the country were hell because I couldn't leave Târgoviste to go and buy one because of Peace Corps policies for trainees. Then came the first weekend we could leave Jd. Dumbavița and the first place I went was a music shop in the neighboring county. I was recommended to the store by a language teacher and as it turned, I got to wait another couple weeks until I could have my own guitar again since you only order from the store, then once it arrives you pick it up. Oh well, at least I would have a guitar soon enough.

While I was away visiting my site, I got a phone call while out with some teachers enjoying a summer meal of grilled mici. My guitar had arrived and I could go and pick it up when I was ready. That weekend I came back, I went to Ploiești and got my guitar. Having that guitar brought me back to my original self. So much of the daily stress I had was taken away by being able to play my guitar once again. It was even commented by another volunteer that once I got my guitar, my language learning improved as well. I guess we all learn our specific ways.

Once I arrived at site, I was invited to a guitar class which was held at the clubul eleviilor (student's club). It was the cantece de munte (mountain songs) and they have a rich musical culture where I am. Quickly I was drawn into the simple, yet beautiful music about love, nature, and the mountains, most of which is all connected in the songs. Gabi, who had invited me to the class, was going to be leaving soon to work in Spain, and Piti the other teacher would be taking over as the main instructor. Not soon later, I was asked if I would teach along with Piti, especially if he is gone. I was elated. Not only would I be learning an amazing part of culture, I would also be teaching it.

Every week I am going twice to the club and playing and teaching with the students. There is something peaceful about a room of music, no matter how loud it can get. Around Christmas I was playing along their traditional carols while playing some English carols as well. I went caroling with the group and had an amazing time. Now with the weather becoming warmer, we will start spending weekends in the mountains, eating, drinking, and playing surrounded by the very things which have inspired these songs.

Below are three videos of the class, along with Piti and I, playing some of these songs. Enjoy.

This first song is called Mare Neagra (Black Sea). It is about the Black Sea and how important of a symbol it is to Romania and the power it has.

Ninge Astazi Pentru Tine (It's Snowing Today for You) as you can guess by the title is a love song.

Noapte la Mare, Noapte la Munte (Goodnight to the Sea, Goodnight to the Mountain).

While the music is simple, it still holds a strong meaning to me. Being surrounded by a beautiful landscape, its understandable that so many songs would be written about it. These classes and these songs have been my escape from whatever stresses I may have while being away. My home is truly wherever music is being loved, and this has been the thing which has made Victoria feel so much like home these past months.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One semester down!

So as I look back on last semester, I cannot help but see how much I have grown not only as an educator, but also as a person. I have really seen the difference in educational culture between the US and Romania, but also how I have adapted to that change in the way I teach. But enough of that, here's what I did on my break.

So I ended school on Thursday and made my way to Babeni to hang out with Tara for a couple days before we headed out. We decided to hitchhike across Romania to where we would be picking up the train to Serbia. After a fairly uneventful ride from Babeni to Sibiu, we were picked up by a really nice truck driver who was able to take us about halfway to Deva. Not only was he a really nice guy, he had a really nice truck too. We had the chance to talk to him and share somethings between our cultures (mainly food). Once in Deva, we got some dinner really quick at the American Embassy (McDonald's) and went back out to the road. The next guy to pick us up was younger and was heading halfway from Deva to Timisoara and was a great guy as well. He even took us to the spot in Jugoj to where we would hitch from. And low and behold, in 30 seconds we had our final ride into Timisoara. After talking to the guy who was taking us for a short while, we told him we were from the US and he then wanted us to start speaking English with him so he could practice him English. When we arrived in Timisoara, he came with us to have a beer while we waited until 5:50 in the morning to leave. Glad to know I have a new friend in Timisoara.

It was another really cold night in Romania so we were hopping to places where it would be warm until the train left. The train was a fairly short ride and we came into a freezing cold Serbian morning. We spent the morning hopping from site to cafe, to site, to bar, etc to keep warm while we wandered the city. We were staying with a younger couple who lived in the city in their flat and they were amazing hosts. Telling us where to go, what to see, etc. We saw most of the sites around the city minus most of the museums, but we did go to the ethnographic museum which was very interesting since we were able to see the various costumes and lifestyles of traditional Serbia.

The next day we left for Bosnia. The bus ride wasn't too long, but was through some of the more scenic areas I've seen in a while. We arrived in Sarajevo around 7:30 at night and took a taxi to our Hostel. We were greeted by Jasmina, our hostel owner, and she was an amazing host. The next morning we woke up and went out for coffee with her and afterwards went and toured the Peace Tunnel. This was a 800m tunnel built during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992 and today serves as a museum to what was happeningduring this period. Jasmina told us her personal stories of the siege and what her life was like while that was happening. It added a new element to seeing all of the buildings with bullet holes from that time.

Later that day, we wandered around the old city center and bazaar. Sarajevo is over 50% Muslim so it has a very different feel to it as a city than any other I have been to yet since coming here. Being surrounded by coffee houses, hearing the calls to prayer, and wandering past handcrafted goods really took me away from my everyday life in Romania. we also managed to stumble upon the Sarajevska Brewery and we enjoyed some of their fine makes. That night we met up with Ryan and Sara, both PC volunteers in Romania, and had dinner, drank rachiya, and went out later. It was good to see friendly faces there as well.

The next day we visited a few mosques in the city, and then we were back on our way to Serbia for one final night. We arrived fairly late and had trouble finding the hostel so we just called it a night there. We walked around the city that last day only to come across a massive anti-government protest. We wandered past just to see what was going on and soon met up with Ryan and Sara to head back home to Romania.

While on the train, there was a moment where I felt back at home. When the customs agents came on the train from Romania and were speaking Romanian, I felt an extreme comfort I hadn't felt in a while. Who knows what I will feel when I get back to the US. We spent the night in Recas with Sara before heading back out on the road. Overall it was a fairly uneventful ride, but one that had a little more character. our 2nd ride was an overpacked Dacia from the early 90's so we were squeezed in tight, then our next ride from Deva to Sibiu had to be one of the craziest Turkish truck drivers ever, but a cool guy none the less. We were trying to get into Sibiu in time for Tara to take her bus back to Rm. Valcea which we eventually made it into the bus stop with about a minute to spare thanks to a guy who picked us up on the outside of the city and drove us there. I hitched my way back to Victoria and got to work for the next day of school.

Overall a long trip, but a good one. It felt good to leave the country but nothing is ever as good as coming home. Its odd to think that coming back to Romania for me is coming home now, but it truly has become that for me. Now with a year and a half to go, who knows what my mind will be thinking when it comes time to go back to the United States.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Catching up

It's been way too long since I've posted in here. Sorry. Since the last time I've posted there has been quite a bit going on for me. Hopefully I can catch the main points so you can know what has been going on with me and that I am still alive and well.

After my birthday (told you it's been a while), I had my first serious moment of "what the hell am I doing here?". The students were beginning to get on my nerves in terms of behavior (which to me at the time were seeming like open disrespect towards me as a teacher) and the idea that Victoria was going to be my home for the next two years was beginning to seem all too real. For about a week I was always contemplating in my head what would happen if I ended up going home. I was even having dreams about going back to the states. I would have my friends and family happy I was home, but there was guilt on my part as to leaving. It was an odd feeling to have that.

But all of that turned around in the middle of the month. I went to another volunteer's apartment who was having a Halloween party and being around those people who are family to me now, helped me in more ways than I could imagine. Not only were we able to have our venting sessions, I was able to just get away from everything and have some fun. The next dream I remembered having was a natural disaster happening in Romania and me and a few other volunteers refusing to leave. It was a good feeling to have my subconscious back on my side as towards my being here.

Back to life at school. The students had usually been good. I understood there would be a period where they would try and test my limits to see how far they could go to get away with things. I only thought it would have ended sooner. One day sticks out for me as the turning point with one group of students. The teacher I work with in this class was not going to be there so I told her that I would take the whole class and work with them. Normally the classes are split so we have smaller groups (15 or so students), but this time it was the full group of 32. I broke up 3 fights and was constantly being interrupted by student outbursts. I stopped teaching and asked the students," Do you really want me here?" They got the picture right away. They were able to see that I was becoming frustrated to the point of giving up on them. After class I spoke with a couple students who have always been on my good side about the class. We were able to come up with some concrete ways of trying to work with the class so everyone can actually try and learn. And it has worked so far. Students are much better behaved and like Pavlovian Dogs, as soon as I put my hand up they get quiet. Ah, the joys of psychology.

Outside of school there are a couple things which have happened to me in town which have helped me feel more welcome here in town and a much more happy volunteer. Every Monday night, I go to the town's gymnasium and play basketball with a group of adults and high school students. It's great to be able to stay active (especially in the winter) and I have been meeting some great guys in town as well as getting to know some students even better. I'm clearly no LeBron James but luckily I'm starting to get back whatever skills I used to have in playing the game.

The other thing which has helped me in feeling more happy as a volunteer is my guitar. I know most of you know how important music is to me, as it is my release for stress and just a way I express myself. Well here in Victoria there is a guitar class for students at the schools to attend and I was invited to come to one of the classes. I joined in with the playing and learning of songs which was amazing. I was learning Romanian Christmas carols as well as some of the mountain carols which are extremely popular in this region. Gabi, who was also the school's music teacher, was actually leaving the next week for Spain where he was hoping to find more work, a common thing here in Romania. Piti who was the other teacher would be taking over as the main teacher and after the first class, Gabi asked me if I would be interested in helping out with teaching guitar to the students. I jumped at that right away.

While I may not know a lot of the songs, I am helping the students with technique and things like that which definitely helps them regardless of what they play. I've been going to the class every Tuesday and Thursday which has once again opened the door for me with not only the student's club here in town, but also in getting to know the creative side of many students of mine that I did not know existed before.

While all of these things have been going on here in my town, I have had some time to get out and see Romania. In early December, I went with some other volunteers to visit Scott at his site (which is only 23 kms away from me) to see their caroling tradition. We followed along with the group as they did their carols, dances, as well as traditions in choosing the roles of the group for the coming year. Afterwards we had a large meal with plenty of beer, wine, and țuica which always makes for a good time.

With Christmas coming I knew it would be a tough time for me since Christmas was and always will be my favorite holiday. Luckily I was invited with another volunteer to come with her to her host family from the summer to celebrate. I was able to see the traditional killing of the pig, eating all of the traditional foods for Christmas, as well as going to an Orthodox Christmas service (at 5am mind you). If the fact that I went to church doesn't constitute a Christmas miracle, the fact I did it at 5 in the morning surely does.

After Christmas, we went up to Maramureș in the north and we managed to see many of the historical sites in the area. We went to Săpânsă where they have a cemetery called the Merry Cemetery. It is full of grave markers with limericks about the persons life, some involving the guy who loved to drink too much as well as the mother in law that if she didn't die the son in law would have been in the grave himself. It was a very interesting thing to see. The area is known for its wooden churches so we were able to see those as well as touring the monastary in Bârsană. It was built after communism so it's not very old, but still impressive.
Mănăstirea Bârsana

We celebrated New Years in Brașov which was great sicne there were a good amount of volunteers celebrating there as well. After the break, it was back at school for another few weeks until the end of the semester, which leads to a new realm of Romanian schools I would have to get used to, grading. Grading here is a stressful thing, not only for students but also teachers. Grades are written down in the catalog which is a massive gradebook that is THE official be all end all of grading. It's a dated system in my opinion, but it works for them. It is a grading system of 1-10 (really 4-10 since a 4 and anything else lower is not passing, so giving a 3 or less is really making a statement to the student about something).

So when it came to telling the students about their grades, I think they finally got the point that I am a real teacher, who is really grading them. The shocked look on so many faces led the students to shaping up right away in terms of behavior. With the students they learned that I don't "give" grades but that they actually earn them throughout the semester. When I had a student today as me "Can I get a 10 this semester?" I told him it was only up to him in order to get that as their grade. I had nothing to do with it other than writing down their grade which they got themselves. Hopefully as the next semester comes, students will continue this shaped up behavior as they want their grades to be higher.

Now I'm caught up with everything in terms of what has happened over the past few months. Now it will be easier to keep up since I finally have a schedule that I know. More to come soon since we will be going to Belgrade and Sarajevo for our semester break. It will be good to finally get out of the country and have a good time elsewhere.