Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Peace Corps Romania Country Director has let us know that we will be the last group to serve in Romania. I have mixed emotions about this, as you might expect. But overall, I am very excited that the country has made so much progress. On the other hand I can't say that we aren't needed here. Then again, every country in the world could use more people volunteering more often, and many other countries have an even greater need than Romania.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Peace Corps in Romania, and we will be about half way through the 23rd year when we finish. I feel very lucky to get the opportunity to be part of it. Our whole group hopes to leave a legacy worthy of the Peace Corps name and worthy of all of the efforts over these many years.

If you're interested, here is some more information about the announcement:

Friday, June 24, 2011

The New Normal

We've been here 8 weeks now. Several things that I found different at the beginning of our adventure are now normal.
• I'm served french fries by my host mom on a near daily basis. Who knew I would ever be required to eat french fries?
• It's not illegal to pass a police car here. My host father is going to the States this fall, and I had to make it clear to him not to do this there.
• We don't look before we cross the street…sorry moms. If you look, it is seen as a sign of weakness by the driver and invites negotiation as to whether or not they will stop. It is safer to walk in front of them.
• I now rank bathrooms on a 5 star system. One star each is given for the existence of: toilet, seat, toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. Stars are deducted based on cleanliness. Rainbow colored toilet paper garners bonus points. It is almost always necessary to throw the paper in the bin next to the toilet instead of in the toilet, so this does not figure into the point system.
• We see horse drawn carts on a daily basis. The horses wear red tassels next to their eyes for good luck. They definitely need it, given the "rules" of the road here.
• Romanian women regularly wear dark colored bras under light colored, generally see-through shirts. Before some of you start thinking this is a great idea, keep in mind that this is done by women of all ages and sizes.
• Cross ventilation, even in the summer, is a sure way to be sick the next day. If there is a Romanian in the room, it is polite to sit and sweat. Many of you have seen me with my little fan. Apparently it is appropriate to create your own personal air circulation using one, because many Romanian women use them. I've started a trend among the women in our Peace Corps group. The guys are jealous and like to sit to our left where they can get a little breeze.

Out our front door

Monday, June 13, 2011

Going Home for the First Time

Sarah and I are off to our new home this morning. We will be living in a large town of about 40,000 people. It is in the Moldova region and in the county of Iași. Iași city is considered one of the cultural centers of the country and will only be about an hour train ride from our town.

I'll be teaching high school (although my school goes down to the same age as 6th graders in the U.S.) and Sarah will be at the middle school (but teaching 2nd through 9th U.S.). We met our counterparts this weekend, who will be a major component of our support system as well as teachers in our schools. The first impressions were great and we're looking forward to getting to know them very well over the next two years.

My counterpart, Roxana, and her fiancee are driving us there and we'll get to go through Brașov, a major scenic town in Romania. This is really our first time getting to see any of the country, besides the city we have been in for all of training. We are so excited and can't wait to share our thoughts and pictures!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


In addition to our language classes, we have also been doing "practicum" for the past 4 weeks or so. This is a chance for us to observe an English teacher in her classroom, as well as slowly start to do some teaching ourselves.

The Romanian system is different from the U.S. system in a few ways. The most noticeable is that the students typically stay in one classroom while the teacher moves around. That also means that the students stay together in the same group all day long. From what I can tell, this same group will stay together for years at a time, and they are heavily tracked. If you are in IX-a, then you are the top of your class for the ninth grade. IX-b is the second best and on down the line, etc. IX-a will typically become X-a with very minor changes, if any.

This can be a practical issue for teachers, since they do not have the ability to make a classroom their own. They can't keep a poster on the wall with the alphabet or common vocabulary, for example. On the other hand, the students take ownership of a room, and student work is often displayed.

I started out in high school with a group of four other volunteers. This went quite well for me, and I finished our two weeks there by teaching a full lesson on what it takes to be a good teacher. I got a ton of help planning from Alicia, one of the Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders. She's just finishing up her third year here in Romania, and she was a teacher in the U.S. before moving here. My small personal contribution was having one of my volunteer colleagues (who was also in the room) call my cell phone during class. Then we proceeded to have a conversation about what we did last night in front of the class, as an example of bad teaching. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I think they learned a little bit of new vocabulary.

After this we moved to middle school. We observed for one day and then I dove into a seventh grade class on the second day. This time I got a ton of help planning from Sarah. But, I was extremely nervous to teach this lesson for some reason. It was on the topic of music, so it should have been right up my alley, but the class did not respond to me at all. Maybe I shouldn't have started with that Nietzsche quote….

You might think I'm kidding, but I'm not. The quote was, "Without music, life would be a mistake," and I only asked them to agree or disagree. In any case it didn't fly and I was flustered enough to never fully recover. I bailed on our Romanian counterpart and asked her to take over the next class, on the same topic and with the same level. She took my (read Sarah's) lesson plan and knocked it out of the park. That was the most interesting and revealing lesson for me. Her changes were subtle, but very important. When something wasn't working, she moved on without taking it personally. When the students weren't engaged, she tried a different tactic. She also has known them for years, but that doesn't guarantee she has a good relationship. It means that she has built it carefully over time.

We had our last practicum yesterday and had a conference with our counterparts today to review our experience. We also had something like a midterm exam on language. Today felt like a real turning point for me, and it feels like training is nearing its end. In reality we have four weeks left, but we find out our permanent sites tomorrow, we meet our long term counterparts on Friday, we have sessions all weekend, and then we leave for our sites on Monday to return next Thursday. Once we get back, we only have two full weeks of class and then we swear in. It will be over before I have time to think about it. That's very exciting and very scary!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Much has happened since we last posted, and I am going to try really hard to put a few posts up in quick succession, including a few new photos.

In the meantime, I figure that folks in the States are curious how our language skills are progressing. This weekend I was supposed to write in my journal for temă (homework). I thought a post of my homework (and a translation following) would show how much we can communicate in just 5 weeks. For this, I have to give a huge shout out to our amazing team of language teachers. So far we've had three different teachers. Mine have been Simona, Octavian and Raluca.

This will also give you a sense of what our life is like here. A sneak peek: it is definitely not what I thought of as the stereotypical Peace Corps weekend.

Noaptea trecut eu, Sarah, și colegii am mers pe jos în centru. Înainte de cina eu am cumpărat o carte în limba română, "Atacul Mutanților." Kevin a citit asta carte în engleză când a fost mai tânăr, și a amintit învelitoarea cârții.

Apoi, noi am mers la papetarie. Au avut multe pixuri, caiete și altceva. Lânga mazin era un magazin de mâncare naturala. Vânzatoara a vorbit cu mine despre produsele ei. Ea a avut ciocolata fără zahar, și sare din mare și din atlantic. Toate produsele au fost foarte scumpe.

Mai târziu noi am mers la restaurantul C&C. Am luat cina și am băut bere. Eu am mâncat pizza quattro stagione. A avut o parte cu salam, alta parte cu șunca, alta parte cu măsline și porumb, și ultima parte cu roșii și ciuperci. A fost gustoasă!

Dupa china noi am vrut desert, deci am mers la restaurantul San Marco. Multe persoane au mâncat ciocolata caldă. A fost o budincă, nu a fost o băutură.

Dimineața eu, Sarah și gazdele mele am mers cu mașina în oraș la parastas. Am ajuns târziu pentru biserica și cimitir, dar am pus niște flori pe mormânt. Noi am mers pe jos din cimitir la casa mamei decedatului. Alt voluntar, Jason, a fost la casă pentru că decedatul era fratele gazdei lor. Eu am băut niște țuica și un pahar de vin alb cu apă minerală. Noi am mâncat supă cu tăiței, brânză, doa feluri de sarmale, mămăligă, și prajitura. Noi am mâncat pește și șnițel de porc de asemenea.

Acum eu fac temă, ascult musică, beau cafea și apa, și insectele mă enervează. Eu sunt afară, si cu excepția insectelor este foarte frumos și agreabil.

Mâine vom avea o zi liber. Nu știu ce voi face. Poate voi cumpara spray de insectă!

Last night my classmates, Sarah and I walked to the town center. Before dinner I bought a Goosebumps book in Romanian, "Attack of the Mutants." Kevin had read this book in English when he was younger, and he remembered the book's cover.

After, we went to the office store. They had many pens, notebooks and other stuff. Next to the store is a natural food store. The woman who works there told me about her products. She had chocolate without sugar, and salt from the sea and from the Atlantic. All of the products were very expensive.

Later we went to the restaurant C&C. We had dinner and drank beer. I had quattro stagione pizza. It had one part with pepperoni, another part with ham, another part with olives and corn and the last part had tomatoes and mushrooms. It was tasty!

After dinner we wanted dessert, so we went to the restaurant San Marco. A bunch of people ate hot chocolate. It was a pudding, not a drink.

This morning my host family, Sarah and I drove to the city for a parastas (anniversary of the death of a friend or relative). We arrived too late for church and the ceremony at the cemetery, but we put flowers on the grave. We walked from the cemetery to the deceased's mother's house. Another volunteer, Jason, was at the house because the deceased was his gazda's brother. I drank some țuica (strong, locally made plum brandy) and a glass of white wine with mineral water. We ate soup with homemade noodles, cheese, two types of sarmale (pickled cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), mămăligă (Romanian polenta or grits), and cakes. We also ate fish and pork schnitzel.

Now I'm doing my homework, listening to music, drinking coffee and water, and the insects are bugging me. I'm outside, and with the exception of the insects it is very beautiful and pleasant.

Tomorrow is a free day. I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll buy some bug spray!