Wednesday, 8 October 2014

You Just Know

As I try to learn Romanian I have run into many frustrating things, but one of the most frustrating is the need to “count” to figure out when a noun is feminine, masculine or neutral. There are two different ways to say the numbers one and two and the correct way of saying the numbers paired with a noun determines what gender the noun is. The problem with this is that there is no rule. There is no trick to remember that provides insight on which form of the number to use, and thus which gender the noun is. It all goes by if it sounds correct and for beginning Romanian students, everything sounds correct and wrong, all at the same time. We are often told by our Romanian professor that eventually we will “just know” what is correct because we will hear it in conversation. The lack of rules for changing the words makes my endeavor of learning Romanian seem hopeless, since I am here for such a short time, but it also provides insight on some values of Romanian culture.

This need to “just know” is not only in this part of the Romanian culture. There are other things and areas of Romanian culture that I have tried to understand (through Google and conversations with my host family and other locals) and have ultimately just come back to the conclusion that they “just know” from living in Romanian society. There is no rule for where to walk on the sidewalk, no staying or moving to the right when you meet someone, but somehow people are just avoided. Farm animals and their owners are often in the middle of town and all over the road, but the car drivers around them know exactly what is the appropriate way to go about navigating the situation.  And I’m pretty sure no one knows what the correct amount to tip is, if you tip at all.

The cross over between cultural “just knows” and elements of the language that are “just known” lend to each other. They both provide a need for guidance from the older generation and a nod to the traditions that are being passed down. This is also seen in many of the rituals of the Orthodox Church. Tradition is so important in elements of the church that the word carries a different meaning. Instead of referring to cultural elements being passed down, it refers to the truth that is being passed down through the Gospels and the work of the Church.

Tradition holds an important role in Romanian society that a glimpse of the can be seen through the cultural “just known-s”. Looking at and identifying these small things that are passed down help me see the values of this society and also give me space to reflect on what areas of my culture are things that I “just know” and how that reflects the values of my society.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Outsider or Alien?

Sometimes I like to think of my immersion into Romanian life like an alien being plucked from space and dropped onto earth. I think about this while I wonder if people will ever stop staring at me as I walk down the street. By this point I have to start appearing to be a little more normal to them, right? But if I saw said alien walking around my town, would I get used to his green skin and bug eyes after 3 short weeks (presuming alien stereotypes)? No, I suppose my stares would continue, with perhaps a little more attempted subtlety. It's in this way that I'm attempting to understand my status as a foreigner, an outsider. Being an outsider has its frustrations. When you want to resume an aspect of your culture's normal customs, take running for example, you have to decide whether it's worth the emphasizing the outsider status. Other times being an outsider can be amusing. When I'm leaving the office I usually pass by this small group of young girls. I've never spoken to them but they, just as everyone else, can clearly identify my outsider status. Sometimes when we've passed they'll shout back at me "bye!" with smiles and giggles. I understand this might be the only bit of English they know and so they're using it to communicate with this "alien". Still, there are even times when being an outsider actually pays off. I left my first IMPACT meeting unsure what role this outsider played, whether I could be of any use at all. But walking back with one of the girls she commented that she was really glad someone had come to their club from another country. Moments like these remind me that despite the challenges, being an alien can sometimes be worth it.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The It’s Okay Outsider

by: Anna Wondergem

   We’ve all had those moments on the outside. The first day of high school, the time you sneezed during a sermon, when you knocked over the entire stack of cans of tomato sauce at your local grocery store, or when you showed up to a formal birthday party in sweats and a Pink sweatshirt because you thought it was just a slumber party. Trust me, in all of these moments I have felt like a complete outsider, but it was completely different than how I feel now. You see, in all of those moments, I knew that it would pass. High school ends at 3 pm every day. Someone will sneeze in the next sermon. I never have to go to that grocery store again because there is 8 in this town. And who really remembers a 17th birthday party anyways? 
    What I’ve realized since coming to Romania is that being an outsider here doesn’t pass. I’ll probably never be able to walk into the local grocery store and receive less than ten stares, or sit in the park without elderly woman stopping in their tracks to take in my American clothing and accent. The realization of this was hard, but has had many benefits. For example, when feeling like an outsider becomes overwhelming, places of comfort and acceptance become so much more appreciated. My host home has become a place of comfort for me, as I’ve really begun to feel comfortable being myself while working towards an understanding of the culture here. Moments with the other students and other English speakers are little pieces of reassurance through out the week. Home and simple conversations are often taken for granted when almost everything is comfortable. However, those two things become sources of joy and peace when almost everything else is uncomfortable!
    Those moments and places of comfort are what make being an outsider not such a burden all the time, and even a bit fun. It’s almost as if the moment you accept being an outsider is the first moment when it does not hold you back anymore. It’s okay to completely butcher saying good morning to someone, especially if it makes them smile even more because of it. It’s okay to ask questions, especially the silly ones. It’s okay to not understand how much an avocado costs are what kind of meat you may actually be buying. Most importantly, it’s okay, and possibly the best way to handle being an outsider, to deal with things with a lot of laughter and embracement of the outsider persona. Whether it is the first day of High School or the first time attempting to take a maxi taxi in Lupeni, laughter makes the whole experience of being an outsider a much more enjoyable one. 

     I’m not expecting to feel like an insider at the end of these months, nor am I expecting to feel as awkward and uncomfortable I did my first week walking down the main road of Lupeni. There’s a happy medium, a balance per se, that I am gearing towards. Picking up pieces of this culture, learning more about it, trying the language and new things more are helping every day. Realizing that it’s okay to be American, different, and not like everyone else is helping even more. So for now, I’m embracing the identity of the “It’s Okay Outsider,” because at the end of the day, if my biggest concern is saying good night instead of good morning or ordering the wrong thing off the menu in an attempt to use my limited Romanian, well, it’s going to be okay. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Drawing the Outsider In

by: Jenna Beeson

Going somewhere new with a different culture is hard. I experience things that seem strange, unusual, and illogical. I greet people using foreign gestures and leave saying words I do not understand. I learned the appropriate timing for the smile and nod, I recognize when it’s okay to pretend not to hear to avoid another apology and saying I do not speak the language yet again, and when it’s necessary to try to communicate and understand. I am used to the stares as I walk to class because I look different, dress different, and do not follow the unspoken rule about not going outside with wet hair.
            These things became a new type of normal for me. I am used to putting on crocs before I leave my room, though I don’t understand it. I expect to get stares when I walk into buildings and I prepare the words nu vorbesc Românește when I know the employees at second hand stores will try to talk to me. I automatically open the translator tab on my computer and phone when I turn them on. These things easily become frustrating and make it appealing to pull out of the culture and avoid interactions with Romanians, instead opting to interact with the Americans and the occasional Canadian or Brazilian.
            Though the frustrations make it more difficult, I get a pristine ethnographic view of this culture many insiders will never see. I am the fly on the wall with the perfect birds' eye view. I am the person in the room with the excuse. I am pardoned when I don’t participate in the rituals at church or make conversation on the street.  Because of this ability to disappear I have noticed many aspects of Romanian culture not worth noting by Romanian insiders, but if they disappeared the culture would seem strange to them.

            I observed mothers and daughters often holding hands when walking down the street with each other, people bringing flowers as gifts for their friends, and caring for and feeding the street dogs and pigeons as a way of life here. Noticing these small things does not seem like much, just aspects of a culture, but when one of the IMPACT kids held my hand as we hiked back from rock climbing and I received flowers for my birthday, they become so much more than small aspects of a culture. They welcome the outsider in. The small things of the culture, like saying ceau when passing an acquaintance on the sidewalk, give belonging where being the outsider once was. The little things take away the sting of the stares and the need to apologize for not knowing the language. The little things of acceptance, like continuing to talk to me in Romanian without frustration until I get it and the small moments of smiles and laughter transcending the need for language all together, helps this outsider find her spot in a culture that is quickly becoming home.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Expressing Ones Self

Written by: Kori Dean

With every significant change and transition that has occurred in the past year, I’ve noticed the consistent presence of mountains.

            Last September, I spent a month in the state of Colorado backpacking, mountain biking, cliff jumping, and getting to know seventeen very special people who I still consider family. That month spent under the shadow of the Colorado Mountains was painful, uncomfortable, and challenging, but they were also healing, restorative, and formative.

            I traveled back to Massachusetts to finish my school year, but it wasn’t long before mountains surrounded me once again. This time, I became acquainted with the mountains of upstate New York as I lead wilderness trips through Gordon College’s La Vida program. Again, I experienced hardship, challenge, and discomfort, but I was formed and grown in countless ways.

            After a twenty day period in my mountain-less hometown, I stepped on a plane and traveled to Lupeni, Romania, for my my fall semester. Once again, I found myself in the presence of mountains. Lupeni is located in the beautiful Jui Valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides.

These past few weeks have been the most challenging I’ve ever experienced, but they have also provided me with the most opportunities for growth and self-reflection. My time in Lupeni has not been challenging in the physical sense, even though we’ve done our fair share of hiking. It hasn’t even been particularly challenging in the communal sense, though I’m sure this community will face it’s trials soon enough. The most difficult aspect of studying in this country has been the language barrier.

For someone who seeks to gain mastery and control over her environment, I’ve had an extremely difficult time. I’ve learned how to use the public transportation here; I know where to walk and how to get to important places such as the office and the IMPACT building; I’ve learned to respect and honor important parts of the Romanian culture and started to adjust to life here in Lupeni. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to overcome the language barrier.

The inability to communicate is certainly difficult; having to rely on others to help me order in a restaurant, ask someone for something as simple as hot water, or translate for me as I attempt to converse with someone who doesn’t speak English is tiring and disappointing. It’s also extremely challenging for me to rely on others so heavily, seeing as I tend to rely on myself for completing simple tasks.

The most difficult challenge of all, however, is not simply found in my ability to communicate with the Romanian people. It’s the inability to express who I am, the very essence of myself. I’ve become so accustomed to relying on language to express my sense of humor, my likes, my dislikes, my desires, wishes, and dreams; for a long time, language as been one of the most prominent means through which I display my personality and identity to those around me, and now that I’ve lost the ability to use that means, I’ve felt slightly lost.

I have to remind myself not to become disappoint, discouraged, or dismayed, however. This opportunity has helped me reflect on the pieces of me that I value enough to share with others and has pushed me to demonstrate those pieces through more creative means than the English language. This will not be an easy semester, and I am more than aware of this fact, but I know I will grow and learn in the shadow of these beautiful mountains. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Errors, Laughter, & Grace

Written by: Anna Wondergem

Stepping off the plane after arriving in Romania, I was almost immediately embraced by English speakers and spent the day in comfortable conversation with them, which led me to believe that the whole idea of having a language barrier or a culture shock was quite silly. It was easy to tune out the conversations around me that sounded a tad like gibberish, and focus on the conversations in English I was having. The first day in a new culture was actually quite comfortable. 
As the week continued, I began to depend more and more on the Silvas and Bates to simply translate things into English for me, or to carry conversations for me with those around who did not speak English. I’m not quite sure what I was waiting for, but I think the attitude in America of just assuming people will learn to communicate with oneself was one I unintentionally carried over with me to Romania. Subconsciously, I was waiting for others to attempt to learn English to communicate with me, rather than the other way around. To put it bluntly, it was completely the wrong way to try and become integrated in another culture! Language is a huge part of a person’s identity and culture, and when we fail to strive to understand and learn it, we are ignoring an essential component to who that person is. 

As I began to realize this, I started making a more conscious effort around me to learn and enjoy learning a new language. It has been humbling, difficult, and at times more humiliating than I had anticipated! I craved a Coca-Cola for almost a week before I worked up the nerve to go into a store and purchase it. The little conversation I knew that would be had at the cash register made me so incredibly anxious. However, attempting to speak and understand this language has also been a great way to accept grace, kindness, and smiles from complete strangers. The appreciation that is expressed, and laughter at times at terrible pronunciations on my part from my host family and strangers has led to the journey of learning Romanian to one of adventure, joy, and many errors! People often say that language brings people together, but I’m learning that that unity is not just limited to fluency in a language, but also the laughter had from the attempts of speaking and hearing new languages. While it’s difficult to be an outsider at times, and not know what elderly women sitting on benches in parks are saying as you walk by, or what the man outside your window could possibly be yelling at his dog at 3 in the morning, the experience of living in a culture that speaks a language I do not has already been more beneficial in my life and relationships than I think I even realize. Errors, laughter, and grace: one of the best ways to make it through the first few weeks in a country such as this with a language such as Romanian. 

Beauty in Miscommunication

           Written by Jenna Beeson

            In high school I was in a choral reading about communication. It started with the line “Communication makes the world go round.” It’s amazing how true this quote is when you can’t speak the same language as the people you live with. I have traveled other places where I could not speak the language, but this is the first time English is not a widely spoken second language and I am not constantly accompanied by someone who does speak the native language.
            This lack of ability with even the most basic Romanian words has made it harder for me to do basic things, like get something from the bakery, make a purchase at a second-hand store, or say hi to the people I pass on my way to class. I have found myself thinking twice about if I really need something before leaving the safety of my host home or trying to figure out a different way to get or do something that will require the least amount of verbal communication.
            Even though my lack of Romanian vocabulary has made doing some of the most basic tasks more difficult, it has also left a huge space in my life to figure out how to love without words and see grace extended when verbal communication cannot. Some of my favorite moments in my host home come from the times when words could not be found and actions had to suffice. I have had quite a few conversations with my host dad that end in laughter with very few English or Romanian words being spoken and understood and instead used non-verbals and actions to communicate.
            Even though this is not the most ideal method of communication for everyday life, I have learned the power of actions, facial expressions, and laughter in conveying a message. It has also provided the constant reminder that grace is needed in everyday interactions, when I am able to speak the language and not. Even when I am speaking with my host mom and sister, who both speak English very well, messages cannot be conveyed perfectly all the time, which can be frustrating on both sides of the conversation, but grace is extended to cover up the mistakes, missing words, and bad grammar, so the relationships take precedence over the language.

            This grace provides a space for mutual learning and understanding. My host sister and I have agreed to help each other out with our Romanian and English homework and as we talk through different thing in our languages, more than just the language is discussed. We end up speaking about our families, friends, schools, and culture. This unique type of learning would not be able to happen if we all were from the same place and spoke the same language, so even though it makes everyday life more difficult, the mutual learning and growth is well worth the added difficulty.