I have survived my Romanian language midterm exams!! On Monday, I had my written exam, and today I had my oral exam – which was a special birthday treat for me. 😉 It is hard to believe that the semester is already half-way over. The weeks fly by so quickly here, and it seems that I am getting busier and busier. Lately, there has been talk of starting a gym day for the teens involved in the clubs on Thursday afternoons. The idea is that I can teach the basic fundamentals of volleyball to those interested, and then hopefully coach the team (or teams) for the rest of the semester with the help of my colleagues, Lauren and Ashley (who also have played or coached volleyball in the past). Last week, we had a “trial” gym day to see who would be interested in playing volleyball, and the results were extremely positive! It was awesome to see how excited the teens were to work together and bond with their teammates. They were extremely competitive, and thrilled for the opportunity to play. An English drink company named Tizer had donated t-shirts to Veritas, and we were able to give each teen a gym day t-shirt. Even the teen leaders were given the cool matching t-shirts!
Jill, Ashley, and I (the teen club interns) looking snazzy in our Tizer t-shirts while standing in the doorway of the International Cafe.
I have grown up playing volleyball for my entire life, and it would be exciting for me to be able to share a skill that I have been passionate about for so long. I brought a couple of volleyballs with me from the States, and we have found a high school that has a court and a net – and that is willing to let Veritas use their gym once a week for a couple of hours! The plan is almost finalized, and I am hoping that I will be able to start the week that I get back from my fall break! Exciting things are happening, and I am thankful for the many activities that keep me busy while I enjoy my time here!
Today we traveled by bus to the lovely and historic city of Sibiu! We started the day with a tour provided by our Romanian teacher, Elena. We walked on the first iron bridge built in Romania, which is also known as the “Bridge of Lies” or “Liar’s Bridge”. According to legend, if one were to tell a lie while standing on the bridge, piece by piece it would start to crumble. This bridge is a popular destination for lovers to pledge their vows, and many wedding photos are taken on this bridge.
Some of the group also toured the Romanian art in the National Brukenthal Museum – where we were able to use our International Student ID cards to get a large discount! 😉 The museum was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I think that my favorite piece of the day was by Gheorghe Tattarescu. I unfortunately was unable to snap a photo because at this point in the museum I was told that taking photos was not allowed (oops!).
Spending the day with my crazy-fun girls was the best part of the trip! After our tour in the morning was over, we drank coffee and relaxed in the city center where we observed other people also enjoying their day in the sun. We shopped, found a cool bookstore, took a lot of goofy photos, and laughed a lot. It was a great Saturday, and I am so blessed to have met all of these awesome people!
Faith and ministry are a huge part of Veritas and the Romanian Studies Program (RSP). Veritas is the non-profit Christian organization that the RSP students partner with. The goal of Veritas is not only (if possible) to meet the physical needs of the people of Sighisoara, but also the spiritual needs. All of the programs offered at Veritas incorporate a prayer or Bible lesson into each session because they recognize that by sharing the gospel, they are able to offer true freedom and hope for their clients. Veritas’ doors are open to all, and will not turn away anyone (even with the strong prejudices against the Roma “gypsy” population). The needs are great here, and the poverty was at first extremely overwhelming (especially after going on my first home visit). I believe this is why the foundation of the organization is built on the message of Christ and God’s redeeming love – to provide hope in the lives of those living in the poorest conditions in the community. The word “veritas” is Latin for “truth”. Veritas strives to spread the truth of the gospel to all who participate in the programs. The services that are provided by Veritas are a Kindergarten, separate after-school clubs for kids and teens, elderly clubs, a special needs program, and a domestic violence program.
These programs open up opportunities to work with diverse populations. Sometimes I get frustrated because I do not feel as if I am able to truly help others while here, but that’s when I remind myself that it’s not necessarily about what I can do here, but rather what I can learn while here. The Romanian Studies Program is all about having a different cultural experience, and I am able to learn so much about how non-profit organizations work and what kind of scenarios arise while working with such diverse and oppressed populations. It’s definitely not the “typical” senior field placement, but I think that is why I first found the RSP so appealing. It is a lot different here than in the states. I may not learn about how to do all of the paperwork that is necessary and prevalent in American social work organizations, but my experiences here, I believe, surpass that need. Through spreading the truth of the gospel, Veritas is an example of what Christ’s love in action looks like. It provides the message of hope and ultimate freedom for all to hear.
John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I have been asked this question quite often, and to be honest, I was not so sure of the answer myself for the first couple of weeks. Because Jill and I are the very first Hope students to participate in the Romanian Studies Program, we were both unable to give many details about what exactly we would be doing while here. Finally, after a month in, I feel as if I have settled into a routine, and somewhat know how to prepare for the day ahead of me…
8 am Romanian language class
9:30 am Teen Club adviser meeting at the Veritas Family Center
12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center
2 pm Teen Club
5 pm Cross-cultural checkup at Dorothy’s house
6 pm “American” dinner at Dorothy’s house
8 am Romanian language class
10 am School visits
12:30 pm Supervision with Dorothy
2 pm Teen Club
5 pm Elderly home visits with Zsolt, my translator
9 am Elderly home visits/ Food delivery with David and Mia
12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center
2 pm Teen Club
8 am Romanian language class
10 am School visits
12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center
8 am Veritas team meeting
10:30 am Social Work Seminar
12:30 pm Lunch
1:15 pm Romanian History and Culture Class
Every other weekend, Dorothy plans day trips and tours to different cities in Romania, and these are a lot of fun! During the week, the majority of my extra time in between clubs or meetings is spent preparing material, researching, or studying Romanian. Because I do not speak the language, it is extremely difficult to focus on the counseling aspect of social work. The majority of the Veritas staff can speak or understand English well, and translators are available, but nonverbal communication is huge when working one-on-one with clients. My role as a social worker here is more focused on the aspects of being an educator, an advocate, a researcher, a service provider, and a net-worker. Throughout the week, I help lead group activities, lessons, and games for the teens and elderly clubs that focus on getting them involved and interacting with one another. I also go on home-visits to assess the needs of the family or client, and to observe their home environment. Through my daily interactions with my clients, I look for opportunities to meet their needs with the help of the already existing Veritas programs, and I am encouraged to voice my suggestions and opinions about possible new program ideas to my supervisors. At the end of the day, I am usually exhausted from the mental and emotional stress, but I am blessed to have this unique experience. I continue to thank God for the strength He provides, and for stretching me further than I would have ever thought possible! So, what exactly am I doing here in Sighisoara? I am here trying to love God, serve His people, and learn more about what it means to be a social worker in a non-profit Christian organization from those with greater wisdom and experiences than my own.
Probably one of my favorite days so far this semester was this past Saturday when we went on a hike in the Calimani Mountains. Our destination was a look-out peak called Scaunul Domnului (the Chair of God). We started our hike at 10:30 am and reached the top of the cliff around 2:00 pm! We carried our lunch in our pockets, and stopped to eat in an open valley on the way up the mountain. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day for a hike!
On the trail up towards the top, we saw fresh signs of a large bear, as well as signs for wild boars. Thankfully, the only animals that attacked us that day were sheep dogs. Apparently, sheep dogs can be pretty vicious, but the shepherds were nearby and able to keep them under control.
It was a long hike to the top, and the view was definitely worth it!
We ended up taking a different route down the mountain and didn’t make it to the bottom until 6:30 pm. The last couple of hours were miserable for some because we were all tired and hungry, but David, our tour-guide, was cheerful and showed us the food we could and could not eat while on the mountain!
It was a long day, but definitely worth the time and energy. I felt rejuvenated after this hike, and I cannot wait for my next chance to go back to the mountains! Hopefully the snow and cold weather will hold off, because I want to go hiking as much as possible while here.
One of the highlights from last week was being able to bump around on a tour bus all day for an Elderly Club Group Outing! We visited the Brancoveanu Monastery and the Brukenthal Palace near Sibiu. A team from the United States joined the excursion with the elderly, along with Damen, a Romanian adopted by an American family. Damen is 23 years old, has a mild case of autism, and was partnered with me for the day. We had a lot of fun admiring the beautiful countryside during our 10 hours together, and had many “moments” throughout the day that were memorable.
Our second stop of the day was to Brukenthal Palace which during the summer months is open for tours. However, we arrived in the off-season, so we were only able to admire the mansion, guest house, and garden from outside.
All in all, it was a fun but long day. We frequently had to stop the bus on the side of the road because someone was feeling car-sick, so that an elderly club member could use the restroom, or to pick the wildflowers and mushrooms on the hillside near the road. It was quite the adventure, and we had a lot of fun touring different parts of Romania!
I have been in Romania for a little over one week now and it feels like so much has happened already! This past week has been filled with all sorts of emotions. As I am still soaking up the new environment and trying to settle into my new routine, I found it helpful to organize my thoughts and adventures under these categories:
My Host Family
My host family is fantastic! The first night that Jill and I arrived into Sighisoara, they greeted us with a delicious fresh baked plum cake. Jill and I were a little exhausted from the 24+ hours of traveling, so after chatting for a bit, we retired for the evening in our room. Jill and I also have our own bathroom – which apparently is rare for students in this program, so we sure are lucky. 🙂
Fortunately, Romania starts school later in September, so Oana, my host sister who is also in college, is able to spend time with us before she leaves for her school of design in Cluj, Romania. Oana, who speaks English very well, is a lot of fun and gave Jill and I our first official tour of the citadel! There happened to be a Film Festival that first weekend that we arrived, so Saturday evening, Jill and I met with Oana’s friends in the citadel to watch a Romanian film (without English subtitles!), and on Sunday night we returned to the citadel to listen to a few local Romanian bands. Oana just so happened to have studied abroad in Latvia last semester (!!!) so we were able to bond over our similar experiences. It will be sad when Oana has to go back to Cluj, because she has been extremely helpful with adjusting to the Romanian lifestyle.
Growing up on a fruit farm, I was particularly worried that I would not be able to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as I am used to. What a surprise I’ve had! The majority of the food that we eat is grown in my host family’s backyard or is bought at the local farm market on Wednesdays or Saturdays. Our milk is straight from the neighbor’s cow, so in the mornings, I strain the fat out of the milk myself! Raspberries, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, herbs – you name it, we probably have it in the garden! It is a great season to be visiting. 🙂 Oh, and I absolutely love the neighbor’s fresh grapes! They’re incredible! My host family prefers to eat only organic food, and I love the healthy options that they provide for Jill and I each day.
As I mentioned before, the Romanians were still enjoying their summer break this past week, and therefore some of the Veritas programs (like Kids Club, Adolescent Youth Group, Kindergarten, and Special Needs Club) will not start until tomorrow (Monday the 16th). However, we, the RSP students, were kept extremely busy this past week in preparation for the start of the Veritas programs. Jill and I have a 30 minute walk each morning into the citadel where our classroom in the House on the Rock (one of the Veritas buildings) is located. This past week, our Romanian language class started at 8 am, and was either followed by a Romanian history class or a Romanian literature class. After classes, we would have a 15 minute walk over to the Family Center (the other Veritas building where most of the programs take place) where lunch was prepared for the Veritas staff and students (we will continue to have our lunches prepared for us during the weekdays at the Family Center throughout the semester). After lunch, our afternoons were filled with home visits, staff meetings, visiting elderly clubs, and listening to presentations on what each program consists of at Veritas. These presentations and informative meetings were crucial in helping me decide which programs I wanted to participate in this semester for my field practicum. Tomorrow, after language class, the plan is for me to attend an elderly club until lunch, and then after lunch work with the adolescent/teen club.The schedules are still very likely to change, but I have been told that after this first week it gets easier because then we’re able to settle into a routine.
Most importantly on this trip so far I have learned to: 1) stay flexible – our schedules are constantly changing, 2) force myself to try to get to sleep at night at a reasonable hour, and 3) keep relying on God for strength each day. This semester will be a challenge, but I know good things are happening here.
On Thursday, September 19, Veritas celebrated its second annual Open House Day. This day was the official “Welcome Back” party and fundraiser for the students involved in the Kindergarten and the after-school Kid’s Club and Teen’s Club programs. There were lots of games for the children to play, and there were even fun activities for the adults that visited. The cost of participation in the activities and games ranged from 50 cents to 5 dollars, which was fairly cheap considering we offered stations for haircuts, manicures, clothes and crafts for purchase, face painting, hair braiding, bracelet making, games with stuffed animal prizes, a puppet show, a photo station with picture frame making, jewelry making, a few concession stands, and balloon animal making (which I was in charge of)!!!
The day started at 10 am and ended around 7 pm, and it was a huge success! Over 100 children visited throughout the day, and we even had two teachers from local elementary schools bring their students to participate in order to show their support for Veritas. We raised almost $800 through the donations, games, and activities, which was a blessing because the Veritas Family Center is currently undergoing construction for expansion. The day was also a great way to get the community involved and inform them about what is happening at Veritas and how they can become involved.
Overall, Veritas Open House Day was a huge success, and I am thankful that I was able to participate in the event! All of the Veritas programs (and my field placements) will officially begin on Monday, and I am excited to work with the elderly programs, the Teen’s Program, and to start my school visits! The days are busy and long, but after two weeks I am finally feeling as if I am making a bit of progress in establishing relationships and understanding where my place is here in Sighisoara!
In THREE days I am leaving for Sighisoara, Romania, and I could not be more excited! Last week, I had a final meeting with Professor Sturtevant, the professor and chair of the department of social work and sociology at Hope, and Jill, my friend and fellow Hope social work student who will also participate in the Romania Studies Program (RSP) this fall. In this meeting, we reviewed the basic guidelines and requirements for fulfilling our 440 field practicum hours while in Romania, and Professor Sturtevant gave us last-minute tips on how to adapt to the Romanian culture. Because Jill and I are the first Hope social work students to seek to fulfill our field practicum hours through the RSP, we do not know what exactly to expect from this trip. I believe that the “unknown” aspect of this trip is what excites me the most. We are the “guinea pigs” for the social work department, and this opportunity is seen as a blessing for my adventure-seeking heart. I anticipated leaving the meeting feeling overwhelmed, and was surprised when I felt even more assured that this is the trip God has in store for me. It will be comforting having a friend embark on this journey with me, and I am thrilled that I get to leave so soon.
These last few days have been filled with last-minute shopping, visiting friends, and spending time with family. I am still working on packing, and I have found it extremely helpful that the director of the RSP, Dorothy Tarrant, sent us a packing list that included the breakdown of clothing and toiletry necessities, gift ideas for our host parents, non-essentials that we may have room for, as well as possible donation ideas for the sister program in Romania called Veritas. I have planned out what I intend to bring, and now the trick is to fit it all in the one suitcase and one carry-on that I am allowed to bring – I’ll let you know how that goes. 😉
Wish me luck, and keep me in your prayers, for in THREE days I will begin the trip of a lifetime!