"Last" Days

This past week, classes ended and I began the slow and sad process of saying goodbye to people, packing up, and getting ready to leave for Arad. Because of this, the week had quite a few “last” times.

On Tuesday, I had the last meeting of my English Conversation Club. This semester has been so enjoyable getting to know my three students, helping their English, and chatting with them about a variety of subjects ranging from sports to movies to politics to family and friends. We held our last meeting at a small cafe near my apartment and had a wonderful time letting the conversation flow from one topic to another. They have improved so much in their conversational skills over the semester and I am going to miss our meetings.

This weekend, I went on my last trip out into the Bucovina countryside. This was a highly-anticipated trip that had been in the works for some time and I was so excited to get to finally explore the forest and go off-roading. The experience was everything I had imagined. I traveled through the beautiful (and not open to tourists) national forest, visited feeding locations for bears, checked some motion-activated cameras, spotted countless wild boar tracks, and ate lunch outside, roasting delicious sausage and toasting bread by the fire. It was a truly a unique and unforgettable experience. Near the end of the trip we also spotted a white Stoat darting across the road. It was so cute and tiny, and I learned that they are a very rare animal to spot!

This Monday was another last day, this time with my public speaking course. Each student student worked closely with me over the second half of the semester developing a topic, writing a speech, learning that speech, and practicing their presentational skills. Monday night was the culmination of all their hard work and I could not be more proud of how they did. One thing I loved about the course was how every student had such a unique and different topic idea for their speech, ranging from 3D printing to books vs. movies to study abroad. It was such a diverse display and I learned a lot! These students have meant so much to me over the semester and I am so sad to leave them.

This week, the love and support that I’ve felt from my students and colleagues have been overwhelming. I am so humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be here. My students over this week have expressed to me that I have had an impact on their lives and their hearts. The feeling is mutual. These people have become not just students, but friends.

To keep from ending on an emotional note, here’s a photo of me with a snowman:

Horses and Sleds

This weekend offered new and exciting experiences galore as the professor I worked with kindly arranged for another university student and me to stay at a lodge out in the countryside and visit a stud farm to ride horses. The weekend was the perfect combination of relaxing and interesting.

After a two-hour drive out into the middle of nowhere, the lodge owners welcomed us with coffee and placinte cu dovleac (pumpkin cake) before taking us off-roading with their two adorable children aged 4 and 2. While I was somewhat perturbed by the driving (no seat belts, the two year old seated in the lap of the driver), we arrived at our destination safely. We visited a man who carved beautiful objects out of wood and animal bones. He showed us his workshop and described his process. We learned he also played the trumpet and sang for events in his village. He was quite the multi talented individual!
We returned from our perilous and bumpy ride and were greeted with homemade chicken soup, tochitura, and tuica for lunch.

In the evening, I climbed up the hilly snow side to get some pictures of the sunset. I stood there, surrounded by the serenity and beauty, the silence disrupted only by the clip-clop of a horse pulling a wagon. Small farmhouses dotted the snow covered mountain side, the evergreens silhouetted against the pastel purples and pinks. One of my favorite things about traveling is looking up at the sky and seeing familiar constellations in an unfamiliar environment. The nearly unlit countryside was the perfect environment for stargazing, and I spent some peaceful time staring up at the sky and reflecting on my time in Romania.

When it got dark, we borrowed the sleds of the children who live at the lodge and went sledding down their hill. It took me back to my childhood, spending hours outside with my siblings, screaming as we sped down the hill and pelted each other with snowballs. While there was no snowball throwing this time, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of throwing myself onto the sled and racing down the hill. I must admit I was a little out of practice when it comes to sledding; I managed to run into quite a few things!

The next day we drove to the horse farm. The farm is one of (I believe) 16 state-run stud farms across Romania. The guide told us there were over 400 horses on the farm, including the 16 beautiful stallions we visited in the stables. After the tour, we got to ride one of the horses ourselves and then when on a brisk sleigh ride. While the sleigh ride was quite chilly, it was fun getting to see the farm hands working with the horses, including a delightful moment where a group of 30 or so horses orderly and calmly waited for the gate to open so they could go in and have their breakfast. It was a little overwhelming to be surrounding by such powerful animals but I loved every minute.

The weekend ended with a pleasant drive back to Suceava with the parents of the student who accompanied me on the trip. We stopped at a restaurant on the way famous for its peste prajit (fried fish) and papanasi (cheese donuts with sour cream and jam). The tasty dessert was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

Papanasi

Christmas and a New Year

I am writing this from the comfort of my room, sipping on hot coffee and watching as snow flakes dance about outside. This past month has been a whirlwind of activity that has led to me neglecting this blog. Of course, the new year brings bold resolutions to stay up-to-date for the rest of my time in Romania.

During the first two weeks of December, I was primarily occupied with teaching my classes and finalizing plans for the presentations that my students are giving in the public speaking course. I now have about fifteen students who are working with me to come up with topics, prepare content, and craft speeches that they will give at the end of January. It has been so fun seeing them improve and get excited about their topics and I look forward to seeing the final products of all their hard work.

After my classes completed, I took the train to Bucharest for the Fulbright winter meeting. This was the first time since October that I had seen most of my fellow fulbrighters and it was great getting to catch up, talk about our placements, and compare notes. We also had the opportunity to tour Cotroceni Palace, including an exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Revolution. I was particularly impressed by the massive round dining table in the palace that was inspired by the Round Table in the Arthurian legends. That evening, the Fulbright Commission provided tickets to a concert at the Roman Athenaeum. The beauty of the music was matched by the grandeur of the venue. I also managed to spend more time at the massive Christmas Market, enjoying the scenic views of the Palace of Parliament and snacking on more tasty treats.

Perhaps my favorite part about Christmastime in Romania is the stunning lights that seems to cover every tree in the country. The lights drape the trees and lampposts like showers of sparks or flurries of snow. They turn even the most mundane area into a magical place. In addition to the wonderful decorations, I watched some traditional Romanian caroling and dancing. Some of my friends at the university were kind enough to invite me to Christmas shows that students put on during the last week of school. It was fun seeing the traditional Romanian garb as well as listening to the music. I was also incredibly touched by my students who, when caroling in the apartment complex that I live in, sang a song in English just for me.

I celebrated Christmas and the New Year in the US with my family and am now back in Suceava for the last two week of classes before I move to Arad for the second semester. It’s hard to believe three months have already gone by and I’m sad to be leaving Suceava so soon. At the same time, I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had and I look forward to finding out what the next six months hold.

Thanksgiving in Bucharest

This weekend my sister flew from the US to spend Thanksgiving with me in Bucharest. The weather was chilly but sunny and we enjoyed a variety of museums, delicious food, and sights. We visited Casa Ceausescu (and saw the famous gold bathroom that led to the rumor that the house was made of solid gold) as well as walked past the Palace of Parliament.

The village museum was a wonderful (and surprisingly large) museum with a variety of different houses and structures from the past 250 years. It was interesting seeing the different types of architecture and accommodations (and meeting many friendly cats who seem to live at the museum). We also stopped by a beautiful monastery and almost found ourselves stuck inside when we couldn’t figure out how to open the door.

My favorite part of the trip was going to the Bucharest Christmas market. We sipped on mulled wine and wandered down aisle after aisle full of various shops selling baked treats, canned fruits and veggies, delicious smelling food, and beautiful handcrafted goods. We even went back when it was dark out to see the tree lit up.

While I am sad that my sister has returned to the US, I was cheered by the presence of snow! This is the first snowfall this year in Romania and while I normally do not like the cold weather, I find myself incredibly excited by the big fluffy flakes.

Snow in Suceava!

Public Speaking and Elections

One thing I knew I wanted to organize while in Romania was a public speaking course. Public speaking has been my passion for as long as I can remember and I love coaching others in it and seeing them improve and grow. So I worked with my contact at the University to help me advertise a public speaking course to the students at the University. The response was overwhelmingly positive and I had over 70 students show up to the first session.

Having a larger number of students than anticipated presented some challenges so I ended up dividing the sessions into two nights as well as a third night that focused on practicing English conversation skills for those who had a lower level of comfort with English. The past few weeks with the students have been so fun. They are a lively group who participate (mostly) without prodding from me. We have discussed strategies for confidence and the science behind the fear of public speaking, proper vocal technique, and different aspects of body language that contribute to being an effective public speaker. I have already seen so much improvement and the students have already expressed feeling more confident when they speak in front of groups.

I am hoping that by the end of the semester, I will be able to work with students to write and practice a speech about a subject they choose that they will present to the entire class. I think having a final presentation event will help them see how far they’ve come and enable everyone to celebrate their accomplishment. I look forward to working more on public speaking with them (and I’ve seen my own public speaking skills improve as well!)

This period in November is also an interesting time for everyone in Romania because it is the presidential election. Being here for this provides me with an interesting insight into Romanian politics and a useful comparison for when the American 2020 Presidential election comes around. Conversations with my students indicated that most university-aged people in Romania are uninterested in politics. I got the sense there was general apathy and dissatisfaction with the candidates that were running. I really appreciated hearing the perspectives of my students, who seemed more involved and active politically than the average university student. They are an insightful and thoughtful group and it was wonderful being able to discuss and debate different perspectives in a reasoned and respectful manner. While I am recovering from being sick, I am incredibly excited for the rest of this week as my sister arrives on Wednesday!!

Prague

This weekend I took a train to Bucharest and then flew to Prague to visit with a college friend. This was my first time in Prague and I am completely in love. It is a beautiful city, relatively affordable, and easy to explore (the public transit was so straightforward). We did so much and there were so many sights to see (and so many photos to take) that I’m going to let the photos do a lot of the talking.

The first place we visited was Prague Castle and the beautiful St Vizos Cathedral. I’ve visited a decent amount of Cathedrals in Europe but I had never seen anything as stunning at this one. It blew my mind. The stained glass inside were so intricate. Interestingly, the one pictured below had a unique style that was different from all the others in the cathedral.

Other places we visited included Strahov Monastery with an 800 year old brewery. We walked down the stairs into a dark, candlelit room made of stone with high, arched ceilings. Apparently crafting beer for 800 years makes you experts, because the beer was the best of our entire trip. We stopped by the John Lennon Wall for a few instagrammable pics. Then we climbed the tower at St. Nicholas Church which gave us a view of the entire city. It was dusk by the time we reached the top and we got to look out over the city as the street lights slowly blinked on and the city gained a golden glow.

The next day was filled with a variety of sights including the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, which features the same figure of a man going up the stairs. On each step, parts of the figure are missing until, at the very top, only the legs are left as a way to symbolize the effects communism had on the country and its inhabitants. We also visited Jerusalem Synagogue, an interesting building with Art Nouveau decoration. Of course, we had to make our way to the center of Prague and watch the astronomical clock tower strike the hour. The design was so intricate and the little figures that paraded before the small doors at the top were delightful and unique.

Now for some obligatory food pics and details. Our first night for dinner we settled on a restaurant that was recommended on every website I saw. It lived up to its hype, as the beer was cheap and cold and the food was delicious (and I tried beef tartare for the first time). We also stopped at a delightful coffee shop with some amazing pastries (and it served free water, the first time I’ve seen that since coming to Europe!). The town square at the center of Prague has a market with all sorts of craft vendors as well as food. We wandered through the square, sipping on mulled wine, stopping in at little bookshops, candy stores, and churro cone vendors and smelling the food. We were delighted but overwhelmed by the food options but finally settled on sausages, potatoes in a cream sauce, and grilled vegetables.

Prague was a much-needed break from my activities and work here. I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit, especially on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. While I probably won’t get the chance to go back during this year, I hope I will return some day!

Sofia

After a brief respite from my weekly blog posts, I’m back in the saddle. This weekend I tackled my first major trip while here and embarked on a 22 hour journey that ended in Sofia, Bulgaria for a media literacy conference. While the train and overnight bus were long, I am so glad I decided to make the trek. I met so many wonderful Fulbrighters from across the Balkans and listened to brilliant speakers. The trip did lead to the death of my phone (RIP Claire’s iPhone 2017-2019) but at least now I know where I can go to purchase a new phone at 8pm while stranded in Bucharest.

I could write about the specific seminars I attended and the sights I saw in Sofia but I am a firm believer in a picture being worth 1000 words. So instead of words, here are a bunch of photos I took of the beautiful city of Sofia.

These are just a few of the pictures of the beautiful places I visited. I especially love seeing historical places of worship and Sofia has no shortage of those. In other exciting news, while in Sofia I received an invitation to interview with one of the law schools I am applying to, so that will be coming up this week. Next weekend: Prague!