The semester has come and almost passed in Romania when it’s only felt like it’s just the beginning. It’s changed my heart for the better and reshaped my motives completely from “me to we”. Romania, heavily based on community, counteracts with the individualistic achievement-driven America. Sure, I’ve learned Romanian to a conversational level and translate—something I thought wouldn’t be possible, to advocate for my own needs, become more flexible, and problem solve under pressure (like getting lost in Galați…but hey, I found the local theatre!). It will certainly be a struggle to get the English lingo back in the states.
Beyond these traits for self-advancement…I experienced what love looks like within community, and even moreso, the contrast of hatred from post-communist context. One of my classes compares and contrasts the way communism flourished as well as how each country recovered with its fall. Though communism in Romania looked like the Ceausescu dictatorship, the majority of the Balkan countries and Baltic states were oppressed by the Soviet Union and/or Russian tsars; all sharing the grueling commonality of anti-humanity. I felt evil’s eerie presence while stepping on the grounds of Sachsenhausen Concentration Memorial in Berlin, saw the tears of those separated by the Berlin Wall & the gates at the Palace of Tears, entered in reconstructed prison cells in Budapest’s House of Terror, stood with the strong Shoes on the Danube, and witnessed a replica of Warsaw’s “City of Ruins” in the Uprising Museum. With these experiences, I became heavy hearted and questioned why such evil could happen in the world. Remembering the day center, these moments gave my work new meaning. Human lives are priceless and were never meant to be segregated, isolated, and exterminated. People were created to love and be loved, live in community, and thrive. Every encounter with people—the children I work with, staff I serve alongside, Romanian community and host family—became more valuable. This is not to say I didn’t feel the same before, but even moreso.
Nonetheless, these memorials are much needed to remember, learn, and prevent this history from repeating itself in the future, as famously quoted by George Santayana.
With having the privilege of travelling and learning about communism in Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Prague, Poland, and Moldova, I’ve built more self-confidence as a person and developed a love for travelling. In addition, a stronger sense of discernment also developed in terms of “helpful people”. Depending on the person, Romanians can either be reclusive or eagerly want to help, but their help may not always be the help you need. When I asked a lady on the bus where the “Universitate” bus station was, she told me of all of the universities she knew and asked which one I was looking for (another lady told me later on that I missed it by a couple blocks, which turned out to be the case).