my last sunset on Str Horea
my last sunrise on Str. Horea
Rather quietly, I managed to settle into my life in Cluj and it seemed perfectly natural that it was going to continue. It was starting to feel like home to me in small ways. Even as I realized how much I didn’t know, I was becoming comfortable in the things I did: walking several miles in the normal course of a day; convincing the market sellers that truly, I wanted 3 potatoes, not 3 kilograms of potatoes; giving my address in Romanian to the taxi drivers and being understood (as opposed to the driver who thought I was speaking Spanish); frequenting favorite restaurants with favorite foods (oh, Boema and Livada, how I will miss you); having student meetings at a nearby cafe that kindly gave me ice with my CC Lights.
Cluj was my base this year for all things Romanian, from visiting colourful villages in the Transylvanian countryside to exploring beautiful cities around the country, from drinking tuica to eating mamaliga, from translating poetry with faculty in Craiova to co-presenting a writing workshop in Baia Mare, from working with students on their papers in coffeeshops to discussing educational differences with my department head over lemonade. Cluj was the base for my explorations beyond the Romanian border, the home I returned to after Christmas in Vienna, New Year’s in Ljubljana, semester break in Athens, Easter holiday in Malaga. The Tangerine Palace, in all its orangeness, rose above the water (and electricity and gas) issues to become a comfy little home.
I still had plenty of uncomfortable moments, of course. Just become some things became easier doesn’t mean some things didn’t stay difficult. The bureaucracy was maddening; more often than not, it seemed the system was designed to make things exponentially harder to accomplish – Case in point: I wanted to mail a package back to the US, so I walked to the main post office, only to be told that they only mail packages to Europe; the office for US packages is about 20 minutes away but it closes early. Why two offices? Who knows? – Travel was puzzlingly convoluted, with buses faster than trains and neither being direct or efficient. I didn’t pick up as much of the language as I’d hoped, which kept me from really stepping into the flow of life.
And then there’s everything connected to education, good, bad and indifferent. I doubt I’d ever be able to reconcile students’ lack of attendance; even understanding how their schedules were often stacked against them, I can’t fathom being able to miss every single class and still have the ability to pass with an exam. I don’t like the narrowness of the curriculum or the compression of their time to degree, elements that seem administratively foisted rather than pedagogically sound and just as frustrating to the faculty. But. I loved the intellectual quickness of the students, their willingness to jump into the fray of discussion when an idea provoked them. I admired their willingness to good-naturedly adjust to my instructional differences, despite clear deviations from their expectations, and their obvious efforts to communicate academically in a second (or third or fourth) language. I enjoyed interacting with the faculty, people who were always warm and welcoming when we passed in the hallways or when we sat down to dinner, despite their heavy loads and busy lives.
Because education is why I came to Romania, my own and my students. I’ve learned a great deal from these young people this year (and perhaps they’ve learned something that will stick with them in the years to come). The Romanian system required me to sharpen my just-in-time curriculum-designing skills; the Romanian students forced me to think more quickly on my pedagogical feet than I have in years. I’m already curious to see how this year’s professorial learning will manifest once I’m back in familiar classrooms.
Romania, with all its delights and challenges, its quirks and traditions, its beauty and surprises, has been quite the adventure. I can’t thank the Fulbright commission enough for opening this door to a country – and people – that offered opportunities and experiences, both personal and professional, I could not have imagined a year ago.
This has been an amazing year. This has been a most unexpected year.