In terms of my Peace Corps service in Romania, there are two categories that I feel are relevant when I consider my final thoughts before leaving; what I have learned and what I will miss. The former covers a myriad of new soft skills that I might not have developed if it weren’t for biting the bullet in taking on the challenge of Peace Corps. The latter focuses on those people and things that have made my experiences such that I will miss them the most once I am back in the United States. There is also the question of “was it worth it?” This I answered with a resounding “yes” in another recent post. So, in no particular order, here are my final thoughts.
This Peace Corps experience has been an amazing opportunity to branch out and try new things that I never would have been able to in my pre-Peace Corps, task driven, cubical life. Although I owe a lot to each and every company that I have previously worked with; there simply is no comparison to the diversity of challenges and opportunities that Peace Corps service has offered. From day one volunteers are thrust into new, uncomfortable and exciting scenarios. Certainly this includes meeting new people, learning a new language, learning about a new culture and learning the job related skills necessary to be successful in the new assignment. Beyond that, through a myriad of different projects I was welcomingly forced to learn applications like Prezi, Apple’s iLife and iWorks suites of software, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, WordPress and a host of other applications. Using these new tools, I enriched my own experience and the experience of my students and other audiences by providing rich, new forms of content. Not only have I learned a ton of valuable new skills, but those that I worked with in Romania also learned through the workshops that I lead and the one-on-one coaching I provided. What’s more is the example that I was able to provide. Many more people will now use applications they had never heard of before, simply because they saw me and other Peace Corps Volunteers using these tools. At the beginning, I had hoped for a less “connected” site assignment, some back water Peace Corps country without internet, cell phones or even electricity. That certainly would have exposed me to a whole other set of opportunities but I feel much more confident entering back into the work force, having been able to keep up with computer-related trends and without having had a break in desktop publishing, etc.
Even though it should come as no surprise that I would start with computer skills such as these, they only represent a small part of the story in terms of what I have learned. Having been a member on several different Peace Corps related sub-groups such as the Gender and Development Commemorative Book Project group, the Information, Communication and Technology Committee, and as co-chairman for the Volunteer Advisory Committee I advanced my skills related to leadership and teamwork. Through my persistent efforts regarding cross-cultural integration I worked towards and learned valuable lessons in intercultural effectiveness. This is evidenced most by the strong relationship that my Romanian Counterpart and I have built and the countless projects that we’ve successfully implemented together. My interest and abilities in project management have increased immensely through my leadership of the 2013 renditions of the Trees for Peace project with MaiMultVerde and our youth development summer camps, GLOW and TOBE. Perhaps most importantly though, is the new global perspective that I’ve developed as a result of my service in Eastern Europe; the world is an infinitely bigger place than I once considered it to be and I’m anxious to explore it more.
Perhaps with an even greater impact on my future than what I have learned is what I will miss from my time in Romania. I can’t stress enough how thankful I am that my friends and family encouraged me to write this blog; it will be invaluable to go back and reread posts in the future, alone and perhaps one day with my kids. There have simply been so many incredible experiences that even throughout my service I tried to recreate some of them, i.e., TOBE. Some of these things I’ll be able to do again in different formats and in difference environments but most I may not. Also, a huge thanks goes to my mother who lent me the use of her new digital SLR Canon camera; as a result I have more than 6,600 photographs to help me remember my time here.
As for what I will actually miss, let’s start with “things” and work our way backwards. Romania, as a whole, is incredibly beautiful and diverse, almost as diverse as America, though without the ocean coasts and the deserts. The one thing we might have Ceaușescu to thank for is his protection of forestlands and wildlife. Though, ironically, the only reason they were protected were so that they could be saved for his personal use. Nevertheless, Romania is home to more forested land than any other part of Europe with every square meter of it absolutely breathtaking. I’ll miss my view of Romania’s countryside from the many train windows through which I peered. I’ll miss the hillside here in Valea Călugărească that I’ve hiked and biked numerous times. I’ll miss the cold mountain streams that I cooled off in after hiking. I’ll miss the hostels I stayed in while exploring the country and the piazzas where I people watched and soaked in the culture. I’ll miss my school’s family of guard dogs, though sadly they were taken away a few months ago. One subcategory of “things” I may not have to completely miss is the food; though certainly I won’t be able to reproduce mouth-watering sarmale, saramura de pește, zacusca or salata de vinete in quite the same way that Romanian grandmothers can, I will still be able to make some of it with the handy-dandy Romanian cookbook that I received as a gift. I’ll miss fresh fruit from my school’s orchard and fresh vegetables from their garden. And I’ll miss impromptu afternoon grill-outs with fresh meat, free flowing homemade țuica and table wine and endless conversation and laughs.
It should go without saying that I will miss the summer camps, my favorite part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. What made the camps so great was not only the incredible scenic backdrop of the Romanian countryside but also the people. I’ll miss the other Peace Corps and host country volunteers and, of course, the brilliant and goofy kids. Perhaps seemingly cold at first, Romanian adults are incredibly generous and caring, with souls plentiful with goodwill. They have a strong sense of family and they place a huge importance on living close to and spending lots of time with their loved ones. I think this is something that we’ve gotten away from in the United States maybe as a result of our nomadic existence — moving away for school, work and/or better weather. Either way, the eagerness with which several Romanian families have welcomed me into their homes and how they have treated me, as one of their own, was truly special. I’ll miss my milk lady and her weekly delivery of warm, fresh-from-the-cow milk that she used to so proudly bring me. I’ll miss the lady at the grocery store who always greeted me with a bright, warm and welcoming smile. I’ll miss the guards at my school that only spoke a few words of English but were eager and persistent at using them daily. I’ll miss the rest of the school staff that looked at me strangely whenever I addressed the group in the auditorium, but who kindly made me the first official “Honorary Citizen” of the high school. I’ll miss my friend, Daniel, who runs the local corner store and his refreshing sense of humor. I’ll miss my lovely and ever so patient Romanian language tutor. I’ll miss the Duca and Pițu families who unknowingly have earned a lasting place in my heart. Perhaps most of all, I’ll miss my good friend and local fixer Marian who gave me a trial run at what it might be like to have a teenager of my own one day. He was always there for me when I needed him and though I may miss him, I will never forget him.
My time in Romania has left an indelible mark on my soul and has helped to form the person I have become. I am thoroughly grateful to the Peace Corps staff for making this possible, to my school for applying to have a volunteer and to the Romanian people for making the experience so worthwhile. I often wonder if I’ll ever come back to Romania and though that is largely a question of money, time and how quickly I can get through the other 190 some countries, part of me will always be here.