The past few months have been an absolute blur of activities. Between school and the Peace Corps organization itself, I’ve been kept very busy. As such, I haven’t had much time to blog, but now offer this summary of recent events in the hopes of bringing everyone up to speed on some of the highlights of what’s been going on.
EQ Wine Visit – August 26th thru 29th 2012 – Valea Călugărească
Since the beginning of summer break my Romanian counterpart, Loredana, asked me to block off the last week of August on my calendar for an International European visit that she’d planned for us to host. The project is a multi-year event that is funded through the European Union and is designed to bring expert secondary school educators together to further improve upon and develop a more complete curriculum about viticulture and vinification for their students. So, on Sunday August 26th, our guests began to arrive in Noah’s Arc fashion, two by two. We had pairs from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany and, of course, our own representatives from right here in Romania. Including the two travel days, our guests visited Valea Călugărească for a total of five. Loredana and our viticulture professor, Vali, handled the majority of the planning and preparation, leaving only small logistical details to me, such as the creation of a Prezi presentation which highlights the various wine regions and varietals of Romania. Beyond this, I was largely just a shepherd and resident English expert. Though short, the week was jam packed with things including tours of local wineries and vineyards, the Romanian National Institute of Wine Research and Development (right here in Valea), plenty of wine tasting and of course “classroom time” where our participants sat down, conference room style, and hashed out improvements to their curricula. Ultimately the goal of the project is to strengthen and improve the European wine industry, by training the youth of today for the future of tomorrow. The second stage is a competition in which high school students are prepared to compete academically against each other at the European Wine Championship. This championship takes place in a different city every year; 2011 took place in Germany, 2012 having been in a small town in Italy and 2013 scheduled for a town in Slovenia. It was a great opportunity to be able to assist Loredana and Vali with this project, as I was able to meet folks from throughout Europe and to learn more about wine. At times it was a little awkward as this is a European project and I was the only non-European in attendance. Fortunately, though, I was able to help with plenty of copyediting and translation into English. As a result the group invited me to tag along to the next competition in Slovenia in April, on my own dime of course; no European funds for the American!
“Eu sunt! Tu?” – September 7th thru 9th 2012 – Predeal
Peace Corps Romania currently has two Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders or PCVLs. These are volunteers who have already completed their initial 27 months of service, have applied for an additional year and have been selected by their peers and Peace Corps Staff to serve in a heightened capacity. These volunteers are first and foremost role models and support to the larger Peace Corps Volunteer community but also take on a primary job with a societally beneficial organization of their choosing. Currently our PCVLs work with the WWF Romania and Public Services International. The latter organization focuses it’s efforts on promoting better quality public services to the population at large and functions globally in 148 countries/territories. Here in Romania they partner with an organization titled “Eu sunt! Tu?” that focuses on educating and empowering the Romanian LGBT community. Recently, they hosted an annual event in Predeal bringing together about one hundred members of the small but growing Romanian LGBT community for a weekend of discussion, presentations, team-building and socializing. Our PCVL who works with this organization requested some additional help from PCVs to facilitate the activities of the weekend. So, being close to Predeal and always up to help out, Aran and I eagerly signed up. Arriving Friday afternoon and staying through Sunday morning, we were kept busy from dawn to dusk with a myriad of logistical items, but mainly we were just there to help ensure everything went smoothly. Notably, Friday night Loredana Groza, Romanian pop singer and TV actress made a guest appearance where she shared a story of her interaction as a heterosexual woman with the LGBT community and her support for them. Unfortunately, this community continues to have difficulty with mainstream Romanians, but they are gaining ground and increasingly are winning the battle for acceptance; I was happy to play my small part in helping their cause.
Kennesaw State Visit – September 29th 2012 – Valea Călugărească
Early last spring Peace Corps staff contacted me from our country headquarters in Bucharest as they passed along a message from an MBA student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Through this exchange, I was introduced to Coulter Stout who, as it turns out, is a former Peace Corps Romania Volunteer who served in Pitești and had enrolled at Kennesaw State University in conjunction with the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship Program as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). As he explained to me, KSU coincidentally has a great exchange program where EMBA participants collaborate with businesses in Romania, resulting in annual trips to Romania for the Americans and vice versa for the Romanians. This time around Coulter was interested in having his colleagues partner with a Romanian general or secondary school to work on a project of some sort. This is where my Colegiul Agricol and I come into the picture; with a tight schedule the KSU students wouldn’t have the time to travel a great distance to visit a far off village and since we are located quite close to Bucharest and I was the first in the area to raise my hand, a partnership was agreed to. Throughout the spring and summer, Coulter and I communicated regularly providing framework to what would be a great visit by their group. When the day finally came and their giant tour bus arrived, our school was aflutter with activity and curious eyes. From the start Coulter’s team had wanted to provide some form of educational presentation to a group of our students, Loredana and I decided that something in the vein of “American Culture” would be best and the KSU folks gladly and whole heartedly obliged. They prepared an interactive photographic game show whereby they educated our kids on important American landmarks. I’m happy to say that I scored quite well, with the exception of the “Southern Most Point Buoy” in the Florida Keys. Additionally, one of their students created a video compilation that included images from their daily lives in America. In closing, another one of them led our students in an impromptu rap session about their visit to Romania; needless to say my kids loved every minute of it. In addition to generously donating their time, and creative genius the group also donated several gifts directly to the school, including learning materials and even farm equipment to be used by our agricultural students. Overall, it was a great collaboration and both sides seemed to benefit from and greatly appreciate the experience.
Peace Corps Gala Event – September 29th 2012 – Bucharest
With Peace Corps’ imminent departure from Romania looming, the US Ambassador to Romania, Peace Corps Staff and the PCV community wanted to do something special to celebrate our 22 plus years of accomplishments working hand in hand with Romanians. So in the spring it was decided that a gala event would take place as a commemoration. The US Ambassador graciously donated the use of his Bucharest residence, Peace Corps Staff and two key PCVs worked tirelessly to organize and promote the event, while a handful more PCVs like myself contributed to the event by designing and managing a regionally representative booth. The over arching theme was “Legacy of Change” and a dozen or so Volunteers, in conjunction with host country nationals, created a booth designed to show off something special from their respective areas. Early on in the process, I was recruited to help represent the Montania region of Romania, specifically Prahova County where Valea Călugărească is situated, more likely than not because they knew my region’s reputation for wine production. So with months of hard work and lots of preparation the big day finally came. Loredana and Vali both helped in significant ways in the creation of our booth, as did two of my favorite students, Ana Maria and Marian. Our school prepared various fruit jams and a traditional apple pie-like pastry for tasting and I sourced 50 liters of wine from my neighbor Nicu to offer our 300 plus guests with samples. Other booths included, traditional egg painting, Romanian artwork and handmade crafts, and even a scouting exhibit. There were also speeches by the Ambassador, Peace Corps Romania Country Director and many others as well as traditional song and dance. When entering the “fair” each guest was given a regional “passport” for which every booth had a unique ink stamp to mark the appropriate region of the passport; a very clever souvenir and keepsake. As much work as we put into this event it was absolutely worth it and a great way to celebrate our time in this wonderful country.
If you fast forward to about 44 minutes in this clip you can see a Romanian news broadcast about the event featuring yours truly.
If you’ve had the time to keep up with this blog over the past two years you’ll know that one of the most rewarding aspects to my Peace Corps service has been TOBE (Teaching our Boys Excellence). My hope is to participate in this skills development camp again in the summer of 2013. Meanwhile, during the last camp one of our great facilitators, Nicu, recommended that we create a video to promote the event for next year. The result is this short movie trailer I compiled in October to get the word out for next year.
English with Jeremy
In my spare time last year I worked with a general school in the town of Bucov and the Roma Education Fund in the village of Ciupelniță. This year my counterpart asked if I would help out with her daughter’s first grade class once a week teaching English in Ploiești. It’s really amazing the difference in attention, enthusiasm and energy that younger kids bring to the classroom when compared to my high schoolers. As you may recall, I worked with Loredana’s daughter’s kindergarten class once last year for a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration and absolutely loved it. So far this year, Loredana and I have hosted four sessions with the first graders teaching about introductions, numbers, colors, parts of the body, and even Halloween. The timing even worked out such that I was able to bring other Americans to these classes including another PCV serving in Romania, an RPCV who just finished her tour in Senegal and my good friend Scott from San Diego. A quick slideshow of these first few events can be seen here. Even though I often ended up doing silly dances, generally acting like a fool and am genuinely exhausted afterwards, I really enjoy working with these younger kids and appreciate the boost to my Peace Corps morale that they bring to me weekly.
Odds and Ends
In addition to keeping busy with the aforementioned litany of projects, I’ve also hosted another Language Refresher Weekend (similar to the one last year), toured around Romania with my American visitor Scott, visited the historical monasteries in Suceava and, among other things, continued work with my weekly English Club and regular regimen of classes. Two major projects that I’ll be working on over the next couple months are, firstly, a funding scheme for TOBE 2013, and also an encore of the Trees for Peace project I participated in last year, though this time as the Peace Corps point man organizing it. Overall my work here continues to be hectic but rewarding and with only eight months left I’m trying to make a strong push for a solid finish.
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