Victoria Richman - General Journalism Projects in Romania
When I told people I was going to Romania to do a journalism internship the question I was invariably asked was; ‘Why Romania?’ To which I generally answered, ‘I’m not sure!’
My choice seemed especially odd when I could have gone to sunny Sri Lanka or India to do the internship. The truth is I felt I could go on a hot holiday anytime. Romania intrigued me; the only things I knew about it were that the horrific deeds of Vlad the Impaler inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and that Romania is the home country of the even more horrific pop duo the Cheeky Girls. These are two vastly different aspects of the country’s past and it’s present.
This mix of old and new is what struck me most about Romania when I first arrived. I was met at the airport by Danny, one of the Projects Abroad Romania staff, who immediately made me feel comfortable and drove me the three hours to Brasov. In his little golf we shared the road with horses and carts loaded with hay. We drove by elderly women in traditional long skirts and headscarves as well as teenage girls with highlighted hair, their colt like legs clad in skin tight leggings. In the first couple of hours in Romania I could see it’s a country where historical tradition and current trends are woven together in everyday life.
I arrived at eleven at night at my host family’s house. Tired and nervous I was unsure of what to expect and how to act. But my host family put me at ease straight away. Piri, my host mother, waited up for me and made me some much appreciated food. Though she spoke little English, and I knew even less Romanian, we managed to communicate quite easily for the month I stayed with her, with the help of hand gestures and a dictionary! I will always be grateful to my host family for opening their home to me, an unknown foreigner, and making me feel welcome.
The Projects Abroad staff were also very welcoming. Living in a new country, knowing no one and not speaking the language is incredibly daunting. But I was quickly absorbed into the large family of volunteers and staff and in a few days I felt as though I had been in Brasov for ages.
Brasov was a wonderful place to live in. My daily bus ride to the journalism office allowed me to take in the whole city, from its narrow streets and gothic buildings of the old town to its block like communist buildings in the new town.
I lived very close to the old center. It’s stunning; managing to be pretty without being twee or tacky. Maybe it’s the domineering presence of the Black Church but Brasov has more substance to it than the typical cute European tourist towns, crammed with garish parasols and checked table cloths. Yet Brasov still manages to provide a laid back, continental experience.
My fellow volunteers and I spent most of our lunches and evenings on Republicii. This is the street in the center of the city which is packed with every type of eatery; from traditional Romanian food, to pancakes and ice-cream. Republicii also has a range of shops which meant my suitcase was a lot heavier on the return journey than it was on the outwards one!
Brasov holds numerous other attractions that I recommend; take a cable car to the top of Tampa mountain, stroll in Central Park, try the many and varied cocktails available and go to the Bingo club where people play until five in the morning! Also, just walking around Brasov in the sunshine is one of the best ways to spend a lazy day.
My time was not just spent in Brasov; I also got to travel into the stunning and diverse Romanian countryside which was like traveling into the past. The landscape is dramatic; flat patchwork fields give way to rumpled hills, craggy mountains and thick forests. Wild animals like bears and wolves still roam the mountains. The land is farmed by hand, the way it has been for centuries. Oxen plough the fields and hay is sorted and stacked with no more modern equipment than a pitchfork. To me it seemed a hard way of life but to these people it came naturally.
In the village of Holbav a fellow volunteer and I were struggling in the midday sun to walk up a relatively small hill. We were overtaken by a hunched, elderly woman. She had come down the hill to fetch a bigger pitchfork and walked back up again to work under the blistering sun. She breezed past us while we were panting and gulping down water. It was truly amazing to be amongst such an endurable culture.
I would never have been able to see these isolated villages if I hadn’t done the journalism internship. It’s left me with unforgettable experiences as well as several articles for my portfolio. I tasted just made sheep’s cheese in the village of Marcus, visited a tiny orphanage situated on top of a flower strewn hill side and attended the 100th birthday celebrations of the eldest inhabitant of the Saxon village, Meschendorf.
These were truly unique experiences but that is not to say that the more well-known tourist attractions of Romania are not worth seeing. Transylvania is strewn with castles, the most famous of which is Bran, the inspiration for Dracula’s Castle. Despite the many stalls and vampire themed tack that is sold around it, the castle’s mystery and dominance is still apparent.
The contrasts of Romanian culture are what it unique; it’s a country running to catch up with its future but with a firm hold of its past. I think this was summed up for me by the words of Projects Abroad Country Director Mircea Samoila. He told me this about Romanian village life: “They do everything in the traditional peasant way, except they have electricity, phones and facebook!”