Buna Ziua! That means “Hello” in Romanian!
My name is Sarah Westin. I just started my first year of college after a magnificent five-month abroad gap year with Projects Abroad. My time in Romania with Projects Abroad was completely unforgettable, thanks to the locals, the landscapes, Brasov, and the other volunteers.
I chose to complete eight of my weeks abroad in Romania for a few reasons. I’ve always felt like Romania, along with other eastern European countries, are pretty underrated. We, especially here in America, never hear much about those countries, as we are all focused on western and southern European countries, such as England, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece. All I knew about Romania prior to my trip was the legends of Dracula and Bran Castle. I didn’t realise how much more there is to Romania, and how big of an imprint it would leave on my heart.
Arriving in Romania
I was greeted in Romania by the local Projects Abroad staff, Alexandria and Razvan. Throughout my entire eight weeks, they were both there to support me and help me with any questions I had. They showed me around Brasov on my first day and gave me a taste of what was to come, literally and metaphorically. Alexandria loaded me up with fascinating historical facts about Brasov and Romania, and treated me to one of the best lunches of my entire life. Thanks to the staff’s help, I was able to adjust to the Romanian lifestyle relatively easily and I didn’t experience any major culture shock.
My Journalism Project
Alexandria was also the coordinator for the project I completed while in Romania, Journalism. I chose to do the Journalism Project because I was considering majoring in that field. I figured I would get experience and see how I liked it before I went and spent time and money on a degree that I might not even end up wanting at the end of my college experience.
Luckily, thanks to my trip, I discovered that I love journalism and it really is what I want to pursue. The Journalism Project involves working for a local magazine that works to promote and keep traditional Romanian culture alive, titled “Satul”, or in English, “The Village”. I was able to write several articles, and even go on an overnight trip to work on a project for an article.
We attended events such as a dance festival, which had representation from many different European countries. We also visited rural villages and explored historical aspects of Romania by visiting fortified churches and towns.
My favourite experience has to be the overnight trip Alexandria, another volunteer, whom I still keep in contact with, and I went on. We visited three small villages in Romania, Biertan, Alma Vii, and Valchid. Of these villages, Alma Vii had the largest impact on me. Specifically, when we were interviewing a couple of natural coal makers about coal production and their lifestyles.
While we were hanging out and looking around, I saw a massive flock of white sheep roll over a hill. I was the photographer for the day, so I went to check it out. I approached the sheep and started taking pictures, when the shepherd of the sheep came along. He approached me with the biggest smile on his face, embraced me with a hug, and kissed my cheeks multiple times. He then proceeded to talk to me in Romanian about who knows what, and all I could really do was stand there and smile back at him, while trying to explain to him in my very limited, broken Romanian that I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
However, even though I couldn’t understand his words, I felt the passion and love he was conveying. He must have noticed the camera around my neck, so eventually he stepped back towards his flock of sheep and said what I think was, “Take my picture, take it!!”. I will never forget that man and that day for as long as I live.
Another really great aspect of the Journalism Project in Romania is the freedom you are given with your writing. I was able to choose from a list of potential topics and we worked from there. I became a regular at a wonderful but small cafe near the city centre. I would order a coffee, sit and write there for hours, and do research about my topics. This project really allows you to immerse yourself in Romanian culture and see a more traditional side of Romania.
My host family
Living situations in Romania were exceptional. I was very fortunate and was placed with a host family whose home was in a prime location, right in the old centre of the city. Rodica, my host mom, was pleasant and cared a great deal for us.
One challenge the other volunteers and I faced was communicating with Rodica, as there was a language barrier. We faced a few issues, but everything was resolved once we were able to get one of the staff to help translate what we were saying to one another. Other than that, we had no issues. She provided a lovely home for us, did our laundry for a small fee, and cooked us dinner every night.
Free time in Romania
The surroundings of Rodica’s home were perfect. Her home is about a five-minute walk to the main old city centre, a beautiful square thriving with life, entertainment, and wonderful restaurants. I arrived in Brasov in late June, when there was a surplus of outdoor events going on, such as concerts, runs, and markets. The vibe is so positive and entrancing, and the location only amplifies your emotions.
There are a ton of great things to do around Brasov, and around the rest of Romania. There’s an astonishing amount of medieval fortresses and castles to visit close to Brasov. A trip to Romania wouldn’t be complete without visiting Bran Castle! While in Romania, I would also recommend taking weekend trips to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, and Constantia, a Black Sea beach city.
My final thoughts
Romania was my first real trip abroad alone. I left the USA one person, and left Romania a whole new person. I made memories and friends that will last me a lifetime and I gained incredibly valuable experience in the journalism field. How many people can say they were published abroad by the time they were 18?
As harsh of a reality as it was to come back to the USA after my gap year, I realised how much my abroad experience shaped me for the better. My experience helped me be admitted to my university, taught me how to be more responsible and adaptable, and to become more tolerant and respectful of other people. I will never forget Romania and I hope to return one day.