Sunday, August 30, 2009


Buna Ziua!

Well, we've been in Romania nearly a week now. And the strangest part for me, so far, is that it doesn't feel strange.

Sure, a couple things seem a little out of place. The toilet paper is red. I've seen some green paper towels. We've had some sort of chicken hot dogs for breakfast - twice. I like their soup, but don't really care for the amount of tomatoes we're eating. I'm having to teach myself to tolerate potatoes.

But, all in all, things aren't all that different. They have stores here; grocery shopping was an adventure, but we managed to find everything we needed for some sandwiches. They have gas stations - with less soda and more alcohol. They have restaurants; I had a delicious venison stew on the way here from Bucharest. They have roads, cars, houses, apartments . . . dogs. Everything that I'm used to seeing. They have computers and cell phones - and a good enough wireless internet for me to be able to post this in the middle of a mountain range.

Everyone keeps telling us that it's okay - normal, even - to feel a uncomfortable. To be sick of the food here. To be a little - or more than a little - homesick. I'm not worried about that. My question is: Is it okay not to? Is it okay that I don't feel uncomfortable at all?

During a group meeting today, we were each asked to choose a picture that reflected how we felt. I chose a little bird flying over some waves on the ocean. Distant. Aloof.

It's not that I'm trying to keep my distance. Quite the opposite; I've participated in nearly everything that's come my way. I've loved every hike we've gone on. Enjoyed the low ropes course activities we did. Dana's birthday party last night was wonderful, and I almost cried when Briana started dancing to Beauty and the Beast because it reminded me of how much my sister and I loved singing that song when we were kids. We toured Lupeni yesterday with some local teens, and I interacted as much as my rather broken Romanian and rather quiet personality would allow. We started Viata camp today, and I'm thoroughly enjoying our group.

All this is to say that I've felt happy. Excited. Lightheaded. (The church was a little crowded and stuffy today.) Tired. Nervous. Frustrated. Elated. Everything I expected to feel. Except uncomfortable. Out of place. Homesick.

Maybe it's just my personality; I have a tendency to unconsciously keep a bit of a distance. Maybe the other shoe is still waiting to drop. Maybe I'm just plain crazy.

Or maybe there's another reason.

While discussing my bird metaphor, Janelle asked if the bird had a nest to return to. I didn't have an answer at the time, and it took a little prayer journal reflection for me to find my answer to that. A Bible verse kept coming back to me. In both Matthew and Luke, there's a man who tells Jesus that he's ready to follow Him wherever He goes. Jesus replies, "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Mt. 8:20, Lk. 9:58).

Maybe we're called to that same sort of mobility. To be able to get up and leave for a faraway land on a moment's notice.

Now, I'm nowhere near that. I agree that it's certainly perfectly normal to feel uncomfortable. I'm sure there are places where I would feel out of place. (Chicago or any large city comes to mind. I visited Minneapolis for a few days last summer, and even that was a little too big for my liking.) But Jesus' words helped me to realize that it's okay that I don't feel uncomfortable or homesick here. That I don't really feel like I have one particular "nest". Because, when we're following Jesus, maybe nowhere is really home.

Or maybe . . . maybe everywhere is home.

There's a quote that's been coming to my mind from Star Trek: Voyager. I forget which episode, but, at some point, Chakotay says, "Home is wherever you happen to be."

That's how I feel right now. There are a lot of places I call home. Virginia. Michigan. Minnesota. Northwestern. Maybe I need to add Romania to that list, because that's where I "happen to be" right now. And forgive me for quoting sci-fi series twice in two paragraphs, but, as Delenn from Babylon 5 would say, "Wherever we are is the right place at the right time."

This feels right. Above the excitement and the anticipation and the nervousness and whatever else is the simple idea that I'm completely at peace with the fact that I'm right here. Right now.

My thanks to anyone who took the time to bother reading this rather long post. Have a wonderful day . . . or night . . . or whatever it is there, wherever you happen to be.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Note from Dana Bates

Indeed we are excited to have this excited bunch of new students! This is our third year of the program so we have hopefully begun to hit our stride. We are grateful for the partnership with NW and the students who have chosen to come and all that has gone in to making this program possible.

Dana Bates is the Founder and Executive Director of the New Horizons Foundation and the Professor of the semester abroad program with Northwestern College.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introductions of the Semester Students of 2009

Taylor Mugge is a senior from Sutherland, Iowa. His major is Ecological Science. His most valued backpacking item is his Tilly hat (#1 for adventure!). If he had to pick a favorite word, his would be "cupiditas" which is Latin for longing, desire and/or passion. What he is most looking forward to about the semester abroad in Romania is simply an adventure. Something that is little known about Taylor is that the only bone he has ever broken in his body is is right big tow and he actually broke it on two separate occasions.

Michelle Cundy is a senior from Madison, South Dakota. Her major is Business Administration and Finance. Her most essential backpacking item is toilet paper. Her favourite word is "laugh" because if you look at it long enough it really looks ridiculous. What she is most looking forward to about the semester is staying with her host family and getting to know their language and culture. Something most people might not know about Michelle is that she always dreamed of being a flight attendant when she was young.

Heather Talbot is a junior from New Providence, Iowa. Her major is Missiology/Philosophy. The most important thing that she will bring backpacking is her journal. Her favourite word is "beautiful." What Heather is looking forward to most about the semester is the process of being refined. Something little known about her is that she actually had the chicken pox upon birth and she has never had the chicken pox again.

Emma Roetman is a 5th year senior from Sioux Center, Iowa and her major is Sociology and Psychology. Her most valued backpacking item is her camp mug for hot chocolate, coffee and tang. Her favourite word happens to be "enigma." What she is most looking forward to about the semester is communicating with strangers in broken English and Romanian but understanding each other and being able to laugh together and discover similarities. Something you might not know about Emma is that she mowed the lawn for the very first time this past summer. Unfortunately, her dad had to re-do it when he returned home since it didn't go so well.

Matt VanderMolen is a junior from Holland, Michigan. His major is Biology. His most valued backpacking item(s) are oranges. His favourite word is the word "hearth." What he is most looking foward to about the semester is getting to know the IMPACT and Viata kids, experiencing Romanian culture, being in the mountains and experiencing the change of being in a new place with new people. Something interesting about Matt is that his last name literally means that he comes from windmills.

Beth Pekar is a sophmore from Ghent, Minnesota and is majoring in Math Education. The most important thing she will bring backpacking is her fishing hat as her cross-country coach had one just like it. Her favourite word is "robin." What she is most looking forward to about the semester is learning about Eastern Orthodoxy. Something that you might not know about Beth is that one of her biggest heroes is Robert E. Lee.

Matt Gray is a senior that hails from Bright, Ontario, Canada. He is majoring in Christian Education. His most valued backpacking items are a toss up between his orange knife and his head lamp. His favorite word is "gitchigoomie" which means "Lake Superior" in Native North American. What he is most looking forward to about the semester in Romania is meeting people, hearing their stories, learning, being in a beautiful place, and seeing the effects of an NGO that uses experiential education that has been put in place over time. Something little known about Matt is that he is acutely cross eyed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Few Thoughts Before Departure

Buna ziua,

I'm not sure what time it is in Romania right now, but it's a little past midnight in Orange City. It's pretty quiet in the computer lab in the basement of Hospers, except for the freshmen playing 4-square above our heads. Everything's packed, and I'm hoping neither my suitcase nor my backpack weighs more than 50 pounds. I should be in bed, but I couldn't resist the urge to put a few of my thoughts into writing.

For quite possibly the first time in my life - certainly the first time in a long, long time - I feel like a Hobbit. Not Frodo or Sam or even Merry or Pippin. I feel like Bilbo.

For those of you who haven't read The Hobbit or heard about it from any of my fellow Lord of the Rings fanatics, the story is about a little fellow by the name of Bilbo Baggins who finds himself thrust into a grand adventure with a group of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield and accompanied by Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo at first doesn't want anything to do with adventures or excitement of any kind, but he is given a "nudge out of the door" by Gandalf, and, in spite of himself, there is a part of him that longs for adventure. He goes on to become the hero of the group, rescuing his companions several times and, finally, facing a dragon on his own.

Now, I'm not expecting to fight dragons or giant spiders or find a ring that makes me invisible. But, at the moment, I am feeling a little in over my head. Like I don't know quite what I've gotten myself into. I'm surrounded not by dwarves, but by upperclassmen who have a couple more years of college under their belts than I do. It's a little overwhelming, but, at the moment, the "Tookish" part of me, if you will, is winning out. I'm excited for the adventure that's coming, whatever it may hold.

It's late, and I need to get some sleep if I'm going to be at all coherent when we start loading at 7:00. But I'd just like to say multumesc (thank you) to everyone who, like Gandalf, has given me little nudges that have gotten me here. My mom and dad. My sister, Ruth. My roommate, Christine. My priest at home, Father Jeremy. And so many other people who encouraged me to take that step out of my door. Because, as we all know, "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Please pray for good weather and a safe flight, and that we may all go into this adventure with open minds and open hearts.


Monday, August 17, 2009


This is Janelle Vandergrift, program administrator of the Northwestern semester in Romania with my husband Daniel Heffner (us to the right at the Viata ropes course). For those family and friends of the famous 7 who will spend their Fall of 2009 in the Jiu Valley with the New Horizons Foundation, we hope you will follow us through our journey as it is sure to be a time of growth, discovery and great stories.

If you would like to know more about the New Horizons Foundation, click on the New Horizons logo to the right and you will be directed to our website.

Thanks for reading!