Monday, December 13, 2010

To Love a Home is to Love the People Living There

It really is a wonder to come back to a dearly loved place and realize that life as you knew it has moved on without you that while you were changing in some beautiful mountainous region that people continued living and not just living but living without you. I have never been the type to be very homesick but arriving in the states and leaving the four people that I bonded with the most during the semester has made me aware that coming back to a place that you have left for a while is much harder than to assimilate into somewhere new. As I was walking into my dorm Hospers, I said goodbye to Kelly and Marit. It wasn’t until I was greeted downstairs by my group of friends here at school that I realized how desperately I missed my Romania people. Now it wasn’t that I was unhappy to see my friends it is just that I know Kelly, Marit, Tad, Zach and the rest of the gang in Romania much better at this moment then the lovely people who greeted me in the lobby. I wanted to stay with the other four for they were what I knew all semester and we at least had an understanding of what we had done and how we had grown. I feel right now as if I don’t have the energy to explain the time I was gone…that I won’t do the semester justice if I try to explain it to those who have not had the same experience. I have never had such an intense reaction to being back in a place but then again I have never come back from such a long period of being gone. Granted three and half months didn’t seem to be that long, but people have been changed by two week trips in the mountains and we had a much longer time away. Three and a half months I chose to be present in Romania and now that I am back I must choose to be present in America, in school in Iowa, and with my family during Christmas break. I am dreading what comes with that choice as I know that I cannot say something and do something else. And sadly it means that thinking about people and mountains in Romania and idealizing Lupeni in the Jiu valley as the best place to be right now is not an option. I do think that without my faith and stronghold that I would not have been capable of going to Romania, much less coming back. And though I know that it may be a near impossible feat to become fully present in America it is the only way that I can become fully here. To all the study abroad students and everyone else who is having a tough time finishing out the semester strong and anyone else who needs a little bit of encouragement, remember that God is a rock who is ever constant and is a firm foundation and if you focus on him he will get you through your tough times. A verse in Psalms emphasizes this point quite well as it is in the context of David praising God for getting him through a tough battle and has been an encouragement to me throughout the semester when I doubt that I am going to be able to overcome my battles. In Psalm 18:1-3 it says, “I love you O lord, my strength. You are my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, God you are my rock in whom I take refuge, You are my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. You are worthy of my praise, I call out and you have saved me from my enemies.

The Result of watching too much LOST

So because certain people have been pressuring me to watch a certain show and have succeeded in making me watch it, I have been inspired to make a few connections from it to life in Romania. Lost, a show about people deserted on a mysterious island after a plane crash focuses on the survivor’s stories and how they tie into the events that are taking place on the island. As the characters go through challenges on the island each one offers something to the group and they have to work together to use their talents and overcome their weaknesses to help each other survive. After the first few episodes Zach insisted we be paired with character we identified with in the show, but as soon as he decided this he began assigning ones to us himself. As well as all of the characters having their distinct personality traits each one has a major character flaw meaning all of them have a dark side that they each have to try and overcome. As the show continues the characters become more complex. With all this in mind both Zach and Tad gave us each characters because they had seen the entire show. I am sorry to all those who have not seen or heard about Lost for you will probably not understand what I will be making to references to and I will understand if you just stop reading here. If you know who the characters are then you will understand a little bit better but here is who we got stuck with- Kelly as Kate, Marit as Hurley, Zach as Charlie, and Tad as Sayid. At first I was paired with Sawyer because
Kelly and Marit Zach Tad and Julie Tad and Zach
Zach heard that I agreed with Sawyer about not trusting anyone on the island but because I refused to acknowledge that we had been paired and I loathed his character Zach became frustrated that I rejected Sawyer and decided I was Ana Lucia instead though he did not really explain why. Just thought I would show you how obsessed the boys really were with the show and how much of their addiction they passed on to us girls.
Sawyer Ana Lucia
So onto the connections, as the people have done their best to survive on the island through kidnappings, cave collapses, polar bears, creepy “others” and etc. they have had to go through many tough and trying challenges just as we have had to in Romania. Through having to attend sometimes philosophic classes, help in our IMPACT clubs, spend time with our host families and each other and try to communicate in a different language in order to assimilate into Romanian culture we have also had to overcome many challenges to survive. As the characters combat several different catastrophes they and their fellow survivors learn more about themselves and each other coming to understand how to live on an island and the support and life skills you need to be able to do so. In a sense Romania was an island for all of us American students, we could not just leave and go home we had to stick it out until the day came and we were rescued. Though unlike the island survivors for some of us rescuing felt funny and a couple of us were like “No! This is my island home that I have come to love” or something like that because we had come to love the people on the island and the island itself through the lessons gained and challenges we overcame.
My last connection is more of my own personal one. As the story progresses two of the characters happen upon a sealed metal hatch in the woods and to prevent panic do not share their find till the life of one of them is in jeopardy. His last words lead to the discovery of the hatch and before the secret gets out, the two people go back day after day obsessed in opening it. When I arrived in Romania I was filled with some hard questions that I had been pondering for a while, hoping that a few would be answered in Romania. Every day as we woke up in a different country I became obsessed throwing everything I had at it like Locke and going back over and over asking God if anything would ever be revealed. I did open the hatch like Locke and like him all I found was more questions. But in opening that hatch I learned a valuable lesson as well that though I may question God he will never turn away or get irritated that I am pestering him because he is a patient God who will in his own time answer me. When I think about the other lesson I learned I am reminded of the time when in one of the episodes Locke keeps asking Jack to believe and trust that he was brought there for a reason. Because in the same way I have to accept that God led me to Romania for a reason and though I do not know what is going to come next I believe that God knows and has it under his control.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Beacon article that (dear old) Barracuda considered spam...So it shall appear here, instead. (a couple days late)

Thanksgiving has come and gone, December has arrived, a phenomenal weekend has been spent in the Cabana (go read two posts down the list, to hear about that one), our final papers have been written and turned in, and we have gone through pre-departure re-entry exercises to prepare us for the ordeal ahead.

It hit me hardest last night: in under a week I will leave Romania and return to the United States.  I’ve known about this all semester— December 6th, a day to look forward to seeing my friends and family, a day to sit on 3 different airplanes for 14+hours, a day to not forget anything… and now, very honestly, a day to mourn.  Romania is beautiful and hospitable, it is loving and unique and my home and I don’t want to leave.  The people I have met are incredible, the culture, peering past the broken bloc remnants of communism’s legacy, is rich and deep, and the mountains surrounding my Lupeni home are breathtaking.  And tomorrow we will move out of our respective homes in Apartments Lucy and George (Noooo!), tromp off to Bucharest for the weekend and on Monday afternoon, begin flying west towards home. 
Kadie, our amazing program administrator (I start tearing up just thinking about say goodbye to her), found this beautiful quote (From Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi) which aptly sums up what most of us seem to be thinking right now: “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”  It is nice to have words to describe at least that piece of the jumble of thoughts stomping through my brain, a weekend before the end.  
There is no way that I could summarize my semester for you in 600 words, so instead let me urge you to go find out for yourself, perhaps not in Romania (although I would highly recommend it to some people!), but somewhere.  You have a unique opportunity, as a college student, to spend a piece of summer or a whole semester off-campus.  …You’ll need at least that many credits worth of electives eventually anyway AND it fulfills your cross-cultural Gen-Ed requirement—or pick a program that fits your major and the list of great academic reasons gets longer— it’s an opportunity well worth taking!  Enjoy your Northwestern community, but remember that the world is so much bigger than we sometimes remember in the jostle of classes, homework and campus obligations.  The walk to and from the caf seems endless sometimes, but outside the edges of campus, a bigger world awaits (and I don’t just mean Orange City…or even Sioux county). And with such a diverse range of opportunities just an application away, it seems a shame not to at least consider experiencing a new place, a new subject matter and a new vision of life in a way you might not have the chance to ever again.  I mean, seriously, how many of us will have the chance to just up & move to a country of our choice for 4 months ever again…and with scholarships, to boot!  You might learn a few things about the difference between knowledge and understanding.  You might be stretched by thoughts you didn’t know were out there.  You might be captured by the beauty of the earth, the diversity of the human race, a new way of seeing…who knows, you might even fall in love with a place, a people, a way of life.  You might discover another place that you will remember as home.   I have.

So goodbye until Monday, Northwestern, and be prepared…because ready or not, here we come with all our stories and our excitement (and our reverse-culture-shock-combined-with-jet-lag-crankiness!  Oh boy...). 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Wait a minute, I'm the leader, I'll say when its the end.......It's the end"

We have 5ish days till we are back in the states. As I look back at what this semester has been I am both pleasantly surprised as well as disappointed. This semester is not what I thought it was going to be. It was not an easy semester, I couldn't go wherever I wanted on the weekends, I was not invisible among the Romanian crowd. In some cases I was viewed as the ignorant American, in other cases I was seen as that lucky, awesome American, neither of which I liked at all. I didn't make relationships the way I wanted to. I didn't leave Father Ciocan's house feeling good about myself in regards that I made my stay pleasant for them. I have regrets and I can't change that. I don't know if it's possible to have an experience like this and not leave without regrets.

However, in spite of all the things that I regret, there is so much more good that happened. Yes, it was a hard semester, but an excellent semester. I learned more than I could have dreamed of. Many time I ask myself, "What is a computer science major doing on a semester like this?" Well the answer is a simple answer, I just plain ole wanted to travel abroad, I love traveling and I wanted to see the world. This semester offered that to me. But even though I'm a computer science major I still had a wonderful time learning about the issues in our classes. Obviously since were in Romania, I had a Romanian Culture and History class, and I definitely enjoyed it. Since the Romania is mostly Orthodox Christian we had an Eastern Orthodoxy class, and since I am Christian Reformed I had many beneficial struggles and eye openers in this class. Since we are studying under an organization that deals with development we had a class call Sustainable and Human development, many of the things I learned in this class I had never heard of before, and I loved it, even though it was insanely hard and confusing at times. And since this organization uses experiential education to teach kids about how to be active in their communities I had a class called Experiential Education. This class I probably struggled the most with, since I'm not good with short term relationships that I had to make with the kids. But I still learned a ton from it, I learned what New Horizons is all about and what experiential education can do for kids and their country.

But this semester was great for more than just the classes. We had amazing awesome trips around Romania which showed us beautiful sights and taught us a little more about Romania's history. Our group of students was able to bond and not tear at each others throats by the end. I found this fascinating, not that I wanted to tear at each others throats but I just thought that a group this small would get sick of each other quite fast under the circumstances that put us together all the time. But the opposite happened to my delight and I can honestly say that we are good friends. There are many, many, many (I probably need more manys on this one) more reasons why this semester was fantastic, there just isn't enough room in this blog to tell them all. So it's the end now, we have a week till we're back in the states. With that being said, I would like to thank everyone who prayed for me and kept me in their thoughts. And I would like to thank our semester leaders who put up with us and enjoyed some good times with us (hopefully). Thank you all, the end is nigh.

-Zach Hankel