Saturday, November 26, 2011


Over the past few months New Horizons has arranged for the students studying abroad

to visit many different historical sites in Romania. The more popular types of historical sites we

have been visiting are the monasteries and churches. My first thought when hearing we were

going to visit them was not positive. I thought they would be boring; I have seen many

churches in my time, why would I possibly need to see more? God metaphorically slapped me

across the face upon arrival to our first monastery and church (each monastery had its own). In

Romania it was the fall season so the road, lined with tree,s was bursting with color.

A huge wall loomed up in front of us, walking through the gate—I had my first

experience in a monastery. It was so quiet, even the dogs seemed like they were trying to

be respectful. We arrived just in time for their service. So, as we put our cameras away and

opened their church doors, I stopped. I had thought the building’s exterior was extensive, but

it was nothing compared to the inside. I listened to the religious singing in another language,

yet it still managed to stir my heart. The room smelled clean with a fresh hint of something I

could only guess as incense. The room felt cold as the wind blew in behind me because of the

entrance of another person. I shivered—then lifted my eyes up to better view the decoration

of the church. Gold was everywhere; it seemed to decorate almost every aspect of the large

room. Every inch of the walls and ceilings were covered with religious symbols and icons.

Because I did not know better, I assumed they were all saints, but some of them also

seemed to tell a story. It is a story I have yet to understand. But it was beautiful. I watch

as a woman; cross herself, kneel, stand up, and cross herself—over and over again. She was

covered in a simple dress and a head scarf. Never noticing anything else in the room, this

woman was completely focused on her prayer. As the other monks joined in in the ceremony

the song got louder and louder. Keeping my face to the front, I slowly backed out of the

echoing church.

I remained quiet for the next few minutes trying to process everything I saw in

there and figure out how I felt about it. I never would have guessed that I could be so

profoundly impacted by a monastery, but I was. The more monasteries we visit—the greater

my contemplations become. I have developed a great deal of respect for those religious

foundations—and something more. Something I cannot yet describe—has changed in my

beliefs…and I cannot wait to figure it out.

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is a celebration in Romania around the same time as Halloween.

Held on November 1st and 2nd, it is a celebration or remembrance of the loved ones who have

passed before us. Also known as All Saints Day, people gather at the graves of the departed

with candles, flowers, sweets to give away, and usually tuica. They light the candles and

place them along with the flowers on top of or around the grave of their lost ones. Then it is

customary to share the sweets and tuica with the people (usually whom they know) who pass

by and to the poor people. The whole time they tell stories about the things they

remember doing or happening with their loved one.

They celebrate the life that person had and that they are free from the misery of this

world. But it is not always happy; sometime you may come across someone who is crying or

sad. This year there was a young couple standing by a tiny grave –that was probably their

baby. It would be horrible for anyone to have their child die, but remembering is part of the

Romanian grieving process. This is what they believe is proper. As I walked into the cemetery

I was struck with the beauty of lights. The cemetery was glimmering in celebration of this

occasion. I remember thinking that on this night; the lights on the ground mirrored those in

the sky. People moved along the path, some solemn while others were laughing and joking. I

loved it. As I walked with another girl, who is also studying here, I could not help but remember

a conversation I had earlier in the day.

Studying abroad makes it very difficult to communicate with family and friends back

home, but not impossible. Yet, I have found that trying to explain what is happening here

exceedingly challenging. It really hurts me when I am trying to explain something cultural and I

hear someone comment, “That’s weird”. I get defensive, because they are attacking something

that I find beautiful. Their judging something they do not really know anything about. But

then, I think about how I would react if I was not here in the midst of everything. I probably

would have said the same thing. I think that this experience has taught me to be more

culturally aware and to see beauty in all the customs of the Romanian people. Understanding

this does not necessarily make it easier to hear their responses, but it does help me to react to

everyone in a more loving way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To wRAP up our adventures

Big dogs fillin every nook and
Lovin my bunica also known as
Eatin lots of food til my belly hits
the floor,
Then we go buy icecream at the penny
market store.
Hand crafted art that makes us all
Walking down the street, wearing skinnys,
lookin cool!
Snow covered peaks , make the
mountain look so pure,
We beg to differ, we climbed that
beast for sure!
Jammin in the nude to the doxology,
Frolicking on Straja makes you feel
awfully free.
Dana Bates taught us a little ‘bout
Problem solving is the key when it
comes to push and shove.
We put this into practice
getting hit with sghetti stains,
And ALL the trouble we experienced with the trains.
Learin by experience is what we do
One step at a time, conquering the
history of the west.
Rome, Pavia, Pisa, don’t forget
about Milan,
We danced the night away without
droppin any BONI.
Traveling Romania nine girls in a
We never get too far til we hear “I have
to hit the can!”
We had a lot of struggles and our
hearts were getting dry
Then debrief rolls around and
everybody cries.
All in all we know that God is
really good,
He got us through when we never
thought we could.
His beauty fills the mountains from
the changing of the leaves,
Can we stay here, just a few more weeks please?

Soup and Something Something

Hello Blogosphere! I am not a Northwestern/Gordon Romanian Semester student, but I was able to join this great group over the weekend. I thought you all might be interested in hearing about this program from the perspective of an outsider.

First, something about me. I am a Northwestern College faculty member doing a Fulbright in Cluj Romania this year. I came to Lupeni to meet with the 2 psychology majors who are doing their senior thesis research projects in Romania.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and was able to welcome the group as they trickled into Apartment 8 after class. Apartment 8 is often used as a ‘base.’ Kadie Becker, resident assistant for the semester program, lives there, along with 2 other New Horizons staff members. The students get together for supper on Friday night. They explained that they normally have soup that someone takes charge of and others bring something. So, they have soup and something something. On the menu for this Friday night: chili.

Wonderful chaos and great smells reigned in the kitchen, as some chopped garlic, others did dishes, and still others made tea. I offered to rinse dishes just be part of the action. Conversation revolved around the food and the thought provoking class material they had just learned. While the chili was cooking we hung a white sheet up on the wall in the living room and tested the projector. After a prayer, we filled up our bowls, grabbed some delicious corn bread, and went to the living room to watch a movie. Our mid-movie break brought ice cream and cookies.

I joined the students of Apartment George for the weekend. Dana was kind enough to share her room. Thanks Dana and the rest of Apartment George! Saturday included a variety of activities for the women of Apartment George. I worked with the two psychology students while others read, did a little shopping (bringing back, among other things, great clementines from the market), visited their host families from their homestays, attended IMPACT club meetings, and did some cooking. Taylor, Dana and I took a break from senior thesis work and went to the Penny Market to pick up snacks for their presentation on Monday. While we were out we also got a langosi—basically a piece dough wrapped around a filling (mine was chocolate) and deep fried. They make them while you wait. One word for these treats: yum!!

Saturday night Apartment George ate a soup that cooked on the stove most of the day. The students retrieved chairs from various rooms throughout the apartment and we ate elbow-to-elbow around the tiny table in the kitchen, turning out the lights and laughing at the ambience created by our two candles on the table. Various members of the apartment contributed to the soup—the potatoes and carrots came from Genny’s host family and she and Samantha peeled the vegetables. Taylor and Dana bought a cabbage and added it to the soup. Dana added spices and brown rice. I think everyone in the apartment gave it a stir at one point. Holding hands around the table for prayer this little group celebrated the blessings of life lived in community.

Sunday morning was a flurry of activity in preparation for church. Various activities filled the rest of the day, ending with another community meal—potatoes, cabbage, and sausage, fruit salad, and cookies for dessert. The students joked that their lives revolve around food. It would appear so from my description of the weekend, but in reality the days seemed to revolve around gathering together to talk and laugh and discuss. I eavesdropped on a morning discussion of the differences between Orthodox and Reformed theology, over lunch I laughed at descriptions of adventures the students had together, and prayed with these women before each meal. I was blessed by my visit.

Monday was the big event that truly brought me to Lupeni. Taylor and Dana presented the research they had been working on over the semester. These women overcame the challenges of language and culture to collect data from students who were part of New Horizons’ youth development program, IMPACT, and from a comparison group of students from local schools. As a college professor I know that students ask, at times, how all this ‘stuff’ they are learning could ever be useful. Last year Taylor and Dana were in Research Design class with me. This year they used what they learned to investigate how IMPACT affected moral competence, trust, and locus of control. I was proud of the results of their hard work and their poise and professionalism in presenting their work.

The students will soon be leaving Lupeni and return to the states. If you run into any one of these wonderful women, ask them about their experience and take the time to listen. In hearing about their time in Romania you will be blessed.

Dr. Jennifer Feenstra

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Ever since I was a little girl, I have always had a certain fascination with nuns. I think it all started when my mother showed me the classic musical, The Sound of Music. I remember watching Maria running through the hills, singing her heart out and seeming not to have a care in the world. I always admired her for that and found myself dreaming for that type of a lifestyle, carefree and among a place of women who were always singing together.

Romania has allowed me the opportunity to see a few Monasteries in real life, since Eastern Orthodoxy is so prevalent here. I had never seen a nun in real life before this trip, but now I have. It has even given me somewhat of a taste to what living with all women might be like, due to the fact that I only came over here with a group of eight other women who have truly and easily become my sisters, something that I have been longing for ever since I realized that my friends at school had them!

Horezu Monastery was the place that I discovered the brilliant idea of what I call a "Nun-ternship."  As I was walking through the church and grounds of the Monastery I was so inspired by the solitude of these women and their choice to separate themselves from the sometimes unhealthy pressures that the modern world puts on women. A place for them to focus on finding solitude and beauty in everyday life, on an active search for the Beloved. The idea of this inspired me greatly. I imagined the great lessons I could learn if I became a nun myself. I imagined being surrounded by a group of other women, maybe similar to the women that I have spent my semester with for the rest of my days, growing and learning together, and striving to see ourselves as the Beloved Daughters of Christ with each passing day. 

After I romanticized on the idea of committing myself to be a nun for the rest of my life, reality cracked the rose-colored lens that I was seeing the world through:

1. I am not Orthodox or Catholic
2. Would I realistically be able to be quiet enough for most of the nuns' tastes that I would encounter at the monastery with me?
3. Can nuns listen to Bon Iver and sing their hearts out to Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps?
4. Could I give up my two dancing feet, who so lovingly prance around as many dance floors as possible?
5. Ok, I am going to be honest.... could I live without men and the romance that accompanies them? There, I SAID IT! (Darn you, Jane Austen and your stories that inspire my heart to mix with my thoughtful head.)

Then it came to me, "What if you could commit yourself to this lifestyle for a certain period of time, like an internship? Brilliant." If this did indeed exist, then one could experience the benefits of taking a few years of solitude to hear the voice of the Beloved in his or her own life and then take that voice back into the world with them and allow it to follow and bless them throughout his or her life. I know that this maybe defeats the purpose and devotion of the calling that a nun that fully commits herself to this lifestyle, but maybe there is something special about wanting to devote yourself for a short period, too. I personally think so, but maybe I simply not cut out to be a nun.  

Even if this dream never comes true, this semester has been a taste of what I think the life of living with a sisterhood of women devoted to Christ and each other would and should be like. Everyday I find myself thanking God for these incredible women that he has surrounded me with. These women that I have grown with, laughed with, prayed with, discussed life with, danced with, been giddy out of my head with, allowed myself to be vulnerable with, cried with, cooked with, hiked with, learned tough lessons with, sat in silence with, and of course sang songs into the night with. God knew what he was doing when he put Romania on our hearts and brought us together in the small city of Lupeni, the city that is hugged by the mountains and kissed by the sunsets each evening. As our time draws near to an end here, I pray that we would never forget all that we have learned about ourselves and how we have learned more than a few lessons about loving others more than ourselves. I pray that we would always hold each other, our sisters, close to our hearts, whether they are near or far. I love you all, thanks for loving me.  

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

-Philippians 1

Sunday, November 20, 2011


My window faces the West end of Jiu Valley, and come mid afternoon the sun embraces my living space, blazing my stained wood bunk into light. Earlier this Sunday morning I rose and shuffled down the icy hall to our water closet to freshen for the day. I paused in my daily preparations seeing something I had never rightly took in before; the faucet on which my hand rested was a bright banana yellow. Unusual. And as I turned to my right the toilet paper caught my eye, bubble gum pink it waved at me with the draft that whispered through the door. I smiled, my sister Roo would be so excited to have coloured toilet paper, pink for a princess, and an exotic treat to the plain white ‘Charmin’ of home.
Exotic, that reminds me, on my host parents return from a short excursion to Italy they brought me back a little gift: Vegetable soap enclosed in a sweet cardboard box, a turtle stone on a cord necklace, shaving cream and a plain pink t-shirt. The shirt is the gift that stands out most to me. Although I was thankful I was puzzled by it at first with its Wal-Mart comparative quality, but it has come to represent something very different to me now. During communism everything was meticulously filtered to portray exactly what the party wished it to say. Women were deprived of feminine products, fashion, and many basic essentials needed for a functional life. Any sort of information on the outside world came into Romania by means of the black market.  After the fall of communism the process was still slow for bringing fashionable media into the country, but anything exotic was greatly valued, regardless of quality or name brand. Though fashion is a little more current, the prestige of exotic products still resonates as coming from a higher level. My bright pink t-shirt is from Milano, Italia; fashion centre of the world.
On our fall break trip to Italy we spent our last three nights in Milano. But unlike the majority of tourists our focus was a little less fashion centred and more on special treats. Our favourite stops were the flavour filled gelateria’s and the little market shops we’d stumble upon. The Saturday in Milan was the best day of the trip. We had heard about a big market that runs every week, and when we got there we realized that ‘big’ was an understatement for this market. It stretched the span of a long street selling everything you could imagine and in every colour. We found a honey stand that sold flavoured honeys in colourful varieties; we bought lemon, red strawberry, melon, orange mandarin and others. Scarves billows along the line of tents, their intricate colourful designs drawing you in to buy them, we caved in oh too many times to their charms. Colours and fashion of so many places tell us stories, some of struggling times or trials, others of beauty in life and celebration. The colours of Lupeni, my yellow faucet and pink toilet paper will always cause me to smile, remembering the mismatched way the people of our hometown made things fit together; and the colours of the gifts will remind me of celebrated life, and all the beautiful varieties it comes in.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gems of the Season

Clementines, bright orange balls of goodness that burst in your mouth are the flavour of November. I have seen three seasons come and go in our small town of Lupeni and you can mark the passing of time by the ripe produce in our fruits and vegetables store. This summer I ate nectarines and tomatoes by the bushel, the best I have ever tasted. I devoured them beyond my heart’s content just to savour the freshness that local food brings, untainted, and uncompromised by chemical fertilizers. Good food brings life and colour to your world, and I feel that here now more than ever. Thank you God for colourful fruit! As seasons end new changes arrive as when the girls came to join me here in Lupeni at the end of the summer. Together we made a transition into a new chapter. We were to live amongst each other every day and our social circle changed from a campus of friends to nine girls.  It was a leap, but one into a safe place. I am so thankful for these girls, everyone has their own colour and brings a different flavour of personality, and we collaborate to make one heck of a healthy salad. We 9 ladies have formed a fellowship, and have embarked on many adventures, scaling mountain heights and trudging through deep valleys. 
The great blessings on our journey have been the gems we’ve stumbled upon. Transylvania is a region of nooks and crannies and you never know what’s hidden around the next bend till you’ve made the turn. One of the latest gems we came across was while driving through Maramures, prided as the heart of Transylvania and famous for its wooden churches. We bumped our way down a long canopied lane and turned into sight of one of the largest wooden churches in Europe, tucked safely away in a quiet little wood. This safe haven of beauty and reverence was the place to be for us. Now being in late fall a faint chill has set into the air and as my breath clouded around me I gaped at the tranquil splendour we’d been blessed by. So many emotions have filled this semester of adventure, but these gems that we stumble across bring something special to our time that we want to go on drinking in. We left that space revived, and sang ‘simple gifts’ in rounds all the way back to our hotel.
Fall is the season of the harvest, the season of plenty and thanksgiving and the fruit to buy in our little store at that time were the grapes. Grapes come in bunches, as our fall blessings were given, in bunches. One of our safest places as a group is around a table, where we celebrate our time together with the foods of the seasons. We are upon the changing of seasons again, facing the beginning of winter, in light of which we have begun a new tradition: Friday Night Soup and Sum’n Sum’n. We fight off the cold from sinking into the bones with hot soup and a little something extra. Last night’s specialty was Chilli and cornbread enjoyed over a viewing of one of the greatest adventures: The Fellowship of the Ring, my all time favourite. As seasons come and go you remember the gems of your adventures. I held my bowl of chilli real close last night, feeling how it warmed my hands and the aroma my heart. I know that these days are the gems that will warm my soul in the times to come post-Romania Semester. . .

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dancing Girls and Blessings

Every Wednesday around 3 pm, I head over to the IMPACT building and am greeted by the smiling and glowing faces of nine elementary school girls who are all dressed and ready to move. They squeal with delight as they run up the stairs and start running and twirling around the carpeted floor as I get the sound system set up and prepare myself for the next hour of exploring movement with these girls. 

We start the same every week, with a game of follow the leader, tumbling, twirling, jumping, swooping, and of course laughing. By this time, if I wasn't ready to dance, I now am. After follow the leader we do a series of stretches, which usually aren't executed quite as accurately as they should be, but at least they're getting a bit of the stretch in the odd positions I see them in. 

Then finally we dance. We have taught the younger girls all sorts of dances - Swing, Charleston, Irish, and even a bit of African. We stumble through our Romanian, relying mostly on over-exaggerated movements of our feet and a few key Romanian words that get us through the hour. The girls don't seem to notice our botched Romanian, they are so fixed on how their feet are moving and how they can add their own flair to the moves. This usually ends in chaos because they get a little too caught up in their own steps, but I have realized that this class means more to these girls than learning to dance. The class is a place where they can come and get a taste of sweet childish play that sometimes seems nearly impossible to find in Lupeni. The class is a place where they can come and simply be with other girls just like them and run around and laugh and PLAY. 

At the beginning of the semester, Brandi Bates, the incredible woman who opened up this opportunity for me and the other girls leading the classes, told us that there was only one dance class in town for the girls and the dances that were being taught to them were hardly appropriate for their age level. She compared it to the popular TV channel style of dancing KISSTV, which is comparable to MTV of the States. I can't believe that the pressures of dancing that sexually would even be considered appropriate for the girls that come to my class every week. I can't even imagine myself dancing like that! I feel that the youth of today is losing their opportunity to grow up in a way that is unspoiled by over-sexualized media. It breaks my heart that these girls have to grow up so young and they don't have the opportunity to be a child and be blissfully ignorant of the broken world around them. I wish they had more opportunities, like the dance class, to show them that it is okay to be goofy and run around and sometimes fall flat on your butt, and that there are others around you that are doing the same, sharing in this wonderful reality that life is a dance and you should dance your heart out every day.

Last Wednesday, I decided to stay for the older girls' class, which is directly after my class. It was a completely different experience from the class that I lead, because while the girls still have fun, they can actually get a pretty good handle on the steps! It was fun to see them so engrossed in the dances they were being taught and to see them having a blast. I am mentioning this specific class because the end of this class is one of my favorite memories of Romania thus far. 

We end the class, of course, by cooling down. The cool down is usually a free dance, but this class ended in a circle dance. The video below is the song that we played during the dance. It is a song by Nickel Creek. Something happened in the room when we put this song on and got into a circle, something that is hard to describe. I felt that everyone in the room was hyper aware of each other and the specialness of the time that we had shared that day. I felt the Spirit of the Beloved weaving through us as we danced our simple dance. It was as if He was reminding us that we were loved so deeply and that our time together was a pleasure for Him to view. Everyone was silent during the final dance and when the song ended there was a second of stillness. It was one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced. The girls felt it, too. Their faces shined with excitement as they gathered their things to leave, giving last minute hugs to us over and over again and asking us if there would be another class next week. 


I am so thankful that I have been able to teach these classes to these girls. It has been such a blessing to see them grow in confidence these past weeks and they will be one of the things I miss most about Romania when we get on that plane in a few short weeks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Adventure in Learning Romanian

The process of learning a foreign language is the most wonderful and daunting task of your life, plunging into the depths of a culture, the very soul of the people. Language brings to life the intangibles of a culture: the pain, values, joys, history, and love of a people. Learning a language forces you to encounter the world first hand.

I can’t remember the first time I ever spoke. I know it was quite the task that took me nearly a year and a half to accomplish. My mom frequently retells the story of my first word “mommy”. I learned English the only way one knows how… crawling around searching, asking for the meaning of the colors, sights, the sounds of my world. “You use to crawl everywhere, grabbing everything your big brown eyes laid on.” She would eagerly follow behind me and explain the meaning to me of everything that I saw. This adventure in language thrilled me. I wanted a meaning so bad that it forced me to explore.

I’ve never stopped asking the meaning of thing.

Traveling to a new place reverses you to this place, the eager-wide eyed youth of your past, where everything is illuminated, and everything has potential. You struggle with how to enter this world that you can only peer at. It is this struggle that they call- learning a foreign language. And if you grapple long enough, it finally becomes a part of you.

Romania is a compelling place. You see things that shock you, you feel your heart beating in ways you’ve never felt before, you taste the bitter smoky taste of a foreign meat, you hear a collision of sounds- chattering, laughter, yelling. You realize that your previous vocabulary doesn’t suffice for the description of these things and you’re forced to engage, to find a new meaning.

Life happens- you witness laughter and wide eyed grins at a full table, children screaming with excitement as they chase each other down the slide, questions at a vegetable stand, parents disciplining their children, couples kissing, friends laughing. Your heart aches inside you to find the reason for the laughter, for the weird shaped grins on their faces, for the tears, for the questions. So you stumble outside of yourself, your English language bubble, to engage in this mysterious world. You learn a word and pull it out. It comes out messy and disjointed but eventually you stumble upon a meaning. You sleep with the Romanian dictionary under your pillow, hoping that it magically appears in your mind the next morning. You begin to attempt to read a 100 page Romanian novel but only getting the first three pages of it translated. You learn to listen deeply to people, even though you want to respond immediately with “nu vorbesc Romaneste.” You take risks but you gain something much greater, you gain the ability to know the people.

I wish I had words to describe this journey but no words suffice. It’s both painful and exhilarating. It’s like waiting in line to jump off the diving board on the 12ft side, your insides are turning, you’re heart is racing. You’re both excited but scared, feeling like your risking everything. You let a couple people go ahead of you because the water looks to deep and the board just too high but you make the climb, one stair at a time, until finally our at the top peering down at the water below. You close your eyes, plug your nose and make the plunge till you feel body colliding with the water. I’m glad I took that plunge. My heart has expanded; I’ve allowed myself to go deeper.

I’m at the end of this journey now… and I can say that learning Romanian has been my greatest joy. Taking the plunge has allowed me to enter into the hearts of the people, learning stories of love, life and pain. The Romanian language has changed me in that I have realized the limitless of the human existence. It has bound me to the people and country of Romania forever, and because of this… I am forever different.