Saturday, November 26, 2011
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
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.
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
Lovin my bunica also known as
Eatin lots of food til my belly hits
Then we go buy icecream at the penny
Hand crafted art that makes us all
Walking down the street, wearing skinnys,
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
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
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
All in all we know that God is
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?
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
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.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
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.