1. Go East
-Have you packed your luggage? Have you checked if you have everything? Don’t forget your boarding passes! And your passport! You always forget everything!!
Fifty minutes later I found myself in front of the Gate number 1 of A Coruña’s airport. Security controls always got me nervous.
I took the first plane, destination Madrid. It was not my first time in Madrid-Barajas airport, but it seemed like they switched all the places. Two hours for my next plane… well, I’ve got plenty of time. Some hours later, I was sitting in seat number 7F of my British Airways flight from London to Bucharest. I plugged in my headphones. Space Oddity by David Bowie started to play. This is ground control to Major Tom… My Romanian adventure just started.
Next thing I remember I arrived to Otopeni Airport. It really was a different world. My first real contact with Romanian language apart from Ce faci? And that old song named Dragostea din Tei. I was really surprised by the fact that they didn’t ask me anything at all in the passport control… long live to the free movement of passengers in the European Union, I thought.
Bagagge claim, perfect. Everything is as it should be. I crossed the door and look for the woman I met on the Skype interview. It took me a few minutes to realise where she was. She looked different.
–Hello, nice to meet you.
It really was a bad idea to try to give her two kisses. I’ll shake hands better. Some days later I’ll learn that this is called “Cultural shock”. I also met Vali, who I first thought he was the taxi driver… but this is a secret between me and you, dear reader.
The three of us entered the car, which to me seemed to be a 90’s Dacia and that got me very emotional. I put my luggage in the boot and together, we headed to the flat. The first thing that took my attention was that there were almost no lights at all along the road, but I felt calmed. There was nothing to worry about.
2. The First Night
After some minutes, we arrived to the flat. They only gave me one key, it seems that here they don’t lock the outdoor. Also, there was no lift, so I Had to walk upstairs with all my personal things. I opened the door of the flat and Iuliana (my coordinator) told me the first rule.
- You have to take your shoes off.
During summertime it is not a problem at all. Bucharest is not like Galicia. Temperatures will not fall down at night, so feeling the fresh ceramic floor in my bare feet is something that I really appreciated very much. I approached the balcony and there he was, my flatmate. We introduced each other.
- Hello, so you’re Ruslan. My name is Nahuel. Nice to meet you. Can I ask you one cigarrette?
- It had been a long time since I had smoked my last one, but I really thought I need to calm myself and that would also be a good way to start a conversation. One in a while never killed anyone. Right?
It took me just a little to understand that he was not the kind of guy that starts talking to you the very first day. It’s ok, I thought. He might be very young and introvert. I asked him the password for the Wi-Fi connection. I made a Skype call and then I started to unpack all my stuff. Tomorrow’s gonna be a very long day. Before sleeping, I turned on the radio and took some time to look at the dark landscape through my window. It really reminded me of a small Galician village, except for the fact that there were no cows here. I was convinced that the adaptation would not be that difficult.
3. The First Month or ‘Everybody Knows Iuliana’.
But I still didn’t know where I was. Things like EVS, Cigna, Youthpass… sounded like Klingon to me.
The first month was full of new things. The experts call it “The honeymoon”. I met the local volunteers of the association and I have to say that I felt really comfortable among them Iuliana, Mariana, Alexandra, Irina, Elena, Anne… I started to know the children and to see the way they work with them in the association. At this point I understood that being here will be really important for me so I would be able to learn about new teaching techniques and “Non-formal education”, a complete new world for me. For this was really helpful to meet the voluntaries of DGT, a Bucharest-based association with three Spanish, one Italian, one Polish and one Belarusian. Along with the Spanish volunteers of DGT, Miriam, Xabier and Luis, I organized the first Spanish cultural evening. We sang, we played, we danced and last, but not least, we tried Spanish food.
But that afternoon, while I was walking with my coordinator to the shop, to buy the things for the event, there was something that caught my attention. When I was a child, I used to watch this show called Everybody Loves Raymond. Well, Snagov has its own version of the show: Everybody Knows Iuliana. My coordinator is a very well-known person among the local community and thanks to her, the adaptation to my new place was easier. Life in the flat was complicated and (I will not lie to you) the first month in the association I felt like I was doing nothing, but this is something normal and something common to every EVS volunteer, the best part comes later.
The kindness I felt from the people of Snagov made me forget about all the stereotypes about Romanian people that I heard in Spain. I felt like home, but I was missing something…
4. A4ACTION La Mare (A4ACTION at The Sea)
I will not miss CFR (Romanian trains) and I guess, dear lector, that you don’t want me to give many details about this. So I will stick to the important part. If you feel like you want to do an EVS project, you’ll find that team building is something very important. You’ll take part in many courses related to this topic. And for me, this course was so, so clarifying.
It was my first contact with the Black sea. I remember that I stepped onto the rocks, looked to the sea, took a deep breath and thought “I’m back home again”. Also, It was my first contact with proper Romanian meals and Romanian times (I was not used to have dinner so early. That first evening I almost vomited). It was my first contact with a complete Romanian language environment. It was not that difficult… Nu tremur la cutremur , also it was not as easy as Spanish is for Romanian people… they can understand it perfectly (Be careful!).
The whole experience was amazing, personally and professionally. I learned a lot of things about me, I realised about many mistakes I do when working in groups and I also remember when we walked around the town and that nights at the beach having lots of fun, like we do in Galicia in the Noite de San Xoan1.
1. “St. John’s night”. In Galicia it’s a tradition to make fires at the beach and stay all night long with friends.
5. Bucharest and On-Arrival Training
And then came the news – You’ll have On-Arrival Training this month… In Bucharest.
It was not that bad. Well, I’d prefer another place, because I’ll have lots of opportunities to visit Bucharest during my stage, but I don’t think I’ll have the same opportunities to visit Sibiu, Timisoara, Craiova or Galati. Nonetheless, at that moment I still didn’t have time to do a proper visit to Bucharest and, to tell the truth none of the local volunteers I’d met at that point actually knew the city, so I’d be one more tourist there.
Wait a moment… Arrival Training two months after arriving to Romania? Yes, you’ll have time to get used to that building we call “National Agency” and the way they work here. What? Oh, so you don’t know what is an Arrival Training? Well, if you’re lucky enough, the first month of your stage here you’ll be sent to a (three?) Star hotel in a city of Romania, with all meals covered by National Agency and you’ll gather with EVS volunteers from all over the country to perform different activities, get to know each other better, learn about your projects and EVS in general and also about Romania, its culture and history. You’ll have time to visit that city and to have fun by night, once the program of the course is finished.
It’s really very important to know the EVS volunteers here in Romania, because with them you’ll have really great experiences and you’ll remember this the rest of your life. You can even meet people from your country (or even your own city!!)That you’d never know without EVS. El mundo es un pañuelo2. You can make an incredible group of friends, you’ll help each other, you can plan trips together or visit them to know the place they are in or to know about how their association work.
6. The Difficulties
But nothing in this world is a bed of roses, and neither is EVS. There will be times in which you’d feel like you’re giving nothing to your group, or you’re learning nothing. There will be times in which you feel that everything around you is conspiring against you. Everybody passes through a tough moment during the EVS project, and it doesn’t matter in which association, city or project you are, it more or less coincides with the middle of your project.
The same experts who talked about the “Cultural shock” and about the “Honeymoon” also talked about this. They say there is an obvious reason for this comedown. I still don’t know (Or I don’t want to know this reason) but I can have an idea. After the honeymoon, the routine arrives to your life as an EVS and you start to think about the end and life after EVS. You realise that you have to start checking if your objectives had been fulfilled and, as everyone’s learning process is different, you may have seen that you didn’t fulfill all your expectations and frustrations comes. Besides, you may be passing through a time in which your motivation is at the lowest level and… weather in Romania in the end of autumn doesn’t help at all, believe me.
At this time, we received a new Spanish volunteer from my same city, Santiago de Compostela. Alberto. Things in the flat were as hard as they never been before. After some weeks of trying everything (even bribery) to fix the situation, we had a huge argument at the Centre and we agreed that we’ll try to make an effort to change the situation.
2. The world is a handkerchief. Spanish popular expression. It is a way to say that the world is so little that you never know where you can find people from your own place.
7. Vampire Chronicles (It’s not blood, it’s Blueberry tea).
Christmas time was knocking at my door. It was, probably my worst time here in Romania. Really homesick for the first time since I was here. (I learned the difference of when you’re really homesick from when you just miss something or someone). I packed my things again. Mid-term meeting was waiting for me.
It’s 9.00 AM in the morning. ‘Eu vrau cafea cu lapte’. Or something like this. For me it’s a shame that I’m not mastering Romanian language yet. It’s (one more time) me against Gara de Nord (Northern Station) It’s me vs CFR again. And I got into the train. It’s going to be three hours or three hours and a half or maybe four, depending on how fast the engine driver wants to go. And the train entered MATCH 2 and reached a lightning speed (haha, did you really believe that?). At least I have my laptop and I can create a hotspot connection with my phone, so the trip will not be that boring.
Some hours later, I already left Bucharest, I already left Ilfov county and the train started to climb up. I looked out of my window and I saw the hills in the horizon. What’s that white thing covering the side of the rails? Don’t judge me. It was the first time that I found myself tete-a-tete with real snow and, for a moment, I really thought somebody dropped soap foam or even meringue to the rails. But then, when the snow started to be more and more, I realised. Winter is coming.
And the train reached Brasov. I almost missed the station. Thanks God we have Google Maps. After a couple of failed attempts, I managed to open the door. Shit, the train was higher than expected.
The first impression I’ve got from the city of Brasov was not really good. The station was not clean, there was one gipsy installing herself in the male’s bathroom, which by the way it’s not free, you have to pay 1.50 lei (less than 0,40 €) and you’ll receive three folds of toilet paper (the rough one) and the centre of the city it’s more similar to La Coruña than to the Transylvania of the vampire tales. Anyway, we all know that Dracula didn’t drink any blood at all, it was blueberry tea.
After some minutes of walking, I arrived at the hotel. Single room. Better than last time in Bucharest and WAY better than that state-youth hostel in Eforie Nord, at the seaside that seemed to have gotten stuck forever in the collapse of the eastern block. I left my things in the room, turned down the heating (I’ll never get used to the fact that they put the heating at its maximum) and went downstairs to have dinner.
Round Table. Familiar faces. Being the only one of your association in this courses has its perks and its disadvantages. On the one hand, you’re somehow obligated to socialize, but on the other hand, you may feel outside of the story sometimes. Also, I was really tired so I was not able to start a good conversation with everyone. But Germans, they are a nation that is always thinking about the welfare of the world, and for that they invented the beer.
The Mid-term Evaluation Meeting, which is a meeting, and not a training (Because we all know that Dracula didn’t drink any blood at all, it was blueberry tea). is meant to be a time for reflection, to see what have you done so far, what do you want to change and what will you do in order to change. And it was, indeed. For me it was a time to breathe fresh air, to reorganize my priorities, to remember that I wanted to change many things in my project, to discover a brand new world inside Romania, to charge my batteries and to talk to people I wasn’t brave enough to talk back there in Bucharest.
“And as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more”.
William Wordsworth – ‘The Solitary Reaper’
8. The Last Month
Yes, I have to admit it. After less than 15 days in Spain, I missed Romania. Amores reñidos son los más queridos. Isn’t it ironic the more you complain about a place, the more you get emotionally attached to it?
This, dear reader, it’s an open ending, yet I don’t know what will happen in my last month. I only know there’s more than 20cm of snow outside and around -20º and that I’m not brave enough to put one foot beyond my flat’s door. There is only one thing I know for sure that I want for this month.