Category Archives: Travel

Teamwork and Communication Workshop

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This past weekend I did something that, even a year ago, I never thought I would be able to do. I facilitated a weekend long training workshop IN ROMANIAN! I’m not gonna lie i’m pretty proud of myself and ecstatic that it went so much better than I had planned.

About 2 months ago, Loredana approached me with the idea of creating a weekend long getaway for all of the county inspectors to help them develop their teamwork skills while also giving them something they can take back to the classroom. I was a little skeptical at first since it was going to be all in Romanian and it would just be me presenting about 90% of the time. After a few more “please”s I caved and agreed to do it.

The inspectors couldn’t work out a good weekend to attend since they are in the midst of all of the academic olympics competitions so we got the school psychologists to come instead. Matt and Megan were kind enough to offer their help for the training so I had them come up as well.

Friday after school, the psychological county director picked the 4 of us up and we headed to a secluded cabin in the even more secluded village of Fiad which is just over a mountain to the west of me. After dinner, we did some basic introductions and then just had a very relaxed social meet and greet hang out. Around 10pm is when things started getting very interesting. I was working upstairs in my room with Loredana and prepping for the following day when I hear the very distinct “w0oo”s of Megan and Matt. I go downstairs to check out what is going out and it is a full on dance party. Every single person was dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. At that moment I knew this was going to be a fun group to work with.

Saturday started off a little rocky since some last minute changes had to be made to the agenda but since no one knew the agenda except for me, all things were good! We talked about being a team and grouped them off into teams that would compete with each other for the rest of the weekend doing various exercises to earn points. The day was followed by some American football taught by Matt which they got REALLY into. Matt brought all of his flag football gear but that did not stop the group of mainly women to tackle each other into the snow as if they had full pads on. After lunch we had an egg drop activity, jeopardy, and we ended the day with a dance competition which Loredana and I judged.

Sunday morning was more communication activities and the last event was a scavenger hung with a list of 20 things the teams were to find around the cabin/area. Some of them got very creative such as finding pictures of a cow in a newspaper while others wanted to be as authentic as possible and went out into the village searching for a cow they could take a picture with.

After all of the activities we debriefed about the entire weekend and I was really glad to see that some of the participants were very reflective and realized the issues that presented themselves throughout the weekend in regards to functioning as a team and that they were discussing way to incorporate all of the activities into the classroom.

I would not have been able to do this without my amazing fellow PCVs Megan and Matt and I thank them so much for being the social butterflies they are and hanging out when I needed to plan or just recharge.

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Budapest and Vienna

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New Years Day, after a fairly late start, Megan, Kaitlyn, Robert, and I got on a 3:00pm train headed for Budapest. After our 7 hour train ride, we arrived in the glorious capitol of Hungary and our first mission was to find food. Not just any food though, American food. We ended up at the TGI Friday’s in Deak Ferenc Ter and gorged on big juicy burgers. Witht his meal also came a revelation, I don’t do salt as well as I did before. Western food is way too salty for me and even though the burger was amazing, it was just too intense for my dilapidated taste buds.

The three days we were there were filled with showing Robert around the city, since he had never been, and then meeting up with Meg and later on, Kevin.

After our three day visit, Kevin, Robert, Meg and I headed to Vienna for the last leg of our winter vacation. After checking into our hostel, we decided to spend the first day just roaming around the city. We walked through the downtown area which included many parks/gardens, museums, and shops. We finished day one off by enjoying a traditional Viennese schnitzel and some beer.

Day two brought some awful weather. It was raining fairly hard all day and we were soaked by the end of it. Since it was such a nasty day outside, after roaming around and finding a great bagel place to sit down and eat some lunch, we decided on the Albertina Museum which has an exhibit on Monet and Picasso. It was really cool to see so many beautiful works of art and to learn about the history behind said art. Due to the weather, and the overall dampness of everything, we decided to call it an early day and just lounged around the hostel until midnight when we went back out to get some food so I can officially celebrate Christmas in Balac family style by breaking my Christmas Eve fast.

Day three’s weather was much nicer than the previous day’s. Although the temperatures dropped quite a bit, it was dry which let us roam around the city freely. We first headed to the Hofburg Imperial Palace outside of the center  where the Hapsburg family used to live and took an hour long tour of the building. The building was enormous and very well preserved. The coolest thing that we saw within the palace was the room where a 6 year old Mozart played his first concert. It was such an amazing feeling to stand in the same location that Eurpean royalty once sat while listening to a child prodigy play the piano. After the palace tour, we walked around the vast grounds of the palace which are filled with gardens, zoos, lakes, and even a human maze.

After finishing at the palace, we hurried to the opposite side of town to the cemetery where Beethoven is buried. Unfortunately, we arrived around 4:30 and the sun was almost set that we barely saw the names on the tombstones, let alone found Beethoven’s grave within the enormous complex where over 2 million people are buried.

The last part of our day was going to be listening to a concert at one of the music halls called Muzikverein where an orchestra was performing a medley of several classical pieces but not before we enjoyed some tasty sushi that we have all been missing very much during our service. The concert, enjoyed from our 5 Euro standing room area was extraordinary. It was probably one of my favorite experiences, to enjoy beautiful music in such a culturally rich city.

After a 12 hour day of travel back to Romania, we said goodbye and good luck to Robert, who is moving on to a post in Armenia for the next 6 months.

I finally arrived home about 6pm yesterday and have just now warmed up. My apartment had been abandoned for 2 whole weeks and when I entered, it was so cold I could see my breath. After lighting a roaring fire, I settled down to relax when I was called up by one of my students. He asked if I was busy, I said no, he then said that he along with a few other students and friends of mine were going to stop by to welcome me back. I was greeted with about 10 people at my door ranging between the ages of 15-25. We hung out a little in my living room and after they left, I decided to try to go to sleep in the freezing cold apartment under what I consider the thickest comforter I have ever come in contact with along with sweat pants, two sweat shirts, gloves, a scarf, two hats, and an electric heater along with the fire in the soba.

It’s going to be one long and cold winter!

New Year’s Eve

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After Maramures, Robert, Whitley, and I took a 6 hour train ride down to Cluj to ultimately meet up with what felt like half of the PCVs. That day we just relaxed and hung out while Megan and Kaitlyn made their way into Cluj.

The following day we took Robert and Kaitlyn around the city since it was their first time visiting. We went ice skating, walked around and saw the churches, and headed to the mall. We also met two volunteers serving in Albania that were also staying at the hostel. We all went out together and met up with Kevin, Anthony, and four more pcvs at a bar in Piata Unirii that played nothing bus 50s-80s music which we rocked out to all night long. It was a great new years celebration and so relaxing to speak English with everyone. I also really enjoyed talking to Eric and Garret, the Albania pcvs, about their experiences at their sites and sectors.

This NYE marked year 4 that Kaitlyn and I have spent together and we have already started  planning next year’s. We are currently in Budapest staying with Kait and I’ll be sure to update about yet another trip to the land of the Magyars.

Maramures

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Mine and Robert’s trip started in the early morning of the 27th with a 6 hour personal train ride to Sighetu Marmatiei, which is the city next to Kevin’s site. We arrived at the train station at noon where we were met by Kevin and Anthony and after checking into our hostel, headed to the center to see the festivities that were taking place for the winter traditions festival. When we arrived to the center, there was a parade going on with groups from many parts of Romania representing their local area’s traditional dress and customs for this specific time of year. The groups were also caroling from time to time and the group from Botosani, the north eastern county of Romania, came dressed as bears and goats and performed traditional dances that go with those costumes. We continued walking through the center and saw some dance performances while feasting on a piping hot bowl of gulas. After we had finished with our meal, we walked around some more an  then headed to Toma’s house (Kevin’s counterpart). We spent a few hours hanging out with Toma and his wife while enjoying some sarmale, aiutura, and homemade wine that Kevin and Toma had made earlier in the year. We ended our day rather early since we had barely slept the night before and had 2 more days to explore Sighet.

On our second day, the first order of business was Ukraine. Sighet is on the border and after a 20 minute walk, we were at the customs point. Many Romanians go into Ukraine to shop because things are so much cheaper there than on the other side and what we encountered was nothing but Romanian. We barely heard any Ukrainian being spoken and the main difference was the  much poorer quality of infrastructure. We hung around across the border a little bit and explored the shops and bought some delicious chocolates. Once we got back to the Romanian side, we headed to the hostel to meet up with another PCV, Whitley, that had just arrived. We hung out at the hostel for a while and then headed to a very traditional Romanian restaurant which sits right next to the childhood home of Elie Wiesel, the famous Jewish author and Nobel laureate. We spent quite a bit of time at the restaurant where we enjoyed meals such as tocanita, paprikas, and mamaliga cu branza. We ended  our night there with some live populara music and great company.

Our last day in Sighet was our most eventful. We started off by heading to the communist museum which is situated within an old communist prison and gulag. It not only had a lot of info about Romanian communism but also about the regime in other countries as well. After the museum we roamed around the Russian market and then headed to Sapanta where the Merry Cemetery is located. The Merry Cemetery is kind of what it sounds like. All of the tombstones are a vibrant blue and have pictures on them with a rhyming story about the deceased’s life and the way he/she died. The reasons and stories are obviously fairly somber maybe even more than at a normal cemetery because you feel a closer connection to the people because you know more about them. After making it back to Sighet in the freezing cold, we chilled at the hostel for a while and then finished off a great trip to Maramures at an American karaoke bar.

Ziua Națională a României

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Or in other words, Great Union Day, Unification Day, The National Holiday of Romania, I think you get the point.

This year I got to spend the holiday in a really cool way. School was cancelled on Friday because of it so Thursday night I headed out to Ocna Mureș to visit Megan. Ocna is a convenient 45km away from Alba Iulia. Alba Iulia is the capitol of Alba county and also the location where the resolution to join the greater parts of Romania occurred back in 1918. Because of the importance of its location, the city hosts a day long festival within the confines of the citadel in the middle of town. There were many parades throughout the day, various ceremonies, and many stands selling your typical Romanian street food of mici, beans, gogosi, and my all time fav, vin fiert (mulled wine).

We were lucky enough to meet up with my friend Dudu who is one of the initial architects involved in the restoration of the citadel and he was gracious enough to spend the day with us and not only show us around the citadel but also teach us a lot of interesting facts about it. Here are some of the facts that we learned that day.

During the Austro-Hungarian empire, after Vienna, Alba-Iulia was the only city that was given the right to print money

The citadel is made into a star shape and was built on top of an old Roman fortress.

The star shape is very unique and it is the biggest citadel built by the architect(i forgot his name)

The city got its name from two places. Alba means white in Romanian and all of the walls were made from a white limestone and Iulia is derived from the Hungarian regent that used to rule the area called Gyula.

There were old Masonic ruins found in the present day hotel that sits within the walls of the citadel.

There was also a torture room

One of the other great things that I got to experience with Dudu was meeting with a book restorer. Dudu took us to meet his friend Alex who showed us where the documents were signed and the actual documents themselves. He told us how they managed to recover and digitize all 6,000 pages of the original documents. Alex then took me and Dudu into the workshops located within the history museum and showed us some 500 year old books that him and his team were in the process of restoring and how the restoration process takes place.

The day was filled with a lot of fun facts and great times spent with friends despite the freezing temperatures and rain.

My Birthday, Moj Rodjendan, Ziua Mea

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So this post is a TAD late, considering my birthday was two weeks ago but I have been fairly busy so blame it on that if you like. My birthday tale starts on the eve of said day, November 4th. I had quite the PCRO moment when my mom and I were in the middle of baking what ended up being over 100 brownies, 50 cookies, and 50 other random food…things, my propane tank went out. It was around 1pm on a Sunday so all the normal places I would have gone to to get a new tank were closed. After about half an hour of calling around, I finally found a place that was open and a friend of mine to drive me to said place since a full tank weighs about 50lbs.

The actual day of was fun. I received lots of kisses, flowers, chocolates, and “la multi ani”s from my students and I treated them to the plethora of cookies that I had made the day prior. That night my mom, Mary, and I went out for a birthday dinner at one of the restaurants in town.

That week didn’t really entail anything else that exciting. My mom and I hung out in town and in school until Friday. Friday morning we caught the 5:30 am bus to Cluj to meet up with Meg, Megan, Nick, and Kevin to see my mom off and celebrate my birthday with my friends. The weather was pretty dreary and rainy so we didn’t get to do everything we had wanted. I had an interview with the International School in Cluj which went pretty well and that will hopefully be an option after Peace Corps. We spent the day hanging around the city center, going to the craft market and relaxing in a cafe over some vin fiert, hot chocolate and cheese plates. After the entire gang had arrived, we headed to dinner where my mom got to know some of my favorite volunteers.

Saturday morning, after seeing my mom off at the airport, the 5 of us headed out to the salt mine in Turda. If you recall from a post around this time last year, the cit of Turda, which is about 20km outside of Cluj, houses an enormous old salt mine that has been resurrected as a tourist attraction. We spent a few hours there walking around, riding the Ferris Wheel, and rowing the boats.

After getting back to Cluj, Nick told us of a microbrewery in the center that serves liter sized beers so naturally we headed there. The beer was great but what we didn’t know is that they make an amazing burger as well. As mentioned in many previous posts, beef is very hard to come by in this country, especially good quality beef, so when we bit into those burgers it was like heaven! We spent quite a time there enjoying each others’ company and finishing up our gigantic but very delicious beers.

After heading back to the hostel, we got ready, and headed to one of the many college bars in the center. To say the night was fun is an understatement. I even ended up getting to see Ioana, one of my very good friends and ex- students that is now at university in Cluj.

I’m so happy that I got to celebrate my birthday weekend with such an amazing group of people and I could not have asked for a better time. Oh, I forgot to mention, I was talked into wearing a hot pink tutu the night we went out since I was the birthday girl. It was absolutely ridiculous and all thanks to the one and only Megan.

P.S. I ended up getting ICED 4 times that weekend. For those of you who don’t know what that is, you did not attend a college in the states in the recent past. For those of you that do, this is how it happened.

1. Nick saying “LOOK! Some one shit in the plant!”…..ice

2. Found it in my purse at 10am after a shower…ice

3. Found it in Megan’s boot…ice

4. It was in the back pocket of a random traveler that was staying in our hostel…ice

Enjoy the pictures:

Field Trip!

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This past weekend there were two separate, kind of, field trips that took place. One was with one of the math teachers and his freshman class and one of the Econ teachers and her 11th grade class along with some other students that went to Sibiu for two nights. The other was with the physics teachers and mainly the 11th and 10th grades. I went with the first group since my 11th graders were the first ones to ask me to go with them.

We headed out around noon on Friday with a total of four professors and about 50 teenagers. Paul, one of the math teachers and a good friend of mine and I sat in the back with the 11th grade while the other two profs manned the front of the bus and we had a great time. I forgot how fun bus trips were in high school and this was a great reminder. This is my first year teaching this specific 11th grade class so I was really happy to be able to get to know all of them much better throughout this trip. Our first stop was Sighisoara where we spent about 3 hours and made our way around the small but beautiful medieval city. We made it up to the citadel and the old Saxon cemetery that overlooks the entire city. At about 3pm we climbed back on the bus and headed for our final destination which was Sibiu. We got into town around 7pm and found where we were staying shortly after.

We were put up at the industrial high-school for food industries. We were in the student dorms that slept about 5 people per room. To say that our accommodations were sub par would be an understatement. We however knew that would wouldn’t spend much time in the rooms and we just hoped that there weren’t any forms of bed bugs. I shared a room with 4 of my 11th grade girls that were great roommates and I had fun hanging out with.

After we got settled in, we all headed into the center to find something to eat and then called it a night. At around 11pm, some of the boys wanted to go and find a 24 hour grocery store to get more food and I decided to chaperon them and good thing I did. After walking around for what felt like an hour, we finally found a shop across from the train station which is situated about 25 minutes away from where we were staying. When we were heading back to the school, we got pulled over by the police and the way they spoke with us annoyed me so I wasn’t the nicest to them either. The conversation went like this:

Police: What are you doing?

Me: We are walking back to our hotel. We were buying food.

Police: How old are you?

Me: I’m 26. I am their teacher. They are in high school.

Police: Why are you here?

Me: We are on a field trip. We are from Bistrita-Nasaud.

Police: Isn’t it a little late to be on a field trip? ( this annoyed me the most since they were obviously chaperoned and weren’t doing anything bad or being loud.)

Me: It is 12:30 and it is the weekend. Were we being loud or doing anything bad? No, we weren’t therefore goodnight.

And then I started walking away.

The second day was also a lot o fun. After only getting about 4 hours of sleep since everyone was running around and playing pranks on each other, we were headed off for a fun filled day. Our first stop was the Burkenthal Art Museum in the center of the city which was followed by a trip to to Dumbrava which is right outside the city and houses a beautiful nature preserve with village museum. We spent a large chunk of the day there touring the area and taking a crap ton of pictures.

When we got back to the school, we rested a little and then headed out to dinner and to hang out in the center. I had a great dinner with 3 11th graders and a 9th grader and we talked about everything and anything under the sun. The night was followed by all of us meeting up with the other group from our school and heading out to a billiards/karaoke bar. I reaffirmed the fact that I am absolutely terrible at pool and that I do not have any sort of a singing voice. I was not brave enough to go up and sing but when two of my students sang Otherside by RHCP I decided to sing along in a corner.

We made it back to the school around midnight and that is where things became interesting. Saturday night instead of having just the 50 students that came with us, we had both groups at the same place so that was over 100 students with 7 teachers. Paul and I were the only two awake after 1am so it was very interesting for us trying to keep everyone in check. Nothing crazy happened and we only confiscated one bottle of wine. The worst part of the trip came at about 2am. The clocks changed so we had 2 hours of 2am and they were the worst. I started getting very tired since I hadn’t slept much and had to wake up at 4am to leave on a bus for Bucharest to pick up my mom. Once again, the kids didn’t let me sleep and it was mainly the 9th graders. Some of the students from the other group brought their guitars and they were going around caroling Christmas carols which I stopped fairly quickly. They were running around knocking on peoples doors and even with the help of the older kids, there was no shutting them up. Finally, around 3am I lost it and screamed at everyone to get inside. They 9th graders are still skidish around all profs, even me, and when they heard me yell they all froze and ran inside their rooms and not a sound was heard after that.

I was not able to make the last leg of the trip with them since I had to go pick up my mom in Bucharest but the two days that I did spend with kids I had an absolute blast and just now realized how HUGE the maturity level is between 9th and 11th graders.

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES