An Unexpected Culture Shock

I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought that living here before somehow exempted me from the inevitable deconstruction of personal identity that accompanies every study abroad experience. Maybe I thought that the past six years of anticipation to return to Romania would somehow take away the disillusionment that always follows the initial enamorment phase. Maybe I was just naive and idealistic.

Romania is a beautifully transforming country. Everything consists of contrasts and gradients. Old and new. Tradition and progression. Hospitality and borderline xenophobia. And everything in between. I knew that upon arrival. Yet nothing could have prepared me for this experience. Constanta is night, and Ramnicu Valcea is day. Everything that I learned to be true in Valcea has been called into question in Constanta. But I guess that is all part of being a foreigner– understanding that there is no set definition for a culture. What could be true in one town or one region can be false in another.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I absolutely adore Romania. I consider it a second home and a shaping factor of who I am today. I know Romanian better than I know any other foreign language. I love the beautiful, sprawling landscapes and the climbing buildings of Bucharest. I love everything in between. But my experience in Constanta has not been an easy one. It’s been hard to meet people. I’ve been spit at, yelled at, cursed at, and argued with dishonest taxi drivers (and lost). The main things to do involve going to malls, where I don’t quite fit in because 6 out of 7 days of the week, I don’t wear heavy makeup. It’s not pleasant, but it also ISN’T ROMANIA. Yes, these things happened here. But these don’t represent the warm, inviting, kind, funny, genuine, naturally beautiful people that make up the REAL Romania. And that’s what makes it all the more frustrating– I know that there is an amazing experience waiting for me; I just can’t seem to find it.

I have found ray of light in all of my cloudy grey culture shock. That light would be teaching. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen my second year students more than once this semester, due to schedule conflicts and attendance problems. I have seen my first year students on a fairly regular basis, though, and I can honestly say that they are have made my experience here a million times better. Class is based largely on discussion, and they all have interesting and insightful things to contribute. They’re hilarious and make teaching feel unlike work and more like just having fun with a group of English students. I’m a little upset that I’ll be moving at the end of January solely because I’ll miss them.

I’m hoping that as time progresses and I eventually relocate, maybe I’ll find my place in this wonderful country again. But until then, I’ll just enjoy what I have 🙂 It’s amazing what one day a week with some great people can do to alleviate culture shock and unpleasant feelings.