The Ruth School

In a continuing attempt to understand more about local initiatives helping the marginalized in Romania, this morning I got to visit “The Ruth School.”

The Ruth School reaches out mainly to Roma children who face barriers at public school including fees and discrimination. The school has a wonderful approach that takes it’s neighborhood’s needs seriously. The paid staff at the school is all Romanian – teachers, cooks, administration, etc., and their work is supplemented by volunteers.

On my visit I saw the ways that routines such as teeth brushing, hand washing, and eating a nutritious lunch aid education. The staff also considers the children’s health, eyesight, warmth, and other holistic concerns while educating them.

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While the staff and I were walking down the hallway during a break time, all the kids were washing their hands.

Imagine about 40 little kids in a hallway, all grinning and sudsy… blowing big bubbles from the watery mixture they conserved in their palms.  Poți?  I take a wet high five from a third grader and try blowing a bubble myself.

The feel of the place was all about positive reinforcement; it reminded me of when I was little. My mom used to cup my hands in hers and say “Wow, your hands smell so great! You must have washed them!” The kids were all confident in smiles and soap.

The security guard at the door was all jokes. Continue reading

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Fara Internet…

Haven’t had internet for the last two days, and my roommate’s out of town, so I got out the acrylics to occupy myself.

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Backlit self-portrait at 6AM

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Leaves and flowers bursting at 11PM

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Thank you, kind stranger, for the flowers. They smell like Heaven.

Thank you, kind stranger, for the flowers. They smell like Heaven.

1,000 help-a-foreigner points to anyone that knows what these blooms are called!

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Happy Rant about a Busy Week

This week has been plin de viața. The following is a TOP 10 list of what’s happened within the last 7 days.
Friends, family, you know I don’t like to be bored, so you can imagine how lovely life is right now.

1.) Gave my class’s Global Ethics exam and then cut off (half of?) my hair.
2.) Read 60+ pages of Dana Bate’s thesis and then had a 2 hour long meeting with the man, the legend, the visionary behind the non-profit New Horizons, an organization that is growing by leaps and bounds as it’s been working to implement it’s model with/through World Vision around the world. Seriously inspirational work in social capital development/youth empowerment.
3.) Made dinner for six of the Bucharest project implementers working on the 1:1 mentoring project and sat back as Bogdan Gavrila gave an amazing speech about the “soul” as well as the timing of our project that I couldn’t have agreed more with.
4.) Went to Sofia, Bulgaria and hiked to the Boyana waterfall with dear friends. This involved an all-night train and an all-night bus as well as the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen.
5.) Had an third job interview that lasted an hour and 45 minutes for a challenging (in a good way) job that might last four years. SDG, out of my hands.
6.) Watched my sister graduate from college!
7.) Helped write/revise a speech introducing Vice President Joe Biden on his visit to Romania, because my friend is introducing him this Wednesday at an event. #normal
8.) Ran the Bucharest Half-Marathon and had a pancake picnic at Cismigu.
9.) Gave a presentation on the mentoring project to 50 students of psychology, invited by a wonderful supporter of the project and new friend, Professor Oana Mosoiu, and got excellent feedback/vibes.
10.) Finished grading my student’s final papers WHICH WERE AMAZING. Jawdropping improvement from their first round of papers, amazing insights, LOVED reading (most of them).

Quote from my Mom: “Will you ever have a ‘normal’ job?”
I hope not.

Next big thing? Can’t wait to present the project to an educated/invested audience on May 28th and hear even more community feedback. 

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What Good is Fulbright? #SaveFulbright

If you’re already a fan of Fulbright, “the 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries” and want to #SaveFulbright, just click here to sign the petition now. 

 

If you need some convincing, please read this article.

This quote from the article really shows the value of Fulbright, specifically for Americans and the American educational system:

Only about 1 percent of American college students ever study abroad. Fewer than 20 percent speak more than one language—a figure that includes immigrants for whom English comes second or third—but all students benefit from the presence of international “Fulbrighters” on their campuses and the return of their own professors and grad students from study and teaching in other countries. Those Fulbrighters chosen according to standards of academic excellence may seem to be an elite group, but their presence on campuses from North Dakota State to Notre Dame is thoroughly democratic. Their knowledge gained abroad, unlike money in our economy, trickles down and spreads out.

The article goes on to make other excellent points, and it’s well worth a read. But it doesn’t capture the deep value of Fulbright (as experienced by just one little Fulbright grantee).

One of my dear colleagues at the Fulbright Commission got me thinking the other day when he said,

Fulbright is a cultural exchange program. Each nation on earth spends such a tiny fraction of their budget on culture in general (on art, music, and creative programs).

Too often, cultural programs are the first to be cut.

Culture! (that fascinating business of how particular groups of humans think/interact/play/dance/worship/create!) is too important to be so constantly relegated to the cutting board.

We must seek to understand, befriend, and collaborate with people across borders, especially as the challenges facing our world increasingly have little respect for the scribbles on our maps.

Fulbright is not just an American program but a bilateral one, one that over 50 participating countries (including Romania) help to fund.

However, Americans should be proud to have a founding role in establishing this type of cultural diplomacy, based on the simple idea that peace is possible between friends.
(And we should fight to keep it.)

Cultural exchange and diplomacy are exceptional, and it only takes a little imagination to see how:

– In a time of crisis, no news report or international tweet can take the place of picking up the phone to understand how the situation may affect your internationally located friend, or that friend’s grandmother. This kind of deep understanding can overcome apathy and lead to action.

– No amount of reading foreign books can take the place of seeing cultural ideas played out in daily situations. This hands-on experience broadens each exchange alumni’s cultural playbook and gives us more tools to cope/adapt/invent, and better the world.

– No horde of soldiers can bring peace the way that committed scholars, students, and relationships can.

The idea of Fulbright is as simple as it is beautiful: Know your neighbor so that you can love them.

No matter what your nationality is, please sign here to #SaveFulbright and tell the Congress of the United States that cultural diplomacy, the exertion of soft power rather than military might, and simply effective ideas like Fulbright matter to you.

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The Swan Song of Domnişoara Profesoară

“When you get back to the US, will you continue teaching at the University level?” This question…makes me inwardly cringe/laugh/sigh all at once.

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I’ve now taught four university level classes in Romania.

But, reality check, I don’t have a PhD.
I don’t even have a Masters.
I switched majors so often I didn’t even double major at Pepperdine like all my other nerdster friends.

Via Fulbright’s carte blanche I have heartily enjoyed stepping into the role of “Professor,” (because why not have fun at your job) this year…although I’ve had a thousand moments when…

A.) I thought students would care about [the thing that we’re doing today] and they didn’t. At all.
(It really doesn’t help that they don’t choose their own classes here – my students were a captive audience, but captives can’t be cajoled to care.)

B.) I hoped they would want to independently research [the thing that we’ve been talking about] and they didn’t.
(See A., motivation was a little lacking) 

C.) I thought that we could spend x amount of time on a specific activity. My guesses were generally off. (I had gotten better at this, until the final G.E. Exam was a monster! Yikes…)
D.) A, B, and C all at once.

I’ve had wardrobe malfunctions (ie: buttons on the back of my matronly teacher shirt in Constanta), alarm clock malfunctions (that one time I almost slept through an 8AM Constitution class), and brain malfunctions (mostly related to spelling issues every time I use a black board).

I loved how every crack-of-dawn Constitution class in Constanta started with “What are you thankful for today?” and copious amounts of coffee because it was 8AM and some of the kids were coming from hours away. They still attempted some eye contact when they were giving presentations after I started grading them solely on eyeball roaming and volume level.

I will never forget the indignant look on some kids faces when their iPhones were taken away… nor the laughter when one student tried to give a little presentation while drunk and I had to ask the individual to leave…or the general mayhem caused by one student in Bucharest – whenever he felt bored it was like a scene from The Mask with Jim Carrey.

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I will never cease to be surprised by the students who turn in amazing work despite the general malaise of the rest of the class or the students who plagiarize Wikipedia so blatantly that they leave in links to Wikipedia.

I’ve really learned a lot this year. And I hope my students did too, from the teacher who was a bit idealistic, always laughed when something was funny, and always used vague… phrases… about her own… life so that they wouldn’t know that she was really the same age as them. Or younger, sometimes.

Sometimes I felt like an alien trying to explain another planet’s WIERD priorities when we talked about race, socio-economic status, ethics, and globalization.

I hope that I was a respectful listener.

I would like to thank especially the students who went out on a limb and were willing to dig a little deeper into cross-cultural dialogue with me inside/outside class.

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 11.07.58 PMOverall, if I had to describe the amazing “kids” I’ve been in contact with this year, I’d say Romanian students are RESOURCEFUL, BOTTOM-LINE ORIENTED, FUNNY, COMMUNITY BASED, and KIND, and I will miss teaching here.

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Just a lady with legs…

So, I’m running the Bucharest Half Marathon in a week.

Today I ran for a little over an hour and a half…probably 10 miles or so.  I’m not competitive; just a normal ‘merican girl who likes to run long distances.

Top comments from today’s male hecklers:
– Take it easy!    (Laughter)
– Legs!
– Nice.                  (Leering)
– Run faster!       (Laughter)

It’s wasn’t a big deal, but it does kinda make me long to run in Santa Monica, where a girl running is just as normal as a girl breathing… I think the “Take it easy” jeer got to me the most…you don’t even know me, I’m having a great run, and you’re going to tell me to stop/that I should calm my little female self down and not do something so strenuous? skgdhdifuhpofjnh!

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