Newly arrived in Romania:
A Tale of Power Lines and the Promise of Rich Experience
Unlike many other volunteers, I was thoroughly prepared for my first visit to Romania. As a student at an international university in Germany, I have many Romanian friends and acquaintances who were willing to offer a whole range of tips, suggestions, and warnings, some helpful or reasonable, some strange and outlandish. When I told them that I planned on spending a whole three months in Romania, all were surprised. Beyond that, however, reactions varied wildly. Some were excited; “You have to go to the medieval festival in Sighisoara!”, or “I’ll come visit you!”, or “You’ll love Brasov!” Others had a rather different reaction. “You’ll hate it!” said one acquaintance. “It’s so uncivilized! The power lines aren’t even buried underground!”
A rather peculiar criterion for civilization, I thought. Where I grew up and spent most of my life, in the southern United States, the power lines are certainly not buried underground, and I never thought of it as uncivilized! What struck me is the differing perceptions Romanians have of their own country and its modernity. Romania experienced an incomplete attempt at rapid modernization under communism, followed by an equally incomplete attempt at integration into the West. This is clearly a country in flux, like so many others affected by the forces of globalization. Many aspects feel familiar to me as a Westerner: the ubiquitous McDonald’s and KFC, for instance. Others feel alien. The stark apartment block in which I am housed stands as a lasting legacy of communism, standing in contrast to both the medieval town center and the wildness of the surrounding mountains. This seems to be a country far different from any other I have ever been to, a place where modernity intersects with tradition almost everywhere. With this is mind, I can begin to understand the different reactions I got from my Romanian friends.
Some, like my power line obsessed acquaintance, seek to be as Western as possible, yet Romania is only a partially westernized country. As such, it is mostly a source of embarrassment for them. Others, however, love and accept their country as it is, embracing the stark contrasts between old and new, communist and capitalist, modern and traditional. This is the Romania I hope to explore during my three month stay here, and the one I hope to share with the readers of ‘Satul’. This is a unique country, full of both rich tradition and dynamic modernity. The interaction between these two aspects is what I hope to document during my stay here, how things are, how things were, how things have changed, and how things are changing. I hope I can shed some light on this fascinating and complex country, and hopefully I won’t be too distraught by the presence of above-ground power lines.