Mountain Exploration

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In the Bucegi Mountains

I think one of the most amazing things about the Carpathian Mountain region is that it combines both the rolling hills of Appalachia and the rugged majesty of the Rockies. During these past two months, Anne and I were able to begin our exploration of the Piatra Craiului Mountains near the town of Zărnești and the Bucegi Mountains around the town of Bușteni. These first few day hikes will hopefully only be the prequel to some longer backpacking trips in the next few weeks.

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Piatra Craiului Mountains…kinda reminds me of Appalachia

We went to Piatra Craiului, or “Rock of the King” towards the end of March with our friend Kike from Spain. As folks can tell from the pictures, there was still a good bit of snow, and about half the day it rained a cold, icy rain. Wolves, bears and and lynxes all live in the mountains, however we only saw a fox during the day. Hopefully when we go back for several days, we will have more luck. Piatra Craiului is also home to a rare alpine flower, which sadly we were also not able to see, and will probably miss because it blooms in late July or August.

Piatra Craiului Mountains Gallery

DSC08466The Bucegi mountains are some of the highest peaks around Brașov. We often looked longingly at them from the train and finally by the beginning of May, the snow had melted enough to make the trails passable without snowshoes. We were extra fortunate to go with our friend Mihai from Brașov who knows the area well.  His nephew Onu from Iași was also with us. There are several “natural attractions” in the Bucegi. One is a rock known as the “Spinx” and the other is the “Babele” or “Old Ladies.” Among the not-so-natural attractions is the “Hero’s Cross,” which is a WWI memorial  and the cable car which transports people from the town of Bușteni to the sphinx and babele. We took the cable car to the sphinx due to time and made for Vârful Omu, the highest peak in the Bucegi at 2,505 meters (that’s 8,218 feet). Sadly, we ran out of time and Onu only had shorts and low-top hiking shoes. Even though it was May, it would not have been wise to go for Omul peak without good boots. Anne and I hop to make a 2-3 day hike in June from Sinaia to Bușteni.

Bucegi Mountain Gallery

Transatlantic Mountain Cultures: Appalachian and Carpathian Perspectives

Poster Appalachi

As a native of Appalachian Ohio, where the undulating landscape is dotted by farms and small homesteads, I can’t help but think the similarities between my home and the Carpathian Mountain region are more than just coincidence. As I travel through rural Romania, I am often struck by the piecemeal cottages and and horse-drawn carriages. For me, it conjures some of my happiest childhood memories. Whether it was chasing chickens with my childhood playmate in front of their trailer or learning how to safely drive past an Amish horse-and-buggy as a teenager, Romania takes me home.

Left to right: Dr. Cristian Pralea, Dr. Anne Murray, Me, My wilfe Anne Elise, and Dr. Georgeta Moarcas.

Left to right: Dr. Cristian Pralea, Dr. Anne Murray, Me, my wife Anne Elise, and Dr. Georgeta Moarcas.

Over the past year, I have been very glad to discover that I am not the only one to have noticed the uncanny similarities between the Appalachians and Carpathians. On 12 April 2013, I co-hosted the first Transatlantic Mountain Cultures lecture series here at Transylvania University with Dr. Cristian Pralea and Dr. Georgeta Moarcăs. Thanks to our video conferencing set up using Skype, students and faculty from both sides of the Atlantic were able to ask questions and participate in the discussion.

where there are mountainsHomeplace GeographyDr. Donald Davis, author and Fulbright Scholar, spoke with us from his study in Washington DC about some of the reasons for the similarities between the two mountain regions and the history of Carpathian-Appalachain exchanges. He has been studying the similarities between the Appalachians and  Carpathians for the past decade and has written several books. I was particularly intrigued by his thoughts on how the mountains shape people and their culture more than people shape the mountains. It seems true to me that the landscape has a powerful effect on the culture and behaviors of people. When we live in a synergistic way with the land, everything from our eating and sleeping to our social  interactions and world view are in some way shaped by the land.

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Famous statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Dr. Dan Shope  of Shawnee State and Dr. Moarcăs both spoke about the myths and legends that haunt the cultures of these two mountain regions.  Dr. Shope gave a thorough description of West Virginia’s “Mothman” and cultural coping mechanisms. With beautiful pictures of the mountain villages, Dr. Moarcăs presented on the “Sylvan Maiden” and “St. Theodore’s Stallions” myths from Maramueș. The Sylvan maiden “leads men astray.” Men reported waking up in the woods with thorns in their feet, without being able to remember what happened to them (they also swear they  weren’t drinking). St Theodore’s stallions punish women (through disembowelment) for doing work on forbidden days. One of the major differences we noticed between the myths is that although the Mothman is a scary creature, the myth is celebrated with a festival and generally not feared in the same way the Sylvan Maiden and St. Theodore’s Stallions are. The Romanian myths also had a stronger sense of punishment for breaking social conventions, whereas the contemporary Appalachian myths tend to be a way to explain tragedy and hardship through governments cover-ups and supernatural beings.

DSC08122The final presentations touched on education in Appalachia. I presented my Master’s thesis on perceptions of inequality in rural, Appalachian schools and Dr. Anne Murray of Pfeiffer University, current Fulbrighter in Bucharest, Romania presented on the John C Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. While my research focused on some of the damage done to rural schools by our culture of competition, testing and standards, Dr Murray proposed the “folk school” as a possible model for some things we could do in public education. Although the John. C  Campbell folk school is for adults, its cooperative nature as well as its commitment to the preservation of traditional arts and lifestyles make it an appealing model of education in a rural setting. Dr. Murray also led a workshop for us the following day where she taught faculty and students traditional methods of bookbinding.

Sadly, the conference went too long, so we did not have time for Dr. Pralea to present on the Merry Cemetery in Săpânța, Maramueș. He uses the Merry Cemetery as an example of an idea he developed with Dr. Dan Shope called “Post-industrial Negotiation”. It is a way to explain the Mothman phenomenon and the humorous approach to death in the Merry Cemetery as a coping strategy for the de-industrialization and exploitation of rural people and areas. But, I suppose it is best to leave some things undone in order to have something for our next Transatlantic Mountain Conference.

Semester Reflections

DSC06515Now that we’re at the end of our semester break and classes start again next week, it’s time to write down some of the thoughts that I’ve been stewing over the last few weeks. Having finished my first semester teaching at the university level, I want to take the opportunity to be a “reflective practitioner” and write about what went really well and what I want to change in my classes.

My goal is not just to give students more information, but to cultivate a deeper understanding of American thought. So, I design my classes around a constructivist learning theory in which students must construct meaning out of the materials they are given in class. I am primarily there to guide the meaning-making process through lectures, leading collaborative discussions, and evaluating projects or writing assignments. Dr. Robert Marzano’s research emphasizes the importance of identifying similarities and differences for increasing student understanding and raising achievement. Although Dr. Marzano is one of the hot names in education right now, many of his ideas are not new (which is probably why many of them work). The idea that students should make connections across themes, subjects and disciplines is a major theme in Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. In fact, Socrates was certainly “identifying similarities and differences” in the Meno when he teaches a geometric proof to illustrate his theory of knowledge. When I talk about getting students to identify similarities and differences, I’m not talking just about two column “compare and contrast” charts. What I am talking about is making deep, meaningful connections across cultures and across disciplines.

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John Winthrop…sometimes I think we forget what a utopian socialist ideal the Puritans had. Click here to read!

My most successful classes centered on subjects that I could easily connect to the experience of my students.  For example, I taught John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity with Ayn Rand’s Anthem and excerpts from The Virtue of Selfishness. These texts generated lively conversations and provocative writing from students, because the similarities and differences between socialism, communism, and capitalism speak to many of the policy issues Romanians deal with today. I also had them read Chief Seattle’s 1854 Treaty Oration with John Muir’s essay Man’s Place in the Universe and Theodore Roosevelt’s Conservation as a National Duty. These texts combined with my lecture on the US National Park System and the Hetch Hetchy dam sparked considerable debate , because Romania is having its own conservation crises with the Roșia Montana mining controversy.

Ayn Rand...the antithesis of socialist Puritans

Ayn Rand…the antithesis of socialist Puritans. Didn’t believe in God or altruism.

Lastly, I also taught a few classes on slavery, the Civil War, and racism in class. While our texts were from Frederick Douglass and Aristotle, the conversation really picked up when we related my history lecture and the texts to ethnic relations with Roma (Gypsies) and Hungarians. Ultimately, I believe using a constructivist learning model requires an understanding of the life of dialogue. The teacher must see himself in the student. Music is a powerful tool for creating meaning and opening dialogue. During our unit on slavery and the Civil War, my wife Anne Elise, came to class as a guest presenter. We played Follow the Drinking Gourd together with the students joining in on the chorus. Many people believe  this song was an oral map of how to get North to freedom. Here is a video a student took:

Although we had many amazing class discussions, there were still too many students who were silent. I understand that some folks are not comfortable speaking publicly, but it is still important to be actively engaged in class. This is especially true for American Studies majors whose degree emphasizes speaking and writing skills. Several of those who did not speak as often as I would like were still able to get a good grade because I provided plenty of other opportunities such as papers and a written final exam for them to demonstrate what they had learned. I also need to spend more time this semester workshopping how to develop a good thesis. Most students have a strong command of the English language, but have not learned the kind of writing we value and expect in the United States. However, I will be speaking on this at a “Language for Specific Purposes” conference in Bucharest next week. So, I guess I’ll write more about it then.

DSC06712Both the music Anne and I led in class as well as some review games for the final exam were very successful in engaging students who tended to be more silent; so I’ll definitely be doing more of both this semester. I still wonder how I can change my teaching style to invite participation from students who are less willing to volunteer their ideas openly. I’ve thought about  just calling on folks whom I haven’t heard from, but I don’t want embarrassment or discourage anyone. I’m going to be looking for some good small-group-oriented cooperative learning strategies for next semester. Popular activities like “Think-Pair-Share” and the “Jigsaw Classroom” seem a little juvenile to me, but if anyone has had success with them at the university level, I’d love to hear about it!

So Far, Yet So Close to Home–Lessons from my Mother

Winter Carpathian Mountain Hike

On a day hike with our friend Liviu who was visiting from Bucharest

Ever since I chose to apply for a Fulbright grant many people have asked me, “Why Romania?”  The best answer I can give is that I wanted to be in a place that was both far away and yet close to home. One of the Fulbright program’s primary goals is to foster ties between the United States and other nations through academic exchange. When I applied for the English Teaching Assistant grant, I wanted to choose a country that would maximize my effectiveness as an English teacher while at the same time provide me with a challenging and enriching experience. Thanks largely to my mom and her love of Eastern Europe, I’m pretty familiar with Romanian culture. Yet, I am still learning a lot about Romania’s language and people.  In this process of connection I come to know myself through them, and they know themselves through me. This is the life of dialogue. I have been amazed by how at home I am, here, in Brașov. Sometimes during  a walk through the fall foliage or snow covered Carpathian Mountain trails, I forget that I’m on a different continent.

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My mother in her second year with cancer

When I talk about home, I can’t help mentioning my mother and some of the things she passed on to me that have enabled me to win a Fulbright grant and pursue the dreams that were hers and are now mine. She was an educator her entire life in both teaching and administrative positions. Her example inspired me to take up a career in education as well. Sadly, she died of cancer in July 2011, but she left a legacy in her students and children. Her her love of Eastern European culture, dance, and music transported me from the hills and hollers of Southeastern Ohio into a far away world–a world in which I now live. I was raised in a traditional Quaker home where I still heard “thee” and “thy” used in everyday conversation, but also lived among fiddles, guitars, mountain dulcimers, and banjos. I lived between the austere Quaker culture of my ancestors and the more lively Appalachian Mountain culture of my childhood. Although music and dancing are traditionally anathema for Quakers, my mother nevertheless loved traditional music and dance; it is a love she taught her students in school and passed on to all three of her children.

Here is a video of my mom folk dancing in our living room…

There was a folk festival in the Brașov Weaver’s Bastion a few weeks ago that was yet another instance of what I call “So far, yet so close to home.” As I stood in this beautiful medieval fortress listening to Romanian, Greek, German, and Hungarian folk songs and dances, I couldn’t stop thinking that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mom. I live 5000 miles away from my hometown, and yet these songs bring me back to my childhood. Melodies and movements from another time, in another language, and from another country are just a close to me as “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and Contra Dancing.

Here is a video from the folk festival we saw…

My mother gave me a love for Eastern Europe, even though she had never been here, and she modeled education by experience. She taught by seeing herself in the other; she practiced empathy. Sometimes I hear people use the word “empathy” in a way that conjurers up images of some kinda namby-pamby group therapy session where folks hold hands and sing Kum-ba-ya. This is not education by experience, it is not what my mother taught me, and it is not what I came to Romania to do. The ability to really empathize broadens our inner world and cultivates wisdom and humility. I believe these virtues create “openness,” which is a prerequisite for being an effective teacher. In the classroom, the empathetic teacher can often anticipate questions before they are asked and draw ideas out of students who have a hard time articulating themselves. The ability to truly empathize is a skill my mother sought to pass on to me and I use it every day. Through being open to seeing oneself in the other, a union is created that builds bonds between individuals. As I build academic, professional, and personal relationships here in Romania, I hope I will continue finding home in the world abound me. As Romania becomes more and more home and I see myself in the others I meet here, a bond is created between myself and them–and by extension between the United States and Romania.

Here is another video from the Weaver’s Bastion folk festival. Song is a little out of tune, but there is more of a view of the interior of the tower…

A Romanian Thanksgiving

In my opinion, Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. This past Thursday, it was our first American Club event of the year at Transylvania University. It was an exciting opportunity to share something of home with students and faculty. However, it also posed several interesting questions for me personally. What does the Thanksgiving celebration mean for Americans, and how do I share this holiday with others? So, I opened my riveting Thanksgiving speech by passing around Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 painting “Freedom from Want.”  It depicts a scene seared in our collective conscious; Grandpa and Grandma preside over a bountiful table surrounded by the younger generations. Nobody is hungry, nobody is arguing, and everyone is happy– almost to the point of being ridiculous. This perfect scene is often mocked, understandably, in contemporary culture. After all, what would Thanksgiving be without the traditional family argument or debate?  I also thought about how ironic this scene might seem to some of the Romanians who were fasting from meat and dairy in preparation for Christmas. The ideal of “Freedom from Want” epitomizes much of our American ideology.

Many of my students have expressed interest in going to America in search of a better life– to live the “American Dream.” I wanted to encourage them to think about what the American Dream really is, and if there really is such a thing as “freedom from want.” After wandering down a few rabbit trails and almost getting lost, I noticed that some students were so mesmerized by my words that they stared off into the distance as if transfixed…or was it that fly on the wall? Anyway, I concluded my little oration with a question. In what sense is “Freedom from want” a freedom? It does not seem like it can be legally guaranteed, yet it remains a source of hope. Whether or not that hope is misplaced is for each to decide for himself. As we ate and celebrated our freedom from want, I invited guests into conversation about the nature of freedom. The dinner table is often the center of the American Discourse, for what is more American than a political debate at the dinner table?

After the stirring speech by yours truly, we ate a scrumptious pot-luck meal followed by games and songs. In spite of the sterile classroom setting, it turned out to be a very festive evening with laughs and lively conversations. Originally, I had hoped to share a few iconic contemporary American Thanksgiving Traditions like  an American football game or a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Since we didn’t have a projector and the banjo in the corner was a novelty to many of our guests, Anne and I led a few songs. Simple Gifts and Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More are two American classics from my childhood that we shared. We ended our evening with the world’s best party game, “Apples to Apples.” The free association of random nouns and adjectives can spawn some of the best conversations…maybe even more than the equally random ramblings of a Fulbright lecturer.

A Sunday Walk in the Woods

The steeple of  the small wooden church rose among the pines in the Brașov high country. The sun shone through the fall leaves casting a golden glow on the forest path; all was dusted with a crisp morning snow. This is the Romania I’ve dreamed about!

We took a bus to Poiana Brașov and attended the Divine Liturgy at Sf. Ioan Botezătorul (St. John the Baptist). Poiana (which means meadow/clearing) Brașov is most well know for its ski resort and touristy attractions–such as a restaurant built like some kind of Dacian style ale-house and a hotel called “Acasa  la Dracula.” For me, the Church stands out as a witness to eternity in the midst of a temporal, shallow, and capitalist-driven consumer-culture which pervades the modern world. A hieromonk and a deacon served the Liturgy. With the chanters, they lead the Byzantine melodies and low drones, echoing the peaks and meadows surrounding the full little parish. There is something rooted and earthy, while at the same time heavenly and ethereal, in Transylvania.

The buildings of Brașov go back to the 13th century, while the iconography and music hearkens to a time when Constantinople ruled the world and the Carpathian Mountains sheltered small villages with a vibrant cultural life. The ancient, rooted, and earthy human life here is juxtaposed against the ethereal nature of the forests and mountains. It is still possible to find pockets of untouched nature here, where European bears, lynxes and wolves still exist. The only other place I’ve experienced nature like this was in Alaska, another place where time becomes timeless.

After church, we walked the roughly 4-5 mile long hike back to orașului (the town of) Brașov. We met hikers with their children and a British tourist as we made our way back home. The cyclical motion of the Church Liturgy cultivated a stillness in me as we walked. We came to one of the many troiţa, Orthodox Christian Crosses, along the path. Another reminder of the Christain history here and its Eucharistic Life. The troiţa were for me like a lâmpada lighting the Way home, literally and figuratively. After a leisurely three hour hike, we arrived home in Brașov full and ready for a new week.

Troparion of St. John the Baptist, Tone 2

The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise/ but the Lord’s testimony is enough for thee, O Forerunner,/ for thou wast shown to be more wonderful than the Prophets/ since thou wast granted to baptize in the running waters / Him Whom thou didst proclaim./ Then having endured great suffering for the Truth,/ Thou didst rejoice to bring, even to those in hell/ the good tidings that God Who had appeared in the flesh/ takes away the sin of the world/ and grants us the great mercy.

Romanian Students Discuss the “Tyranny of the Majority”

click on image to read the “Tyranny of the Majority”

Do we have to know who we are before we can know what we need? Our hour-long discussion on Alexis de Tocqueville’s section on the “Tyranny of the Majority” from Democracy in America culminated when a student posed this wonderful perennial question.

This past Monday, I taught my third university-level textual analysis class. So far we have read John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, James Madison’s Federalist no. 10, and most recently a small section of Democracy in America. Our overarching theme has been an inquiry into American identity. In my first lecture I argued that the United States is in an identity crises. Our civil discourse is becoming increasingly polarized and there is not a consensus regarding what the common good is let alone how we can achieve it. Where and when did the breakdown begin? How can we reconstruct it? Should American identity be remade or rediscovered?

I began our discussion of de Tocqueville with these words from our reading:

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In any constitutional state in Europe every sort of religious and political theory may be freely preached and disseminated; for there is no country in Europe so subdued by any single authority as not to protect the man who raises his voice in the cause of truth from the consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an absolute government, the people are often on his side; if he inhabits a free country, he can, if necessary, find a shelter behind the throne. The aristocratic part of society supports him in some countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like those of the United States, there is but one authority, one element of strength and success, with nothing beyond it.

Why does Tocqueville say that there is no real freedom of discussion in America when our “freedom of speech” is one of the freedoms we are most proud of in America? I think this reaches to the heart of our current identity crises and political gridlock. Freedom of speech is largely an illusion in America because the majority has deemed some words and ideas anathema. It is impossible to enact a plan to cut the debt because one plan is labeled “elitist” another is “socialist.” The majority has decided that both aristocratic elitism and socialism are politically incorrect words that should not even be considered. So, while candidates call each other “elitists” and “socialists” their ideas are not given a deep consideration in the public discourse.

Who is the majority?

First we asked, “Who is the majority?”  After a brief discussion, we decided that the majority was a group united around a common ideal opposed to another less powerful group united around the opposite ideal. We then went back and forth between whether or not the majority is worthy or unworthy to rule. One group seemed to be echoing Thomas Paine by saying that the majority should rule because they best represent the needs of a society while the other side took up James Madison’s argument that needs of the majority should not oppress the minority. While we argued about whether or not our mixed government and free speech on the internet provide protection and a voice for the minority a student asked the question at the heart of the argument. Do we have to know who we are before we can know what we need?

When Tocqueville published Democracy in America in 1835 he asserted that, “If America has not as yet had any great writers, the reason is given in these facts; there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America.” It does not exist in America, according to Tocqueville, because anyone who publicly speaks contrary to the opinion of the majority is made “a stranger in his own country.” We have had some great writers and orators since 1835. Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, and Martin Luther King Jr. became some of the heroes who showed us who we are and gave us a path forward.With the presidential election days away, we need to ask ourselves who we are and what do we really need. Where is the literary genius who can shine a light on who we really are? Are we left so intellectually and spiritually impoverished by the tyranny of the majority that the heroic literary genius described by Tocqueville is among us, but is merely another voice crying in the wilderness; and nobody hears.

Presentation at the “Remapping Urban Spaces — American Challenges” Conference

Bust of Ovid in front of Ovidius University

After a brief orientation in Bucharest, we were whisked away to the Black Sea and the city of Constanța. I was extra excited to be in Constanța,  the site of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Tomis, since it was also a subject of a mythology unit I taught on Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The Roman poet Ovid was exiled to the city of Tomis by the Emperor  Augustus in 8 AD. I used a picture of this bust of Ovid in front of Ovidius University in my PowerPoint introducing the poet’s life . I could never have dreamed that I’d be standing there a year and a half later.

From October 4th through the 6th I was able to participate in the Remapping Urban Spaces — American Challenges conference. The conference brought together a diverse group of academics from fields such as architecture,  political science, education, engineering, literature, and of course urban planning to discuss issues related to urban development. Our first lecture was given by UCLA professor of urban planning Dr. Edward Soja. In his talk on The Spacial Turn in Human Sciences, he asserted that the city is the center of creative innovation. My Great Books background immediately kicked in and took me to these lines from Plato’s Phaedrus:

Socrates: I am a lover of knowledge, and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the country. Though I do believe you have found a spell with which to draw me out of the city into the country, like a hungry cow before whom bough or a bunch of fruit is waved. For only hold up before me in like manner a book, and you may lead me all around Attica, and over the wide world. And now having arrived, I intend to lie down, and do you choose any posture in which you can read best. Begin.

In the dialogue Socrates and Phaedrus go for a walk in the country where they discuss erotic love and later rhetoric. The Phaedrus seems to be very indicative of the way we still view rural spaces. They are places to lie down and relax. The country is where people go on a weekend retreat to “get away from it all.” Itis the only Platonic dialogue I know of that takes place outside the city walls in an ideal country setting that Socrates says is “haunted” by the gods. Socrates, like most of the presenters at the conference was a man of the city.  Do rural spaces have any creative power to justify their existence? If the city is the center for creative discourse, then why do we still love going into the country?

So far, nobody was scheduled to speak about the consequences of urban development for rural communities. During one of our breaks,  Dr. Gene Tanta asked if I would present on rural development issues during the session of the conference he was co-chairing entitled Remapping the Marginal and the Counter-cultural.  Fortunately, the literature review from my master’s thesis was perfect for the theme of the session. I made a few modifications to my master’s thesis PowerPoint and was ready to go.

My primary goal was to raise questions and generate conversation about our vision for rural spaces. Are they places to be exploited for food and natural resources? Are they “sacred spaces” that are too sacred for men who are by nature political animals? Or are rural spaces like museums where agritourists go and view from the outside a way of life that is either dead or dying? Our conversation was very illumination, and I hope that it can continue here.

We Have Arrived!

Wow! Life has changed a lot in the past few months. Last spring I was busy finishing my master’s thesis and job hunting. It was a tough hiring season for me– like it was for so many others. Through it all, I was trying not to think much about my Fulbright grant application which I had submitted the previous fall. It was, after all, a “long-shot.” But, sometimes the opportunity or job that seems just out of reach is exactly where we end up. So, here I am embarking on this great adventure. I’m teaching classes in the American Studies department at the University of Transylvania in Brașov, learning another language, and researching rural education in Romania.

After spending two weeks with Imagefamily in France, my wife Anne Elise and I arrived at the Hotel Triumf in Bucharest bleary-eyed and bushwhacked at around 2:00am October 1st 2012.  It was a delightful hotel with an atmosphere that reminded me of something out of a Sean Connery era James Bond movie.

After sleeping until the early afternoon, we decided to go out and explore a bit.  We passed cars parked on the sidewalk, some kind of demonstration in front of some government offices, and a monument to what looked like pilots. Dodging the drivers who made Parisian traffic seem like a drive in the country, we found the Fulbright office and introduced ourselves.

After returning to our hotel, we got a call from the front desk that a friend of a friend of ours from the states had come to meet us. My godfather had contacted a friend of his who is at the theological seminary in Bucharest to show us around the city a little bit. We took the metro to the Patriarchal Cathedral where we were able to catch the end of an Akathist service and venerate the relics of St Dimitry of Bassarbovo. We went to several other churches. It seemed like there was a beautiful church on every block that was open with services constantly going on. The show of piety was juxtaposed against the sight of consumer goods from all over the western world. As we made our way back to the hotel through the students,  homeless, churchgoers and shoppers I felt as though I was walking between worlds. One minute I’m in ancient Byzantium where even the Latin sound of the Romanian language hearkens to antiquity, and the next minute I’m in another modern consumer-driven nation. Standing in Bucharest was like standing in a moment of transition where there is a rare, uncanny picture of what was and what is coming.

Thus begins our year in Romania!