Friday, December 14, 2007

The 7 Month Mark

So, I've been in Romania for nearly 7 months now. And, I'd have to say, the past month has been the most emotionally difficult. Just around Thanksgiving my first real feelings of homesickness set in and I really started to miss my family and friends more than ever. I suppose it was the result of a combination of factors.

Firstly, on November 18th I had been in Romania for 6 months. That's half a year, a significant chunk of time-- the longest I've ever been away from home. This realization sort of put things in perspective. I may have made it so far, but I still have a lot to go. The last time I felt a similar realization was when I was sitting in the Frankfurt airport, waiting for the flight to Bucharest. It suddenly struck me that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. This was no vacation, i wasn't going for two weeks and coming right back, there was no turning back. I boarded the plane, all the while saying, "Mike, what the hell are you doing?" I got into my seat, fell asleep, slept the entire flight, and woke up in Bucharest--it was sort of surreal, dream-like.

Secondly, this is my first holiday season away from home, and I kind of miss my usual holiday routine.

Thirdly, I'm struggling to find 'friends' here in town. Don't get me wrong, my students and colleagues at the school are great. But, I haven't found anyone with whom I feel a close personal connection (save perhaps my counterpart).

And, fourthly, the novelty of my situation is starting to wear off. Things aren't any longer as strange or confusing as they used to be, and I'm falling into a routine, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, I'm becoming accustomed to PC life, and I'm starting to think of Lugoj as my home for the next two years. But, on the other hand, I'm still not quite there yet, and the transition has proven to be difficult--not physically, but I've felt more mentally torn than ever before. The PC staff warned us about the psychological difficulties of working in a country like Romania. I don't have it bad by any means. But, one of my motivations is to effect some sort of change by my efforts (which is probably true of any other volunteer). However, working as a teacher, the results of my actions are less tangible. It's not like I'm building latrines in a small village in Burkina Faso. There, the results would be much more real. I sometimes ask myself what effect I'm having in my community. But then again, maybe I'm expecting too much. After all, I've only been in Lugoj for 4 months. Moreover, I suppose just my presence here has an effect, and every conversation I have with a Romanian is significant in and of itself.

So anyway, I've been hitting some rough times. Nothing terrible; I mean, my situation could be much worse. But, there are good days and there are bad. At my orientation in Philidelphia the staff warned that service in the Peace Corps can be an emotional roller coaster, a warning I've heard again and again since.

My feelings of homesickness come and go. Hanging out with friends at Thanksgiving really helped. Then last week I visitea married PCV couple in a small village north of here. That was followed by a week-long In-Service Training seminar, at which I got to see all the members of my group. It was the first time I'd gotten to see them all since we'd gone off to our respective sites, which was nice.

However, coming back to site was sort of hard, after a week of being with my American friends. This past week dragged pretty rough, especially at the beginning. But, yesterday turned out ok. I did a lesson on the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ('Twas the night before Christmas...) with one of my toughest groups of students (getting them to use English is like trying to get Pigpen to wash his clothes). We read the poem out loud together and discussed some of the vocabulary. They seemed to really like it, and by the end of the lesson, even my most intractable student was smiling. That made my day.

And, after nearly a month of cloudy grey skies, the sun finally came out today. So things are changing. One thing I'm finding out is that the life of a volunteer can be quite variable. One week might be completely terrible, but the next might be great. I guess you just have to be able to roll with the punches and keep on looking forward.


Jack Nork said...

Hang in there Mike! I know you will do great things in your time there!

Anonymous said...

I think your expectations are very high, which is good, but your day to day outcome is hard to measure against the impact you want to make. I'm afraid that after two years, they won't want to let you go because of all the good you will have accomplished in that time.

Anonymous said...

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it
And, which is more, you'll be a Man my son!

Cameron Wright said...

I think the solution to the blues is keep that in mind!

Take it easy during the break, maybe I could bring over Team America and we can compare who makes more of a positive impact!

Matt Damon!

Rachel said...

You mean I'm not prolonging your sense of novelty with my incessant questions about Romanian language and culture? I'll have to try harder. :P

I think the impact of teaching is something that's slow to arrive, but lasts much longer than most other accomplishments... and sometimes you have to read between the lines to catch a glimpse of just how much good you're doing, like when you made that really difficult kid smile. Between that and working with those little kids after school and writing columns for the newspaper... I'd say you're doing a fine job of infiltrating and taking over Rom--I mean... making a positive impact on your community. Yes. That's it.

Anonymous said...

You can spend Christmas with Svetlana and her 16 kids! (I know, I'm an idiot)

Merry Christmas Bro!



Blegoo said...

Mike, you're doing splendid! It's just the season, end of winter...
Keep up the blog, there are many of us interested in your adventures.