I don’t feel at all like the person I was before I left two weeks ago. I’m not very good in groups, so this is definitely a test for me. I wouldn’t say I’m doing that bad, but without the time alone for reflection that I’m used to, I feel like I’m taking too much in without absorbing it. My camera would agree (wifi is scarce and I really need to upload pictures to free up space. Photography can be a time consuming hobby).
Constanța is a much different city than Bucharest. Our dorm rooms basically represent that difference: no toilet seat, doors that don’t lock, a very leaky shower with no curtain or door, half a window screen and mosquitos, no internet (I am actually thankful for that in a way, it keeps me in the present), and beds with nothing but springs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, it’s actually a lot of fun, and it’s great to feel like I’m experiencing more than home (plus, this is reason to be very thankful for college dorms in the US). Anyway, my point is that there seems to be much fewer social services in Constanta, especially when it comes to trash. Also, the first thing that happened to me when we got off the train was having to ride in an unmarked “taxi”; all the wrong signs were there, including no counter and a pushy driver, but my professor said it was good, and the guy seemed to know the other drivers, so two of us got in. It was an interesting drive, needless to say. He didn’t speak much English, but took our obvious mistrust and started making jokes about us being Americans and him being the Taliban taking us to Saudi Arabia or something. I can’t say I’ve ever felt stereotyped until that moment. Great feeling.
On the other hand, I’ve never had waterfront property that wasn’t a tent before, and our dorms are as waterfront as you can get. The Black Sea is beautiful. Seeing it for the first time as we drove up felt like the culmination of a week and a half of buildup: this was the reason we’re here. These scientifically fascinating waters are and have been the center of commerce, war, and culture for millennia. Ovid sailed up to this very spot 2,007 years ago. Staring at the ruins of a market just as old or climbing the tower of a 200 year old mosque is quite unlike anything you can experience in Seattle.
I will say, I actually miss Bucharest a lot. It began to feel like home very quickly. We all miss our friends Alex and Alexandra quite a bit, and I felt like we had entered an entire social circle through their friend Gabi (the one I had the discussion about identity with) and the places they took us; I knew our quarter of the city almost as well as I know Seattle (mainly because I don’t live in Seattle, in fact, I’ve never lived in a true city). Alex and Alexandra actually came to Constanța on Sunday to visit us though! We paid for their train ticket as a gift, and it was a great relaxing day on the beach. It’s weird to think we may not see them again. Some good memories to hold on to. I guess I didn’t anticipate how well study abroad gets us to know a place. It’s pretty sweet, but also important. How can we make future decisions without knowing about what’s around?
We had lectures most days in Bucharest, but only Friday and Monday here, although there were 3 on Monday. They got into both economics and linguistics. I will say that the linguistics lecture was fascinating, as language can be the defining characteristic of a people, but I’m starting to wonder why we’re sitting in a classroom and not visiting the places we’re watching on a screen and seeing on a map. While it would definitely be necessary to know this info before going to, say, an Aromanian community, it seems like there could’ve been a class before this trip and then we could spend our time immersing ourselves more. The main reason I liked Bucharest more is that I got to experience a new culture, albeit still Western-esque, whereas Constanța is closer to a tourist town, though a Romanian tourist town, in a more rural part of the country where fewer people speak English, much like Brasov or Sibiu, places I would love to visit.
Of course, something we actually talked about is the purpose of going to different, or even less fortunate, communities. It is always important to see life in a new way, because then you can give depth to how you see your own culture. But if you live in a foreign culture, are you there for them or for you? Are you trying to understand their problems to help them, or just to broaden your perspective? I think the latter. What it comes down to is that Western influence does not help every problem. Our last lecturer presented on why free market development is necessary in Romania and why socialism is bad. Of course, I took major issue with this because what existed here was nothing close to communism or socialism. But there’s no point in acting superior to the tyranny our lecturers experienced, only in pointing out that any desire to be like America here does not at all fit the culture of the small villages we have seen in passing. Maybe that helps, maybe it doesn’t, but to me the issues here are much more local than a couple of our lectures may have implied, however unintentionally. All I know is that I can’t wait to spend three days backpacking through five-building villages in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia!
On another note, it has been awesome getting to know everyone in our group. Nine people is a very good number for a trip like this. In our full group we took a boat tour around the beautiful Danube Delta up north with hundreds of birds and had lunch at a quaint house/restaurant in the forested reeds, and another day went to the Greek ruins that were the town of Histra. Splitting into smaller groups and wandering has led to the most interesting experiences, from short games with kids on the street to being chased by dogs to misunderstanding traffic rules as pedestrians to finding the best food in town on some back street. Overall, Romania has been a great and unique choice for my first trip abroad (besides Canada), with just enough Western feel to not shock but plenty of difference to broaden my perspective.
Time is moving fast. Just a few days ago we were living another life in another city, and we’re now halfway through the trip. It also feels like enough has happened to fill a month. Now in my room, listening to my music feels distinctly wrong; it’s music meant for home, and I’m not home. I feel better listening to what’s being played at local restaurants, because it puts me in the present. If I have any time to write lyrics this trip, I think they’re gonna turn out pretty different from what I write at home. Something about travel just dictates that I shouldn’t be the person I am when I’m home, as almost nothing can be habitual abroad, pretty much the opposite of home. Travel is a lifestyle for a reason, one I can feel myself getting addicted to. Sometimes it just takes a bit more life to feel tied down to any place I guess, but right now I feel like I’ve traded stress for a dream.