Elizabeth Stevenson - General Teaching Projects in Romania
My Romanian adventure to Brasov was an experience that will certainly hold a lasting and wonderful impression on my mind; the beautiful Saxon town, the kind nature of those I met, and the beholden smiles of children who greeted me daily are a few of the reasons why volunteering with Projects Abroad was an opportunity I am entirely grateful to have been given.
As a recent graduate, and a soon-to-be teacher trainee, I wanted to gain some further experience working with children before commencing my teaching course in September. Previous opportunities to teach abroad had presented themselves over my three years at university in the UK, and last Christmas my interest had peaked enough to begin planning my journey towards Eastern Europe.
Arriving in Romania
On 6 June 2015 I journeyed towards Romania, accompanied by a friend, another aspiring teacher trainee. I was both nervous and excited as I boarded my plane, and despite overly planning my journey I was uncertain as to what the country would bestow.
As we sleepily arrived in Bucharest after a 6am flight, we were greeted by Alex, a Projects Abroad representative who drove us from the airport to our final destination in Brasov where we were to meet our host family. Our accommodation and home for two weeks was a couple of minutes’ walk away from the centre of town.
We were greeted by Rodica, our soon-to-be host mum. What we believed to be pleasantries were exchanged between herself and Alex as we quickly discovered that our level of Romanian was indeed something to be desired. Rodica reassured us, our puzzled faces evidently revealing our surprise that her level of English did not go much beyond ‘Thank you’, ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’. However, the language barrier, to my amazement, didn’t become a problem as hand gestures and facial expressions were helpful tools of communication. Her son and daughter were also occasionally around to assist with any misunderstandings.
Arriving on a Saturday meant that we had the weekend to explore our new surroundings. Still cautiously embracing the foreign lands, we didn’t venture far and instead took to walking down Republici Street and relaxing in the sun on the main square.
My Teaching placement
Monday arrived and we were given our induction of Brasov, which included experiencing some traditional Romanian food at a nearby restaurant. Soup, followed by a dish containing vegetables and/or pasta with meat was our typical evening meal when eating with our host family and the portion sizes guaranteed that we never went hungry!
Arriving at the Projects Abroad offices we were introduced to some other volunteers and were able to gain some more information about our Teaching project. We would be working at School No.5, a Roma school on the outskirts of town, a few miles away from the centre of Brasov in a place called Garcini. The school was in much need of assistance, and we were given the impression that the project would prove to be quite a challenge.
Our first day at the school began with a three bus commute, a venture which, although initially a little daunting soon became part of our routine. As the school bus turned its final corner through the gates of the school, I spotted a security guard in the corner of my eye; my expectations of the project being somewhat challenging, now became firmly established. My mind was racing, thinking up ideas of how and what I would be able to do to make any impact on the school.
Before long, we were introduced to three English teachers who we would be working alongside. They each informed us of the school’s reputation, and the daily struggles that they encountered as teachers working in a Roma community. Having been told that the majority of children didn’t see learning English as a second language important, we began to brainstorm some activities which would allow learning to become engaging and fun.
During our first week we took on the role of both teacher assistant and teacher, and were given full reign of the classroom. Initially, the children leant on their own curiosity and we were bombarded with inquisitive questions (typically in Romanian) from one class to the next. The children’s level of English was poor, and they would heavily rely on prompts from the teachers in order to ask a question in English.
Volunteering in Romania
We worked alongside several of the grades. The teachers informed us that the children responded well to competition but struggled with teamwork and cooperation, and so we tried to incorporate this into the lessons we taught.
Another angle we took was to lead the lessons by theme, we knew that many of the classes had learnt the parts of the body, thus in one activity we split the class into teams. Drawing an ‘artistically’ drawn stickman onto the blackboard, we then circled different parts of the body and the children were asked to write down its name in English within their teams. Each time they got it right, they were given a point, and the team with the most points won. This worked brilliantly, with the children responding well to all elements of the activity, both in terms of learning English, but also teamwork and they had great fun doing-so too!
My time at the school was eye-opening, it had a huge impact on my perception of teaching and how beneficial it can truly be to those greatly in need of education. One of my favourite memories whilst teaching at the school was when we were leading a grade 2 class, in which we were teaching the alphabet and introducing the children to phonics. Splitting the class into two teams we ran through the letters, and repeated them through the ‘ABCD’ song.
The most memorable part of the lesson was at the end when a very excited young boy eagerly and confidently ran through the entire song almost entirely unaided. The happiness which shone from his face was an image which I know I will always remember when thinking of Romania and the wonders of teaching through Projects Abroad.
Our trip to Romania happened to have landed on the last two weeks of school before the children began their summer holidays. This meant that mid-way through our second week we were left to discuss an alternative voluntary opportunity; assisting at a local orphanage. Buburuza was the orphanage which we were lucky enough to spend the last three days of our placement at, an experience equally, if not more memorable as our experience at the Roma school.
The orphanage was home to eleven brilliant children, aged between 7 and 11. Although they spoke very little English, communicating with them was effortless as they pointed and urged us to do different activities with them.
An unforgettable experience
Alongside our placement we visited several must-see places around and in Brasov, including Dracula’s lair; the infamous Bran Castle. Sinaia, with its exquisitely grand looking houses, was a beautiful town we visited only a short train ride away from Brasov. The views from the top of Mnt. Tempa are a sure-see-thing, with a vantage point from the Hollywood-esque sign providing stunning views of the town below.
My time in Romania will always hold a special place in my heart. Teaching ABCs, playing in the dirt, visiting spectacular sights, meeting wonderful people from different walks of life, eating flavoursome traditional delicacies, feeding stray dogs, encouraging the need to learn, and making someone smile, are some of the many memories I will forever cherish. Similarly, they are reasons as to why, one day, I will eagerly revisit this delightful and welcoming country.