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Katrina Kiss - Drama in Romania

Katrina with her passport as she prepares to travel to Romania

It’s been eight months since I left Romania and I feel like I was there just yesterday. My memories of the time I spent in enchanting Brasov are so vivid and lucid; I’ve never been more captivated by a place and its people. I spent the entire month of July exploring, learning, experiencing, loving, caring, helping, and adventuring. I had experiences there that I can’t even completely put into words. These moments can really only be captured by the heart.

Before travelling to Romania I always had a dream to live abroad and, more importantly, volunteer abroad. I have a passion for working with children and I grew up studying Dramatic Arts. I studied Musical Theatre at Roosevelt University in Chicago and spent my free time taking care of children of all ages. After a friend told me about her positive experience volunteering in Brasov (also with Projects Abroad) I knew that it was time for me to take the leap and head overseas.

I travelled thousands of miles away from home and I “found myself” on the other side of the world. I think I can finally say I found the best version of myself while I was in Romania volunteering with Projects Abroad. I have a passion for exploring new places and immediately feel a rush when I’ve been placed somewhere unfamiliar. This journey definitely had its difficult moments, but I somehow found a way to navigate them and I like to think I’ve became a stronger and wiser person through it all. I am so glad I chose Projects Abroad to help me make one of my lifelong dreams come true.

Living with a Romanian host family

Romanian children making mask

While I was living in Brasov, I felt completely immersed in Romanian culture and tradition. Through my volunteer programme, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a Romanian family and they were so welcoming and kind. In the first few moments when I arrived at my homestay, my “mother”, Rodica, embraced me with excitement and love. She then showed me upstairs to a huge traditional Romanian meal of stuffed peppers and soup. Every meal she served was homemade with delicious flavours, spices, and love.

Food is such an essential part of Romanian culture that it made me realize how sometimes we don’t take enough time to slow down and appreciate meals and the people we share them with. It was a bit of a culture shock since Americans are notoriously “fast food” eaters. But I loved this appreciation for food and how it brings loved ones together. I also felt completely comfortable and safe in my homestay. It truly impacted my volunteer experience in the most positive way possible.

My Creative & Performing Arts placement

Romanian children presenting a project on the history of fashion

Through my volunteer programme, I worked at a day centre in a village called Prejmer, a foster home in Ghimbav, and a special needs centre in Codlea. All of my placements were so different and the children at each one impacted me in more ways than I can possibly explain. Before I came to Romania, I only had a vague idea of the childcare system there. I knew Romania still had foster homes and centres for disadvantaged children, but I really had no idea what to expect. I came to Brasov with an open heart and mind, ready to accept whatever I was going to encounter and experience.

The kids at my foster home in Ghimbav all lived together under the same roof and some had been there for many years. I worked closely with two girls who are siblings, but in so many ways, all of the kids there are siblings to each other. You see it in the way that they play, argue, explore… it’s one house of 20 brothers and sisters. The community they have built is so strong and I even found myself feeling a little like I was an outsider to their “tribe.” But instead of dismissing me, they were interested in my life, what I wanted to teach them, and whether or not I wanted a piece of cake from the kitchen.

Katrina posing with Romanian children in the masks they made

Although they only understood basic English, we all explored expressing ourselves through drama and music. They absolutely loved dramatic improvisation games and creating their own scripts! It was one of the first times they had ever been exposed to theatre in any form. Their confidence levels grew, they were able to forget about any current hardships, and they could simply be a bunch of kids having fun. Every single one of them is so unique and beautiful in their own way. I miss them dearly. They taught me so much about making the best out of any situation and that, regardless of the “barriers” or differences between people, we are all one global community.

The placement that had the most impact on me (personally and professionally) was a centre for children and adults with special needs called The Rafael Foundation (Fundatia Rafael in Romanian). The centre allows adults with disabilities the chance to receive therapy, care, enrichment, and social interaction in a safe and positive environment. The Rafael Foundation also has a programme for children with disabilities. I was able to spend several days a week there assisting other volunteers with the children. During the time I was there, we would have circle time, music therapy, free play time, a snack, and outdoor time. The kids loved interacting with each other, practicing walking, and playing with the toys at the centre. I felt so lucky to be able to give some of my time to the children I met there.

My free time in Romania

Volunteers take some time to explore Romania

I can’t speak highly enough about the wonderful Projects Abroad support staff in Romania. Ali, Razvan, and Damien made sure my experience was a positive one. They were always available whenever I needed help or had any questions. I often visited the Projects Abroad office just to say hello or spend some time with them. When I wasn’t busy volunteering, I spent my free time getting to know my fellow volunteers and exploring Romania. I became extremely close with the other volunteers and we would often meet up after volunteering every day to swap stories or to laugh over a coffee. We became a family while we were in Brasov and I still keep in touch with them every so often.

My placement schedule also allowed me to have time to travel to other places in Romania. One day several of the volunteers and I caught a train to a gorgeous town called Sinaia. We walked through the city (stopping for many photos) and took a tour of the magnificent Peles Castle. It was a lovely summer day and we had a blast figuring out the street names and running to catch our train.

My overall experience

A group of volunteers in Romania

My volunteering experience was more incredible than I could’ve ever imagined. I felt like I was extremely involved and connected to my project, and the kids I was working with. I truly miss seeing their sweet faces every day. Every child I worked with is so incredibly special. They are the future and they deserve all of the love and guidance in the universe. I was only a part of a small portion of their lives, but I know I will never forget them. The moments I had in Romania are like permanent snapshots in my heart. I’ll carry them with me where ever I go.

Before I left for Romania, I had all of these ideas about how I was going to change lives by bringing theatre and music to the children of Brasov. Now as I’m reminiscing about all of my memories and moments, and I reflect on my current life situation (I’m currently teaching abroad in Poland), I’ve realized that it’s actually me who was changed by Romania and its children. I want to continue to give back and explore our magnificent world. We are all one world, one family, and one community, despite our different languages and cultures. I hope I can work with others in the future to better childcare in Romania and in other places all over the world. Our children are our future and the children in Romania have made me the person I am today. I am forever grateful for the amazing staff at Projects Abroad and for the opportunity to visit Romania to change lives through drama, music, and love.

Katrina Kiss

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