ScRoLL (the Scottish Romanian Language Link) is a program which gives students from St Andrews, Edinburgh and Aberdeen the chance to spend either two or four weeks teaching English at summer schools in Romania. My placement was in the northern city of Baia Mare in Maramure?, where I stayed for a month with a Romanian host family. The ScRoLL teaching experience is not a particularly formal one – games and fun activities form the bulk of the learning – but this is not to say it is not difficult.Being thrown into a class of twenty-three ten year olds who spoke and understood only a limited amount of spoken English, after being given no prior indication of what age or ability they might be, was certainly one of the more testing experiences in my life.
During my short teaching stint, I worked with children of different ages and abilities. Although they could be rowdy, restless, and demanding, I repeatedly found myself encountering intelligent, enthusiastic kids that were genuine interesting in improving their English and learning about my country and culture.
Outside of the classroom, I learnt about Romanian culture from staying with a host family. Between day trips to explore Maramure? and the entire family dropping me off at the airport at 4 A.M. before my flight home, I certainly feel gratitude and admiration for the hospitality I experienced. And I’ll never forget the homemade doughnuts. I stayed with two different families during my trip – as is normal for a four week placement – and not only were both indisputably welcoming, but cultural and language barriers weren’t as much of a challenge as I had anticipated. That said, I’m still not over the way they poured their milk into the bowl BEFORE their cereal. Baffling.
Baia Mare, where both my families lived, felt to me like a city with two identities. The paved streets and restaurant lined square of the old town centre paint a picture of a historical city – yet, venture a bit further out and you will find traffic laden roads, a modern shopping mall and block after block of flats; a far cry from the picturesque centre. The city is small, and just turning a corner offers a view of the surrounding mountains. The peaceful parks, relatively quiet streets, and mountain views create a relaxing atmosphere. Historically, Baia Mare is a mining city. The dominating feature of the city’s skyline is the now disused chimney of the Phoenix Copper Smelter, which is taller than the Eiffel Tower. It is one of the tallest man-man structures in Europe. Who needs Paris when there’s Baia Mare?
I was also lucky enough to see some of the wider area surrounding the city. The county of Maramure? is the northernmost region of Romania. It is known for Merry Cemetery in S?pân?a, just south of the Ukrainian border. Unique for its positive perspective on death, the cemetery is full of bright blue headstones adorned with colourful images and stories about the lives of the people buried beneath. While stories were all in Romanian, my host was more than willing to act as a translator so I was able to get the gist of the writings on the graves. On the way to the cemetery, my host family showed me a number of interesting sights and attractions, including the Sighet Museum; located in an old prison, the museum documents Romania under communism. My personal favourite place we visited was the beautiful Bârsana Monastery, where the vivid flower-edged walkways offered some prime photo-taking opportunities.
I returned home from my month in Romania with a favourable impression. The mountainous northern countryside is stunning, and the people I met were some of the friendliest I’ve encountered in my life, despite the language barrier. Baia Mare was a pleasant (if not incredibly lively) city to spend a month in, and I certainly hope to return sometime in the future.
Photo credit: Victoria Walsh