I daily recall the experiences of a not-so-distant past. The Romanian adventure is over. Experiences have become memories. For some weeks Baia Mare has been separated by distance. More and more will new memories crawl and take the place as the fresh thoughts in mind. At some point, Baia Mare will be a distant memory, a plain thing that occurred a while ago.

At this very moment,  a few weeks have past and all the good lessons trickle into my daily Dutch life. I find myself still baffled by the impressions I received in the duration of the last seven months. Every moment that was lived in and around Romania served a purpose and each occasion offered wise lessons to stick to my and be carried into the future. I can subdivide my experience in Romania in various phases, each with its own struggles and its own lessons.

An unknown future

The first month was silent. The first month was filled with excitement. Walking around in a new city inspired a sense of adventurism. It was also during this time that the Romanian trees started to change their colours. The green leaves turned red, brown and orange and the hills that surrounded Baia Mare were beautiful. While acquaintancing the many new people in Baia Mare was by no means an easy task, a slight sense of optimism prevailed. The hardships were offset with hope and the conviction that the six months in Romania would become a unique experience that, even in case it were to become tough, would at the very least teach valuable lessons of life. This notion was also reinforced  by the first trip to Sighișoara. This journey cemented the friendship with the initial three housemates and convinced us of the fact that Romania was a very surprising country, which would be carried with us long after the project lasted. The most beautiful sunset was seen during this experience and ended this trip. At this point I considered it undeniable that Romania left a positive first impression.

One in a team, one as a team

The next two months introduced us to new housemates and brought us real work. Our theoretical lessons on handling children proved to be worthless without the right attitude. This attitude could be translated to the willingness to devote yourself to the youngsters and the Romanian culture, they were part of. It was also needed to adapt and adjust to a new living-situation. We knew, that we would have to live and function as a team of six for many months. We had to become friends, but also realised that a life had to be founded outside the group, the team and the apartment. From this moment, a real process of integration was necessary. Friendships were made outside our own team. Activities outside the apartment were important. At the same time, the unity of the group could not be neglected. Movie-nights and regular conversations kept the atmosphere amical and joyful. Our travels did meanwhile continue to have their place. We already had learnt to find our way in Romania during the various earlier journeys we made. We also had started to create a modest network in Romania, mostly due to our activities with Romanian and Europe-commissioned volunteers. Our On-Arrival Training in Bucharest was fundamental for this. It was in Bucharest that we met equal-minded people, some of them would remain important for the entire duration of our project. We also found connection with a large volunteers’ community in Baia Mare itself. This community would be the backbone of our adventures and activities. The value of these people would only increase as the time progressed.

Working with children was tough, working together led more than once to modest conflicts due to differentiating opinions. The language barrier was most fierce in these weeks and at last convinced us of the need to gain some understanding of Romanian. We also learnt to apply our first basic strategies with children; handing a noisy kid by taking him apart, gaining their attention by listening to them, using competitive games to steer enthusiasm in a group. We learnt to adapt activities to particular age groups and did also adapt our activities to the highly diverse language skills of the Romanian pupils. There was more than enough reason to be optimistic.

Yet… simultaneously, change was already noticeable. The temperature dropped. Snow appeared. The days became shorter and the hills became dirty brown. Disagreements and minor conflicts appeared. This was a prelude for a more depressive period in my experience.

Cold and colourless

The next period was filled with various unique adventures and diverse travels. These tickled my imagination and inspired a sense of independence. Christmas brought me in touch with Romanian traditions. New Years and the following days was spent in a multitude of countries. What could harm a sole traveller? Regarded in another light, these journeys did also distract me from the downward atmosphere in Baia Mare. The most difficult time of living in Baia Mare laid on the edges of these journeys. The cold weather affected everyone we knew and could get along to. The activities seemed endless and it appeared the time of learning and progressing was long past. The ending of the project seeming to be too far away and I started to wonder, whether it was actually worth it to proceed and continue in Baia Mare. Slowly grew the idea, that all the important lessons had already been learnt. At this point, the size of our team had shrunk to five persons. This seriously affected the general understanding of our team and our project and made the future all the more grim. The next few months were bound to be tremendously boring.  Days were spent inside and the activities did not get the attention they deserved.

Personal expansion and a new group dynamic

The mid-term training brought light in our lives. The cold turned out to be survivable. The activities suddenly could be improved. Life in Baia Mare had the potential to grow more beautiful. The weeks up to March saw a steady  rise in adventure and excitement. Our own workshops commenced and I grasped the opportunity to work on my more formal teaching skills. Classes in various formats got a place. Teaching English, teaching Dutch, personal classes, larger groups. All these experiences added to an overall better understanding of language and the creation of lesson-plans. The classes were tough, yet also educative for the teacher! The lessons occupied me enough to give my presence in Baia Mare an aim. In addition, my view was expanded. A seminar in Macedonia brought me new insights in politics and Civic Engagement.  More travels were made. I did dig into the international YMCA and attended UNIFY in Cluj-Napoca. In a following phase saw the first modest steps in international networking.

The end of the March I was content and joyful. Not only had I survived the dark winter months, I had also learnt and I had persevered. I had become a stronger person. This was a shared sense. Creativity had returned to our work. The team was more motivated and more inspired to create great activities. The youngsters were more involved than ever. Barbara’s Project Hideaway  was a pinnacle for the entire team, as every single person was allowed to play a role and have a place within the overall structure of Barbara’s Workshop. At our peak, we had to say goodbye. A goodbye to our classes and a goodbye to each other. The first left, another left, another left… We drank our last cups of coffee together in the coffee places of Baia Mare. Suddenly, the apartment was filled with silence. March had made place for a new month, and April had started.

An explosion of capacity and very few to witness it.

As if it were to be a very special finish … the last month arrived with great impact. A true miracle had its place. An explosion of experiences, travels, social contacts and at last, the ability to really become part of Baia Mare.  It was in this last month that the foundation was laid for the months that are yet to come and that all the lessons of the earlier months could be tested in practice. Despite the fact, that our apartment did now only accommodate two persons, I had no reason to feel distressed. Contacts with the community flourished as colour returned to the Maramureșian hills. The last month featured the celebration of Orthodox Easter, a unique step into a different culture. The service, the food and the people made this experience so extraordinary. The next weeks brought more journeys, more activities. The cleaning of lake Firiza, activities in front of classes, the last workshops, all were suddenly different from what they had been before. The days grew more and more beautiful as the days passed. Romania become more memorable as the last day came closer and closer.

And now… the Romanian adventure has become part of the past. But I assure that it will never be over! The experiences in Baia Mare will be leading in the future. The countless lessons do already find their application in daily life. All from the start of one day, to express one’s joys and recall the past in a  ‘Romanian spirit’! One week after my return to the Netherlands, I joined an international training hosted by the YMCA Netherlands. This time, I only required a brief trip by bicycle to get in touch with some of the Romanian young volunteers once again! The YMCA opened itself and gave me a place to stay. Now, the next steps are going to be taken within the broad wings of the Dutch YMCA.

An unknown future

What will the future then hold? May it be filled with new adventures and excitement? A new story has commenced, starting at the exact point where the last ended. The next few months will feature my expansion over Europe. I started 2018 in de Austrian capital of Vienna, many countries and cities were visited ever since. No end is in sight. Where will this year end? The travelling will continue. The Romanian lessons are most fundamental in it. More confident and well-aware than ever, filled with the joyful urge of helping another, filled with wise lessons of being and learning from one’s experiences. The friendships and contacts that have been made will prove their strengths in the years that will come.

At the first sight, the future look empty and frightening. But a strong foundation has been laid. Filled with a disciplined spirit of activity and persistence… Romania brought humanity closer to me and will allow me to bring myself closer to humanity at large. A lot more hardships will be experienced and a lot more lessons will force themselves upon me in the months and years to come.

But that these lessons and experiences are part of a new adventure a new chapter. The Romanian story is past, although it will never be over.

With Love,

Jonathan van Varik ( EVS volunteer, The Netherlands, Youth Power Space project)


Project funded by European Union through Erasmus Plus Program.