Peace Corps Writers
For two years, Andy Trincia has written about his days as a Peace Corps Volunteer for
Peace Corps Writers.

Andy Trincia

Andy will be participating in a panel and reading at the Chicago conference!

Read other short pieces about PCV experiences

Andy's previous articles:

Teaching high schoolers free-market economics

Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara

Partying with Peasants and A Letter to America

Customer Service?

Romania Themepark Mania

The Neighbor's Goat

Corrupting Future Prosecutors

Unforgettable Faces

One-Way to Bucharest

Some of Andy's photos are at Yahoo
Click on the small icon of the file folder and photo.

by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002–04)

What Planet Are You From?”

IN MY FINAL DAYS of Peace Corps, I lecturedPrinter friendly version a group of graduate students on managing in cross-cultural organizations. Romanian students take copious notes and are trained to listen to professors and not ask questions, which can be viewed as a challenge. As usual, I explained that I’m from a completely different, interactive educational system, so please, interrupt or ask away!
     After my remarks, one student drifted off the topic and asked about America’s political and educational systems. This evolved into a fascinating discussion, her questions prying into our basic liberties, such as being hired for a job on merit and simply having equal opportunities, to the “American Dream” and how you can rise up no matter who you are, who you know, where you were born — or in which political party you are, which can be very important in Romania. Of course, some of this matters in America, too, but to very different degree. After declaring that America is far from perfect, as I’ve often repeated to Romanians, I expressed my pride, awe really, for the American Democracy that was so artfully crafted by the Founding Fathers more than 200 years ago, yet still works today.
     “What planet are you from?” she uttered, in admiring disbelief, shaking her head.
     After class, several students asked me to join them on their short coffee break, one of the few times this happened to me in two years. They peppered me with questions, saying what I’ve heard again and again, that the mentality and “system” have myriad problems and will take many years, perhaps two generations, to improve significantly. Just to get a good job, it’s often mandatory to have a connection on the inside (“pile” in Romanian) and/or a bribe. Job applications or interviewers ask political affiliation and other personal questions that are illegal in the United States.
     Serving in Peace Corps is many things, but perhaps most of all it is humbling. Over and over, I have felt this. I’ve seen people picking through trash every day, but it still hits me every time. The simple stuff we take for granted at home, such as paying for this or that without the constant worry of a rip-off, or just the way we think — western-style individualism vs. leftover communist ways, which seem to still emphasize collectivism and that it’s somebody else’s problem, fault or responsibility, whether it’s the overwhelming amount of litter and filth, small mistakes in the workplace or the country’s poverty.
     Even the way we are taught, a combination of theory and hard facts, with practical approaches and hands-on training. It’s rare here, and it shows. During my lectures and business-trainings, I’ve been shocked so see how little economics majors and would-be entrepreneurs really know about business. As one student told me: “Almost everybody in our generation goes to university in Romania. We are educated, but we really aren’t educated, not prepared the way we should be. We aren’t taught to be creative, to think for ourselves. We are taught to memorize and regurgitate.”
     I’ve also been humbled in other ways. Romania is a poor but developing country, yet there are many rich people, and many who at least look like it. I held good jobs in the States, drove nice cars, had nice clothes. Occasionally I feel as though my clothes are a bit frayed, my mobile phone a clunker next to some, my Peace Corps living allowance less than some Romanian friends’ salaries. I am not allowed to own a car, or even drive one, yet I see luxury automobiles whizzing around next to the indigenous Dacia cars. It’s as if I’ve had two completely different lives. But sadly, millions of Romanians live a whole lot worse, and I can relate only to an extent — but Peace Corps does enable you to understand another side of a country, far different than one seen by expat executives and diplomats.

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