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
Romania Themepark Mania
The Neighbor's Goat
Corrupting Future Prosecutors
One-Way to Bucharest
Some of Andy's photos are at Yahoo
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by Andy Trincia (Romania 200204)
What Planet Are You From?
IN MY FINAL DAYS of Peace Corps, I lectured 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 Im 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 Americas 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 Ive 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 Ive 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, its 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. Ive 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 its somebody elses problem, fault or responsibility, whether its the overwhelming amount of litter and filth, small mistakes in the workplace or the countrys poverty.
Even the way we are taught, a combination of theory and hard facts, with practical approaches and hands-on training. Its rare here, and it shows. During my lectures and business-trainings, Ive 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 arent educated, not prepared the way we should be. We arent taught to be creative, to think for ourselves. We are taught to memorize and regurgitate.
Ive 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. Its as if Ive 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.