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Bethany spent the fall of 2011 in Eastern Europe through Northwestern’s Romania Semester program. She and her seven Northwestern classmates lived in Lupeni, where they learned about sustainable community development, studied Romanian culture and history, and worked with the New Horizons Foundation to provide adventure education and service-learning programs for Romanian youth. At Northwestern, Bethany is a pole vaulter on the track team, participates in the International Club, and has been a dancer and choreographer in RUSH. Following graduation, she wants to live in another culture, perhaps by working for a non-profit organization like New Horizons.
The study abroad program was one of the main reasons I chose Northwestern. I’ve always been intrigued by different cultures, and although we experience them to a small extent when other people bring their traditions to North America, the reality of how the world functions abroad is a big mystery to us here. I applied to the program for the adventure and chance to learn in an experiential way—to open my eyes to a culture and tradition different from my own and to embrace the unfamiliar. College is meant to offer the opportunity for greater learning, and what better way than learning hands-on where the real world is your classroom?
My older brother attended Northwestern and participated in the Romania Semester program. I remember seeing the growth in him when he returned. He told me his time in Romania was the best semester of his college career and how thankful he was for having the opportunity to travel and get to know another culture intimately. Seeing his pictures of climbing mountains and living with a host family really attracted me to how hands-on the program was. I chose Romania because I saw how great of an impact the program had—and also because of the promise of a life-changing adventure!
The beauty of the program was that everything we were learning was essential for our understanding of the world around us. We learned about the history and culture of our new home, as well as the language, which enabled us to communicate in the local piata and with our host families. We studied Eastern Orthodoxy, community development and experiential education. We also joined New Horizon’s IMPACT Clubs in the area and saw how youth are making a difference in their communities. As our education deepened, our connection and respect for the culture and people did as well. I learned some of the best lessons from the people we met, but especially from my fellow students in the program.
I’ll never forget how far my feet took me! Trekking to a mountain top, walking the broken sidewalks of Lupeni past the bakery shop on the way to class, the 40-minute walk up the mountain path to my host family’s home—and also the people I had walking beside me on that journey. My feet carried me through the seasons in another country, and that feeling always lingers, like I was just there in my other home only yesterday. I’ll always remember teaching a dance class for little Romanian girls, laughing in our morning language class, taking road trips, learning how to milk a cow, and shopping in the second-hand stores.
The hospitality of Romania was an unexpected surprise. The people were so kind and welcomed us into their homes like family, but sometimes I felt my social cues from my culture to be of no help in communicating with Eastern Europeans. For example, our host families were very generous—especially when it comes to food. Here it’s considered polite to say “no thank you” when food is offered; there a second helping was almost expected. Learning about Romanians’ day-to-day lives—how they buy their groceries, the medicines they use, their system of agriculture and their relationships—was a fascinating experience.
My semester in Romania was everything I dreamed and more—certainly the best semester of my years at college. As a sociology student, I couldn’t have asked for a better classroom than being immersed in another culture. I feel more focused and prepared to pursue a life serving others after my semester abroad. I learned some great lessons and met amazing friends along the journey.