Friday, September 21, 2012

On personal resonsibility and architecture

Yesterday, Amanda and I had a most unpleasant encounter with a Romanian man who was being rather rigid in his scolding of us for not having followed correct protocol.  As we left the situation, Amanda expressed a wonderful insight that is probably useful for all us in many situations:  “Wouldn’t the world be better if everyone were kind and explained the rules?  I am willing to follow the rules when I know what they are.”  That sentiment expresses well the dilemmas encountered in a different culture – how is one expected to “know the rules” if they are not explained?  And kindness toward others certainly goes far.  So, today as I set out I will remind myself – as I do most days, in fact – that I am the visitor and it is my job to assimilate, to learn the rules, while seeking accommodation to me only as part of my learning.  Each day I (we) do learn more Romanian language and more of the customs, as well as practical knowledge of simply navigating in this city.

I have observed one generalization about the culture that I very much prefer over US culture – that personal responsibility is an expectation.  I suspect all of my readers are aware of the US case several years ago when a woman successfully sued McDonalds Corp. because she had spilled hot coffee on herself and it burned her leg.  I know that most of my friends and acquaintances were appalled at the outcome as we believed she had responsibility in the situation.  I have observed 3 examples here in Romania where it is clear that personal responsibility is a given: playgrounds; construction hazards; and the SNSPA (my university for this year) entrance procedure.


Notice the kinds of equipment in these pictures.  There are many structures that are not available in the US (largely a result of litigation).  Also the ground underneath is not specially treated.  I am not advocating that we in the States stop mulching our playgrounds, but that we do recognize that it is the responsibility of the child’s caretaker to ensure the safety of the child.  Diana, my colleague at SNSPA, was a bit surprised at my commenting on these differences.  “But of course it is the responsibility of the parents to watch their children at play.”
 Difficult, perhaps, to see that the child is getting a zipline, which he will mount...

 I have never seen a slide this tall in the US, except at water parks

more similar in style to the US

Construction Hazards

A picture would be valuable here, but I hadn’t thought to take one…  There are many holes and ditches – most being dug by hand, as I have mentioned previously – in walking areas.  These are indicated by only the most minor of warning signs, if at all.  It is clearly my responsibility to avoid stepping in them when walking.  Along such walks I do spend time looking at my pathway, than at the buildings/scenery around me…

University Entrance Procedure

Yesterday I sat in on a few of the individual interviews with prospective master’s degree students.  The basic procedure for application is that students submit a c.v. and an paper, written on one of 5 topics provided by the department.  The paper is written in English, since the program is taught entirely in English, and must include conceptual analysis, supported by academic references.  Then students come for a personal interview, only 10-15 minutes in length, during which they speak (again, in English) to their motivation for entering the program and defend the position taken in the written paper.  I was struck by the contrast between the expectations for these masters’ applicants and our own at Pfeiffer.  These SNSPA applicants were expected to have some skills that we certainly teach at Pfeiffer, but do not necessarily expect students to arrive having.  In fact, my experience and conversations with my Pfeiffer colleagues suggests that generally we are pleasantly surprised when students arrive having skills of analytical thinking and appropriate application of scholarly resources.  However, I have been informed by Romanian colleagues and previous American Fulbrighters to Romania to NOT expect the students to take muck individual responsibility for class attendance or for completing assigned reading, so I am not sure yet how all this will play out in my teaching.  I am beginning to get ready for classes that will begin mid-October.
My university:

I want to end today’s blog by answering a few questions I have received and by posting a few more pictures of architectural examples of interest to me.

What does your daughter plan to do while she is there and you are in class?  What did she do here? work, go to school,volunteer?

Amanda is currently taking an online class from Forsyth Technical Community College, in Winston-Salem, where she has been a student for a couple of years.  She is able to manage, typically, 1-2 classes per term and is working toward an associate’s degree that will also allow her to transfer to a 4-year university.  She is also a budding filmmaker and has produced 2 short films.  She is hoping to pursue that interest here in Bucharest.  Last, but not least, we are looking into having her volunteer at a nearby center for young autistic children.  More about that when it happens…

Do a lot of people speak English or do you both have part of the language down so you can get needed things?

Many folks speak English, at least a little.  And we are also learning Romanian.  I had a recent example where I asked for directions in Romanian, expecting a fairly short simple answer.  When I received a long answer that I couldn’t understand, I said - still in Romanian – “I understand only a little Romanian; I speak English.”  The reply came quickly back, in perfect English, “Then let’s talk in English…”  It definitely helps at the grocery store, markets, and at restaurants to know enough Romanian to know what we are buying to eat!

Tell me how to make comments on the blog.  I tried, but it wanted me to sign up for something.

Unfortunately I do not know the answer to this one.  Perhaps someone who has already responded will post a comment addressing this concern.  Please?

And now for a few more pictures...
Above we see where a few people live and below where many others live, both structures not far from where we ourselves live.
Our own house (our apartment is at the very top and has no balcony):
And last but not least, a few sites from walking around the city ...
 one of the intersections I traverse regularly
 The Triumphal Arch
And an Orthodox church.

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