Friday, October 26, 2012

Amanda and volunteering

Amanda has connected with a center for kids with autism and she has been busy this past week!  As Amanda put it, "I never knew that being an American adult with autism would be such a phenomenon here in Romania!"  But perhaps we are getting ahead of the story...

As I had mentioned in a previous post, the sons of both my director at the university and of my neighbors, the daughter and son-in-law of my landlords, have autism.  Autism is being increasingly identified here in Romania, just as it is in other parts of the world.  Because of the Communist outlook that swept all kinds of disabilities under the proverbial rug, people Amanda's age and older were not identified.  Therefore, the staff at the center she has connected with are delighted to have her volunteering and helping with the children, but also to be able to question her about her experiences and memories of growing up.

Our neighbors, Alina and Bogdan, had let us know about this center relatively soon after our moving into our apartment.  With the trip to the coast, company, and my getting started teaching, it was not until this past Monday that Amanda and I went to check things out.  What a warm welcome we received!  Apparently Bogdan had told them a bit about Amanda and her interest in coming.

The center is an ABA, applied behavior analysis, program and all the tutors were trained either in the US or by US consultants (see their website at  Therefore they all speak English well enough to communicate easily with Amanda.  Some of the children attend full-time (9 am to 4:30 pm) and some just half time.  The oldest child they are currently serving is an 11 year old girl.  Amanda has gone each day this week, typically at about 1:00 when the staff are taking their lunch breaks.  Amanda helps feed children their own lunches and also plays with and watches them while members of the staff have their breaks.  The staff is also sensitive to Amanda's needs, giving her time on one of the swings for example.

They are clearly eager to pick her brain.  On Thursday after the children had left for the day, Amanda met with most of the staff and presented some information about herself.  This was her first public speaking event, but clearly it will not be her last!  She is scheduled next week, along with me, to talk to the parents.  She has also been asked about being interviewed for a TV program, working with the staff on some social skills videotapes, and being one of the honored guests at the "Blue Ball" in April, a fundraising gala.  Amanda is thriving in the attention and it seems to be a win-win because the staff is clearly getting some benefit from her time there as well.

 Here is Amanda during her presentation.  The staff has already learned that her favorite beverage is Sprite (next to Dr. Pepper, which is much harder to come by here in Romania).

 The staff are listening attentively.  The room is a therapy room and not very big.

 The woman in the left above, Luciana, is in charge of the therapeutic parts of the center and is Amanda's "supervisor".  She and the others we have met are all young and enthusiastic!

Amanda in a more pensive moment.  She covered a wide range of topics and opened the doors for the staff to ask questions in the future.

Last, but not least, here is just a small sample of Amanda's presentation (about 2 1/2 minutes):

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I regularly tell my students about the power of networking.  Making contacts will lead to other contacts, etc.  I have experienced an excellent example of networking in my eventual connection to paper artist, Razvan Supuran. (See some of his work at When I was still in NC I took a workshop on how to set up a "shop" on Etsy, an online community specializing in handmade items.   The young woman who taught the workshop regularly commented on the value of using the community to make connections, which would in turn help boost sales.  I used my networking a little differently.  While I have set up a shop there is nothing in it currently because I did not want to try selling anything from Romania.  However, when I arrived in Bucharest I did use my Etsy membership to see if there were artists in Bucharest.  I did indeed find a water colorist, who is a physician by day, who in turn gave me the name of a paper artist and bookbinder.  An email to Razvan yielded an enthusiastic welcome and an invitation to his studio.  (I mentioned the first visit back when I wrote about my sister visiting me.)

This is not Razvan, but another artist who works in the studio pulling sheets of paper.  They work primarily with recycled paper to make their pulp as they do not yet have a functioning beater for pulping cotton rag.  I have already offered to help remedy this situation as I prefer to work with cotton rag.  If I can use some of the skills I have to help the studio, it would be a nice way to repay the hospitality!

 Couching the new sheet...

The "felts" between new sheets appear to be a kind of canvass or cotton duck material.

The stack ready for pressing...

The empty press

Newly made paper hanging to dry...
It is very satisfying to note the process is the same here as when I am making paper in the studio at Asheville Bookworks!  Some of the equipment looks a little different, but functions just the same.  I am eager to start making some paper!

But in the meantime, I have been to the studio twice now to use space to work on bookbinding.  I have even been given part of a shelf to store my things so I am not carrying them back and forth...  (The studio is in the basement of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant,

This is the first edition in the "Books bound in Bucharest" series.  The decorative cover is paper purchased here...
Inside the covers I have used some of Razvan's handmade paper...

The binding is called Secret Belgian Binding.  The book is a mostly blank journal, with several quotations inserted for stimulus.

While my profession is not artist and I did not specifically come on this Fulbright grant to practice my craft, I am confident that the sharing we are and will be doing in the studio fulfills the intent of the Fulbright Commission to share across cultures.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fulbright orientation

Because of my house guests immediately following the orientation and conference, I failed to post this information and will now catch up a bit...

 The entire Fulbright gang - grantees, dependents, and staff - and a few RAAS participants on the promenade in Constanta.

On October 3, I attended the official orientation at the Romanian Fulbright Commission.  I walked there - about 20 minutes from where I live, through a pleasant part of the city - and there met my Fulbright colleagues.  There are 4 senior Fulbright scholars currently in Romania: Dr. Ilia Roussev from University of Hawaii; Dr. Gene Tanta from Univ. of Maryland; Dr. Ruxandru Vidu from Univ. of California-Davis; and myself.  There will be three more arriving in January, who will be doing the spring term only.  All 4 of us who are already here are based in Bucharest.  There are also 6 Fulbright students, all of whom I believe are working at the master's level in preparation for going on to doctoral work.  They are: Elena Ion, David Duceany, Eric Burnstein, Eamonn Gallagher, Stephanie Herzog, and Elijah Ferbrache.  The first 2 are located in Bucharest and the others are scattered around Romania. 

Our day of orientation consisted of greetings and information presented by members of the Romanian Fulbright Commission and by members of the US Embassy.  In no particular order I learned the following:
  • there are 7 fatal automobile accidents each day in Romania
  • Romania is very friendly to the US
  • mostly the tap water in Bucharest is safe, but we don't recommend drinking it regularly - using it for brushing teeth, washing dishes, and cooking is fine
  • Romania has an extremely high rate of cyber crime - do not use a credit card except at know, reputable banks; use cash everywhere else
  • violent crime is extremely low here; one can feel very safe in the city
  • if you use drugs and get caught, the American Embassy will come visit you and will inform your family, but can't do anything else about it
  • there will be an all night election party hosted by the Embassy at the Intercontinental Hotel Nov. 6.
And there was more, but you get the gist...  The folks from the Embassy were very pleasant and welcoming.

After a lunch of various Romanian goodies, we all boarded a bus and left for Constanta, on the coast.  In other words, I headed back to where I had come from just 2 days earlier.

At Ovidius University in Constanta, the Fulbright Commission was co-hosting a conference with the Romanian Association for American Studies (RAAS).  The topic was "Remapping Urban Spaces - American Challenges".  All of us 'Fulbrighters' had been invited to submit papers.  I had not done so because I was not clear what I might add to the topic.  I wish I had been as confident as some of my colleagues who simply presented on their own field of expertise, never mind that it had nothing to do with the topic!  Ilia presented a most informative lecture on helio-astronomy.  Some of the papers presented were very informative and interesting.  Unfortunately several were not, but isn't that the way with most conferences... 

 The campus of Ovidius University had this lovely walkway lined with with marble representations of Ovid's writings...

All in all it was an excellent opportunity to connect with my Fulbright colleagues and to make some connections with others around Romania and other parts of Europe.  I am definitely hoping to turn some of these contacts into hosts for touring their respective areas.  It is also quite humbling to listen to Europeans talk so knowledgeably about America and some of its challenges!  Granted these folks are professionals who specialize in American studies, but most were very knowledgeable of political, economic, and geographical issues.

Eli, Gene, and Eric listening to one of the presentations held in the "American Corner" of the library.  Apparently there are 8 of these American Corners throughout Romania, rooms filled with American books.

Back to work

On Monday I had cards printed for myself.  Using business cards is very common here in Romania and serves as an easy way to provide contact information.

I taught my first class last night (Wednesday). Already I am struck by a number of contrasts with my teaching at Pfeiffer. Earlier in the week I was told, “We are supposed to have 14 classes in the semester, but since we started late we will have only 12". The last two of those classes will take place in January. I was also told, “Classes are supposed to be for 3 hours, but the students and faculty will not do that, so we only plan for 2". Like at Pfeiffer, my students will be predominantly working people, therefore we have evening classes. My class will meet from 5 to 7 pm. Last night I ran over by a few minutes and was surprised to learn that another class meets in my room at 7!

I was told to expect 49 students, twice my usual class size at home.  However I had only 28 there last night.  I was not given any kind of official roster and simply had the students write their names on a piece of paper. I also asked them to introduce themselves after I had the written names in hand so I could begin working on pronunciation. 

I had also been told they would be “very much looking forward to being taught by a ‘native’ English speaker”.  I was certainly impressed with the facility most of them have with English.  There were a few who are clearly struggling more than some, but all who spoke up had good skills.  A number of the students specifically stated they chose this particular master’s degree program because it is completely in English – and is a rare degree in that regard.  They want to improve their English language skills along with others they might have.  Several students mentioned being fluent in other Romance languages, and in fact some are working in jobs using French or Italian.

I expect to teach content will be that is very similar to my typical Organizational Behavior class, although I certainly have to be open to having them apply concepts in ways that are meaningful here in Romania. Just last night, as I introduced “why study Org. Behavior”, with one of the reasons being increased diversity of the workforce, we got into a great discussion on prejudice and minority issues, making some comparisons between the Roma people and African Americans.

The students have no textbooks – mostly due to cost, but there also seems a culture of not using texts.  So I was prepared last night for lecturing, with some PowerPoint slides to illustrate.  At one point I commented that it might be a good idea to take some notes and reminded them of the assignments and the exams.  The response was, “aren’t you going to share the PowerPoint?”.  So I also learned via the subsequent conversation that some sort of listserve exists for the program.  All of the students enrolled in this English language masters – in communication and public relations – take exactly the same classes.  One of the students volunteered to post the slides and so I emailed them to her this morning.  A good resource to know about!  I will assign some seminal articles that they might find online and, if the materials that I sent from the US ever arrive – it has been 2 months now – I will be assigning some text reading as well.

 This is SNSPA, the university for which I teach, but not where my classes meet...

This is my director, Dr. Diana Cismaru, in her office at SNSPA.

The building in which I am teaching is not the university building I was introduced to and live near.  I thought I was being very clever to have found an apartment within easy walking distance of my university.  It was only Monday of this week that I learned classes are held elsewhere.  The 'elsewhere' is 2 metro stops away, a little far for walking but doable if the need arises.  It is a school that I suspect dates from the communist era and it is in not very good repair, but it has desks, chalk, a projector, and students who want to learn.  What more do I need?  I am definitely looking forward to getting to know these students better.

I asked if anyone might be interested in doing some dog sitting and immediately got several responses.  It will be helpful to get some folks lined up so that when the opportunity comes for use to take a weekend to explore another part of the country, we can do so.  I also mentioned that I had brought my 23-year-old daughter and would anyone be interested in meeting her…  Almost every hand went up, they suggested I bring her to class next week, and 2 students issued specific invitations for tonight!

The worst is that the building has the same type of toilet as at the train station...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First Visitors - Part 3 (and final)

On Thursday, we spent most of our time indoors and so do not have any pictures.  We visited The National Art Museum, located in the former royal place ( Here we concentrated only on the Romanian art.  Our time was limited, but we certainly were able to get a good overview of both medieval (mostly religious) and more modern art styles in Romania.  We then walked to SNSPA, my university, where we met my director, Diana Cismaru, and headed out to lunch.  Our restaurant is especially known for its fish dishes and other Romanian cuisine.  Patricia had some kind of fish that is a product of the Danube delta and was proclaimed to be the BEST piece of fish she or Jerry had ever tasted.

We then went to the Museum of the Romanian peasant ( where the first thing we did was to connect with a bookbinder I had been introduced to.  Razvan Supuran has a studio in the basement of the museum where he and others make paper, do some letter press and etching, and do some bookbinding.  He was very welcoming and enthusiastic, inviting me to come and work in the studio, a prospect I look forward to following up on.  We then enjoyed wandering the museum, viewing many costumes, household implements, and parts of building interiors that depict rural life in Romania.  There are many ethnic groups in Romania and so there are many different designs and methods used in the decorative work.

We ended the day with a relaxing evening at home: a supper of baked melon stuffed with a lentil/veg mixture (adapted from a dish Patricia had been served in Istanbul and which was excellent!) and a couple of games of Fluxx, a fast-paced card game that Amanda introduced to us.

Friday, Patricia and I went off alone to The Brancovan Palace at Mogosoaia ( Unfortunately, Jerry had a head cold and Amanda had sore feet, but P and I enjoyed our sisters day.  This destination was recommended to me by the organist of the church Amanda and I visited last Sunday - an Anglican church to which I suspect we will return.  The grounds are large, lovely, and quiet.  The palace is interested and definitely human-scale, unlike many palaces one might view in Europe.  It was first built in the late 1600s and suffered much destruction and rebuilding throughout the succeeding centuries. 

 A view from the palace to the main gate (center) and the kitchen (left).  The building on the right is a more recent structure that was a guest house and now a hotel.
 The courtyard side of the palace, from the vantage point of the tower above the main gate.

 Although interior photography was not allowed, I was given special permission to photograph some of the doors, with which I was especially impressed.  I want to create a book of doors...

 This lovely small church was actually the first building on the site of the palace and has some lovely old paintings and icons inside.
 Many roses still in bloom...
The formal gardens in front of the palace, looking toward the lake.

It was a great visit!  I enjoyed spending time with my sister, especially, and I now have a much better overview of the city.  I know some places I definitely want to revisit for myself and I know some things I definitely want to recommend to my future visitors.  So please, let me know when you want to come to Bucharest.

And now it is time to finish up my syllabus for the class starting this week...

First Visitors - Part 2

On Tuesday we had a very heavy walking day.  We began at one of the large open-air markets that also has a large covered-market area.  We bought a few things for meals over the next few days, but mostly just enjoyed looking at the produce and the people.  Lovely fresh produce!

We then went downtown, stopping first at Cismigiu Gardens (, a large and very lovely public park that I had not yet visited.  I continue to be impressed by the lovely green spaces that Bucharest includes. 

From the Gardens we walked part of the historic center, viewing some of the lovely old architecture from Bucharest’s heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 (Note that the upper right part of the building above is a trompe l'oeil mural on a flat surface.)

We had a few minutes of sitting in Piata Unirii (Union Square), munching on fresh, warm pretzels (a not to be missed treat!) and admiring fountains prior to the final part of the day - a guided walking tour of historic Bucharest.  If you do any travelling in Europe, do be sure to take note of this group:  The website provides information not only about the tour in Bucharest, but also the network of tours in Europe.  One pays a donation at the end, rather than a set fee, and our guide, Simona, was delightful and knowledgeable!  We were with her for almost 3 hours and received an excellent overview of the city.  I now know a number of places I would like to return to for a more extended visit.

 A mostly reconstructed exterior of the oldest church in Bucharest.  Its status as "oldest" is based on the presence of 2 medieval columns inside that are part of the original church on the site.
 A very-much reconstructed interior of Manuc's Inn, an inn built originally in 1808.  It is a rough square, surrounding the central courtyard, part of which is seen in this picture.  There is only one entrance to the interior which provided security to those staying at the inn.
 A bust of Vlad Tepes, a 15th century ruler, on whom Bram Stoker based part of the story of Dracula.  Of course the truth about Vlad, the Impaler, is plenty gruesome enough without the fiction of his being a vampire.  In the 6 years of his reign he impaled some 20,000 people - mostly invading Turks, which is what makes him a bit of a hero for most Romanians.  Because of his strict policies regarding punishing folks, he was also able to leave a gold goblet by the public fountain for anyone to use... (It was never stolen.)
A section of the Princely court, from medieval times, being excavated.

And now one more post to complete the visit...

First Visitors - Part 1

It is a rainy dreary day today.  I am not complaining however, for it is only the second such day since our arrival in Europe and I need to be doing a number of indoor tasks today anyway.  It is time to prepare for teaching, which begins this coming week, ironic to me that I am beginning during the same week that Pfeiffer University is having fall break!

As I write this entry, my sister, Patricia, and her husband, Jerry, are in the airport waiting to board their flight home.  They spent about 3 weeks on a tour of Turkey and then came to Bucharest for 5 days of visiting with Amanda and me.  It was great fun hosting them and being both tourist and tour guide here in my adopted home city.  They arrived on Monday and I served my version of a Romanian lunch – and did a pretty good job of it.  The menu included an assortment of cheeses from the market; roasted red peppers and eggplant spread - both prepared according to my new Romanian cookbook; zacusca, a red pepper and eggplant concoction prepared by my landlady; pickles prepared by my neighbor’s aunt; peasant bread from the market; and some assorted fruits.  We mostly spent the day catching up – of course there was much to show and tell on both sides of the conversation – and planning our strategy for 4 days of sightseeing.

Herewith some of the week's highlights:

On Tuesday we went to Herestrau Park, home of the Village Museum ( It is an open-air museum depicting traditional peasant life in Romania, with some 200+ buildings, many of which are open and furnished.  I especially appreciated looking at the wood carving done for decorative purposes.  Amanda, as always, found kittens to pick up and cuddle.

 Above, I am showing the typical information provided for most of the buildings: age, original location, photo of the original location, photos of local peasants, and written description, which is in both Romanian and English.


I will continue our week on another post, due to the quantity of pictures.