Being in Romania this last January has prevented me from keeping up with the political process back home. I can't wait to research and write about the Massachusetts Senate election and see how the liberals spin that one.
Until then, I asked Radu Cristea, my good friend and the person most responsible for making the January-term trip so successful for the students, to write a little about his and our experiences. The trip would not have been possible without his involvement. Here he is:
Romania is a country of preconceptions for a lot of people. Some only heard of it because of Transylvania and its bloodthirsty Dracula; others because of communism and its dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.
There is so much more to it, as the 25 students from Hartwick College, accompanied by their professor and soccer coach, discovered in the three weeks of the January-term trip they took.
This well-prepared visit could not have taken place 25 years ago. Behind the iron curtain, personally, I would've been forbidden to even talk to foreigners "" Americans especially. I probably would've had to ask for approval months in advance to get an "official" translator and to fill endless pages of reports regarding my time spent with them.
This is not the case today. Things changed dramatically in the past 20 years after we put an end to the decades-long rule of Ceausescu, who took power in 1965, and his Securitate police state that became increasingly oppressive and Draconian through the 1980s.
The students who spent almost three weeks in the heart of Transylvania were able to experience the changes that took place here and had a huge impact on the economy, banking system, health care and so on.
Most of them came here without knowing a thing about Romania, with no expectations, but they're leaving this country with so many pleasant memories.
Their chance to interact with a different culture, mentality, even language, benefited both the Hartwick students and the Romanian friends they've made.
We all know how governments are the worst administrators of funds. This is nothing new; it's been like that since the Roman times, and the same goes for the Romanian government. It has been spending millions on commercials and advertising for Romania. To quantify how many tourists those commercials brought is almost impossible.
What Hartwick College Professor Sears and Coach Matt Verni did for Romania, bringing these students here, has a huge impact. They all loved this place. Some of them want to extend their stay, others want to return in the near future, but all of them will tell their friends and families what a great place this is.
This is the kind of advertising we need "" personal experiences. And these students had plenty of those. They've got the chance to get in touch with the history of the country, to talk to businessmen, bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and to tour businesses and a factory.
During the lectures they took part in, they've had the chance to ask questions, to interact with the speakers, better understanding how things are done here.
Some of the things they've learned about our past shocked them and made them appreciate what they have today. Being able, in the past, to purchase only half a loaf of bread per person per day, 11 eggs per person per month or one pound of pork per month, were things that were hard for them to relate to.
Also having only one channel on TV broadcasting for two hours a day and just communist propaganda surprised these students.
They met college students and talked to them about things that people their age are interested in, finding out similarities but differences as well in the way they study in school or spend their free time.
They took trips in the countryside and other cities, experiencing the local cuisine and traditions. They simply loved the place, and people here liked them a lot. They felt welcomed and safe; they were well-behaved and proudly represented their school and country.
Today, I can tell for sure that Romania won the hearts of these 25 young people, and they will remember this country for the rest of their lives.
Tom Sears is a professor of accounting at Hartwick College in Oneonta. He can be reached at SearsT@hartwick.edu. His column appears every other week. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/tomsears.