Thursday, March 31, 2022

Thoughts on Being Half Romanian

Recently I attended a Greek Orthodox Church as part of the research I am doing for my next book. I'm a bit familiar with the Orthodox Church as my mother grew up in the Romanian Orthodox Church. A few years ago I had the privilege of giving a series of lectures in Romania for a week. We started my speaking tour in the northwest part of the country (Oradea) and ended up in the southeast part (Bucharest). I spoke only in "free" churches and seminaries but my talks were also attended by a few Orthodox believers. I wish I had gotten to know more about the Romanian Orthodox Church while growing up in Hawaii. I also wish I had been taught how to speak Romanian so that I could have communicated with the Romanians in their own language during my visit there (I am one half Romanian). This is NOT to blame my mother -- she was probably the only Romanian speaker in all of Hawaii and had nobody to speak with! 

Historically, people who emigrated to the U.S. from Europe did so without traveling to any family members. This meant that they were complete strangers wherever they went and had to learn how to get along with everyone in order to survive. Of course, German immigrants ended up living close to other German immigrants, Greeks with Greeks, Italians with Italians, etc. I well remember visiting my mother's family in their home in Campbell, Ohio on different occasions and being impressed by how each national group lived in their own part of town. In addition, the Romanians had their own cultural center (as did the Greeks who lived next door) where Romanian customs continued to flourish among these immigrants. I tend to think that Americans' ignorance of other cultures comes from the geographical reality (fluke) of being an ocean away from everyone else. That does not excuse our ignorance, but a lot of Americans just don't seem to care too much about things that aren't directly important to them. To a European, that interconnectedness is more obvious.

All that to say, I still think it would be wonderful for those of you who are thinking about doing doctoral studies to at least consider studying abroad, whether in the UK or on the continent (as I did). Just as it's easier to understand English grammar when you learn a foreign language, it's easier to understand American culture (its strengths and weaknesses) when you have lived or travelled abroad and have something objective to compare it with. 

In the end, however, people are just people wherever you go. There are differences culturally, but that is the good stuff to enjoy. 

With my Romanian translator in front of Count Dracula's Castle in Transylvania.