Volunteering Stories: Letter to the first Romanian ever met – by Zineb

Dear Ionut,

First thing first : ce faci ? How is your life going in France ? Are you still happy and chill, as I left you five years ago ? In my side, I’m going pretty well, finally achieving one of my biggest dreams : traveling the world! And actually, my current location made me think about you. Da, eu sunt in Romania. And you were the first Romanian I have met, 12 years ago ! Romania, “the country that integrated the EU in 2007, from where (too) many rroma people came to our country”, according to some politicians. I was asking: “How is it in Romania? Is it true that there are lots of gypsies? Is it dangerous?”. After this rush of questions, your answers were very minimalist, which disappointed me to be honest. Indeed, I did not get more knowledge about this country : “Romania is nice, there are gypsies but it is not dangerous”. Still, I became happy to know that, at least, I could go there !

Now that I took a gap year, I can discover new cultures, new practices and reflect more about myself… and here I am, in Baia Mare for a volunteering since 4 months! By speaking about it with some people, I noticed some things :

  • Taking a gap year is trendy : you experience out of the school, open your mind and meet different persons. For plenty of other reasons, I agree.
  • Volunteering is trendy : your involvement for the community brings social, political and personal impacts. For plenty of other reasons, I agree.

I would almost win the Jackpot… Until the final point…

  • Being in Romania is, apparently, not trendy : “but why do you go to Romania?” “Ah… you go there…”. I received many tips to be safe or some people felt sad for me, like I did not really choose to go there… The feedback were very different from my first volunteering of 2 months, in Croatia. Indeed, Croatia is a gorgeous country but I was not in the context these people were imagining and kind of envying : I spent two months in a village of 50 inhabitants at the South-east of the country. I was not near by the sea but in the forest. Wait, doesent this sound like I am closer to my “french urban lifestyle” in Romania than in Croatia? For plenty of reasons, I disagree seeing Romania as a “painful place to live in”. Actually, the only answer I gave to these distorted judgments was that I wanted to apprehend more the reality of this country too often “bullied” in my French reality.

On the other side, what would I answer to all the Romanians asking me ”Why I came here?”.  That I am here for volunteering? Hmm not complete enough… I can not deny it, the History learned about Romania at school and the portrait made by mass media enhanced my curiosity and my wish to come here. Next to that, I noticed that, as your parents, many Romanians were coming to France to work. From my hometown, I was expecting to be in a territory of paradoxes : poverty in one hand but excess of luxury on the other hand: the balance would definitely be unequal. Also, I would expect to see a bunch of similarities in all the East of Europe. Therefore, after 2 months spent in Sofia (Bulgaria) two years and a half ago, I would expect to be in the same environment in Baia Mare. The landscapes would be different but I would see lots of communist-style buildings, casinos, I would see horses and wagons in the countryside and people would be quite attached to their traditions… A wild capitalistic system in a society paved with various traditions would be my daily context. You did not really influence my perceptions of Romania, but my experiences, my education, my social environment and the medias did. Four months after my arrival, I reached some conclusions: how do I consider my expectations at this stage of my experience? What do I keep from my stay in Romania so far?

Having expectations about my stay in Romania helped me to know where I would go and what I would like to do. My capacity to act, react and reflect about the whole process would be easier. And next to these expectations, I could live some surprising moments that make me surpass my own expectations. However, I noticed that my expectations distorted my perception of the reality. For instance: I was expecting of seeing horses and wagons or communist-style buildings: I just saw one wagon led by horses the first day but still, these were the main stuffs I noticed when I arrived, so these were the first stuffs I talked about with my relatives. By putting expectations in a side, I noticed more the variety than the expected and appreciated more the moments lived.

Next to the question “Why did you come to Romania?”, I could not remember how many Romanians asked me if I like this country. This question can be seen as very simple and requiring a simple answer. The human-being needs to simplify its questions, answers, descriptions but the reality is so much more complex that it becomes more beautiful and interesting!  So, do I like Romania? “DA FOARTE BINE, papanash, placinta, Maramures, Sibiu, Hunedoara castle, Bâlea, Delta dunerii, brasoveana, manelé !”. My explanation would stop here in Romanian, and I would leave the people analyzing it… because nu vorbesc romana… By telling that to locals, I want to express how much I loved the whole Romania, how much I am grateful for having visited some places of this country, poor if you consider its GDP (gross domestic product) in an European level, but so rich by its diversity. Romania is more than my volunteering city or the capital city. My stay in Romania is lush from the different food tasted, the beauty of the landscapes reached or even the variety of music listened… including the ”non-very traditional manelé” ! I would spent one day at the top of the cloudy Bâlea Lake, trying to admire the impressive Transfăgărășan road through the snow and the fog, while the day after, I would chill on the beach in the sunny Vama Veche… It is not over… My trip would continue at the wild Delta Dunării, where I would take a boat to cross the Danube for reaching the other side of Sulina. To the surprise of many people… “Hey but where are you ? What are you doing? One day with snow and clouds, the day after at the beach!”: that, it was the comment of my sister while I was doing a Romanian road trip, road trip through the wonderful human exchanges, amazing landscapes and weathers !

And by traveling around, my exchange with locals increased and handed me to another fact: again, I can not answer easily to the question “how are Romanians?”. I have never been that fan to describe a population in the same way, because again, the reality is much more complex! Just look to ourselves, we can be so uneasy to understand : we can wake up super friendly and go to sleep super angry! Isn’t it? Still, less than 2 months before my departure, I can tell that I will only keep amazing memories from you, Romanian people. I have met such funny characters, generous hearts, cheerful faces and “proud souls” ! Va iubesc mult!


Zineb is from France and she is volunteering in the ”CarnIVale” project (short: CIV). Here in Baia Mare she had activities related to promoting non-formal education and discussing about themes such as: human rights, gender equality, and inclusion of minorities, volunteering, climate change, intercultural learning and foreign languages. She is now preparing a public event about minorities, based on the storytelling method. The project is supported by the European Union trough the Erasmus Plus program and implemented by Asociația Team for Youth Association in partnership with 5 other organizations from Italy, Poland, Spain, Portugal and France.