Singing, dancing, storytelling, and crafting their way through Romania, 17 HWS students completed the Romania Summer Study Abroad Program led by program leader and Professor of Education Charles Temple, a storyteller and folk musician who has traveled and consulted in Central Europe for 15 years. An information session for students interested in participating in the program in the summer of 2014 will be held Thursday, Sept. 26 at 4:45 p.m. in Trinity 305. Applications are due on Nov. 1.
“I have led half a dozen programs abroad over the years, and would have to rank this one among the most successful,” says Temple.
A precursor to the 2013 program was a Readers College course, “The Last of Old Europe: Folklore and Folk Life in Western Romania,” which explored life in rural communities and the folklore practiced in Transylvania – the central region of Romania – through participation in local folk traditions and cultural activities.
“We’ve always tried to get the students as close to the people as we can and helped them learn through that instead of classroom lectures,” explains Temple.
Thanks to the program, the students gained a rare and unforgettable experience as they were afforded the opportunity to interact with and learn from local people through various hands-on activities that highlight culture and tradition in Romania.
“Being with the villagers gave me a sense of reality. It’s one thing to teach people about a culture, it’s another to actually live it and learn it by being there,” says Erica Dimaria ’14, a Latin American studies major. “It’s really hard to put into words what we experienced because nothing will ever be able to describe it.”
The students began their trip in the city of Cluj, where they were met with a reception, including the mayor and a band of traditional musicians. “It was humbling how kind the people of the villages were to us,” says Kendra Napierala ’15, an English major.
The group spent their time in Cluj participating in a number of traditional Romanian folklore activities with the locals, and visiting villages outside the city, including Sic, a 1,000-year-old Hungarian Village. Students were hosted by locals who shared their customs, and traditional food, music and dances. One of the highlights was taking lessons with an internationally famous dance group and putting on a performance.
“I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to share in these experiences with the dancers and villagers,” says Meredith Groman ’15, an English and European studies major.
For many students, another highlight was visiting the world-renowned salt mines, such as the Salina Turda, which Stephanie Chalmers ’15, a French and Francophone studies major, describes as “an amazing salt-mine.” Dimaria adds: “My favorite part of the trip was going to the salt mine. As we got deeper and deeper, there were over 150 stairs to go down to a mini theme park. I had never seen anything like it!”
After eight days in Cluj, the group traveled to Sibiu, and visited the local museum and traveled to surrounding areas. At the museum, students were able to choose from daily classes on a number of different traditional crafts taught by Romanian craftspeople, including potters, traditional icon painters, basket weavers, doll-makers, woodworkers, and textile weavers.
“In having a hands-on approach to learning we were able to dance, sing, share smiles, and have a greater understanding of what it truly meant to be a part of their culture,” Napierala says. “It allowed for an experience that I will never forget.”
During their week-long stay in Sibiu, the students experienced the city’s annual international theater festival, the third-largest theatre festival in the world.
The program included a daily seminar led by Temple, in which the group spent time discussing, reflecting, and writing about the folk traditions of Transylvania and their meanings. Through the seminar and the interaction with locals, Temple hopes that students gained “a well-rounded and rich perspective, not just on life in another country, but also on other people’s point of view.”
For Napierala, the trip did just that: “Being able to go to different villages and learn their way of life from experiencing it was one of the most rewarding and unforgettable moments of my life. The relationships that we created with the people of Romania and the knowledge that they shared with us is something that a lecture, book or picture could never fully capture.”
The group traveled to the mountain village of Sinaia on their last weekend and hiked the wind-carved rocks of Babele. They then circled back to Cluj where they reflected on the trip and completed projects. In the fall semester, the group will present their experiences to HWS.
“We look forward to sharing what we’ve done with HWS this fall,” Temple says. “I’ve truly enjoyed every bit of it.”
In the photo above, Patrick Sharry ’14, Courtney Holt ’15, and Kendra Napierala ’15 prepare to dance with the Martisorul, a famous fold dance troupe from Cluj, Romania.