Saturday, June 29, 2013

La Revedere.

I’d call it a flood, a flood of emotions, a flood of memories. That phrase, as trite and overused as it may be, is the best way I can find to describe 27 of the most incredible months of my life.

There’s pride and happiness, the result of the fact that I did it. I made it. I finished. There’s thirst, but the bottle of crappy train wine that’s slowly disappearing in front of me and lubricating this post is taking care of that. There’s sadness, the result of leaving many lifelong friends without any guarantee that I’ll see them again. But I think, most of all, there’s gratitude. I’m thankful for all the experiences, good, bad and everywhere in between.

I’ll start with the bad, because, even if I arrived with a stubborn smile on my face, honeymoons don’t last 27 months.

I’ll remember the blocs, the gawd-awful blocs that announced, through a megaphone, that I’d arrived in Eastern Europe.

I’ll remember the loneliness, the crippling loneliness brought on by winter evenings and suffocating walls.

I’ll remember the homesickness, the kind of homesickness that comes through rose-colored glasses and makes you long for the very things you used to dislike.

I’ll remember the students, the little bastards that you love and hate, sometimes all within the span of a syllable.

I’ll remember the frustration, the eye-scratching frustration.

But there was good with the bad, the kind of the good that, long after this train ride is over, will have erased the bad.

I’ll remember the țuică, the homemade spirit that led to the unforgettable nights, the unforgettable nights that I couldn’t remember the next morning.

I’ll remember the people, the warm, welcoming people who always had a chair and a full glass for Mr. Met.

I’ll remember my colleagues, the ones who patiently listened to me as I stumbled through expressing myself in a foreign language.

I’ll remember my neighbors, the kind people who took me in as theirs, for better or worse.

I’ll remember my friends, especially the one who gave me his recently deceased mother’s gold earrings for my first daughter. (True story.)

I’ll remember the mountains, my mountains, my mountains that surrounded me and often made me question why I deserved to be there.

I’ll remember the psychiatric hospital, my home, the place that showed me so much love, even if it typically only resides at the end of a joke.

I’ll remember the country, the relatively unknown place the size of Oregon that turned out to be one of the most geographically beautiful, culturally enriched places I’ve ever been.

I’ll remember the lump, the one in my throat brought on by a 6-year-old student telling me she loves me, a grown man dripping tears on my shoulder as he tries to keep it together during our goodbye, or typing this post.

But most of all, I’ll remember the morning, the January morning when I logged on to and started applying, because that’s the memory that led to all these, and many more. That’s the one that changed my life. That’s the one that opened the floodgates. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hai sa mergem la golf!

Thanks to kind donations from Cleveland Golf and The Janette Paulson Scholarship Fund, my kids got to try golf, something very few Romanians can say.

See, here in Romania, you can probably count the number of golf courses on your fingers, and still have enough left to tee up a ball. To me, this is a shame, because ever since I began playing at age six, golf has been a huge part of my life. I wanted to share this with them.

So, about December of this year, I lit up the inboxes of every altruistically minded contact of mine in the golf industry, trying to procure an equipment donation for my village. At long last, I hit pay dirt about March, and after a long process of finding the funds to cover shipping, physically shipping them, then driving eight hours to customs to pick them up, they finally arrived here in Tulghes. Then today, the weather finally cooperated, and the Tulghes Golf Club had its first meeting.

I'd call today a success not only because the kids -- and even some teachers -- enjoyed their first try, but also because nobody took a club or a ball to the dome. Victory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Although teaching English as a foreign language has its challenges – as does any realm of teaching – it also has its rewards. And often, these rewards come in the form of adorable mistakes, experiments and just overall non native-speaker…ness.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting some of my favorite examples, and these, ladies and gentlemen, are them, er, they, er, just read on.

When vacations come around, my favorite go-to activity when we’re back in school is to do a review of past simple and have my students tell me what they did on vacation. It’s a good excuse to review a useful tense with content that interests them, and it also allows Mr. Matt to not have to plan anything. Win-win-win.

This year, I got this gem:

What did you do on Christmas vacation?
"I bought pineapple.
I cut fruit.
I made a fruit salad.
I killed a cop."

Well, that escalated quickly.

As a man who enjoys his toilet humor, I also couldn’t help but include some of those.

We do a dictation tournament where they have to correctly write the word I tell them on the board. It’s a head-to-head competition, and the winner moves on, March Madness style.

Welp, we were reviewing adjectives, and when I told them to write “fat,” I got:


This student had no idea what she had written, which is why she didn’t know the reason she’d just made Mr. Matt double over in laughter.

Speaking of farts, I was deep in a lesson on, well, to be honest, I don’t remember anymore, but what I do remember is, at some point, the lesson devolved into a five-minute detour on a cultural exchange of making farting noises with parts of our body. I can honestly say I learned more than I taught that day.

So let’s talk about poop now.

Sometimes TEFL gems come not from mistakes, but from an accent. This is one of those.

In another post-vacation class, we were talking about what one student did over Christmas vacation:

“I played with my poopie.”
“Um, your what?”
“My poopie.”
After about five seconds spent in suspended animation, dl. Met finally realizes what she’s trying to say: “Oh, your PUPPY!”
“Yes, I played with my puppy.”
“Yeah, that’s way better.”

Often, as an EFL teacher, you have the privilege of seeing your language through the eyes of a non-native speaker. And sometimes, the insightfulness of those eyes surprise, and impress, you.

While doing a lesson on anatomy, we reached the toes, which is a difficult concept for Romanian speakers because they more or less use the same word.

"What are these called?"
"No, we have a different word for the ones on the foot."
“Well, no. But they should be.”

Google Translate is a great tool, if you want to get in the ballpark. However, I’ve found that Google Translate is responsible for some of my favorite translation blunders.

First, in yet another lesson where we talked about Christmas vacation, I had at least two students make this mistake. In Romanian, there are three A’s, all of which have a different accent and are, therefore, different letters. It usually doesn’t make that big of a difference. This time, it did.

What my students wanted to say was:

What they actually said was:

Hungarian is a really hard language. It has almost a complete lack of cognates, glues its prepositions on the end of words and has nearly indecipherable grammar. However, some things aren’t that hard like, for instance, when I tried to confirm the translation of how to say “Mr. Teacher,” something I hear all the time. This, I didn’t expect:

And finally, my favorite of the lot. I’ll just say that this is supposed to translate to, “I went sledding.” I’ll also say that no less than four seventh graders said this in front of the entire class.

Got it, Bogdan. Thanks for the heads up. Now back to what you did on vacation.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Wednesday With Fane

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Fane Tulpan, a Romanian mountain climber who, in 2003, became the first Romanian to summit Everest.

Fane's a wiry guy with a mind so enthusiastic and energetic, his mouth has a tough time keeping up.

Whether it be talking about passing dead bodies on the way to the top of the world or how his toddler son wakes him up at 7 o'clock every morning to play, Fane grips you, and keeps you.

(Fane shows me his picture book from his successful trip to the top of Everest in 2003.)

However, what most impressed me about Fane was not his contagious enthusiasm, nor was it his unassuming, friendly demeanor, especially considering his impressive resume. What most impressed me was his perspective.

Despite his successful summits of Everest, Kilimanjaro and McKinley, Fane's most impactful story, at least on me, was about his failed expedition up K2. After nearly two months on the mountain, and just about one thousand meters from the top of the world's second largest peak, he turned back. Why?

According to his website, it was due to weather and Grade 1 frostbite on his toes. However, with me, he expanded:

"The mountain isn't even worth my thumb, much less my life," he said. "Everyone has their Everest. Your Everest might be to build an American school in Bucharest. My Everest isn't Everest. It's my family."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dl. Met in Action

I've realized that the majority of my blogs posted in this space have been about travel, special events, holidays, etc. I fear that most of you think Peace Corps is a 27-month vacation. I assure you that, even though it's an incredible experience, we're still here to work.

With that, I present to you proof. Here are some pictures of Dl. Met in action. The first group is a few shots of my kids after a cool post-it note activity that works with parts of the body. It is what it appears to be: Students pin post-it notes to one of their classmates to label him or her.

The second group of photos is us doing the Animal Action song, one of our greatest hits.




So there you have it, proof that I've been working the past two years.

Then again, perhaps this doesn't seem like work in the traditional sense of the term. Perhaps it's because we get to run around and act like monkeys and dance and sing songs. Then again, if that's your opinion, here's my retort: Perhaps you should try it at your office at least once a day, and maybe your job wouldn't seem so much like work either.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tulgheș Wikipedia Page! Now in English!

The title pretty much says it all, but we now have a lengthy, informative wikipedia page in English about our sleepy, humble mountain town, Tulgheș.

Well, it's technically not new, but the old one only had a couple of paragraphs about the village. Now it's your one-stop shopping for historical information, economic information, tourism hot spots, transportation information and even "Geomorphological and Climactic Highlights"! WHAT!

The English page was translated from the Romanian page by my English Club, along with a hearty assist from my awesome counterpart.

So read up, folks! You now no longer need my inane blog posts to learn about this place. You can go right to the source!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Da! In sfarsit! Am fost la schi!

For two winters now, I’ve been having this exact same conversation with people:

“Do you know how to ski?”
“Yes, I know how to ski.”
“Have you been skiing here?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Why not?”

This is where I would spew whatever seemingly sufficient excuse was the first to arrive on my tongue: “I don’t have skis.” “I’m busy this weekend, and then every weekend after that forever.” “I don’t have legs.”

However, the truth is that I really didn’t have a reason, so finally, after last weekend, this conversation no longer ends this way. Instead, it goes:

“Have you been skiing here?”

Skiing in Romania, specifically in a great village about 15 miles away called Borsec (famous for its mountain spring water that it exports throughout the world), was certainly a new experience for me.

The rental process is similar to the places I’ve been in the U.S., although I paid about $6 for skis, poles and boots. That, and I got some sweet pink boots to rock on the slopes. Yes, I noticed that they were this color before I left the rental hut. No, I didn’t request different ones.

After that, the lift ticket is about $8 for four hours. However, this is where it starts to get interesting. At this particular slope, they don’t have chairlifts. They sort of just have buttlifts.

Let me explain.

Basically, you stand in line like you would for the chairlift in the U.S., and they have a similar support system running up the hill. However, here, they have this tiny little retractable seat attached to the overhead line, which you grab, shove into your nethers and let it drag you by the rump up the hill, while your skis glide along on the ground below.

As a byproduct, everyone has little wet marks on their butts all day. At first, I thought it meant these people had fallen on their butts and silently mocked them. Then, I realized everyone had them and put together that it was from the chairlift. Then, I realized that meant I had one too and silently chided myself for mocking others' wet-buttedness while being wet-butted myself. You know what they say about people with wet butts and glass houses. Get out of the kitchen. Or something.

Anyway, it’s an interesting, new experience, but realistically, it’s much more tiring on the legs, especially if those legs haven’t been skiing in four years.

Other than that, the slope was extremely well groomed, partly because we all take a forced break when this guy comes out to groom it.

And, as always, I can’t complain about the scenery.

I'd call it a success story. It was a new experience and a beautiful day on the slopes with zero injuries, unless you count the wet butt.