Expressed from Northwestern senior Taylor Mugge, this brief but expressive Lord of the Rings reference proclaims one of many features that has become dear to the group of seven NW students “on a remarkable journey,” according to senior Heather Talbot.
What is this remarkable journey? It is two-fold. The main setting is a valley in Romania wherein lies the city of Lupeni. Scene changes have spread to the cities of Cluj and Bucharest and the countries Bulgaria, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, to name a few. But these students have suggested that the greater journey is taking place in less tangible arenas: mindsets, understandings and hearts.
They are students on NW’s Romania Semester Program, and with NW semester abroad deadlines approaching quickly this Feb. 10, they have the inside details for you to consider.
What adventures lie over the ocean?
How do you learn to live in another culture? Talbot explains, “Choosing to engage here while missing home is always a challenge, but one worth wrestling with. We try to see Romania for what it is, not for how it compares to what we are used to.”
Any student who has studied abroad would likely tell you that it is unrealistic to claim immunity to homesickness, a sentiment both Mugge and Talbot admit. In addition to missing the important people in their lives, Mugge misses the freedom of having an available car, and “strangely enough, the caf.” Talbot adds, “I miss ‘familiar’…I miss life in Iowa.”
However, she clarifies, “I’m looking forward to being home, but I am not looking forward to leaving Romania.” Upon their return in a couple short weeks, the homesickness feeling will be flipped: “I’ll miss jogs along the river. I’ll miss mountains. I’ll miss people. I’ll miss zacusca. I’ll miss the simplicity,” Talbot enumerates. “I’ll miss Romania.”
Both Talbot and Mugge claim their favorite area of study has been their development course on sustainable community, which considers sustainable international development “as an approach to Christian missions,” said Talbot. “Typically, development has been thought of in terms of economics, but we are learning that development is not about money alone; it’s about people.”
Currently the NW students live in two separate apartments. Although Mugge and Talbot both admit that their language skills have somewhat declined since they are not forced to practice with their Romanian host families, they have enjoyed the time growing closer to their fellow NW students. “We have come to love and trust one another more than I ever thought possible,” Talbot said. “In this time and place we are a family.”
Before living in apartments, the students each had home stays, which Mugge cites as “probably worth the tuition in itself.” He explains, “There is absolutely nothing in this world like living with a Romanian family. You will learn their language, their culture, their habits, their likes and dislikes, what they talk to their friends about, what they drink and especially, especially what they eat.”
If you’re the typical American college student, you may be wondering, “…But what is that food like?” Talbot notes that much of Romanian food is made with familiar ingredients that are just prepared in unfamiliar ways. Mugge adds, “Sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes you have to choke it down with a smile.”
What challenges lie in a return home?
Having studied in Romania last semester, senior Stacey Bernardo also has reflections to share about her experience abroad.
The Romanian things Bernardo is homesick for echoes those aspects Mugge and Talbot appreciate, including simplicity and emphasis on people and relationships.
“Since my return to the States, I am realizing what it truly means to live life to the fullest,” she explained. “In America we are presented with how important it is to go to college, work for our degree and work towards getting a job. Looking back on my time in Romania reminds me of the important things in life, including building relationships and showing love to others, exploring our surroundings, engaging in deep and meaningful conversations and praising God for this wonderful life he has given us.”
Bernardo explains that her Romanian experience continues to have a “powerful affect” on her life, spanning areas from her finances to the way she handles relationships and particularly in her desire to reach out to people.
“I highly recommend the Romanian semester abroad, or any study abroad trip because it pushes people to new heights and depths where they can fully see God’s beautiful plan for his kingdom,” she concluded.
Back in Romania…for now.
When asked what his most significant point of growth has been, Mugge replied, “My beard.” He added in a turn of introspection, “Also, I have grown to respect this culture so much more than I ever could have imagined. It’s so incredibly much deeper and richer than it looks on the surface.”
“I wish I would have realized before I left how fast the semester was going to go by. I would have made even more of an effort to soak it all in,” said Talbot. “I’ve learned that I am stronger than I once thought. I’ve learned that to serve the kingdom I don’t have to be the smartest or the best, I just sometimes need to take a step…Basically, I’ve just learned a lot about myself, the gospel and world.”
Although struggling to reconcile a “worldview crisis,” Talbot emphasizes her desire to practice the things she has learned from her time in Romania: “I think the true test of the reality of the experience is not in the completion of the semester, but in how the experience of the semester here in Romania influences the way I live for the rest of my life.”
She concludes, “It is wonderful to realize that none of this ends with Romania. Our lives are changing forever.”
Advice from Taylor and Heather
1. Get ready to participate in learning like you never have before.
2. Pack light.
3. Bring really good rain gear and a good daypack.
4. Save up for fall break.
5. Come with questions.
6. Leave your expectations at home.