In Romania, a country full of mountains, castles, monasteries and historical sites, a group of Northwestern students found beauty – not only in the places they trekked, but also in the people they met.
On a trip to Retezat National Park, the group adopted the motto, “people, not places” from their tour guide.
“The places we saw were incredible, yes,” Kara Richard said. “But we realized that none of it would have been the same without experiencing it together.”
As the students left the states last fall, most of them were strangers. However, that soon changed.
“We were basically all like siblings by the end of the semester,” Alayna Bakke said.
This bond traveled back with them across the Atlantic this winter.
“We developed some group norms that still persist stateside,” Abigail Sutton said. “We give hugs, we cook and eat together, some of us like to run together and we are comfortable telling the others when we are not doing well.”
Together, the students shared their stories, engaged in meaningful conversations and expanded their relationships to include the people they met in Romania. Many of the students expressed how they missed their host families.
“Their joy as they loved God and loved people was radiant, and that was only bolstered by God’s continued faithfulness,” Noah Roisum said. “I pray I will carry with me what I learned from them into the rest of my life.”
Filipe and Janelle Silva, NW alum, were like a piece of home to the team. The couple started a climbing gym in Romania, where the students spent time climbing with local kids.
“It is evident that the Gospel is lived out here,” Sutton said.
As their relationships grew, so did their faith.
“When you’re away from what is familiar and need to rely on God’s provision, He becomes so clear. I thought it was beautiful to experience God show himself in so many ways,” Richards said. “He is not limited to the chapter of scripture I read each morning. He actually becomes more evident through people and life experience.”
One courses taught was experiential education, based on Romanian history and sites, another was sustainable development, based on his own work in Lupeni.
The team’s studies didn’t keep them trapped in the classroom, but rather on the go. The students toured the Bran Castle, Dacian King Sculpture and the Palace of Parliament. They learned about Dr. Bates’ work of carving bike trails in the area and his IMPACT club, a Gospel education club to help children serve their community.
The students accomplished many things: mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing, navigating transportation in a foreign country, sight-seeing in multiple different countries and even spending the night in an Eastern Orthodox monastery.
Eventually, it was time to return to Orange City. The transition wasn’t always easy.
“Being awake for thirty hours traveling while jumping forward eight hours in time took a couple weeks to recover from,” Richard said.
It is also an academic transition too, from hiking to Van Peursum Hall.
“Switching back into classroom learning has definitely been the biggest adjustment so far,” Bakke said. “Walking to 7:45 a.m. class is a little less exciting than hiking in the mountains on a Monday morning!”
Aside from the physical recovery, the team missed the people they cherished.
“I also miss my host family and think about them often,” Richard said. “Although, I have learned that there is a season for all things good. If experiences lasted forever, they would lose their meaning.”
Despite the separation from the treasured people of Romania, many on the team felt they easily jumped back into NW life.
“I got back and felt like I never left,” Brady Lamansky said.
No matter where the team goes, one thing is clear. It’s not about the place, it’s about the people.