My integration

Elana Stewards

I first came to Romania in the winter of 2003-04 and almost immediately I fell in love – not with a single person, but with Romania in general.  I felt, and still feel, a very strong connection to the country, culture and people in a way that is hard to explain.  However this connection is so strong that after almost 10 years of visiting each year from Australia I finally decided to move here.

Many people would say that the differences between Romania and Tasmania in Australia are immense, but in fact I would disagree.  Yes, of course, there are some obvious difference, which I will touch upon shortly, but overall people are people the world over.  We all, for the most part, have two eyes, a nose and a mouth and enjoy the same things.

My integration in Romania has been a fairly easy process, mainly because I have remembered this point – even though things might be done a little differently, in the end, people are people the world over.

Having said that, if I have to pinpoint some differences between Australia and Romania I would mention three main areas:  the openness and sense of community amongst the people, the constant feeling of struggle, and the long history and sense of identity it creates.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between my two homes is the history that Romania has.  Walking down a street and seeing buildings that are hundreds of years old is not a common occurrence in Australia.  As a country Australia is less than 300 years old and the majority of its population are immigrants.  The sense of belonging to the land and place just does not exist. I love the fact that houses and apartments here are passed down through the generations of the same family and that the population can be traced back to the beginnings of human kind.

However, as a result of more modern history I think, the second difference I often notice here in Romania is the constant feeling of struggle. There seems to be a general consensus amongst the population that Romania is not good enough, that it is better to live in other places and that it will never catch up to the rest of Europe.  I find it very sad to hear this view so often and it seems almost impossible to change it.  I wish that the Romanian population could see in their country what I do – a stunning natural environment where, with hard work and perseverance anything is possible, just like in the rest of the world.  When I point out that I actually have a better standard of living here than in Australia people are unbelieving, even when presented with the figures. Yes, Australia pays some of the highest salaries in the world, but it is the fourth most expensive country to live in. Although Romanian salaries are smaller, so is the cost of living, considerably, in fact the second cheapest country in Europe to live in.

But putting money aside, the biggest thing that drew me to Romania was its people, their openness and sense of community. In Australia you will enter a shop and nobody says a word, in actual fact, if the shop assistant did greet you, you would probably leave straight away because she was ‘being too pushy’. This is definitely not the case here.  I love the fact that people greet each other on the street, or if they enter a room, regardless of knowing the person. The sense of community created from living in apartment blocks or being with the same colleagues throughout school is tangible. It helps to create a very strong sense of belonging and a security that then allows for the openness of the people.  In Australia most people have their own enclosed gardens where children play, they don’t go out on the street to play with other children and very rarely to the park and if there were other children around at the same time they would usually be avoided.

I lived in the same house for almost 10 years before moving to Romania and I think I saw my neighbour a maximum of 5 times, when we would salute with a nod of the head at most.

Perhaps the best example of both the first and third points of difference is myself. I was born and grew up in Australia and my family are all still there, but I never felt connected to the land and its history or community. I had to travel over 15000 kilometres to find my place – Romania.