Romania through the eyes of foreign students

    Have you ever wondered what it feels like to wake up on the other side of the world?

    Well, if you have not, I encourage you to do so and make it a reality.

    Living and studying abroad is one of the most exhilarating things you can ever do, no matter where you come from and where you go. It sounds scary to just leave your life behind and be somewhere new, but in the end it is all worth it.

    According to a report written by the Ministry of Education of Romania, in between the years 2017-2019 the increase of foreign students enrolled in university studies went up to a 6,1%. As a matter of fact, I am a foreign student from El Salvador, like many others I know from Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Vietnam, and more. Presently, there is no data entries that provide a precise number of foreign students studying in Romanian universities.

    International students and I ended up studying in Romania thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Education and Research (MER) of Romania. They granted us scholarships that included not only the university fees and accommodation but also a preparatory year in Romanian language, as well as a monthly stipend to cover other things. It was a long process that took around 4 months for some and even longer for others. Eventually we all arrived in some cities of Romania, in my case Cluj-Napoca.

    The reason why we chose to study in this country varies for so many students but the one thing we all have in common is the desire of having an experience abroad.

    In my case, ever since I was little, I found the idea of learning more than one language intriguing and as I grew up, I always pictured myself going to different countries and learning about new cultures. In 2019, I got the opportunity to apply for this scholarship and having had experience abroad, I did not hesitate about it.

    Ever since I arrived in Romania, which was in October 2019, I realized how different many things were in comparison to my country. From the people, the weather to even the food and transportation. Even though it was a cultural shock at the beginning, so far, I truly have enjoyed everything.

    Me visiting Bran Castle in 2020

    Me being in a new country was not the only new thing that I got to experience. I also had to learn Romanian. Studying the language for one year was mandatory to anybody that was granted this type of scholarship, which in my opinion is a good thing to do, because it opens more opportunities in life for us. Months passed and I was able to adjust easily to my new life here, I got the opportunity to meet many interesting Romanian students as well as others from many countries around the world, and now I have solidified so many amazing friendships, and all thanks to this opportunity I was given.

    Even though the beginning of this new journey in our lives started good, back in March of 2020, life in Romania and in the world took a turn. The thriving life of students was no longer that amazing. It went from us having face to face classes to switching to online classes. Interactions with others became more and more limited, and the nightlife that many students enjoy at this age, became nonexistent. The excitement of living in Cluj or other cities in Romania slowly started to fade away. I consider myself an incredibly positive person, but isolation does mess up with one’s mind. However, thanks to the friendships Romania has given me, the year 2020 was saved in a way.

    My personal experience is one thing, but I believe that highlighting the perspective of others is important, so I went ahead and gathered the opinions from other foreign students like myself about living and studying in Romania.

    First off was Simona, a 21-year-old student from Bulgaria, who is currently enrolled in the Faculty of European Studies.

    “In my case, everything is normal. It has been more than I expected. I was not expecting to feel this good and all things to be better than in my country, which is sad, but a reality. I like the fact that I have more opportunities to develop myself and that I am independent, both financially and by also living alone. I also like the way locals behave with me; they are nice people. Every time I mention I speak Romanian, they are incredibly happy about that. They are welcoming.”

    Simona visiting a park in Cluj-Napoca / Photo: personal archive

    I instantly wanted to know if she would have preferred to be back home while the pandemic is still happening, considering that her country is much closer than mine and her answer was very honest.

    “Even though we are studying online and me obviously preferring to go physically to my faculty, I do prefer staying here in Romania, because in that way I can maintain my level of Romanian speaking, and still be able to see the friends I made ever since I arrived here. So, yes, I have no regrets about not having gone home. There are moments that I feel like everything is too difficult or I feel overwhelmed. I just stop for a minute, take a break, cook, listen to music or watch something. I try to find time for myself as well.”

    After speaking to her, I contacted a student named Anxhelo, a 20-year-old from Albania, who is currently studying music in Bucharest. Studying online is one thing but, having a more restricted way of learning to play instruments must be harder.

    Anxhelo playing his favorite instrument in his university / Photo: personal archive

    “While being in Albania, I knew other people that had already been and studied here before and they all said that coming here was going to provide me with better opportunities than the ones I could have back home. My love for music started at an early age, and after many sacrifices that both myself and my family made, I was able to learn and study everything that was related to an amazing music instrument called the flute. As per the suggestion of these people that told me about Romania, I started doing my research and found out that Bucharest offered an amazing music program, and thanks to the scholarship that was provided to me, I can be here now and do what I love. However, because of Covid-19, the life I once dreamt of experiencing is not going as planned, but the university has managed to make sure our learning is going as it was planned, so I am happy I am here.”

    After ending my call with Anxhelo, I reached out to two 20-year -old students from Vietnam living in Cluj (Sang and Hana). Like myself, they come from a different continent, so the cultural shock can be a lot.

    “Romania is so different from Vietnam, from the food to the weather. Learning Romanian has been a struggle for us, but that has not stopped us from achieving anything we want. Even though the language is difficult for us, our language professors and even our current professors in our faculty (Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication Sciences in Cluj-Napoca) are taking the time to make sure that we understand. And when it comes to the country itself, we love it! So far, we have visited four cities, and after the pandemic is over, we hope we get to explore even more.”

    My final call was to Marianna, a Greek 21-year-old student here in Cluj. I wanted to get her honest opinion about life in Cluj before and during the pandemic.

    Marianna visiting Timișoara / Photo: personal archive

    “Life in Cluj when I came here was good, I am used to a more party type of lifestyle, so I felt that Cluj did live up to the name and its fame for being such a student friendly city. I have met so many amazing people, and even though the world has gone upside down in a year because of the pandemic, that does not make me regret the fact that I am here. “

    If I go back in time, to before coming here and if I could somehow see the future and predict what the new normal is, would I still have moved all the way from my country to here? Yes. Why? Because being abroad gives you a new perspective on the world and representing your own country in other nations is a thing to be proud of.

    Even though these are only a few perspectives on what life abroad is, do ask yourselves: Would you ever be able to leave your family, friends and your whole life and move out of your comfort zone into a completely new environment, to overcome many challenges such as learning a new language and adapting to a new culture? And most importantly take a leap of faith a start a new chapter in your life. Go ahead and start your new journey either here in Romania or anywhere in the world.

    Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA from Pexels