Romania Blog 2015

Romania Student Blogs


This summer, students registered in HST 301: Suffering and Forgiveness, are traveling to Romania with their instructor, Octavian Gabor. They will be posting their travel blog on this page. Follow them in their adventure! More photos of their trip can be viewed here.

August 4, 2015

Alexa Jontz

Today was a day to remember. After leaving Fagaras, we had the chance to visit with Ioana's family. We met her mother, father, and niece. Also, we met with her grandmother. This is important because her husband was the one who hid in the Fagaras Mountains during communism. Ioana's whole family was welcoming. They offered refreshments and made us feel like we were a part of their family. The grandmother only spoke Romanian. I did not understand what she was telling me, so I just held her hand in mine and smiled politely. I could tell she was a very sweet lady. Her house was beautiful! The biggest item that caught my eye was the grape vines.

My final thoughts about this entire trip: wow. Never in my years did I think I would have the chance to travel to Europe. I am proud to say I spent roughly two weeks studying communism and the European culture. Along the way I met some of the most prideful, memorable, purist human beings. This is a trip I will never forget. Having the chance to listen to people's stories about the communist regime was incredible. They are all heroes in my book. I have learned that the European culture is slightly different from American culture. For example, in the European culture people do not use washcloths, they only drink from bottle water (the majority of the time), their food is more natural and is made with less fructose, and they prefer to have the minimum air conditioning. There is so much more that I cannot even explain at this time. Within the first few days of living here in Romania, I started to adapt to living without the items that I am used to having back in the States. One should not complain about not having them, but rather adapt to the place's culture and continue to live in the present. I will say that I am one hundred percent more thankful for these items than I was ever before.

We are all stars in the constellations. If one is dead, alive, or in different countries, we are still all connected somehow in time. "Beauty of the world is given by our personal constellations." We create our own beauty with our own hands. I believe each one of us students created our own beauty with this trip by the way we felt, saw, and experienced Romania.

Katrina Fornoff

This is the final blog for the quick trip to Romania. I never knew that in 12 days I would learn so much about a culture and about myself. It is one thing to learn about how a country and different communities suffered under the rule of communism, but actually seeing the aftermath really brings it all together. This last day of events, we were lucky enough to meet a very important woman that lived during communism. She is the grandmother of Ioana Hasu, Eugenia Comanici. Her husband, Ioana's grandfather, was one of the founders of the groups that fought against the Communist rule.  We were told of the struggles that her family was plagued with and had to suffer through until the collapse of the regime in 1989.

The Hasu family suffered more than I can understand. The patriarch of the family had to flee so he would not be killed without putting up a fight. He, his brother, and several others lived in the mountains for seven years until they were captured and sent to various prisons and executed shortly after. This small group was not the only group of fighters against communism. Numbers vary up to 200 groups fighting in the mountains. These men depended on one another and many women back in their villages. This is what inspired me so much about Ioana's grandmother. She is a stoic woman that never lost faith; she believed God would help her in her struggling time. During the time when her husband was in the mountains, she had two small children to care for and protect. She was arrested two times to be tortured, beaten, and questioned to give up her husband. The government forced her to divorce him in the hope that this would cause him to come back home, but through all of this her grandmother stayed strong and faithful to her husband.

It is an extremely sad story to hear how much pain and suffering this family and whole country had to endure. It allows me to remember that keeping faith in my beliefs and remaining focused can get me through almost any struggle. I feel so thankful to have met such a strong woman that still does all she can for others, even in her older age. She is struggling to get around her home, but will still offer her seat to another person. She is truly inspiring.

Gynger Biddison 

Our trip in Romania has been an eye opening experience in many ways. I have learned valuable history. During our time in Romania we have visited many memorials and significant places. For a suffering and forgiveness class, I believe this is the most memorable experience you can have. It will stay with me forever. We truly learned about the suffering that many generations have gone through. When walking through the Jilava communist prison where many people were beaten and tortured for years, I felt empathy for the prisoners and their families in a way that is not possible from reading about it in a book. We had a prison survivor come to talk to us at Jilava. As we walked through the prison cells and solitary confinement areas, Mr. Octav Bjoza pointed out what happened to him and so many others. I am extremely grateful for this experience. We learned about Father George Calciu, who was a central piece of communist history. He survived the Pitesti communist prison and struggled with his faith. He became an informant after being tortured, but then came back from it and slowly healed.

There was one common theme that kept coming up during our trip that was the most surprising of all. This was forgiveness. Everyone we talked to seemed to have a strong sense of faith and had forgiven. Not one single person we experienced was bitter or angry. 

What happened in Romania was injustice. The communist regime took over and had to break apart connections and ties between families to first alienate individuals. By doing this, they came to houses and abducted people and put them in communist prisons like Jilava and Pitesti. Many times the people were not given any explanation or reasoning for what was happening. Families were no longer able to contact them. In prisons, people were beaten, tortured, and treated inhumanely.

I am so thankful I got to be a part of this trip. It was an eye opening experience; I learned about history, traveling, and even more about myself.

Alexandria Ervin

Well, this is our final blog for our trip to Romania. It is definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to this place, but I am ready to see the USA. I am super glad that I decided to take this class and have this experience. It is not everyday that someone would get the opportunity to visit Romania. I would have to say that my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the other girls and hiking up the Fagaras Mountains. I will never forget that hike or the beautiful scenery. Before this trip I did not picture Transylvania as being such a beautiful, untouched place.

On our last day when we left Sambata de Sus, we took a van back to Bucharest, but on the way we stopped at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's castle. Even before we left for this trip to Romania I was very excited to see this castle just because of the legend behind it. Unfortunately when we got to the town of Bran, there didn't seem to be any running water for the restrooms and the whole place was crowded. Apparently tourism has taken over there, and more and more people are wanting to see Dracula's castle. Thankfully Tavi, being the awesome teacher that he is, waited in line for all of us so we could do some more shopping. Once we finally made it into the castle, up an incredibly steep driveway of course, we could see what an amazing view the castle had of the town of Bran, and how this location high on a hillside would benefit Dracula while he was trying to defend it against the enemy.

We were on somewhat of a time crunch, so we were unable to spend a lot of time in Bran before we needed to be back in Bucharest to the Hotel Opera. I will say, going back to the first hotel was kind of like going home in a sense. I know all of us were excited to have Wi-Fi in our rooms again! Together the girls and I all went to dinner at Trattoria Don Vito's before we packed our bags to say goodbye to Romania. I am so glad we had such an awesome teacher and great group of girls to share this once in a lifetime opportunity while at Methodist College.

Abbie Baker

Wow. Today was our last full day here in beautiful Romania. We left Fagaras early this morning, around ten o'clock. We finally got to tour the famous Dracula's castle in Bran, Romania. It took us around an hour to drive from Fagaras to Bran. Tavi had visited Dracula's castle before, and he was shocked to see that there was a huge line for tickets.  I did not know that Bran was such a tourist city; once we parked, I saw tons of souvenir shops and tourist info stands. There were little shops with shirts and food and various gift all along the streets heading up to Dracula's castle; they reminded me a lot of walking up to Peles castle, with so many different gifts to buy.

Tavi stayed in line while we all walked around to shop or get food. On that day all the restaurants and little shops did not have bathrooms with running water available. We probably tried four different places to see if they had restrooms available, but no one did. Then, I went into a tourist information building to ask where one was, and they directed me to the building next door. So I go in thinking "This is easy. Why didn't I find this on my own?" When I get to the building, there are people waiting in line for something. I could not tell what when I first got there, but I walked in front of them, and asked where a restroom was. The gentleman at a desk proceeded to tell me that it was upstairs. So I walked up the stairs, and the lighting in the room changed. There were black lights going, a coffin on my left, scary music playing. I was so confused and did not know what to think. I walked a little further and finally found the bathroom to my left. As I was opening the door this person dressed up in a monster costume jumped out at me and said, "Are you finding everything okay?" I was so startled because I was not expecting that and I was by myself. Apparently I was in the middle of a haunted house and did not even realize it. So that was my fun little adventure that I got by myself for the day.

I then found the rest of the girls and met Tavi up at the entrance to the castle. It was a huge incline to walk up to the castle. We all were very sore from the previous day's hiking. We then entered the castle, where I was taken away. Dracula's castle is much more open than I pictured, and the hallways were very closed-in and tiny. Walking through, it felt like a never-ending maze because it was such a small space walking. Attached is a picture in a hallway looking out to the other side of the castle.

I was so happy we got to experience the infamous Dracula's castle, because I have heard of it even as a little girl.

I cannot believe this is our last night here in Romania. I have learned so much about the culture, about how communism affected this amazing country and so many people alive today. I have met some of the most amazing people and I hope to stay friends with them. I will forever keep the memories from this trip. I think between all eight of us, we have taken over a thousand pictures. If you ever have the chance to visit Romania, I would recommend it in a heartbeat; pictures do not even do it justice, especially the mountains. Thank you, Tavi, so much for putting up with us for almost two weeks; you have been the most generous, most fun, and selfless teacher ever, and I will forever be grateful for this incredible opportunity.

Natalie Wolfe

On our last full day in Romania, instead of taking the train back to Bucharest for the night, we rented a van. We got a van so we would be able to visit the infamous Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's castle. Dracula is the main icon for Transylvania known by Americans. Most Americans don't know anything about Romania apart from Dracula. Unfortunately Dracula is not a legitimate part of Romania's history. The character was inspired by the historic ruler, Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes. Another name he is commonly referred by is Vlad the Impaler, which I believe is the translation of Tepes. He was called Vlad the Impaler because he would impale Turkish soldiers who tried to over-take his castle in the 15th century. He would impale the bodies then display them all around so others would be afraid to storm his castle.

We toured his castle today, which was the busiest place we went to in Romania. It was a very large tourist attraction, and felt somewhat like an amusement park. The line to get tickets was very long, but we waited in order to be able to see the castle. Since we were crunched on time by the wait, we did not have a guided tour. We walked through the castle, but we unfortunately did not have enough time to have Tavi read all the information on each room. There were hundreds of small rooms randomly placed like a maze throughout his castle, which I found extremely fun and confusing. It was an extremely neat castle to visit, and I would suggest people visit this place. Unfortunately it was very busy and hard to stop and read information with the heavy traffic flow. In all, I enjoyed seeing such a historical Romanian landmark.  

Rebecca Morton

And this is the last blog of the trip! It has definitely been an amazing trip with a great group of people; I could not have asked for a better group and I would not have changed the trip in any ways. The last day of our trip was spent leaving the mountains. We traveled in a large van where we all had to squeeze together. The van had one window and it was VERY hot. After an hour or so we arrived at "Dracula's" castle. While Tavi waited in line, we all walked around and looked at the outdoor shops and the tourist items. Once we got inside we quickly toured the castle. We kind of wanted to make it back to Bucharest in order to eat at the Italian restaurant. Once on the road again, we had another 3 hour drive to Bucharest. At the hotel we quickly went and freshened up and then went to dinner. After dinner we all went back to the hotel and started packing, since we had to be up and leaving the hotel by 4:30 am.

Overall the trip was amazing, I have learned many things and met amazing people that I would not have been able to do if it weren't for the trip. Just some of the people that had an influence on us students were obviously Tavi (our teacher), Ioana (a friend of Tavi's, also a historian); Octav Bjoza, a former political detainee; Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan, who were the ones who met with us at the Sighet Memorial; and finally Ioana's grandmother, who was one of many women affected by communism.

These people shared their personal stories with us, which gave us direct insight into something that we would have never learned about if we had not come to Romania. What we learned is not written in books.

 August 3, 2015


August 2, 2015

Katrina Fornoff

Talk about a fun afternoon. Today was the first full day at the new hotel at Sambata de Sus, and it was a beautiful place to be. We are surrounded with trees, creeks, and fresh air from the mountains. The adventures from today included visiting the Fagaras Fortress and learning of the history of the town.

I learned of many trials and tribulations that the town of Fagaras had to go through, but it somehow always made it through. Seeing how the community has come back together after such a hard time in history made me think about how the connections have come back together in families. Our group was fortunate to meet the family of our wonderful instructor and see how wonderful these ties are. His family has been more than accommodating for our group. It has made the experience that much more enjoyable.

We have learned that the culture of Romania is very independent; if you want something done by a certain time, then you would have to do it yourself. This is not in a bad way; it is just how the service is here. In America, it seems that people are more sensitive or cater to the needs of the guest; here they will expect you to do your part. The best example is the checks after dinner. If you go with a large group, then you are expected to pay all at once and figure your own part out later. The servers will not give you the bill unless you tell them you are ready to leave. These are just some of the differences that have stuck out to me. The positive to this is that the service persons do not hover around.

There are definitely some cultural differences that Romania has and that I would like to see change in America, like their straightforward way of communication. It takes the around-about way of talking out and gets straight to the point. It has been fun learning these small differences in such a small amount of time!

Gynger Biddison

Today I experienced the peacefulness of the mountains, and it is amazing! One of the best parts about being here in Romania is the food. Everything here is close to its natural state. For breakfast people eat tomatoes, olives, bread, fruit, and cheeses. In the US everything is pasteurized and filled with hormones and sugar. Here, you can taste food in its natural state and I love that. Especially the tomatoes- they are amazing! You can also get foods like they have in the US. Last night I had a grilled chicken breast, rice pilaf, and veggies. Even this simple meal was much more natural.

Where we are staying is tucked back in the mountains, so we walk to the monastery and hotel lobby through the woods. The air here is even fresher. People also seem to be very in touch with themselves, less overwhelmed by life. Maybe that is because of their strong faith. It probably gives them peace knowing they can pray and are being led by God. Religion seems to unite people here. It is the one thing that everyone has in common, and people take it very seriously. The Liturgy in the monastery was packed full before it even started at 10:00 AM today. People were filing in. People stand during the service, too, which is different from the churches I have been to. The monastery is also gorgeous! It has flowers planted all along a paved road going up to the church. There are tombs, crosses, and candles. It is not like the church where I am from. Since the service lasts hours, you can come and go. You do not have to stay the whole time. People often get up and walk outside or go light a candle for their loved ones.

Fagaras was a nice change from being in Bucharest. The fortress was very medieval looking. It was a different type of architecture with lots of bricks.

Alexa Jontz

We started the day at the church service at the monastery. This time around we walked through the monastery. I noticed that the cemetery is different here than it is in the States. They have a burial place above ground. There are tombstones that are standing crosses rather than rectangle tombstones. Most of the tombstones had the people's picture present on them. The graveyard was interesting. There was a spot where one could light a candle for a prayer of the living or dead. I am still amazed by Orthodox Christianity. It makes me want to read and speak to more people who are involved with this religion.

We visited the Fagaras Fortress. I felt like I was in a medieval era. The tour guide told us that a few films were actually filmed in that fortress. Of course, there were a few secret staircases that led us into bigger rooms. There was a cool one that led us into a circular room. Here in this room people were tortured. Up above, the common people could stand and watch the torture happen. It looked like a scene where people were thrown into a room and lions or tigers were let loose to kill them. I did get a spooky feeling from being in there.

The walls in the fortress were mostly upgraded with plaster. They did keep some spaces on the walls in their original form. For example, there was a spot with Romanian writing and a religious cross, which were done by the inmates during communism. We also found out that the fortress was used as a prison during communism. The prison did not exist on paper, so it legally did not exist. I was told that the prison was not as intense as Jilava. The fortress had numerous paintings and artifacts that were interesting to look and read about. I recommend seeing it if you ever visit Fagaras, Romania.

Natalie Wolfe

Today was Sunday here in Romania so, as we did last Sunday, we went to a Christian Orthodox church. The difference between this weekend and last weekend was that this time we went to the monastery to experience their service. They have continual services from eight until noon.  At the monastery there were callings for church. The first call to church was when the monks would start to hit wood together, followed by the ringing of the church bells. It was similar to the previous church in that it was casual enough for people to come and go during the service or sit outside.

We went into the service for a few minutes towards the front to see how the service was performed. There were monks sitting on each side of the wall at the front, and I could see the area the priest was allowed to go in was very large, unlike other churches where the area is only large enough for an altar. We then left and Tavi showed us around the monastery. We saw from the outside the location where the monks would sleep, as well as their outdoor hallways. No matter where we were in the monastery the sermon could be heard through speakers.

After we walked around the entire monastery we went to the cemetery where monks, priests, and other people from the community were buried. I thought this was interesting because it was very different from how cemeteries are in America. First off, it is not just the headstone that sticks out of the ground, but there is a whole rectangular box that is built from the ground up behind it. This rectangular area is large enough for a casket to be placed in. On top is a whole flowerbed where people cannot only set flowers, but also actually plant them. Some of the graves were large enough for more than one person; this is because some of the tombs were for families. It was odd to me, though not uncommon in the states, that people who were not yet dead, had their graves all set up and filled out with a picture of them.

Overall the monastery is one of the most gorgeous and holy places I have ever been. If anyone ever gets a chance to visit one, it is extremely intriguing and enlightening to observe.

Alexandria Ervin

Today is day 9 of our adventure in Romania. After breakfast we visited the monastery for church service before we headed to the town of Fagaras to visit the fortress.  The fortress is considered to have never been concurred before, and fortunately is still standing to this day.  It was so beautiful. We had a tour guide that took us through the fortress, since it now sits as a museum. It would be easy to get lost with all of the corridors and secret passageways. The museum was simple but was nicely done with minimum exhibits in each room, so not only could you enjoy the architecture but you could see the artwork as well.

Although this structure was not built as a prison, it was used for that purpose during communism during the 40's, 50's, and 60's. The fortress was very large though, with many rooms and passageways, and I'm pretty sure that if I was left alone there I would get lost. It is just unbelievable that people continued to add onto the structure for 300 years.

After the tour through the fortress Tavi took us to lunch with his father, younger brother, and son. It was really nice to meet some of Tavi's family and see what a day in the life of a Romanian typically is. Tavi's father and brother are so very nice and welcoming. They treated us to pizza at a restaurant that was on a lake next to a water park. After lunch we headed back to the hotel to check out the pool and sauna. It was somewhat late so we did not get much time to swim, but it was still nice. Tomorrow we will hike up the mountain, which I am super excited about!

Abbie Baker

Today, I woke up at 7:00 and had breakfast at our hotel in Sambata de Sus. We then went to a traditional Orthodox Church service. There were birds flying everywhere. When we walked in, the women were on the left, and the men were on the right. People were singing hymns when we got into the monastery. Women were dressed in long skirts to their knees and long shirts. Some wore headpieces, and some did not. Being around the monastery's worship made me think about my church back home. One difference I noticed was that we had pews that are in rows at our church, and at the monastery they all stand. Another thing I noticed was that they make the cross symbol the opposite way Catholics do. Catholics go from left to right. When we drove to the monastery, our drivers made the cross gesture starting on the right. I am not Catholic, but I just knew automatically that was different in our culture. After church service, we went shopping to little shops that were along the road. I got a few presents for people and noticed they had authentic women's shirts. Romanian authentic shirts are white with some sort of pattern on them, and I am hoping I can buy one before we leave Fagaras Tuesday morning.  

After the monastery, we went to a late lunch, or dinner in Fagaras. We got to walk around and had a nice dinner at a public waterpark. We got to meet Tavi's brother and father. I sat at a table with Tavi's brother, Tony. He was very outgoing and made me feel at home in Fagaras. So far I love Fagaras, and cannot wait to hike in the mountains tomorrow.

Rebecca Morton

And today is day 9!! Today began with breakfast at 9:30. My favorite thing was the fried sausages and the watermelon. The watermelon was the best I've ever had: very fresh and juicy. We then walked to the monastery where we attended the service (we only stayed for maybe 5 minutes). It was beautiful. The front of church was filled monks, then it faded into a sea of men and women, with the men on the right and women on the left. Once again what we saw of the service was beautiful. We then went shopping (again, of course) where I bought three small bowls that can be used to hold jewelry.

The next part of our day was spent visiting the fortress of Fagaras. At the fortress we saw several art exhibits from summer school students; the paintings were very beautiful. Other things we saw at the fortress were the room where they kept all the riches, the princess's room.

One thing I found interesting was the fact that the fortress was also a communist prison. In this prison, of course, people were tortured. We went into a tower where some tortures were portrayed in a picture. It included being suspended by the hand while having two weights hung off of the toes.

After the fortress we went to lunch, where we had pizza. It was the best pizza I have ever had in my life (and I really don't like pizza at home, unless it is Monical's). After lunch we ventured back to our hotel where we had class. After class we had French fries at the restaurant. We then went to the Sauna and the pool to relax. The walk home with the girls was probably the most fun ever!

August 1, 2015

Natalie Wolfe

After spending a week in Bucharest, we expanded our horizons in Romania and took the train to stay near the town of Fagaras, where our instructor is from. It was a special ride from the train to our hotel, because we got to see the house where Tavi grew up, and where his parents still currently live. The drive was also unique because we kept getting closer and closer to the mountains, which made them get more beautiful as we were able to see more of their detail. As I write this I am currently on our balcony where we can see multiple peaks around us filled to the top with willow leaved trees, as well as hear rushing water from the creeks around us. We are within the woods at the bottom of the mountain, so it feels like we are hiking anytime we walk to another building. It is like camping, but with nice rooms.

The grounds we are on are also used for camping. There are lots of campers around the hotel, as well. Along with campers, there is also a monastery on the grounds, which we visited later in the evening after dinner. The monastery is a tourist attraction for many people because it is filled with history. A lot of the people staying in the surrounding hotels are here to visit the monastery. Father Arsenie Boca who painted the picture with Mary with Jesus in prison clothes, which we have been discussing, lived at the monastery. It is also the site where a cross with all the names of the people who fought in the mountains is placed.

The monastery looked like a national geographic photo. You enter through an archway with huge gates where you walk down a path filled with trees and rose bushes. At the end of the path you can see the monastery. All beyond the monastery are mountains with mist surrounding them. It is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen, and I am very excited to go back and see what it looks like in the early morning.

Gynger Biddison

People with different cultural backgrounds often see the same things very differently. We got a taste of this today. We had purchased our train tickets previously. When we boarded the train we realized that some seat numbers were missing. For example, there was no seat number 12. It was replaced with a 16. This was very confusing because both seats 12 and 16 should have been in the same compartment, but number 12, which was printed on the ticket, was not there. So when the person with seat 16 came, she asked us to move. In the US, people seem to be very structured and organized (sometimes too much).

Also, when we got to the hotel they only had us reserved for one night instead of three, and the rooms were not cleaned and ready. This was not an issue, but I could see how people with very strict, structured personalities could have a difficult time traveling in some places. I think it has to do with the fact that everyone seems to be on a different schedule here. If you need something, you go to get it. In the US some things are the same, but restaurants differ also in their attentiveness to customers. Also, the WiFi does not work in the hotel rooms. It only works in the lobby of the building we are in, called Popas. This is really not a problem, either, but in the US I could see people becoming irate from little details like these. It reminds you to be laid back and not to worry about every single detail like we do in the States. The hotel we are now is back in the mountains. It is gorgeous here!


There is something different about the air and the way it feels. It feels less "busy" and more relaxing. I am excited to explore outside the hotel and hike on the mountains. From our building to the main hotel building, you can walk down a path or through the woods. We walked through the woods tonight and it reminds me of Colorado, with the high trees and open space. Hopefully we don't see any bears in the woods on the way to breakfast!

Rebecca Morton

Today is day 8! First off, let me begin by saying that the mountains here are BEAUTIFUL!!


We began today with taking the train four hours to Fagaras. While on the train, we got to experience several amazing views. My favorite thing about the views was being down in the valley and looking up at all the villages with their red clay roofs. I also thought that the several patches of Black Eyed Susan's scattered across the prairies were beautiful.

Once we made it to Fagaras, we were met by two cars that drove us through several small towns. At the hotel we had to wait for our rooms to be ready so we sat outside and talked; at this time, Alex and I found a stream behind the hotel.

After our rooms were ready and we placed our luggage in them, we went for dinner. I had Gordon Blue, which was very delicious. Then we walked to the monastery that was nearby. The first thing we did was walk around the outside of the monastery where we saw the cross that was set up as a memorial to the people that fought in the mountains (we learned about this yesterday in class).

We then walked up to a small pond where you could see the fish swimming near the surface. The mountains were foggy at the top. This image was just indescribable; not only were you seeing this beautiful place, but you were breathing in the fresh mountain air.  We then walked inside the beautiful monastery; the walls and ceilings were covered with paintings.


Before heading back to our hotel, we walked along the shops near the monastery, where we got Gogosi (similar to donuts), which were very delicious!

Katrina Fornoff

Today is starting off with just a few speed bumps. First, one of my fellow classmates had some luggage that did not want to cooperate; then when we got on the train, some seats just did not exist. Traveling in a group of nine is not going to be easy, but we are learning to be more efficient.  I learned that when purchasing tickets in advance, they sometimes sell seats that are not always there. The numbering on the seats got changed or misnumbered at some point, but this was not changed in the system. The solution to this was to just have people from our group stand. Tavi, being as noble as he is, would not allow any of the students to stand, so Ioana and he stood for the whole four hour train ride.

It is not always a bad thing, having some bumps on the road while traveling together. It allowed us to come together and help fellow students and realize that there could be far worse things that could have happened. I have noticed that some trips can get rough when people do not get along the whole time, but I feel very fortunate to have been with a great group of people. I just think about how we need to be as nurses and come together to help one another. These lessons that we will learn on this trip will become useful in our future careers, and remind us that we can handle much more than we think. Focusing on some of the text we read for this class, it helps to remind me that remembering to stay humble will allow for me to care for others in a loving and respectful way. Taking these lessons home will strengthen me in times when I am not sure I could handle much more. The Romanian culture shows that it is okay to be independent and strong on your own, but to come together when in need.

Abbie Baker

On our 8th day here in Romania, we traveled to the city of Fagaras. We took the subway from Bucharest. From there we waited at the train station. We finally got settled on the train, and I read the remaining reading assignment in our Father George Calciu book. We left around 10:00am, and it took us about four hours to get to Fagaras, with multiple stops in between. The train reminded me of the Metra in Chicago, but the only difference was that here in Romania, they did not announce the next stop. I thought this was interesting because it would be very easy to miss your stop. When we finally arrived in Fagaras around 2:00, two people waited for us. From there, we drove for roughly 35 minutes, heading to our hotel. On the way, we got to go through Fagaras. There were many pretty houses along the way, just as in the attached picture.

After we arrived at our hotel, we got settled into our rooms and went to dinner as a group. The restaurant was beautiful. There was a big open space filled with dinner tables and in the background were the mountains.

After dinner, we visited an orthodox monastery. This was incredible. The grounds were kept up so beautifully and there were ponds with fishes. The roof of the monastery really stuck out to me, because the amount of detail was amazing. There were lots of little creeks on the way to the monastery. Even the benches were detailed so precisely. Finally getting to another city feels refreshing, and I cannot wait to see what Fagaras has in store for us.

Alexandria Ervin

Well, today is Saturday in Romania and day 8 of our trip.  We left Bucharest this morning and headed towards the mountains to our next hotel. Needless to say, today did not go very well for me traveling wise. We left Hotel Opera to head to the subway that took us to the train station. Like always, I packed too much stuff for our 3-day stay at Pensiunea Miruna, and while we were walking to the subways, luggage in tow, the wheel on my suitcase broke. My typical luck, so this resulted in me carrying my carry-on luggage the rest of the way to the subway, on the train, and to the hotel. Luckily some of the girls on the trip helped me carry my super heavy bag. Mind you, I did not pack lightly. So not only did I have a rolling suitcase with a broken wheel, but I also discovered while waiting for the subway that my small backpack had a giant hole in it and all of my stuff was about to fall out. Luckily there was a stand at the next subway station that sold luggage and backpacks, so I was able to buy a new one!

The good news is that our hotel in the mountains is amazing! Romania is such a beautiful place, and I am so glad that Tavi decided to bring us here. After dinner at the hotel we stopped by the monastery where we will be seeing the service tomorrow. The property the monastery sits on has an amazing view of the mountains and the gardens there are so well maintained. Even though I had an awful day dealing with all of my luggage breaking, I'm glad to be in such a beautiful place.

Alexa Jontz

The whole day was spent traveling. First we took the subway, and then we took the train to Fagaras. From Fagaras we went to Sambata by car. Sambata is where we will be staying for a few nights. Fagaras and Sambata are both more beautiful and cleaner than Bucharest. I prefer staying in these two towns rather than Bucharest, because Bucharest is too much of a city. Sambata is the countryside of Romania. One can see rolling hills of mountains when traveling into the town. The area we are staying is popular for tourists. A group of us visited the monastery. Before actually arriving at the monastery, there were many little outdoor one-stop-shops. We then traveled up a single road that lead to the monastery. The road was lined with flowers and bushes. It honestly looked like a picture from a magazine.

The area was being remodeled and more landscape was being added to the yard. Once inside the monastery, there were buildings that were designed in a circle, more or less. The basic idea of this structure is the buildings are like the fence of the monastery.

I saw my first monk today. It was interesting to see how he interacted with the common people. The call of service was done by hitting wooden blocks for a few minutes. The inside of the church was incredible. The paintings would amaze anyone and everyone.


I have concluded that Orthodox Christianity is the most serious, intense religion I have witnessed. It is traditional and formal. More or less with the formality. Religion is huge in Romania. I like this idea and wish the States were more accepting and serious about this topic. Even if one is not a religious being, visiting the monastery would be a great cultural experience. Tomorrow we will be attending the monastery again for a morning service.

July 31, 2015

Gynger Biddison

Today I have learned that I really enjoy Traditional Romanian culture. We went to the Peasant Museum. I was surprised to see traditional Romanian clothes. Considering they are all hand made, I could not imagine knitting and crocheting all of the intricate patterns.

All of the pottery and bowls were so beautiful! I found lots of antique looking pieces; it is so much better since this is authentic, handmade crafts. I like that there is a museum like the one we visited, because it seems that the peasants made up most of Romania. They lived very simply. The thing I can learn from this is that every object has a use if you really think about it. For example, they do not throw everything away and buy new, as we do in the US in modern times. People found uses for everything, especially in the example of the grandmother's home in the museum.

Growing up this way would teach people to be selfless and to remember to only keep what they need. We can all learn from this. I almost felt guilty after being in the museum and seeing how they make use of old cans, wrappers, anything they have. They did what they had to do to get by. It was eye opening to see how people spent so much of their time just surviving. They need clothes to wear so they spend hours making dresses and shoes. They need food to eat, so people hunt and eat smaller portions. Hobbies of the women would be more traditional, like sewing, cooking, cleaning, or praying. Today the US is filled with technology. I think we have lost a lot of our ancestry. People are not always eager to learn about their culture and their history because they are too soaked up in their own lives. Back in those times, you had to depend on family and that is what bonded them so much.

I am glad that on this trip we get to see both sides of the Romanian world. For example, we toured the house of the people which had gigantic, elegant ceilings and floors. But we also got to see pottery and table cloths made from generations with love. I love that we can see all ends of the spectrum.

I also like how Ioana has brought a much more personal side to the table for us to learn about. We learned about her grandfather and how his brother, so her uncle, helped start the anti-communist movement in the mountains. We learned about their families and how they were literally torn apart. The women were at peace and content with their lives. This is also something we can learn from. Everyone could have a "poor me" attitude, and it is important to remind ourselves of real suffering and forgiveness. We have now seen the whole spectrum of physical suffering and psychological sufferings and have learned how the country had re-built and forgiven. I would say that there is still hostility and unanswered questions for many. But I think the important thing is that many people have made peace with their lives and learned to trust in God.

Alexandria Ervin

Today was our last day in Bucharest before we leave tomorrow for Fagaras. This morning we took the subway across town to the Romanian Peasant Museum (Muzeul Taranului Roman). This museum is completely dedicated to the life of peasants and houses many artifacts including clothing, paintings, and icons from the Romanian peasant people. It was awesome to see so many old things that survived through communism and are now able to be observed and appreciated by everyone. The coolest thing that I saw at the museum was probably the giant wooden windmill and the handmade pottery.

Thankfully, after the fall of communism, the people of Romania were able to open this museum again; because during the communist era, sharing and expressing your religious views and any opinion against the communist government would result in political imprisonment.

Later in the day, Tavi and Ioana took Katrina and I to see an Orthodox Christian Church, Biserica Elefterie. I have never seen a church more beautiful than this one! Every bit of the ceiling and most of the walls were painted with biblical figures and stories from the Bible. I was definitely amazed by this place of worship, and everything being written in Romanian just added to its beauty. I think it is important to view and study other religions in order to help you discover yourself and what things you really value.


It is kind of bitter sweet to be leaving Bucharest, but I am looking forward to traveling tomorrow to the mountains in Fagaras. If it is anything like seeing the mountains in Sinaia, I know I will love it! I think it is pretty neat that we get to see where Tavi and Ioana grew up, and the fact that we get to go hiking in the mountains! It is not everyday back in Illinois that we get to see the mountains.

Katrina Fornoff

One of the main differences that I have come to notice between Romania and the United States is that there is no real heritage that can be seen around towns or cities back home. While visiting the Romanian Peasant Museum, I was able to see how the town's people lived on a day-to-day scale. Being able to see the beautiful costumes and pottery that were hand crafted was amazing. Right outside of the museum, there were booths set up to buy various pieces of merchandise that were similar to what is traditionally made. During communism, this museum was shut down and stored away due to the government wanting the local people to forget about their country's heritage and customs. Now that the museum is back up and running since the fall of the government in 1989, these religious icons, original churches, clothes, and pottery are proudly displayed.

Not only was I able to see this wonderful display of Romanian artifacts, I was able to visit a beautiful church. In this church, the paintings on each wall are done perfectly and magnificently. I personally have never seen a place that was so beautifully painted and told such a strong story as the one seen today. It allows myself to be proud in my religious beliefs, even though that church was not of the same denomination as myself.  I learned that only certain people could paint these murals of icons on the walls. That being said, the large painting of God holding Jesus was painted differently than what was originally planned. With the attached photo, you can see that Jesus was actually in prison clothes instead of his traditional clothing. This small detail went unnoticed for sometime, but it has now become symbolic of how Romanians had to keep their faith hidden in order to get through communism alive.

Alexa Jontz

Ioana Hasu held our class discussion today. Before attending class we were assigned to read through both of her articles: "The Bandits of the Old" and "Love Letter for my Grandma." I found both articles to be interesting and heart-warming.

The first article I mentioned was about a man that Ioana knew personally, Ion Ilioiu. The story spoke about his escape to the mountains, his first conviction, his captivity, and his torture. This man stated, "I've never considered it a waste of time. I did what I had to do. Even if I didn't win, my conscience is at peace and I don't feel guilty for the outcome of our fight. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would act in the same way." It is incredible to read something like this because only a selfless man would say such a thing.

The next article mentioned struck home for Ioana because she wrote it about her grandfather. His name was Gheorghe Hasu, and he married a girl named Eugenia. They had two children together; their son is Ioana's father. Gheorghe and Eugenia were only married two years before they were forced by the regime to divorce. Reading that specific part upsets me because I cannot imagine having my husband taken away from me that quickly. Ioana said her grandmother today still speaks about Gheorghe as if he was never gone. It is amazing for me to hear how strong love can be for someone that is not present. Gheorghe and his brother Andrei decided to flee from the regime by running to the mountains. Here they would hide and never stay in one place because of the fear of being arrested. Ioana said that during the seven years her grandfather was in hiding, he only visited his wife and children two times. The saddest part is that all the other times when he came home to see the children, he never got to speak face-to-face with them; rather the father would watch the family from afar and leave his hat to let his wife know he was present. Andrei was executed by the Securitate in 1952. Once Gheorghe was captured, he was sent to the Jilava prison. Gheorghe was executed in 1957 in the prison.

Ioana's grandmother Eugenia is still alive today. She has many grandchildren who are part of her life. She was blessed to read the first part of the only letter that was left of her husband's. The letter stated, "Dear wife, I haven't seen you and the children for a long time. My heart aches from missing you and yet I cannot see you. However, God is with all and is watchful over all things."

Natalie Wolfe

The most influential part of my day today was the lecture. It was our third lecture in class and my favorite so far. It was given by Ioana Hasu, who has been accompanying our instructor, Tavi. We have gotten to talk and bond with Ioana over the last week, but the lecture shocked me because it was about her family and family friends who lived in the mountains to escape persecution by the communist government. We have spent a whole week with Ioana and had no idea about the things her family has gone through! She had no idea until she was about our age that her grandfather was a part of a group that lived in the mountains for seven years to escape being captured by the Securitate (secret police). She found out because the leader of the men recognized her by her eyes that looked like his old friend's. He told her about her grandfather. After that moment, she started to research and document information on the group. She has met two of the men that survived being in that group and is related to two other men who were in the group, but they were later captured and executed.

Prior to the lecture we got to read two of Ioana's articles, one on her grandfather and one on another man she met that was a part of the group, Ion Ilioiu. The one about her grandfather was sad to read because it focused on his relationship with his wife and family. At the time he decided to hide in the mountains with his brother, his wife was pregnant with their second child. Prior to that he was hiding in the attic with his brother. Hiding in the attic was also terrible because during the day they had to watch the Securitate interrogate and abuse their family for information on them.

The second article talked about Ion Ilioiu. Ioana met him while he was still alive. She mentioned the physical torture he had to deal with. After reading that article I am shocked that he remained alive after everything his body went through. He was shot in the spine and cared for by doctors who tortured him and purposely mistreated him. He lived to be an old man.

Ioana also ended up meeting a few other people in association with the group. She met the wife of her grandfather's best friend. She was able to get more information on their relationships and ideals. She also met the daughter of a couple living in the mountains, who was born in a cave. The girl, Ioana Arnautoiu, and her mother, Maria Plop, were arrested when the girl was two, and she was eventually sent to an orphanage where she was adopted. Ioana Arnautoiu did not know anything about her family until she was much older.

All of the stories told by Ioana in lecture today eventually all ended up connecting not just with each other, but with the places we have visited throughout our stay here. It was mind blowing to have everything finally connect and come together, just as it was shocking to learn about what people had to go through to stay alive and resist the communist party.

Abbie Baker

Today marks one week here in Romania. I cannot believe how fast time is going; it feels like we just checked into our hotel. Today was an interesting class because we discussed the aftermath of communism, The Fagaras movement. The Fagaras movement was the anti-communist resistance that involved the women that supported the men hiding and living in the mountains. Communists would invade people's houses and take the children and men while leaving the women behind. In class we learned that women did not have any "political files" or any evidence of existing during communism. They were forced to divorce their spouse, but they also were the pillars of support for their families and kept the memory of the men alive. The men who were considered enemies by the regime either had the choice of getting arrested in their homes and to be sent to political prison, or to run away from home, risk never seeing their wives or children again, and live up in the Fagaras mountains. Some men chose this option because they knew what their fate would be if they let communists capture them. The Fagaras group had a geographical advantage because they were able to spot people coming to look and arrest them from afar. There were many caves that these men lived in for years; some even raised children in these caves, which is incredible to me. In class, I learned that when talking about a memory after communism, you are reconstructing the past. This ties into transgenerational trauma. Transgenerational trauma points to how certain traumatic events can influence not only the generations that were wounded but also the following generations. We discussed how one can be healed through forgiveness. It takes a strong person to be able to have forgiveness and heal after you lost your family or knew someone who was killed in political prisons. The only things people could do during these times were to pray and think of the happy times you had with your family. Men went to the Fagaras Mountains for the sake of their children. Women at this time did not give up, and had a proud, strong feeling of who they were as human beings. I definitely think today was one of the deepest lessons we had all week, along with visiting Jilava prison.


Rebecca Morton

Day 7! We are half way done with our trip! Today began with a trip to the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest. In the museum there were several areas. The first area we went to was based on all different types of icon paintings.

There were icons painted on wood and glass. One thing we did not really think about was that the peasant class would not have had art classes, so the icons were "childlike" paintings. However, I believe that we all found the beauty within them.

The next area we saw was room full of spiritual items, such as 300 year old church that has been brought into museum. To me this was amazing- it was a very small church made of wood and the ceiling was very low, and the partition. A room was called windows because it had two windows in it. The lady explained that windows were very symbolic because there was a cross in the center, and that everyone has such a window before his or her eyes, and that we can "see" it depending on what we have in our soul.

The next areas we went in had an example of what a peasant house would have looked like. It was very interesting, because in the attic is where they would store there foods that were drying. Also, instead of the house having several rooms arranged throughout, they were linear and each room was connected to the front of the house.

The last area of the museum had several different things such as an example of how the pottery was made, an iron work shop, several agricultural items, and an example of the traditional dress that Romanians would wear.

After the museum we had class with Ioana who taught us how communism has since affected Romania and the following generations. From class, a group of us walked to the bookstore (librarie in Romanian) where they also sell souvenirs. We then grabbed pizza hut for dinner and along the way we stopped to get more water. We had an encounter with a lady who was trying to pick pocket Alexa, but she luckily had nothing in her pocket! We then ate our dinner together in the hotel breakfast area.

July 30, 2015

Katrina Fornoff

The adventure today was being able to visit the beautiful House of the People, which is where the Romanian parliament gathers. The structure in itself is amazing due to all materials being from Romania, but knowing the reasoning for the building of it strips that all away. It was built for the communist party to gather and continue the ruling over this great country. The building plans for the contraction included tearing down many blocks of residential homes and apartments and over ten churches and monasteries. During the tour we were informed that eight churches could be moved and saved, but many were demolished. This caused countless persons to be displaced without compensation for their massive loss. Throughout the rule of communism, the Romanian people held onto hope and started to unite together.

The passion that the younger population had after 1989, when communism fell, is inspiring to me. While walking back to the hotel after the tour, I was able to talk about some of the protests that the people did and how coming together made such a change. The particular protest that we discussed happened over the mining of gold in the mountains of Rosia Montana. The people of Romania did not agree with how the government did not inform anyone until the decision was made, so they took to the streets. The fact that young and educated people came together to raise their voices to the government in a peaceful manner is inspiring. The fact that they have seen what keeping quiet can do to their lives, but still allowed respect for their town, created hope that changes could be made. Not only was the protest held in Romania, but all around the world Romanians in other countries came together in support of the people through social media and news outlets. I enjoyed learning about how many people came together for the greater good of one country!

Gynger Biddison

Today we experienced more of the Romanian culture. I was surprised at how open everyone seems here. For example, when we went shopping I realized it was much different than in the US. In the US, sales people at stores really do not talk to you unless you ask them a question. Here, it was much, much different. Everyone we talked to wanted to know about us. They wanted to know where we were from and continued to talk the whole time we were in stores. Especially in one of the stores where I was trying on a dress. The sales woman kept opening the curtain and coming in to see everything I was trying on. In the US, it is much more modest. Someone would never open your door or curtain.

By walking around the streets I realized other differences, too. Everyone dresses very nice here, especially the women. They wear high-heels and dresses all the time. We also stopped to eat in the old part of Bucharest. Even the service is different here. In the US, waiters and waitresses are constantly coming to your table to see if you need anything. Here, it is more laid back. If you need something, you have to flag them down to get them to come over. I like it better this way because you can visit and talk and are not bothered all the time.

It is good to experience a difference in culture. It helped that I came with a very open mind. I was not sure what to expect. Having a laid back personality helps, too. I have enjoyed our time here and was glad to have a "free day" today to relax a little and catch up on homework. I am looking forward to going to the museum tomorrow and having Ioana's class.

Abbie Baker

Today we got a chance to have a free day here in Bucharest. So, of course, we chose to sleep in until 10am. Then, we got to visit the Palatul Parlamentului (the Palace of the Parliament) in Bucharest. The building is located on Spirii Hill in central Bucharest.

The Palace is the world's largest civilian building with an administrative function, and is also the most expensive administrative building. This is where the seconds-in-command and congressmen of Bucharest work. I was mind boggled at how big this building was. The building was all white marble and had chandeliers all over the place. One building had 2,000 chairs and had a balcony that looked out onto the entrance. I thought it was interesting that the conference rooms had a section for translating that I found to be very functional.

After the parliament tour, we got to choose what we wanted to do. All of us girls chose to go shopping in downtown Bucharest. I noticed that the owners of the shops were very attentive to us. I am not sure if it was because they knew we were foreigners, but they showed us so many different things such as key chains or mugs. They were so gracious and made sure we found everything okay.

This is our sixth day here in Bucharest, and we got to walk around the city by ourselves. I felt like we have adapted to the city because we knew our way around and felt more comfortable in general. I have mixed feelings about having one more day here in Bucharest. I am excited to see what next week will bring, but I am also adjusted to Bucharest.

The parliament buildings made me think about people going there for work every day, and how lucky they are to see such beautiful architecture. I will forever keep the memories that I got from visiting the Palatul Parlamentului.

Rebecca Morton

We began our day by walking to the House of Parliament. At the House of Parliament is where the deputies and congressmen meet to discuss and make decisions for the country of Romania. Inside the House of Parliament we saw several rooms which were decorated in various styles. The floors in every hall were made of marble that came from Romania. One thing I found interesting was that there was a design on the floor which matched the layout of the building.

Then, everything in a room matched, so the floors matched the heating registers which matched the decorations and molding of the walls.

After the Palace we walked back towards our hotel where we once again got KFC, but this time we took it back to the hotel because it was extremely hot out and we wanted to be in our air conditioned rooms (apparently here in Romania, air conditioning is not a big deal). After lunch I watched a little television and then went down to the room of two other girls, where we sat and talked until it was time to go shopping. As a group we met at 4:00 pm, and then walked into old Bucharest. Old Bucharest is full of restaurants that have a ton of outdoor seating along many alley ways. The first shop we stopped at was a souvenir shop where I got a few gifts for friends. We then went into a shoe store with shoes that were very different in styles. Then we ventured to H&M where I got a few items for myself.  At dinner I ordered Mini-Nachos Grande which was very good. Once back to the hotel, a few of us gathered in my room where we sat and talked for a few hours and just hung out!

Alexandria Ervin

Today is Thursday July 30th, our free day here in Romania. We decided to meet around 10am to go together to the House of the People of Romania (currently, the House of the Parliament).  It was extremely hot here in Romania today, but the house of the parliament was beautiful! This is the second largest building in the world (the Pentagon being the first). There were so many rooms that were empty, but the man who wanted to build the building deemed them necessary. This man was Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of Romania between 1965 and 1989. I just know I couldn't believe living in such a place. Most of the palace is unnecessary in my opinion, and it is unbelievable that some could think it is ok to displace so many Romanian residences in order to build this palace. I even asked Tavi and Ioana if the House of Parliament upsets them. They responded with "no." They feel that it is a part of history. It may be a part of ugly history but history nonetheless. I feel that it is so valuable to have everyone learn about history and where pieces of history came from.

After a long afternoon break, Tavi gave us the evening to explore Romania on our own. Nothing too crazy, of course. Us girls decided to go shopping in old Bucharest for souvenirs and clothes, followed by a late dinner. Bucharest is beautiful at night, with so many crows and pigeons flying around; for us, some relief from the heat of the sun. I miss my wild birds at home so I enjoy seeing the birds at night. I feel that there is so much to do and see in Bucharest that it cannot be done in one day, but I feel fortunate enough to have experienced some great things in the city and learned more about the history here.

Natalie Wolfe

After all of our hard work and constant traveling around Romania we finally get a free day! With all of the things we could have done on our free day, like sleep in, we went to the House of the People, also known as the House of Parliament. The house of parliament is the second largest building in the world, next to the Pentagon. We toured the place for about an hour and, to my estimation, we only saw around one tenth of the building, maybe less.  It was built at the order of the communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. He wanted a building for himself so he demolished blocks of homes and buildings in order to create the huge structure. According to our instructor, who used to live in Bucharest, there used to be a significant amount of stray dogs because they got left behind when families were forced to leave. Although a sadistic ruler made the House of Parliament at the expense of innocent people, the building has provided many purposes for the country. In comparison to an American structure, it resembles the White House in its importance. There are multiple meeting rooms of different sizes and styles based on the size and importance of the meeting.

The rooms to me looked as if they were from Cinderella's castle. It was by far the most beautiful building I have ever seen, interior-wise. In Ceausescu's favorite room he was supposed to present important information on the news. It was one of my favorites because there is a balcony off of that room that made me feel like a king about to give a speech to the whole country. The entire time of the tour, I kept comparing the information I received to how America and the White House function, except on our tour it felt more like a castle or fancy hotel than a House of Parliament.

Alexa Jontz

As a group we decided to spend our morning visiting the House of the Parliament of Romania in Bucharest.

Again, we had a tour guide that explained the rooms. The house of the Parliament is the second biggest building in the world. The biggest building in the world is the Pentagon. The ceilings of the rooms went on for miles. I have never seen such high ceilings in my life. I have never seen so many chandeliers, either. The biggest chandelier weighed 5,000 pounds; and the next largest one weighed 2,000 pounds.

Each room we visited had its original carpet. Most of the carpets were so big in height and width that the carpenters had to piece it together on the spot in order for it to be one. A lot of the carpets' designs resembled the ceilings' design. This is interesting because I think it is rare today to have the carpet design match the ceiling's design, but maybe it is a cultural idea. Again, some walls in the rooms had silk as their wallpaper. I enjoyed looking at the silk walls because they are much prettier than painted, plain walls.

The columns inside the House of the Parliament were made out of marble or wood. They were gorgeous and reminded me of the Greek style columns. All the floors in the building were either white tile or white, smooth, wood-like material. There were designs on the floors. There was a specific design that was a key to figure out how to travel through the embassy. The tour guide explained to us how to navigate the design but I did not completely understand it. One can find this design numerous times throughout the embassy. My favorite part of the place was the white staircase. I cannot explain exactly what it looked like. It is the type of thing where you would have to see it yourself to realize why it's my favorite part there.

July 29, 2015


Abbie Baker

On our fifth day here in Romania, we got to venture out of Bucharest for the first time. We started our day at 8:45 and walked to the subway. I had no idea that they had subways here. For the most part, they were the same as in Chicago or any busy city. We then hopped on a train to Sinaia for about an hour and 40 minutes to tour the Peles Castle. During the train ride, I got to see a quick change in the land outside my window. The scenery changed from flat, sunflower fields to hilly, numerous trees, and eventually the mountains started. When we finally arrived in Sinaia, we then started a hike uphill, which was quite fun.

We got to walk through a dense forest with running water. It reminded me of hiking while camping. Along the path heading to the castle, there were different shops where you could buy souvenirs, but also some traditional Romanian wear, such as women's shirts. Something that stuck out to me was that there were tons of people, adults and teenagers, who were selling berries in wooden baskets. This was seen all over the hike up to the castle but also on the train heading to Sinaia. 

When we arrived at the castle, we had to wait for Tavi to get us all tickets. While waiting, we found a water fountain that was directly in front of the castle. All four of us sat on the edge of the fountain and threw a quarter behind our backs and made a wish. I remember we all said we wished to pass the NCLEX on our first try :).

Finally we got to enter the castle. We had to put on little foot covers on top of our shoes so that we did not damage the floors.


 Our tour guide started out on the main level of the castle. She explained the history of how each room was made and how important it was to King Carol I. Peles castle was built from 1899 to 1903. Every room was so extravagant, with numerous crystal chandeliers, brass-covered walls, and velvet everywhere. The amount of detail in every little corner of a bookshelf, or on the bathtub even, was mind-blowing. There were a couple secret passageways that were surprising. All I could think about during the tour was imagining people living their lives in that castle everyday, having every meal at such a long, formal table with the fanciest silverware. Lastly, during the tour we ran into another group that was from Wisconsin and New York. It was nice meeting someone so close to home!

Alexa Jontz

Today's agenda was a trip to Sinaia, a town in the Carpathian Mountains. We traveled to Sinaia by subway and train. Once we arrived at Sinaia we visited the Peles Castle. It was less than a mile to hike up the pathway to get to the castle. It was exactly what you would picture a castle to look like. The outside was amazing.


There are no words to describe how I felt when I saw the Peles Castle. The inside of it was even more extravagant. I was amazed by the architecture of the ceilings, walls, the trim of the walls, and even the furniture. A lot of the furniture came from Viennese. Most of the glass, like the mirrors for example, was made from crystals. Some of the walls in the rooms of the castle had wallpaper, and some had carpet-like texture on the walls. I found this interesting because I have never seen carpet on walls before. The trim on the walls and the furniture was absolutely beautiful. If you looked closely, you could see the fine designs.


The tour guide said that a certain table and two chairs took three generations to finish-almost one hundred years. The castle took forty years to be built. It was built for King Carol I. Inside the castle there is an elevator that still continues to work today. It can take one from the first floor to the second floor. The public is not allowed to use the elevator because they want to preserve it.

Of course the castle had a secret door. I imagine there were other secret doors that the tour guide did not speak of. The secret door she mentioned started in the library and ended in a hallway. It was interesting to know that some entrances into bedrooms looked more like closets than doorways. I recommend the Peles Castle to everyone, and to be sure they have a tour guide because it will make the experience a whole lot more interesting.

Gynger Biddison

Today we traveled to Sinaia by train and subway. This is the place where the Peles Castle is located. The difference in culture became clearer today. In the US, if people are in your way, you say, "excuse me," and people move. Here it is so crowded that you would be saying "excuse me" to everyone that you passed. People are more independent and "fend for themselves." The clothing is different. The traditional Romanian women wear flowy, light white shirts that have sleeves. Most toys are handmade, authentic toys that are crafted out of wood. In the US, there are more video games and tablets instead.

Another thing that was different was that you have to pay to use some restrooms. It was a very small charge, 1.5 lei which is around 0.50 cents in American money. The location was also very different. I am used to flat plains, but the mountains were so beautiful.

The architecture that makes up Peles Castle is unbelievable. There is a heavy German style to it from the wood carvings paired with silk, elegant beauty.


From a cultural perspective, I learned a lot today. I have only rode the subway a handful of times and only a few trains in my life. I was thinking, I would be so tired if I had to do this everyday for my job. It made me grateful that I am near my work, school, and family. I am glad I had the opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons. I still live and work within thirty minutes of where I grew up. So from this point of view, I have not grown and learned about other places and people. I also have been trying new foods. So far, I have had stuffed peppers, chicken schnitzel, various rices, and a seafood combination- including octopus! I have definitely pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone to make sure I make the most of this experience.

Katrina Fornoff

Today was an eventful day here in Romania. The fact that we are a large group poses its own challenges, and traveling is not an easy task. Here in Romania there are vehicles parked in random places (or what seem like random to me) and the driving methods are a bit different than I am used to back in the US. So, just picture a large group of girls trying to make their way down small streets with crowds that are trying to do the same as us- get from point A to point B. This challenge was taken up a notch when traveling on the subway. We learned that personal space is no longer an option when there are hundreds of people around.

Learning to keep up with foot traffic has also been a challenge for our group. So after taking two subways, one train, and navigating up what seemed like hundreds of stairs, we reached the beautiful castle of the last royal family of Romania. The shear size and detail that was presented in the castle was amazing! I enjoyed learning about the royal family and how modern the country of Romania was when it had a King. Learning that communism was the reasoning for the fall of the dynasty was saddening due to knowing that there were only four kings that ruled over Romania.

During our time around Sinaia, the simple beauty of the town was wonderful. We were able to take time to just sit in the park and enjoy the beautiful weather of the mountain town.

We gawked at the dogs that were playing in the park and talked to some of the local people. It was heart warming when an older lady came right up to our group and expressed how beautiful she thought we were and how wonderful it was that we were in her country and town.


When on the train back to the hotel, after a minor break issue, we were once again told how wonderful it was that we were visiting Romania by people that lived in a nearby town. It makes me feel better knowing that local people like having us around and want to know about us as much as we want to learn about them!

Alexandria Ervin

On our 5th day in Romania we visited Peles Castle in Sinaia Romania. We got to experience the Romanian subway and railroad. It was an hour and 40minute train ride to the mountains where Peles castle is located. We had to walk way up the mountain through the town of Sinaia and through the woods to reach the castle. Along the way were vendors selling various items and many people walking around trying to sell fresh berries.

Peles Castle was built as a summerhouse for King Carol I of Romania in 1874. Construction took 41 years to complete and the castle was in use until 1947, when the communist party made the king and queen of Romania leave the castle and the country in exile. Surprisingly, the castle was very modern for its time including central heating, running water, and electricity. Luckily for us they offered tours guided by someone who spoke English, so that saved Tavi or Ioana from having to translate for us.


The castle was very impressive with all of its d├ęcor, including styling from Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Romania, and Asia. The castle was also full of hand crafted woodwork, marble, and paintings. Amazingly, most of the castle was still in original condition including original artworks, carpets, and wall coverings. I think it is awesome that such things can survive this many years and continue to be preserved so people can continue to learn and appreciate the castle and all its beauty.

After we went through the castle we stopped for lunch in Sinaia. It is unbelievable how pretty the view of the wooded mountains is there! I have never seen such a picturesque place. I truly enjoyed visiting Peles Castle today; not only was the castle interesting and beautiful, but the scenery was amazing! After the castle we took the train back to Bucharest and then the subway back to the hotel.

 Rebecca Morton

Today is our 5th day in Romania. We began it by taking the subway to the train to go to Sinaia. Once there, we walked up the roadway to the Peles Castle, through the woods on a brick sidewalk. Along the path up to the castle there were several stands full of souvenirs.


Once we reached the middle of the hill we could actually see the castle. This place was not only huge, but it was full of intricate detail. The outside had a large lawn full of statues. Once we walked up to the castle there was a fountain. Us girls, we sat along the edge of the fountain and we each threw a quarter in and made a wish while waiting for Tavi to get our tickets. We then entered the castle for a tour.

It was gorgeous; everything was wood and very fancy- from the rugs to the wallpaper. On the inside we saw the first two floors. Throughout the castle there were several differently styled rooms, themed from Germany to an Arabic themed room. My favorite room in the palace was the central one. It was full of different types of paintings, marbles, and wood. There were balconies all around overlooking this room.

After the castle, we shopped among the booths. We then went to lunch where I had beef kabobs and potatoes with ham and onion. We then went to the park where I tested out the boomerang I got (IT ACTUALLY KIND OF WORKED!!).

While in the park a little old lady wearing lavender came up to all of us and complemented us on our beauty; we all found this to be extremely funny because she did not want anything to do with Tavi (the one guy with us).

We then took the train home where we had another funny adventure, because they forgot to take the brakes off of one of the train cars. At first we thought we just smelled burnt rubber, and assumed it to be coming from outside the train- until our train car began to fill with smoke. Of course we all freaked out, even though no one else did. We looked outside of the train car and there was a bunch of smoke coming from the car in front of us, but apparently it was no big deal so we went on our way back to Bucharest.

Natalie Wolfe

Today our class took a field trip to a town called Sinaia, in the Mountains. We took a train there to visit Pele's castle, the previous home of the king and queen of Romania. Today I predominantly noticed communication while traveling to and from the castle. It is extremely difficult for us to communicate with the local people since we do not know their language. Without our instructor we would not be able to buy our train tickets or find our train to get to Peles castle.

Once we got off the train in Sinaia we walked about thirty to forty minutes to the castle. Since we do not have service to use Google maps, we had to ask people directions to find out how to get to the castle. While walking to and from the castle there were some people who approached us and talked to us. I had an older couple approach me before I got to the castle and start talking to me, all of which I could not understand. It is sad that I am not able to talk one-on-one with the locals, because that is an important way to learn more about a culture. Thankfully, Tavi and Ioana were there to translate for us, so we do not completely miss out on the opportunity to speak with people.

Once we got to the castle, I was happy to find that tours are given in English as well as Romanian. Taking a tour in English is much more beneficial because it saves time in which Tavi would have to translate, and it saves the possibility of missing something else they said. I believe more is gained by hearing information from the source because of this. On our venture back to Bucharest we were sitting next to three Romanian women that ended up talking to us. We talked with them for about thirty minutes since they were able to speak English very well. We compared and contrasted our cultures. We taught them some English words and they taught us a Romanian phrase. I hope I run into more Romanians who are able to speak English so that I can learn more about Romania's culture!

July 28, 2015


Gynger Biddison

Jilava is a prison outside of Bucharest. In this area, one building is being used still today as a prison. But one building was a "political prison" which was used for transitioning people during communist times. To give some background I will explain how this felt going inside. We took a bus to get there and when we got to the gate security stopped us. We had to give up our cell phones, chargers, and ear buds as a precaution so that we were not leaving any for the inmates. Once we passed through the gates we drove past the active prison. We drove down a windy dirt road to an underground tunnel where we saw a building, even more underground. This is Jilava, where human beings were no longer treated as people.

Communism took over the area. And anyone who not only opposed it, but made a comment about how they did not agree with something, were taken from their homes with no explanation and sent here. An example relating to us would be if students from the US went out with friends at night, made a joke about Obama, and the next day they were told to come out of their homes and taken in a van straight to Jilava with no explanation to them or their family as to why or where they were going. Some people stayed here for four years or more. They had absolutely no contact with the outside world, no letters, no visits, no packages, and no hope. When they arrived at Jilava, still not knowing what's going on, there were guards lined up with baseball bats telling you that if you make it all the way to the door on your own two feet, maybe you will survive to someday come out of this place. The building is completely underground with grass grown on top of it so that outsiders cannot see it's there.

The windows were completely boarded up so that they could not see the sunlight for days, or months. There are tiny cells with wooden formations used as beds. Sometimes there were up to 50 men in these tiny cells at a time. They had to defecate and urinate into a bucket and had another bucket they all ate from. These buckets were often switched. They did not shower for months at a time. In the cells the winters were very, very cold and the summer excruciatingly hot. The purpose of the people being imprisoned was to re-educate them, destroy them psychologically, and make them suffer. They would not just kill them, because that would be too easy. They kept them on the very edge of death. Since many were religious, Octav Bjoza reminded us that in Pitesti the prisoners were given feces for communion.


Octav Bjoza is a man in his seventies who survived Jilava. He was there in his 20's for four years. We walked through the prison with him, and he pointed out what was done to them in what areas. No part of the prison had been renovated or updated, it is all exactly as it was when he was there. It is now considered a National Monument. As we walked through the dark concrete halls, I could not help but wonder how Octav came back here. After all that was done to him and how many people he watched die and suffer, does he ever recover or is it therapeutic for him to tell his story? He said some of the worst punishment was bending down, touching your toes, and your eyes were forced to look directly at your toes for up to 24 hours at a time. Can we even imagine? I don't think my imagination can even come close. He said this made a lot of people crazy after time. Octav was joking at certain times and laughing, and I could not help but wonder how this is possible. Walking out of the old prison with tears in my eyes I felt truly blessed that I had the experience to walk through it and hear his experience first-hand. It is truly something you cannot explain- all the emotion that it gives you by being in the exact cells where so many souls were destroyed. As you walk through the musty, cold, dark cells you feel a certain tightness and pressure that makes you uneasy. There was no justice for Octav. He was not compensated in any way for his mistreatment. I felt myself wanting to look into his eyes and stand near him since I was so amazed at his story. I kept feeling so lucky to have the opportunity to meet one of the rare people that survived this monstrosity. Some stories will live on through survivors writing books, but soon all of the survivors will die and this will only be told in history books. That is the saddest part for me.

Katrina Fornoff

What kept this great man we met today going while he was incarcerated at Jilava prison was the wise words of an older gentleman. The strong words that made such a strong statement stick with me throughout the day. Octav Bioza recited, "You have to win against yourself, once you win you will be victorious- always victorious."


Octav described the conditions and tortures he endured during his time at Jilava prison in great detail while taking us cell to cell. Close to the end of our time with him, he took us to the cell where he spent his time. He held his composure and modeled the victorious attitude that kept him alive. He mentioned that there is still not much known about the horrible things that happened at Jilava and Pitesti Prison.

When visiting the next prison, Pitesti, I was surprised to see that it was in the middle of the city. Understanding that it was outside of the city when it was constructed, it still had me wondering why a town would want to be around a place with such a torturous background. This question was answered quite simply- the people of Romania, if they did not go through this torture themselves, had no idea that these events took place. As discussed during our tour in Pitesti with Maria Axinte, who is the one who made it possible for people to see this prison, the prisoners were forced to sign documents that ensured they would never talk about the events that happened. The fear instilled in these persons was so real, that telling their loved ones was not worth putting their safety on the line. Many of these stories were not released until after the fall of communism in 1989, but still many prisoners did not speak.

Many of the stories that have been shared are from family members of prisoners. Families went years not knowing the suffering that their loved ones endured. With this, many of the facts died with the prisoners either in prison or later in life. As I learned today, not many people had the ability or courage to speak out against the communist role. One figure that arose was father George Calciu. He was imprisoned twice and spoke what the communist party did not want him to say many times during trial. Due to his courage to speak out against this power, he was forced to flee to America where he used his platform to help Romania have a voice that was suppressed. Father George helped bring the faith of the people back into believing that there is hope and peace within God.

Legend: The room where the tortures in Pitesti took place is now a chapel.

Alexandria Ervin

Today was day four in Romania. We visited Jilava and Pitesti; both were used as political prisons beginning the mid 1940s until communism fell in December of 1989. At our visit to Jilava we were fortunate enough to meet a man who miraculously survived the tortures that happened there during his imprisonment. His name was Octav Bjoza. Just by looking at him you would never suspect that such a sweet looking elderly man would be able to survive through Jilava and be able to speak about it, let alone revisit the place where he was beaten and humiliated.

Octav gave us a detailed description of what the people went through during their imprisonment and took us throughout the prison to see the actual rooms where such horror took place. The original Jilava prison (Jilava has a new building that is an active prison today) was incredibly old and run down, like something you would see in a horror movie. The whole place had a bad vibe to me and the energy there was frightening.

One of the rooms that I walked into was used as a holding room where they kept people in hopes of them dying from disease, rather than execution. Octav told us that they would put prisoners in the room that had deadly diseases such as tuberculosis so the disease would spread to all the other inmates. The trip to Jilava was truly unforgettable and the experience brought tears to my eyes. It makes the story of what happened in communist prisons so much harder to fathom when there is someone that can tell you firsthand what it was like to live through it. Although you could tell in Octav's eyes that it was extremely painful to come back to Jilava, it is so important to share his story because so many people have no idea any of these events happened and it is a story that needs to be told.

Natalie Wolfe

To prepare for our trip to Romania we read a book on Father George Calciu. George Calciu was born before the Romanian government fell under communistic rule. When the country fell to the communist party, many students, leaders, and various intellectuals were imprisoned for re-education where they were unjustly confined and endured brutal treatment. Father George was one of the students at the time he was arrested and thrown in jail. Today our class went to two prisons, one in Jilava and one in Pitesti to learn more about what happened within the prisons, and more specifically what Father George Calciu went through.

The first prison we went to in Bucharest was Jilava, the largest and more brutal prison during the communist period. The prison is twenty-five feet underground. The purpose of it being below ground is so no one could see the prison. The place was originally built as a military fort to protect Bucharest if it were ever under attack. George Calciu arrived in Jilava after he spent years in Pitesti and went through what is known as the re-education program. Octav Bjoza went to Jilava as well. While showing us the prison he discussed how they were greeted into the prison. He said that they would walk in rows towards the entrance of the prison while guards beat them. During this time, the guards yelled at them that whoever made it to the gate on his own feet may be among the ones who would come alive out of the jail. I picture Father George entering the structure in a similar way. We also visited one of the rooms that George had to stay in. The rooms were very dark since they were underground. Most of the rooms had no windows. If they did they were boarded up. The cells we saw were what I would imagine to be regular sized cells, but enough people would be placed inside one cell that there was physically no room for them to sit. Fort 13 Jilava functioned so that the persecutors were purposefully trying to kill the inmates without physically doing it themselves. It is amazing that Father George was able to survive being in this jail.

Calciu was also sent to Pitesti's jail where the inmates were all between the ages of 18 and 25. We also visited this prison, which was roughly an hour drive away. This prison looked much nicer, but this did not compensate for the equally horrendous acts done by the guards here as well. Father George's faith helped him survive in his sixteen years in prison. His faith also helped saved hundreds of other people he encountered within the prisons, as well as the guards. In my opinion, he also played a huge role in bringing light to what was happening in the prisons, as well as aiding in ending the corrupted communist ways.

Alexa Jontz

Octav Bjoza is a man who survived the communist regime. He is currently 77 years old and is the president of the Association of the Former Political Detainees. He was our guest speaker at the prison of Jilava in Bucharest. I could not take my eyes off this guy, because I was so intrigued with every word he spoke. This man has experienced fourteen prisons in four years, and he said Jilava was the worst one for torture. The things Octav went through were horrible.

For what he experienced around 50 years ago, I would say he is in great shape. This man climbed numerous stairs with us. We visited not only the lower floor of Jilava but also the very top of the outside. Octav is at a healthy weight and stood around six feet tall. He did not use a cane nor hearing aids, but he did wear eye glasses. I could see tears in his eyes a few times, and I could tell it was difficult to hold in his emotions. However, this man has not fully cried since the one moment in prison when his fellow inmates reminded him it was the birthday of his girlfriend. Even though the prisons tried to mentally break him down, I think in the end all those experiences made Octav mentally stronger than he was ever before. As awful as Jilava was, it brought Octav to see the true meaning of a human being. It made his faith stronger. Octav experienced the most horrific things humans can do to other humans, but today I could still see kindness in his face. It is amazing to know that this man wants to educate the younger generation about the communist regime. He has spoken to nearly 6,000 young adults about his personal experiences with the regime. This is an experience that I will always keep with me. There is no doubt there was a higher power watching over Octav Bjoza during his years in prison.

Rebecca Morton

Today began with a visit to the Jilava prison. When we first entered the gates while still in our bus, they took all cell phones, laptops, chargers, etc. At first this seemed intimidating, but they explained that the prison still has parts that are active, meaning inmates are still held there. We drove down a long road and off to the right we saw several very old buildings that are falling apart. Concrete is falling off parts of the building, the paint is fading, and there are several cracks in the walls. As we got off the bus we met Colonel Micu, who is now in charge of the place. He began by giving us some history of Jilava itself.

In the 19th century, Jilava was originally 1 of 18 forts built around Bucharest by the military for protection. Since they were never needed, it was then turned into a prison.

We then had the pleasure of being guided through the prison by one of the former detainees named Octav Bjoza. As we entered the first building and the first room I began to feel an overwhelming presence of emotions. The room, which is probably the size of a typical American bedroom, held 50-75 people. There were no bathrooms so the political detainees had to use the bathroom in one bucket. They had water in another bucket, and often they had to switch buckets. When we were told some of these stories, I could not even fathom what it would be like to have things that are so inhumane done to you by another human. We then went to a second building where Father George Calciu (who is the priest our book is about) was held. The building consisted of four small rooms that were probably less than 10ft by 10ft. The rooms had no light, and no air ventilation. Each one of these rooms held approximately 4 people and were intended to kill the prisoners (actually that was the intent of the whole prison). The guards purposely placed a sick inmate, such as someone with tuberculosis, so that the other three would catch it and also become ill and die. When I entered one of these rooms I immediately began to feel claustrophobic. I began to feel sad, disgusted, angry, and so many other emotions.

We then began to enter the building where Octav was held during his four year stay at Jilava. The first room we went to held 150-175 people at a time. In this room they had an example of the foot chains that the prisoners had to wear.

The next thing we saw was the hall where people were kept in solitary confinement. The beds were held on the walls and could have been raised by the guards out of the room, so the detainees did not have control of when they could sit or lay down on them. On the walls there were still lines of psalm 50 that had been engraved by an inmate. To me, this showed just one of the many ways that the inmates kept not only their hopes up, but how they kept their faith even in the darkest of times.

Abbie Baker

On our third day, our group got to visit Jilava prison. There was a gentleman named Octav Bjoza who told us his story of surviving this political prison. When we first got to the prison, we learned that there were two parts to the prison. One of these being an active part with common criminals as inmates, and the other was the old political prison that was in use from 1947 to 1989. When we walked down the stairs into the cells, you could literally feel the temperature drop. Some cells were pitch black, and some were boarded up so no one could experience sunlight. Bjoza was sent to Jilava when he was in his freshmen year of college. He explained that people were put in shackles that were on their hands and feet and were connected together. There was an actual pair of the shackles used on a table in a cell that we got to pick up. Bjoza said that if you did not do what the guards would say, they hit the shackles on your feet or hands until you did what you were told. The amount of pain and suffering that these people went through is mind-boggling, because in reality they did not commit any crimes. They were put through hell; luckily, Octav Bjoza survived and lives to tell his story. He said that the struggle was not getting through the beatings and tortures, but to overcome the mental struggle and believe in hope that you will survive- this was the real obstacle.

 July 27, 2015


Alexandria Ervin

Day two started out with breakfast at the hotel and then class followed by lunch. After lunch we walked to a museum dedicated to the information and story that is displayed at The Memorial To The Victims Of Communism And To The Resistance in Sighet, Romania. This museum exists in Bucharest because Sighet is so far away and it is so important to tell this generation of the horrors that communism brought to the country of Romania. Basically it is a museum within a museum. There we met with two people: Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan. Both experienced what it was like to live during the communist regime and both had parents that directly experienced the horror and torture of being controlled by  communism.

Mr. Rusan began by sharing with us the story of how Romania was taken over and the history of how they became the country they are today. After WWII, in 1945 the Soviet army imposed a communist government in Romania. They of course proposed this to the citizens of Romania as a good, wonderful thing that would work, but in fact this was a lie. In 1946 elections were held but these, too, were fraudulent and soon after the elections innocent people began to be arrested and the "brainwashing" began. Mr. Rusan shared with us many details of what went on in Romania during this time; it is just absolutely astonishing to think of the things these people went through, and for no reason at all!

Our second presenter, Ana Blandiana, took us through the museum. Each room held different posters of what is in the museum in Sighet. She was very knowledgeable about the information displayed and gave great detail so we could understand. Again both presenters showed great desire to inform and teach others what really happened to the people of Romania during this time.

Abbie Baker

On our second day here in Bucharest, we visited Memorialul Sighet. This was the permanent exposition in Bucharest that presented a memorial for the victims of communism that is organized in the northern part of Romania, in Sighet. Sighet prison contained 56 cells and was built in 1897. We got the chance to meet and listen the founder of the museum, poet Ana Blandiana, and her husband, historian and writer Romulus Rusan. They explained how labor camps, prisons, deportation camps, and places of confinement were organized all over Romania during 1945-1989. I noticed on the map attached, there were many more deportation centers in the southeast portion of the country.

Many common criminals were confined in this prison, along with political prisoners, among whom there were many priests from the national churches. Today, the former prison is a museum dedicated to what happened under communism in Romania and the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The cells have been transformed into museum rooms, with their own theme of the different distortions that caused so many people suffering and death. There was a cemetery of unknown grave sights of those who had passed.

I also learned that people were deported from one location to another within Romania for no reason at all, but only because the state wanted to have a buffer zone between Romania and former Yugoslavia.  Among the dead were people from ages of just one day old, up to 100 years of age. People were taken from one location to another for no reason at all.

Coming back to the Sighet prison, there was a place at the memorial called the Space or Recollection and Prayer. This memorial was built into the ground, where there was an open cross on the ceiling. Rain and snow are able to fall down on the table, and the reflection from the water makes an outline of a cross on the walls. Visitors can light candles and place them into the sand placed of this table. I would love to visit this memorial from the way it sounds. We learned that from Bucharest, the actual Sighet prison is about a 14-hour train ride from where we were. I really enjoyed listening to the founders of this memorial and learned lots!

Gynger Biddison

Re-education through torture

Today we went to class for two hours in the morning, lunch, and then an exhibit of a Communism memorial in Bucharest. The one thing that really evoked emotion from me was the exhibit that called "Re-education through Torture."  Throughout the day, I began to understand the concept of re-education. In our class, we learned about how communism is really about breaking relationships. For it to work correctly, this is the first step. In order for the government to have total power, you need to break up families and communities. The two ways we talked about how you can fight against communism are: you can let it demolish the government itself and think that we are good, they are bad, or the other option is to fight against oneself, to fight against the feelings of hatred that may be born into your soul. In a way, I think the people who suffered in prisons and labor camps won because many of them forgave their torturers and did not let their hearts become filled with hatred and anger. Aspazia Otel Petrescu was one woman who, while being beaten badly in prison, saw the guard look at her and she realized he was enjoying beating her. When she then felt hatred for the guard, she immediately asked the other inmates around her to pray for her that she could forgive this man. In her eyes, the battle was to forgive and not feel hatred. This is the most amazing part to me. How could these poor men and women look beyond what was being done to them?


"When you suffer a little, you become hateful; when you suffer a lot, you forgive everything" (Fr. Roman Braga, who was in prison in Pitesti; he died this year at the Dormition Monastery in Michigan, USA).

Alexa Jontz

Today's lecture really caught my attention. There was a PowerPoint slide that was titled Communism and the Church. One of the sentences in the slides states, "Communism is a doctrine that apparently desires union, equality". This sentence boldly stands out to me because equality, in my opinion, is not a good thing. Equality sounds like a good idea but is it really? We should want there to be differences in individuals. We should want to have uniqueness between people because if we are all the same, then we can be replaceable. If everyone were the same as each other, it would defeat the purpose of life on Earth. This is the main idea of communism. The regime wanted to shape their society to function all the same way. This is connected with the whole destroy one- destroy them all.

Today in class we spoke about the Seven Homilies from the book written by Father George Calciu. The first Homilies is called The Call. This one is about reconnecting with other people. This section discusses how the regime wanted to create a "new man." The communist regime in Romania was similar to the one in Nazi Germany because they both wanted to re-educate and create a new man so that society functioned as a mechanism rather than individuals in connection with one another. The second homily is called Let Us Build Churches. This section focuses on the importance of developing your own uniqueness. For me, this is an important section because it makes one realize that even though people are different from one another, there is always something that binds them together. The third homily is titled Heaven and Earth. I enjoyed reading this section because it is about the importance one's presence can be to another. There is always a third presence in the connection between two people, whether one calls it heaven or love. The fourth homily is titled Faith and Friendship. Faith and hope gave people something to live for during the time of communism. The fifth homily is titled Priesthood and Human Suffering. The important idea from this section is that we, the people, take care of creation-take care of others. Being present with those who are suffering makes a bigger difference than telling them that you understand them and giving them false hope for the future. The sixth homily is titled Death and Resurrection. "Forgive yourself, before forgiving others." This section points out that in order to truly love someone, you have to sacrifice your own life. I cannot relate completely with this statement because I have not sacrificed my life for a child or marriage. The last homily is titled Forgiveness. "Genuine forgiveness takes place in love." This statement is important to understand because one gives forgiveness freely. One does not have to necessarily deserve forgiveness in order to receive it.

Natalie Wolfe

Class in Romania:

Conducting a class in a foreign country is different from how classes are done at Methodist. We do not have a lecture every day while in Romania, but we did today as well as yesterday. We will not have another lecture until Friday. Our lecture is held at another hotel, which is about a seven to ten minute walk in downtown Bucharest. Walking around Bucharest (the capital of Romania) is similar to walking around the streets of Chicago, but with more historical European architecture. Once we get to the hotel we take turns taking a small elevator to the seventh floor where we walk around a narrow winding hallway until we reach a business room.  Class proceeds in the small business room where there is a dinner-sized table that we all sit around. Having a lecture is more like having a dinner conversation or a business meeting, which I like because it is more intimate and feels like a conversation rather than a lecture. Class lasts around two hours, during which we discuss readings from Father George Calciu's book (famous religious figure during communistic era), important events and details about what took place during the communist reign, or places that we will be visiting. We go through power points and take notes just like in a normal class, as well as watch short videos and documentaries. The videos we watch are typically of places we will visit and/or people involved in the history. Videos are also used to help provide a visual of a specific topic being discussed. Overall the informational aspect of lecture is similar to what would be found at school. One major difference about class in Romania versus class at Methodist College is that at Methodist the class is very cold while in Romania it is very hot. Adjusting to the extreme differences in environment is very difficult and can unfortunately make it hard to focus on the information and the discussion. When we do not have lecture we are substituting lecture time by visiting a museum, monument, or historical site that relates to the history we are discussing and reading about.

Katrina Fornoff

Today we were lucky enough to speak with the founders of Memorialul Sighet about the history of Romania and how it was changed by communism. There are many topics to cover in discussing how Romania was changed forever, but I am going to speak about the horrific living conditions these men, women, and children had to endure just to survive.

Some back-story to why these persons become imprisoned will give a better insight on how brutal and inhumane the treatment was to these people in the camps and prisons. First, people could be thrown into prison solely because of the family they belonged to; they could also be arrested for speaking about a topic that was not approved, spreading propaganda against the communist party, or simply not agreeing with the party's ideas. All of those would have landed you in the re-education program. Those programs used torture to change the way a person thought and acted. The topic that I would like to cover is that of the living conditions of the prisoners. The conditions described to us were unimaginable and inhumane at the least.


Some of the examples of the way the people were forced to live are that about 100 people were stuck into a large room and there was one window and a door. The best spot in the room would be in the back by the window or right next to the door. As the persons died or were taken, the next person that had been there the longest would take that spot. That might have been one of the best situations that was explained, but one of the stories told to us was about their living conditions. These prisoners were not given baths, a place to use the bathroom, fresh water, utensils to eat, or proper food. We heard how they were given very hot food, so hot it would burn their hands. The guards forced them to eat their food before the guards would get into the next cell. This caused burning of their faces and throats due to the temperature. The water the prisoners received at times was very high in salt and was impossible to drink; when they drank it, it caused them to get more dehydrated than they already were.


Another story that was explained in the museum was how these persons were expected to use the bathroom. They were forced to use the bathroom in the same bowl they ate from. Note that none of this was ever cleaned and was not dumped. If the person spilled the food from the bowl, then they were forced to lick it off the ground or be tortured. If the person refused to eat, then torture was inflicted. The brutality against these prisoners is hard to hear, but the strength of the people is inspiring.   It is truly wonderful that some of the people who endured such brutality could forgive. The fact that these people looked to their faith to keep them strong and did not give up sends a clear message that you can be at your lowest point and yet persevere.

Rebecca Morton

Today began with breakfast, after breakfast we had class. In class we discussed some the seven homilies given by George Calciu to his students during lent. After class we had lunch at KFC, which was very similar in that they served fried chicken, but different because they would serve French fries instead of mashed potatoes, and the store had many deserts, coffee, and alcohol. I find this very strange because I see KFC as a fast food restaurant and not some place where you would go and sit down and eat. After lunch we had a short break and then we went to visit a museum, The Memorial of victims of communism and of the resistance. The founder of the Museum, Ana Blandiana, and her husband, Romulus Rusan, came to meet with us and to inform us about the museum. Mrs. Blandiana's husband started off by telling us some of the history of communism. To me it is amazing how many horrible things happened to people and how it has been sheltered from the rest of the world. Such things include the torture that the victims endured which was depicted by pictures drawn by former detainees.


These pictures showed people being bound and then having boards hitting the prisoners' hands to break them, prisoners being electrocuted, being kicked in the mouth, etc.

Another form of torture that did not happen in the prison was internal relocation. There was a barrier on the boarder of Yugoslavia and anyone that fell in this barrier was picked up and moved to the Eastern part of Romania. They were not given supplies and they had no money, so they had to start a new town by living off of the land.   I cannot even imagine what that would be like. These people did nothing wrong,  yet they were being moved so they did not "get influenced" by the other country during a moment in which Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, was in conflict with Tito, the leader of the former Yugoslavia. I just don't believe that someone could be that horrible to another human being.

Mrs. Blandiana also told us about the cemetery outside of the prison which held the bodies of the former prisoners. They do not know where the prisoners were buried because there were not any grave markers.

July 26, 2015

Gynger Biddison

We made it to Bucharest, Romania! I am feeling very tired so far because of the time difference. So far, I have not felt any "culture shock," because Tavi prepared us for what to expect. We started our day with going to a Romanian church near Hotel Opera. I was surprised that everyone stands for so long! A few things I noticed were: people dress nicely, people seem very laid back, and families are more close-knit. Families seem to stick together and not talk to other families as much. Where I am from, families are not always your blood relative, but rather who you connect with and care about. The families here seem well-balanced.

My favorite part of the day was hearing how two men have lived during communism. We had three people speak to us. Two of them were in their 80s. They were so passionate, and you could not help but feel for them. One man was arrested and imprisoned for propaganda against communism and because of his family history. He had a "bad file." This would change his life forever. While in prison, he was beaten and given living conditions so terrible that it's a miracle he is still alive. He said they did not see sunlight for months, were beaten during interrogations, and were mentally tortured because they could not talk to family, had to stay in the same cell and go to the bathroom in buckets. They showered sometimes once a month. It's hard to even imagine these conditions. However, the best part of it all, the purpose the persecutors had was not accomplished. Their main goal was to separate people through fear, but when the persecuted were in prison they became connected even more. One man said that they could see their own characters and the characters of each other when they were beaten down so badly.

After church we went to Pizza Hut and then had a class lecture. We learned more about communism and prisons. I am very excited to tour the prison in a couple of days! I still cannot believe that so many people today have grandparents, fathers, and family members who were a part of this torture and crime. It really has not been that long ago. It makes me wonder- how do you heal from something like that? I do not think you do. But still, everyone here seems so positive. There is a lot of literature about this time in history, but it makes me sad that someday all of the people that had firsthand encounters will be gone, and no longer be able to tell their story. Like today, the two older men at church were so passionate and you could tell it was therapeutic for them to tell their stories.


Alexa Jontz

On the agenda today was church. The church service was different than what I am used to. It was a good different because it was a new experience for me, and I learned a lot from it.  The inside of the monastery was pretty. There were all kinds of paintings on the ceilings and walls. There were beams not just from the ceiling, but from the floor up to the ceiling. The monastery is currently being worked on. The women stand on the left and the men stand on the right. Everyone stands the entire time of the worship, but there are chairs available for the ones who need to sit. I thought this was the most interesting concept to the worship, because it is unfamiliar in the States to stand the entire service. Another interesting concept of the Orthodox worship is that people can come and go as they please. In the States, worship is formal. There is a beginning time, people sit through the entire worship, and then there is an ending time where everyone leaves as a whole. Throughout the Orthodox worship, there were certain specific traditions that I did not understand. People can light a candle as a prayer for either the living or the dead. The Orthodox worship in one word: Traditional.

Afterwards, the class had a meeting with three men about Communism and their own personal experiences. The youngest man was helpful to all of us because he explained in detail the time frame from the early 1900s until the fall of Communism in 1989 and so on. There was a survivor of one of the communist prisons in Romania. Tavi translated for him. This man was interesting to listen to, even though I could only catch bits and pieces of his story, because I could read his body language and his facial expressions. I could see the passion this eighty-five year old man had for his life experiences involving the Communist Regime. At a young age, this man had a weight on his shoulder because of his father. His father was put in prison. His father's actions reflected on his own life. The man telling the story was put in prison in his twenties. He did experience the torture that you might have read in different readings of the stories about the communist prisons. The other older man's story was interesting too. I could see his passion for his experiences, too, because at one point he had tears in his eyes. This man's story was about how lucky and blessed he was for not having to go to prison. He actually bypassed getting arrested because he traveled to Canada. This man did not want to leave his hometown to move to Canada, but he knew he would not be safe if he stayed.

After the liturgy meeting with survivors from the communist prisons, Tavi held a two hour class. Throughout the class period he spoke about Communism in Romania. Nicolae Ceausescu was mentioned. He was elected the head of the communist party in 1965. Nicolae and his wife were executed on the spot of trial December 25, 1989. Many say their trail was unfair.

We have a special guest that will be with us throughout our trip here in Romania. Her name is Ioana Hasu. Ioana has her bachelor's degree in journalism. She recently graduated with a master's degree. Ioana is a historian; therefore, she has good insight to what we will be discussing in class. Ioana plans to continue her work at her job at the radio station here in Bucharest. She will be lecturing to us once or twice during our stay here in Romania. Ioana has a personal connection to the history of communism because his grandfather took part in it.


Rebecca Morton

Today began with waking up around 7:30, getting ready and then going to breakfast. For breakfast the hotel offered the normal eggs, sausage (the type of sausage that in America my dad used to cook for dinner called Kielbasa), potatoes, fruit, yogurt, toast, pastries, etc. but they also offered some things I am not used to seeing at breakfast which included potato salad (at least that's what it looked like), salami and turkey cold cuts, tomatoes, olives, mustard. I of course stuck to fruit, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and the sausage. The next part of the day included a quick walk to the church. The church was way different from what I had expected. The women were standing on the left and the men on the right (there were only a few chairs scattered throughout). People would go from kneeling to standing quite often.  Also, the "Altar" was kept in a room behind the front of the church which you could see through the door (note: the altar is behind what the Orthodox call the iconostas). The paintings of the icons were beautiful.

Speaking of icons, an elderly lady at the church who was very friendly gave us a card of an icon, which I found to be very welcoming, and she also showed us where we could find the history of the church in English. The service was done in Romanian so we could not actually understand what was being said.  After about 20 minutes we went outside where Tavi gave us candles to light: if you placed your candle on the left you were asking for good wishes for yourself or your family, and if on the right it was a family member or someone who passed away. Since the service was going to last another hour we walked to the park for about half an hour where we sat in the shade and chatted. We then went back to the church where we met with one survivor who was a political detainee who explained his story and told how his family member's actions affected his life. This man seemed very passionate about his story and by the tone of his voice and his actions it seems that he had not told his story very much. The next man discussed how something as simple as creating flyers against the communist party affected his whole life. He was not able to get jobs, and it took him at least 8 years, and a "threatening" letter from his uncle who pretended to be part of the U.S. congress to allow him to visit his family in Canada, where he then remained for 20 years.

After the meeting with these two men we went to lunch at Pizza Hut which was very fancy compared to America; the dining room had three separate areas. On the menu there were burgers, pasta, chicken fingers, wine, cocktails, beer, etc. After lunch we had class where we discussed the book that we are reading, and also the history of communism.


Natalie Wolfe

Today, Sunday, we ventured to a local Orthodox Christian church. Their church sermon was much different from what I am used to. Their sermons are significantly longer than mine, or at least it felt that way since I did not know what they were saying. Their service started at 9am and went until around 11:30am. My church services last anywhere from an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. My services are also broken up between announcements, worship, and then a sermon given by the priest. At the local Orthodox Church the priest seemed to be singing scripture or hymns the whole time. As the priest would sing some members would speak in unison or would start singing with the priest at a certain point.

Also during the service it seemed like the people were constantly making the sign of the cross. They would do it at what seemed random times, very consistently, and sometimes multiple times in a row. I could not figure out a pattern, a part from when people entered and left the church, they would cross themselves.  The church itself was also different from ours. The inside made me think of a barn, as thin wooden beams were everywhere horizontally and vertically to hold up the building. Along the walls were detailed art of saints and scripted figures as well as on the ceiling, reminding me of the Sistine chapel. Before entering the inside of the church there is an area covered outside where people can light a candle representing a prayer/thought/wish for someone. Candles were placed on the right side to represent a thought for the dead and on the left for the living. Another difference with their church versus a typical American church was they did not have regular seating for everyone. There were a few chairs placed through out for elderly people, but other than that there was no seating, since the attendees regularly kneeled during their service. Overall the Romanian Christian Orthodox church was a warming experience.

Katrina Fornoff

Day two of the trip to Romania has been quite eventful. To start the day we were able to attend a beautiful church service, where the community welcomed us warmly. While standing in the back of the church, we were given icon cards that pictured St. Elijah which are used to help assist in the praying for the individual. These services are much different than the services that I am accustomed too. Not only is the length of the services much longer, but persons taking part move around freely from inside to outside of the church. Also, there are not seats for everyone in attendance. The only seats that are available are on the outer edge of the church and outside. I enjoyed being a part of the services to see how others expressed their faith and traditions.

After the service we were lucky to be able to speak with two survivors of communism. Each had a very unique story much different than the other. The first gentleman we spoke with was 85 years old and had been imprisoned for being a legionary. That means he was held responsible for what his father had done and was accused of following his example.  He explained the conditions that he had to suffer through just to be freed and followed. The second gentleman was 84 and told of the story of how he avoided being arrested. He was from a province that is now part of Ukraine, but fled from the Soviet invasion. Throughout his life he was followed, questioned, and denied permission to leave to America because of "bad information in his file". He had to give up his passion of agricultural science research because of his bad file, which caused him to not receive jobs.  These files were fabricated by the Secret Police, called the Securitate. Hearing both men talk in such detail about what experiences they had made me really appreciate the simplicity of my life.

Lastly, a first time experience for myself was the encounter with homeless children and persons on the street. It is not uncommon to see homeless adults in the Peoria area, but how many children that are homeless and begging for food shocked me. When walking back from dinner, I did not finish my food so I had to carry a box back. While standing at a stoplight, the children saw this and tried to get the food. I was not prepared for them to come right up and have them take it almost right out of my hand. As crazy of an experience as that was, it allowed me to see how different this community is from ours at home, and understand the struggle of some of the youth here in Bucharest.

Alexandria Ervin

Today was our first full day in Romania. We started the day off with breakfast at the hotel before we left for church. As a group we walked to a nearby Orthodox church to observe their worship. The service was fairly informal in a sense, because people would come and go as they pleased and others would stand or gather outside the door to listen to the sermon. The church was under renovation and there was no air conditioning, so it was extremely hot! I know I had trouble staying inside because it was a full room and it was so hot, but other churchgoers must be used to this because they seemed to have no problems with the heat.

After the church service we met with two gentlemen that survived the communist regime along, with a local architect that was very knowledgeable about the history of Romania. This made everything we have heard and learned thus far about what happened before the fall of communism seem very real. It is so sad what all of these people went through. Tavi had to translate for us because neither of the men spoke English. The first man that spoke- you could see the passion in his eyes and how much he was affected by being imprisoned for no reason, and the utter pain he endured. It just blows my mind that these innocent people were imprisoned and tortured for things as simple as being educated or looked up too by other people.

I am excited to learn more about the history of Romania, but it brings up many emotions, and you cannot help but to feel incredibly sad for meeting actual people that lived through communism. Before this trip I did not understand much about a communist government, but just after our first full day I am learning so much.

Abigail Baker

On our first full day here in Bucharest, we visited an Orthodox worship service. The service took place in a big wooden area that was decorated with different religious persons on the ceiling and on the walls. People were able to walk in and out of the service as they pleased. Some sat in chairs, prayed on their knees, or chose to stand up. There was no air conditioning in the building, and I noticed many people brought paper fans to cool off with. Outside the church was an area to light candles and to either make a prayer for you or for someone who has passed away. There were already lit candles, and we lit ours from those, and the prayers for yourself went on the left, and for the deceased were placed on the right.            

After the church service, our group gathered in the church and heard from two survivors from the communist prisons. Both survivors were in their 80s. The first gentlemen told us that he was not able to finish high school because his dad got arrested. It is just unbelievable how his father's actions fell upon him and his family and prevented him from finishing his education. He then went on to say that he went to prison when he was 26 and endured awful beatings and torture. Something interesting that happened during the service was a lady came over to us and gave us each a card. The card was had a picture of this a man named Saint Elijah, and we learned how you pray to him and he will take those prayers to God. I thought it was very nice that she took time to make us feel more welcome.

During class, Ioana Hasu explained how the families did not know what their family members went through when survivors came home after being released, because everyone was afraid to talk about it.  I personally could not fathom denying what a family member went through. Communism as a whole knew they had to demolish the existing order to have a change. Communism used fear in order to reach this. I learned so much from listening to the two survivors and going to an Orthodox service. I am excited to attend the second service next weekend!