Travel Writer Jacky Sy shares his experiences of volunteering in Romania
Three years ago, I joined an international youth organisation – AIESEC Hong Kong. I always love to travel, as most of our readers do, especially a rewarding trip. After several applications and interviews, I was provided with a voluntary program in Romania.
As a Hong Kong student, besides some of the top-ranked tourism regions, I don’t have adequate knowledge about European countries. In terms of Romania, I know nothing more than the well-known character Dracula and a budget-friendly destination. But this was just the beginning of my unforgettable journey.
Broadly speaking, Romania consists of three historic principalities, which are Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia. My program was located in Târgu Mureș, the administrative centre of Mureș County.
The objective of our program was conducting English and cultural-exchange lessons with primary and junior school students. A total of seven teammates, one from Mexico, and coincidentally, six from Hong Kong. We were split into three groups and I was in charge of the 5th-grade with another teammate.
I was worried about their capability of English, after all, they were 5th-grade students. We planned some indoor activities, namely Simon Says, Ultimate Ninja and Pictionary. We also prepared some tools and slideshows, in hope of sharing the traditional and modern part of Hong Kong.
Despite our hesitation, their English was so impressive and they were fearless in communicating with foreigners in a second language. Even though there were some shy students, they prepared some Romanian food, traditional dance, and even pictures with their hand-drawings. Not to mention how interactive and enjoyable they were during and after the class. We were even asked to signed their name in Chinese characters as if we were celebrities.
Since it was the summer vacation, we could only spend two weeks inside the campus before the school closed. But it was a six-week program, so we shifted the lessons to an outdoor place. We were surprised at how mature our students were without this opportunity.
Whenever we were running out of ideas, the students would suddenly become a local tour guide and provide us with an array of recommendations. What about going on a boat ride or swimming in a recreational pool? What about visiting the zoo or doing some outdoor games in the a recreational area? We were no longer in the relationship of voluntary teachers and students, but friends who created irreplaceable memories during that specific summer.
Another best part of our journey was that we were allowed to do some trips during our weekends. Buses are readily available in Romania. It is convenient to visit some of the neighbouring counties, such as Cluj-Napoca, Sighișoara and Brașov. Ruled by Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire, as well as the Soviet Union, we could easily find the historical trajectory. We could also taste the mouth-watering traditional cuisine, Sarmale, Langos and one of the best Shawarma in the world.
What’s more, never limit yourself within your comfort zone. Get in touch with local people and perhaps you would have an unexpected return. Initially, we were just borrowing the matches to do the cooking. It was such a magical moment that we then become friends with some local university students. They showed us around the city and treated us as guests in their house. We still keep in touch after the program, and I even spent the last Christmas in Romania. Times have changed, but their hospitality is incomparably awesome.
Savouring the pieces of my voluntary journey in Romania, I hope your understanding of Romania has been deepened. If you are already bored with a typical eat-play-sleep trip, time to apply for a voluntary program and turn on a new page of your tailor-made journey.