Arts Lab Report: A month of firsts

Airports are grey and smell of chemicals, at least that was the idea that I had. To bathe in the scent of flowers and spring was not on my list of expectations when I imagined myself taking my first steps on Romanian ground. But the air was the first thing that surprised me: no penetration of industrial gases but a welcoming fragrance of blossoming trees.

Trying a really good dessert that appeared to be Hungarian and not Romanian and of which I forgot the name, crazy skies heavy of thunderstorms, my first glass of ţuica, eating delicious sarmale, witnessing interesting negotiation techniques with an initially reluctant local professional, seeing the commitment of local volunteers, the slight panic I felt right before giving my first ever workshop in the local school, struggling with language barriers, being welcomed on a school with a huge breakfast while they don’t even have running water, and lots more. These are some of the first things I've done in Romania.

So what have I been doing here? 

The day after I arrived and settled down in the house was the day we started brainstorming about the workshops. We were asked to come up with an idea and present this to each other. I was a bit intimidated at first but came up with something that I would actually be using in the weeks that were to follow: a zine workshop. With just one paper and a pair of scissors, you can make your own little magazine, which in its folded state is like a 8-paged book and once unfolded can be scanned to produce several copies of the zine. The idea is that you can write/draw/cut & paste to express freely your own ideas or invent your own stories in a cheap and accessible way, and reproduce them to spread out to others.

As one of the purposes of the project is to promote the knowledge and visibility of the ancient Cucuteni culture, I also provided some materials related to this topic, which the participants were invited to use in their zines.

Apart from my own workshop, I had Romanian classes, I assisted in my roommates’ dance, music, painting and film session workshops.

The second week, we met up with another group of volunteers, who were doing a training on non-formal education in Iaşi. Together, we went to do workshops in local schools (the technical high school Petru Rareş and the primary school in Cucuteni). It was really useful to see how they facilitated and structured their workshops!

A couple of these volunteers were planning a car trip through Transylvania with final destination: Bucharest. They invited me to come along with them, and since our own group was to go on the on-arrival training one week later in Bucharest anyway, I decided accept the offer. This resulted in quite some adventure as the weather gods were slowly turning their back to us. In spite of the showers of rain and the lacking of a waterproof tent, we managed to make a campfire, cook on it and stay dry in the Carpathian mountains, which was quite an achievement.

Having met that goal, me and some others decided we didn’t have to prove ourselves anymore and instead of making our way further up to the top of the mountain in the pouring rain, we chose to see the Bran castle and beautiful Brașov, where our urban exploration was structured around our search for the typical soup that is served inside a bread, and decent coffee. The first one was easier to find than the second.

But Bucharest was waiting for me. There, I spent a lovely afternoon on a local arts & crafts market in a park, where I got into a conversation with a woman who ran a crafts workshop for children and was working in an NGO called Zonta. After trying out some of her crafts and feeling like a small kid again, it was time to head off to my hotel, where the training would take place.

On the on-arrival training, we met a lot of interesting people and learned that some of the ups and downs we face to adjust ourselves to our new life here, were shared by volunteers from other projects, which was kind of a reassuring feeling for me, as these things turned out to be just part of the EVS experience. The training itself was really practical. Instead of listening to lectures, we were constantly trying out new games and methodologies that we ourselves could use later.

After an intense week with little sleep and meeting a lot of new people, we felt sad to head back home. But the bus was booked so there was no way around it: we had to say goodbye to our new friends and our luxurious apartments, because the next day we would be spending in the middle of a garden of a fairy-tale like castle, but that story is for my report of next month, seeing that May had ended and June had sneaked in while we were returning from Bucharest.

Written by Sabien Ceuppens

Sabien is European volunteer for 8 months, in Arts Lab project, funded by European Voluntary Service, with the support of European Union.