Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Navigating the Education System of Moldova

Gradinița = Pre-school/Kindergarten
This school is much like a daycare.  The children who are typically toddler age up to 4 or 5 years old spend all day at this “school.”  They are dropped off in the morning around 8:00 or 9:00 and stay at the school until their parents get out of work or their older siblings pick them up after school, which can be between 16:00 and 18:00.   It’s a really long day for little children.  The facilities in my town are great.  They have little beds for the kids, the room is kept very warm, they feed the kids and they have plenty of toys and activities.  When I say “they” I mean the one teacher of about 25 kids and the kitchen/building facility help.  When I visited, the kids were really scared of me and did not really speak much at all.   

Scoala Primară = Primary School Grades 1 - 4
This basically functions the same as a primary school in the USA.  The only general difference is the hours of classes.  Most children can’t afford to have lunch at school and so they go home.  Many times going early for classes 8:00 and leaving around 13:00 or 14:00 without snacks or food. 

Gimnaziu = Middle School Grades 1 - 9

Scoală = High SchoolGrades 1 - 11

Liceu = High School Grades 1 -12

Abiturient = period between when one graduates high school and then goes to college/university.  I find it interesting that in Romanian they have a word for this period of time.  In the USA we would call this “Summer Break” and in most cases it is less of a break and more of a time to work your butt off and save some money for school.  However, I do believe that in Moldova this “break” can last much longer than one summer and often times does include working.  I chalk it up to the lack of guidance counseling in schools for the students that take longer breaks to figure out what they wish to do with their lives (I will write about this in a follow-up post).

BAC = Baccalaureate test
This test is much like the USA's SAT or ACT exams.  It is a standardized test that must be taken in order to enter the higher education system.  

Higher Education System:

Scoală Profesionala = 2 - 3 years
Professional or vocational school much like New York State's BOCES system.  Students can choose to enter a this school after 9th grade to learn a trade or skill.

Colegiu = 3 years
This school can also be entered after 9th grade.  I would compare this to a Community College and acquiring an Associates degree.  A step up from Vocational school but not quite a university education.  

Acadamie = Specialized University
An academy is basically a school dedicated to one area of study, offering several specializations.  Such as "The Academy of Economics" and within this school you can specialize in different aspects of economic study.

Universitate = University with many areas of study available
(3 years undergraduate + 2 years Masters)
Facultate = Department
Specialitate = Specialty within a department

The Universities in Moldova are set up very similar to those in the United States of America.  The main difference for the state universities is the way funding is given to the universities.  For instance, if a university deems that the department of language study needs 10 new computers then they must submit their request to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance for the new computers.  If these two ministries determine that the department does not need 10 new computers but rather 5 new books and 5 new chalkboards then that is what they receive.  Financially it is a very top-down controlled system.  Like in the USA, the university system is hurting in today's economy and is counting on the majority of the students who are graduating this spring from high school to attend a university in Moldova.  It looks like major synergy is needed between the current universities and high education system in this country if it plans to survive fiscally. 
Do any of my readers have any examples of a USA university financial model? 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Political Musicality

Now that the elections have happened (to view results click here) I feel it is an appropriate time to think back to the events leading up to the election.  Moldova has an interesting way of getting the message out to voters.  Billboards, quarter cards, hiring kids to pass out papers in matching jackets with balloons and concerts.  It's interesting to me that the platform and messages of the political campaigns can not be found on the billboards and there is no indication as to where I can go to get the information about the party, their platform and the candidates.  It's like they decide to put up a billboard, put a picture or logo, add on the slogan and bam... it's done.  No follow-up information. 

The concerts were the most interesting.  Do you remember the campaign in the USA called "rock the vote?"  It seems using music as a force to drive political messages or attract attention to a political cause is a universal tactic.  Throughout the months of October and November there were concerts all across Moldova paid for by political candidates and their parties.  Why is it that music is so effective when it comes to political messaging?  It's universal.  Almost everyone can and does share the ability to enjoy music.  You don't really have to know much about music to enjoy it.  It's powerful and it speaks to the public in a way that speeches and words fail.  Moldova is in an interesting situation socially, economically and especially politically.  I am glad to be living in this part of the world during such an interesting time.

Music itself can tell us a lot about the time in which it was written.  Study the lyrics of some of the most outspoken bands around time periods of social or political instability... such as the Vietnam War or most recently the War in Iraq.  I wonder what the songs of today will tell our children about the times we live in...

Easy Silence - Dixie Chicks 
 (This and most of their songs on the album "Taking the Long Way" were banned from most country radio stations after the lead singer spoke out against the President).

When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Busses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It's okay when there's nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Monkeys on the barricades
Are warning us to back away
They form commissions trying to find
The next one they can crucify

And anger plays on every station
Answers only make more questions
I need something to believe in
Breathe in sanctuary in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It's okay when there's nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Children lose their youth too soon
Watching war made us immune
And I've got all the world to lose
But I just want to hold on to the

Easy silence that you make for me
It's okay when there's nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me

The easy silence that you make for me
It's okay when there's nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay 

A little education

A friend of mine just shared an interesting link about the Roma in Moldova.  I encourage you to check it out.  Here is the explanation of the video: In partnership with the Roma organization "Opre O Ciacimos" we have created one of the first Moldovan Roma films. It wishes to counter negative Roma stereotypes through the voices of the Roma themselves. This film has become the center of a new media campaign in Moldova, it will be used to focus community discussions, spark critical thinking in children and be shown to the European Union.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Geopolitical Analysis of Moldova

I know that I have tried to explain to all of you where I am living and the environment that I stepped into when I arrived at my Peace Corps post.  This article does an EXCELLENT job of helping people wrap their head around what is happening in Moldova.  Thank you Dr. George Friedman.  This may help my readers from the United States of America understand why the elections on November 28th are so very important here.  Happy reading...  http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20101118_geopolitical_journey_part_4_moldova

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worldwide Farmers Exchange!

Today a farmer came into my office and of course he starts speaking very fast.  I have to inform him of my mediocre language skills and then we proceed to discuss his needs.  This guy REALLY wants to learn more about agricultural technology.  He wants to live, work and learn in an agriculturally developed country for a year or so and he wants to return to Moldova and implement his new knowledge.  It's funny that he stumbled in the office today because well I've actually been researching and learning a lot about these types of programs recently.  The sad part is most of them require proficiency in English and this guy just doesn't have it.

Some of the organizations I have found:

Worldwide Farmers Exchange: http://worldwidefarmers.org/home.htm
CAEP: http://selfemployedcountry.org/

So, if you are a farmer in the USA, EU or other part of the world and you have an interest in extending your knowledge of agriculture, sign up to host a farmer from another country with one of these amazing programs!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boredom leads to books...

I know that my family and friends are worried that I don't have "enough to do" over here... which is only partially true.  There is much to be done it is just a VERY slow process.  So to fill in my time I have been borrowing a lot of books from the Peace Corps Library and while I was home I was able to download a bundle of new reads to my Nook e-reader.  As you can see I have plenty of things to read and occupy my time.  With the help of the internet, I am also able to hold onto my Sunday morning tradition of the NYTimes, coffee and a little breakfast... which is wonderful.  I don't think I have ever been this informed of the happenings around the world.  Regardless, I am starting a reading list on my blog and welcome your suggestions for books to read or movies that I should watch.  I don't think that I will ever have this kind of rest and relaxtion time ever again in my life... so I welcome it with open arms and am trying hard to disregard my constant ambition and struggle to improve myself and those around me.  Sometimes it's good to just float.


From September 27 through October 8 all of the Agriculture and Rural Business Development and Community and Organizational Development volunteers regrouped for two days of conferencing with our partners and then for the remainder of the time we returned back to our training villages, our first host families and our old schools for more language and technical training.  After seven weeks of work and getting to know our partners and organizations we were able to get more out of the partner conference and even our language classes.  It’s like throwing us out into the field (before we are quite ready) for seven weeks and bringing us back in for more education and training.  These weeks were filled with days working with/for my host mom, spending time with my volunteer family and studying new grammar and learning new vocabulary.

These weeks made me realize that we are all kind of just trying to figure out what our roles are, what projects we can try to pick up or dream up and just trying to learn and use the language as much as possible.  So, we are all just kind of floating.  Since my partner seems to be more apathetic with projects for farmers and stresses more of an importance with her close circle of friends… I am trying to find a subject of project that will tackle both.  In the mean time I am going to keep making copies, answering the phone and listening to my Romanian mp3 files.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Conference in Chisinau

On September 23, 2010 I attended a seminar with my partner.  In attendance were all of the directors of the AgroInform organizations from all over Moldova.  It was like sitting in a room of agricultural extension works from all over New York State.  After some very long and elaborate introductions we ha the opportunity to listen to a guest speaker from Ohio State University.  Dr. Rattan Lal executed a great speech about soil degradation impacts on global climate change and food security.  He spoke about biochar, World Bank and the Carbon Fund, afforestation, water conservation and recycling, cropland management, grazing land management, and nutrient management.  Dr. Lal was a guest of the Alecu Ruso Balti State University and received an honorary degree at their 65th anniversary celebration.  He gave a total of three seminars and even donated an encyclopedia of Soil Science to the university.  I know that all of the topics he touched upon made an impact on the attendees, but they weren't quite sure how to implement their new found knowledge about soil degradation and climate change.  Just the other day my partner was asking me about how we could start a project to do something about "what that professor from America said."  All this week I went running on the roads that surround my town and ran into a lot of farmers making a lot of fires to burn off their crop residue, which to me seems really inefficient. So at least now I have something to research... biochar.  And like my partner said "we can do a project about something that American professor was talking about."

Calling all University Students!

Are you interested in cultural exchange with a university student from another country?  How about an e-pal from a developing nation?  I recently started a University English Club at the State Agrarian University in Chisinau, Moldova.  I have 10 students eager to improve their English and learn more about the USA.  They are mostly economics/business majors with specializations in international relations as well as one student in agricultural engineering.  If you are interested, please send me your name, major, email address and skype username and I will set you up with an e-pal from Moldova!!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting back to normal?

The hardest part about going home is accepting the fact that you have to leave and go back to “normalcy” in Moldova.  My first week back I stayed in bed a lot of the time.  I worked my mandatory 4 hours per day at the office and went home to go back to bed.  I ate a bag of trail mix in a week and cried every time someone asked me about the wedding, my family or how my “vacation” was.  My mentor tells me that it takes a while to get back to “normal” but that in a week I should start to feel better again… it took me about three weeks.  Anyway, PST III is happening soon and hopefully being around my Peace Corps family… the group of ARBDs (Agriculture and Rural Business Development volunteers) will help pull me through.

Keep on, keepin’ on

“Everybody needs a reason to believe, something to keep them going. 
To set their soul on fire, to make them feel alive.  It’s their inspiration.
Some find it in living off the land.
Some find it in working for the man.
Some find it with a bottle in their hand. That’s what get’s them through.
Some find it in a shiny limousine.
Some find it in the magazines they read.
Some find that happiness is out of reach, no matter what they do.
Baby, that’s not me.  I found it in you.” - Lee Ann Womac

This song sums up how I'm feeling right now.  I need some serious motivation... a project to latch onto or some sort of distraction.  My host mom is working 24/7 and I do not see her very much.  I don't feel integrated in the community and my partner is not presenting any project ideas.  So, I guess I'll take to the streets with my camera and a notebook and start writing down ideas for potential use...

Any thesis ideas out there?  I need something to start moving forward in my life besides the pages in the books I've been reading.

Whirlwind wedding weekend

Going home for my brother’s wedding was probably one of the best and worst things that I have done in a long time.  I had a wonderful time getting to know my sister-in-law and her entire family. It was wonderful to spend time with my mom, dad, brothers, brother’s girlfriends (Hillary and Jess), other friends of the family (Jenna, Peaches and Lisa) and the majority of my Cornell family (Tristan, Cheni, Amanda, Zach, Sarah, Jenae, Kathleen, Kitty, etc.) that were at the wedding.  It was a wonderful event.  One of the most beautiful weddings I have ever been to and I know that a GREAT time was had by everyone in attendance.  I severely miss everyone from home… and I am glad that I could spend some time with everyone… dancing, laughing and eating delicious food.  Since I made the trek back… I hope some of you will consider coming to visit me either in Moldova or meet me somewhere in Europe.


The new couple and their parents...

The whole crew

My maternal grandmother, Marion with her sister Mildred and my paternal grandmother Carolyn

The group with the sunflowers

Crystal and I comparing shoes...

My new sister, Rella and I!

If you want to see more photos check them out on facebook or visit the following sites:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wedding preparations

I arrived in the USA tired, jetlagged and with a cold but I had to be ready to help with the wedding preparations.  That’s why I was there early!  After spending the morning at the hair salon getting some rest and relaxation, I drove to pick up my cousin Crystal to go to a seamstress, try on my bridesmaid dress and pay for alterations.  All that I needed done was to have the dress hemmed slightly so that I could wear flats with it and have removable straps added.  What a relief! 

After the appointment, Crystal and I decided to go to Hick’s Orchard to buy some apples, cider and apple cider donuts.  YUM!!!  All in all it was a great afternoon driving the countryside of Washington County, New York and enjoying the beginnings of the fall foliage.

I arrived home to find out that my mother and I were driving 5 hours to western New York that evening to help "raise the tent" and decorate for the rehearsal dinner and reception the next day.  So, I threw some things in a  bag and off we were... on the road again.

We helped with the decorating, celebrated birthdays and had a great time getting ready for the weekend's events.

Birthday party at the Nobles'

The ladies taking over the balcony
Crystal and Jess decorating...

Rella delegating.

Why do so many people in Western New York have unicorns in their yards?

Flower arranging

Flying home

Souvenirs purchased.  Wedding gift purchased.  Wine, vodka and cognac packed securely.  Minimal clothing and shoes packed. Health card received from Peace Corps.  I was ready to go home.  My journey began in my village.  The Vice Mayor so kindly drove me to the end of my village where most people hail transportation.  I got into a teal green microbus with some awesome religious icons hanging from the rearview.  It also had an interesting stench emanating from the seat cushions.  Oh well, it was a ride to Chisinau.  Once I got to the capital I dragged my bag to the Peace Corps office so I could grab lunch with another volunteer and get some paperwork squared away.  After an amazing tour of the Jewish Center with Ohad, I walked back to the office, grabbed my bag and headed to the central bus station to get a bus to Bacioi (Bachoy).  The only airport in Moldova is located southwest of the capital.  Keith, a volunteer in the Community and Organizational Development group lives and works in Bacioi (his house has a view of the airport).  We both figured it would be easy to get a cab and catch a flight early in the morning.  We couldn’t have been more wrong. 

To start the evening off right, Keith gives me a great tour of his village.  Bacioi is a large village and affluent suburb with the prettiest casa de nunti (wedding reception hall) and really fun looking nightclub.  After this I met his host family (Grandmother, mother, father, and three children) and we had a wonderful dinner including the champagne and chocolates that I brought as a gift.  It was awesome.  I helped his host siblings with their English homework and found out that his host brother takes karate lessons.  His family apparently still asks about me (even a month later).  After visiting it was time to call for a taxi.  After calling the airport for information regarding when I should be there in the morning (2 hours early for the flight at 5AM) I started calling the taxis to find a driver that would come to Bacioi at 3AM and who knew the village somewhat.  Once I figured out that I only had to dial 4 digits to call a cab… the cavewoman Romanian began to fall from my mouth like nails on a chalkboard asking for a cab to pick me up, giving directions for my location and bartering a price.  I finally nailed one down.  He promised to be in Bacioi at 3AM to pick me up.  After watching a movie and chatting about life… Keith and I realized it was 3:15 and there was no cab and no call from the driver. I called the company to confirm and finally the receptionist put me in contact with the driver.  Lucky for me he had never been to Bacioi and had no idea where I was.  I threw my suitcase by the gate and Keith and I walked down to the main street.  With the help of a large casa de nunti as a marker and my phone’s flashlight we flagged down the driver, rode up to the house, got my bag, I thanked Keith and off I was to the airport… finally!

Once I got to the airport, I felt like an idiot because it wasn’t even open yet!  So I waited until 10 minutes before 5AM and finally they started checking people in for the flight.  In the meantime the nice cab driver brought me a coffee and told me to call him when I returned from my brother’s wedding.  He would give me a great deal and would drive me all the way back to my village.  So I fly to Budapest and in Budapest we are delayed for 45 minutes due to rain and backed up flights on the runway.  I miss my connection in Milan, Italy.  At this point I am exhausted and just want someone to take care of the situation but the pace of Italian customer service isn’t quite the same as in Germany or the USA.  Finally, I am given a ticket for a flight leaving in 2 hours.  Which means I will land in NYC at rush hour and will most likely miss my train to Albany.  I switched my train ticket to the 8:00PM train (which was also delayed) and used the free WiFi at PennStation to call my mom and let her know I was delayed.  Around midnight I slid into my mom’s warm car with leather seats and my smiling cousin Crystal in the backseat.  It was a wonderful ride home from Albany.  What a tiring trip home…

Copies, meetings, pamphlets, oh my!

After organizing all the pamphlets and making copies for everyone that walks into our office… I actually feel like I am getting into a groove.   I was able to attend a community meeting on September 7, 2010 with the NGO Acces-Info.  Acces-Info works to increase participation in democracy as well as making information more transparent on a local and national level.  During this meeting I was able to meet the mayor, school director and many other leaders in my community.   It was a great way to find out how the Primaria (Mayor’s office) functions in my village as well as let the leaders in my community know that I am here and ready to help!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rural excursions

The day of the grapes + a rural excursion  

My host partner and host mother are both a part of a women’s group in our town.  They participate in folkloric competitions (and sing at every gathering), they also plan and participate in seminars during the winter and enjoy going on short excursions together.  My first few weeks at site we went on the monastery tour and also on a rural excursion to Svetlana’s house.  Svetlana is the religion teacher at the school and she also has a beautiful garden.  She invited all the ladies over to check out her home, garden and put on a masa (or lunch) for the group.  

In Moldova, the idea of savings, credits, or bank accounts is still pretty foreign (especially with more rural communities) and so many people put almost all of their liquid funds into their homes.  The government can’t take their homes away and so to them it is a solid investment into the frumos-ness (beautification) of their living situation.  It’s hard for me to really wrap my head around this concept, mostly because I have always considered a house more of a liability than an asset and when the idea that saving monetary funds for future use is foreign, it is hard for me to continue to believe that this country will develop at a very fast pace.  This is probably the reason for a large dependence on grants and foreign funds to implement any project. 

Anyway, enough of that.  Here are some pictures from our excursions:

Some of the food from lunch.

Svetlana pouring the wine.

The ladies toasting with some of the wine.  

The whole group in the rose garden

The Current

Current. A noun. A large body of water or air moving in a definite direction, especially through a surrounding body of water or air in which there is less movement.

In Moldova, the word current brings with it a literal definition as well as a cultural connotation.  "The Current" as many refer to the movement of air in a definite direction (most in the USA would refer to this as a breeze) is considered bad, sometimes terrible, and often invoking fear to those in its path.  Why you may ask?  Well, the current causes illness.  It's to blame for everything from a scratchy throat and head cold to a stomach ache and chronic illness.  Even if I become sick 2, 3 or even 6 weeks after the current "got me" it is still to blame.  This is why public transportation is sweaty, sticky and breeze-less in the summer time.  You see most of the elderly people of Moldova do not want the current to "get them" and so packed into small or large buses like sardines there will be no open windows or drafts of any kind.  We really don't want to get sick... so we limit the air flow.  To be honest I am more worried about catching TB than getting sick from some refreshing air movement.  I suppose it's just one of those things you have to get used to in a new culture. 

Trying to explain the ludicracy of the current to my host partner and host mom completely failed.  All I could do was just laugh at their seriousness when explaining this phenomenon. So now every time I sniffle or sneeze, I know that rather than taking responsibility for walking in the pouring rain for hours without proper clothing, I can just blame it on the current!  I wonder what they would think about tunnel ventilation?

Do you have any crazy cultural phenomenons to share from your travel experiences?