During travels with my family we ended our adventure in the city of Barcelona where one afternoon of our short visit we found ourselves exploring Park Güell. This park was originally created/designed by Gaudi and as someone like myself who loves mosaics I found it quite fascinating and enjoyed my time here.
Caterina has been supportive and encouraging since I made my first visit to Balti to meet my primary organization, work partner, and host family. She gave me my first tour of Balti and celebrated with me on the day I became an official Peace Corps volunteer at the swearing-in ceremony. I have enjoyed getting to know Caterina over the past year and have appreciated the grace she has extended to me as I continue to learn about living and working here in this community.
Caterina is 20 years old (which I often forget, thinking she is much older) and she grew up in Balti. She is currently a senior at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University from Iasi, extension Balti and is majoring in commerce, services and tourism economics. She works at the primary organization I work with, “Pro Cooperare Regionala (ProCoRe)”, an NGO who works in developing a sustainable rural community in Northern Moldova. At ProCoRe she is a project manager and specifically works with farmers and farming organizations. She is responsible for the implementation of the Farmer Field School (along with 2 others colleagues) and organizes study visits and internships abroad for farmers. Take a moment and get to know my friend, Caterina as she shares a little bit about herself and what she has learned over time from Peace Corps volunteers.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
Aside of being a student and a project manager I am a daughter and sister, and an aunt. I have a wonderful family that works here in Balti. My sister has her own family now with a husband and a 5 years old son. I love to spend time with my nephew biking or just watching Disney cartoons and snacking on candy and pop-corn. Also, I am a volunteer, I like helping with hosting/teaching trainings on different topics, translating or just participating in events organized by different organizations that I respect.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
With so many things in my life, I barely ever have free time, but what I really like to do is watching movies, especially TV shows. I really like traveling and even if most of my travels are work related, I always find time to wander around and live the culture of the country I am going to. And the top of them all I just like hanging out with friends, for a cup of tea or ice-cream and discussing life.
Tell us about the first time you met a Peace Corps volunteer…
The first time I was exposed to Peace Corp is when I was about 13 years old. I participated to a summer school called GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) that is a summer school meant to develop strong leaders out of young girls and is teaching a variety of things teenage girls should know in order to prevent situations like bullying or even trafficking. This summer school is organized by PCVs. The first 2 Peace Corps Volunteers I have ever met and develop a friendship with were Sharon and Neha.
Has your perspective on Volunteering changed?
Being only 13, my perspective on volunteering did not change, it only developed. I learned what volunteering is and developed a special love for volunteering. Now, I try my best to have some time left aside for volunteering in my life.
Has your perspective about Americans changed?
It definitely did. The human race always tends to judge different cultures by stereotypes. My thoughts about Americans for sure changed, most important I learned that it is a big mistake to judge according to the stereotypes, as most likely they are lies. Also, I have learned to respect different cultures and to appreciate what I can learn from people that represent them. Now, I know that I have to create an opinion about the person, not the citizenship behind it. My perspective changed in a way that I wait to meet the person before I make an opinion or give a verdict about him or her.
How have Peace Corps volunteers impacted your life?
The first thing that feel like I learned is being patient when having a conversation with a person that speaks a different language then you and that come from a different culture. Also, BE OPEN MINDED! Sometimes what seems ok in your culture may be very offensive to others, so ALWAYS watch your language and be respectful. But also, throughout the years, PCVs discovered in me talents that I didn’t know where there. I became a better leader, that is not afraid of challenges because one day a PCV told me that I could, I have become a better public speaker because one day a PCV told me that I should. I received constructive criticism that made me think about my attitudes and was able to reflect on them and hopefully correct them, but also in general I would say that Peace Corp Volunteers are a part of the base of the person I am today, and even though they still continue forming me in so many different ways.
If you could say one thing to all Peace Corps volunteers what would it be?
Often we do things and don’t feel appreciated enough for that. Even if you have times when you are down, just know that for sure you had an impact on someone, and probably don’t even know about it.
If you could say one thing to all Moldovans about volunteering what would it be?
It is very easy to stay home, watch TV and complain about everything that is shown in the news. If you are waiting for a change in your neighborhood, why don’t you clean your own apartment and help your neighbor to do so too. If you want change in the country, why won’t you start with your community? Stop being ignorant or just complaining about how bad life is. Make a step, do some volunteering and little by little things are going to change to better.
What are some of your hopes for Moldova’s future?
I hope that due to the spreading of the volunteering initiative, and good investments into good people, Moldova will develop a great, stable economic and political situations, as well as strong communities that are going to form a strong society.
Saturday mornings are best for taking photos… especially when you get to share the morning with a group of enthusiastic youth who also want to learn more about photography.
Photography is one of my favorite things and I recently met some youth at a local NGO who want to learn more about photography. We’ve arranged to start a photo club and try to meet about every other week on Saturday mornings. We have met twice so far and I try to cover basic photo composition since most of them are taking photos with point and shoot cameras and their cell phones.
The one thing that has been the most challenging for me is that the majority of the youth speak Russian. I have been learning Romanian, so I do all the photo workshops in English with the help of a translator. This makes it difficult to try to carry a conversation with the youth along with my limited Romanian and the very few words I know in Russian. Thankfully there is one youth who speaks English pretty well who has been helping all of us understand one another.
This has become one of my most favorite things so far that I have been involved in, even with it’s challenges. I have enjoyed getting to know the youth who are interested in learning more about photography and that we get to all go out into the city and practice taking photos.
The first meeting we discuss the importance of perspective — in how we can all be looking at the same exact thing, but depending on WHERE we are looking at it from, we may be seeing a different aspect of it. And so we went out and practiced taking photos of some objects and changing our view and perspective on the object to see how the composition of the photograph changed… as well as our own perspective of the actual object.
Example… plant below is same exact plant, but photo taken from above and from below looking at. Same thing, but two very different photos.
I even incorporated how this also applies to life… we can all be facing a similar situation, but we all may be seeing things from a different perspective in life depending on our own personal and past experiences. A great reminder to be reminded of daily…
I loved seeing them all out and about taking photos and sharing with one another what they were finding or how they were seeing things…
The second session we talked about some tips and tricks in photo composition… but also to remember that “photography is an art, not a science” so these are some loose “rules” but some things to keep in mind. The video below was great in helping to explain this in a creative and more visual way.
Then we ventured out for about 2 hours into the city to practice what we had learned…
These are some of the photos I took from that day as we walked around keeping our eyes open for photo opps. I think my favorite moment from that day was when someone told me they didn’t think Balti was a good place to take photos because they didn’t think it was very interesting. I challenged them to see what they could find putting on a new lens and perspective as they view their city and maybe they’d be surprised.
And these photos below are some of the ones that the students took that day — I have enjoyed seeing them try new things with taking photos and seeing their city in a different way – through the photo lens.
I look forward to the next time we meet and go out to explore with our cameras.
This is part of a series, “Classroom Notes” that I will be sharing as I connect with a classroom in the U.S. through the World Wise Schools program. You can read the previous posts about this series here at CLASSROOM NOTES.
A few weeks ago I met with the 6th grade class to share and discuss the topic of cultural differences. We had an activity that I used during Peace Corps training that uses the analogy of an iceberg. When it comes to seeing and understanding cultural differences it can be quite challenging — just like an iceberg. There are things that you can see above the surface (tip of the iceberg) like facial expressions, food, and art and then there are things that you cannot see below the surface like rules of social etiquette or the concept of beauty that are found much deeper under the surface of the iceberg.
Previously, I had found a neat online tool to illustrate this. You can find the online activity HERE. It really helped with understanding how there are some things that are much more noticeable like how someone dresses as part of their culture, however one may not understand WHY just by looking at them, but the reason why they may dress a certain way has to do with a deeper level of understanding within their culture which is hidden below the surface of understanding.
Another fun part of our call was a video that I found within the depths of Peace Corps resources explaining different cultural gaffes from around the world. This certainly gave them a different perspective and something to think about if they ever travel abroad.
Cultural differences are just that… different! There is no right or wrong way of doing something — part of experiencing a new culture is learning about the differences and seeing things from a new perspective. There are MANY things that I just don’t understand here in Moldova but I just have to remember that those things are part of Moldova’s culture and history and I may never understand them. And they may not understand me/Americans — but that’s the unique part of being a Peace Corps volunteer; we get to share those experiences and differences with one another.
It’s my first winter here in Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer. Lately, I’ve gotten some questions about the weather and winter in Moldova – so I’ll share a little glimpse of winter-life through my perspective in photos so far.
During the thank you masa for our organization’s partners, I was highly entertained by this, which was placed right in front of me during the meal…
Winter is not over yet… so more to come later on. Hope you’re staying warm, wherever you may be.