Comment: Repatriation to Romania, with children – the worry, the courage, the logistics

Dana Tudose – Costache writes about repatriation with children, based on her recent experience of moving back to Romania. 

Three months ago, my family and I repatriated after 10 years in the United States. I told my story briefly in an interview published a month ago here.

I immediately received tens of messages from Romanians living abroad who are thinking about, imagining, wishing, fantasizing, dreaming about repatriation. This made me think: “I wonder how many MORE would like to come back home but don’t even know how to start thinking about it, not to mention starting to plan it.”

The afterthought was: “What fear/worry keeps the Romanian diaspora from acting on their repatriation dream?” For the vast majority, I believe their main fear is related to their children’s future.

Regardless of whether they are currently living in the United States, Canada or a Central/Western European country, the Romanian diaspora whose children were born or have lived most of their lives outside Romania, strongly feels that they would be depriving their children of something by repatriating.

Most of them describe that something as “quality of life”, “civilization”, “good education”, “great job prospects”.

I dare give them a different angle. If you look at your children from this particular angle, you’d understand that the only important, necessary and crucial thing we shouldn’t be depriving them of is happy and fulfilled parents.

It’s not the place here to discuss big life issues like what truly makes us happy and fulfilled.

However, I thought I would give some insights into the logistics of repatriating with (in my case) American children, who, prior to the actual moment of repatriation, had very, very little contact with Romania.

I have a 10-and-a-half-year-old daughter who was born in the U.S., lived in Romania for two years, between the ages of 1 and (almost) 3, and a son who is almost 4 and who had never visited Romania prior to April 2018. My daughter spoke a little Romanian (not too well) before September 2018. My son didn’t speak a word of our “grai mioritic” (Romanian tongue) prior to September this year. And please don’t judge me for not teaching them constantly while we were living in America. My daughter is now fluent, three months into our lives here, and my son will get there in a couple of months as well.

Let’s start with the beginning. You have taken the plunge, you have decided to repatriate. With children. The first piece of (unsolicited) advice. Tell very, very few people, and only if you know them to be supportive of your path and dreams. Having lots of people calling you crazy and inducing fear and worry whenever you talk about going back to Romania is NOT going to help you.

Some of the people who wrote to me or called me are currently planning to repatriate, so they moved past the “dream” phase. They have a “plan”. They are coming back in 6 months to a year. I totally understand why they feel they need so much time to repatriate. They have a job or a business in another country, financial obligations there, their children are in school there.

If your children are in school, it really doesn’t make any sense moving back until the summer, prior to their starting a new school year.

That’s exactly what we did, only we “planned” all the logistics in 30 days. And it was totally crazy but possible.

What will you need for your children to have a smooth integration into the Romanian school system?

Do they speak, read and write in Romanian? If they do, they can attend public school in the area you will be living. It’s almost December, so, if you plan to repatriate in July, let’s say, contact the school now and tell them about your plan. If you don’t know where you’ll be living, decide on one or two areas you’d like to rent or buy an apartment/house, and contact the schools.

If they don’t speak, read and write very well in Romanian, you basically need to find them a private school. Bucharest has multiple choices, and we chose one for my daughter.  She integrated right away. In the U.S., at 10, she would have started 5thgrade. Here, she started 4thgrade (because 6 year-olds in Romania start grade 0 instead of 1stgrade).

For her registration, I requested and received her school transcripts from her New Jersey public school, in a sealed envelope. All the transcripts were signed by the school’s principal and printed on the school’s letterhead. There are no “stamps” in the U.S. to make papers official, so, in order to notarize these transcripts in Romania, you’ll need them signed, printed on official letterhead, and in a sealed envelope.

Her school in Bucharest (not me) filed her notarized and translated transcripts with the Romanian Ministry of Education.

My son started daycare in the U.S. at 18 months, so, by the time we moved to Romania, he had been going to daycare, full day (9 to 5) for two full years. He started his third year here, in a wonderful public daycare in Bucharest. A very caring teacher, wonderful community of parents, open-minded director. He started without speaking Romanian at all, in September 2018. He now pretty much understands everything, loves his teacher and his classmates. I used to worry that I took him out of the Montessori system and put him in a public daycare. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the time and effort his teacher puts in developing the children’s motor skills, their independence, their creativity. It’s not Montessori, and we must have been really lucky with the teacher, but the fact is, I’m now worry-free about his schooling.

The children’s medical records. I requested the children’s complete immunization records from their pediatrician in New Jersey. I got them the next day. In Romania, I had them translated (but not notarized). I enrolled the children with a local pediatrician. She saw them, saw their records, and gave them the necessary papers needed for them to start school (“aviz de intrare in colectivitate, aviz pentru activitate sportiva” etc). Both the American and the Romanian pediatricians were extremely helpful and effective.

The children’s Romanian CNP (personal numerical code)  – you’ll need it to enroll your children in school and pediatrician’s office. If your children don’t currently have a Romanian birth certificate (if they were born abroad), you need to go to the closest Romanian consulate with their foreign birth certificate and have a Romanian one issued. I had my daughter’s issued at the Romanian Consulate in NYC about two months after she was born. It took about a week if I remember correctly. For my son, I applied for his Romanian birth certificate here, in Bucharest, and it took 3 weeks to get. However, for the actual application, there were no long lines and the process was very clear.

Repatriation with children can be done pretty seamlessly (yes, there will be some bureaucracy, but there was bureaucracy in the U.S., too, when I applied for my green card and my citizenship and prepared all the documents by myself).

Let’s say you find good schools for your children. There are good public schools, too, yet I think most repats choose (mainly because they can afford) private schools, be they located in Bucharest or another city.

You want your children to fully integrate and you don’t want them to lose their foreign (American, French, Italian, Spanish, British) identity. How will you accomplish that? My daughter, with whom I continue to speak in English at home, told me recently that she “started” to think in Romanian, noticing that “before” she only thought in English. That’s a great integration/fusion phase.

However, children who lived in a foreign country for more than 5 years have adopted that culture’s values and behaviors. It’s not wrong for the children to keep them, even though they live in Romania. It’s a part of who they are – so you must find ways of keeping them connected to that identity. Find them some friends who lived in the same foreign country and speak that language. Let them (and encourage them) to stay in touch with old school friends. The frequency of those conversations will decrease in a matter of months, you’ll see. Don’t force the children to stay in touch – let them do what they feel. In my daughter’s case, she has a group of “best friends” she feels just as close to, in a matter of months, as she used to feel to her American classmates. Children are friendly and resilient. They will make new friends and live new experiences.

Now, let’s say that you are repatriating with high schoolers. College is around the corner. I’m pretty sure you’re not even considering “letting” them go to college in Romania. Will you choose a private high school? A public one? There still are (I can only speak about Bucharest) great high schools in Bucharest. Being admitted is competitive. Your child may not be used to the type and method of learning and teaching done in Romanian high schools, be they great ones.

My daughter came to me in tears a couple of days ago because she hadn’t read a book that was assigned to her and I had to manage a small “crisis”, where she said “school in America was much, much easier”. Those of you with children in the American public school system know exactly what she means. The school she currently attends lets the children have fun, too, but they take studying very seriously at an early age. She gets more homework in a day than she used to get in a week at her New Jersey School. The merits of having homework are debatable – however, adding more structure to the learning process and having each student take responsibility for his or her results, and acknowledging that not everyone is great at everything and doing great in each subject, are things of great value, in my opinion.

A week ago, my daughter watched me attend a live talk-show on an online platform. I came home from the show and she greeted me with a very happy and smiling face. “Mommy!” She exclaimed when I opened the door. She hugged me and I could see, in her eyes, that she was proud. Of me. Children have to be proud of their parents FIRST. It will be the other way around later.

Next, I’m pretty sure another article could cover some suggestions for you – the mom or dad – who, after 5, 10, 15, 20 years abroad, wants to reintegrate in the Romanian society. Find a job, open a business, join a community. Follow us here for more!

By Dana Tudose – Costache, guest writer

(photo source: Shutterstock)