Guest writer Matt Sampalean interviewed Paul Caramida, who is currently a high school teacher in Toronto, and who says he's likely to come back to Romania when retiring, when all the dust settles and the current generation of corrupt officials exits the political stage.
Paul and I were teammates on the greatest Romanian indoor soccer team of all time, F.C Carpatini, but the after game Chilli bowls and Romanian banter was just as fun. Soccer unites all of us Romanians, even when we're so far from home, but -as Paul describes below - there's always more to it.
What year did you leave Romania and under what circumstances?
My parents and I came to Canada in the spring of 1993, when I was 13 years old and Canada was in a recession. We came with proper paperwork as my dad had worked with Canadians and Brits on the CANDU reactors back home, and had lots of recommendations as he was one of the top engineers in Romania.
What was the most striking difference between Romania and your new country?
One of the first things that I noticed was how people threw out perfectly good things on their curbs during garbage day. Couches, stereos, TVs and so on were a common sight. I picked up, fixed and used my first stereo for free for a few years right from the curb. I also found it odd how much food everyone ate and how little kids played outdoors around our apartment building. Once we moved to a more European area, I finally found others to play with, but it still didn't have that same feeling as it did at home.
How long did it take you to adjust to the new language and culture?
My father already spoke English very well, but my mother and I had a very basic grasp. My mother being the Romanian language and literature high school teacher thought she'd motivate me to learn faster if we made it a competition. An unfair one at that, since at that age, my brain was a sponge and within half a year I moved out of the ESL class into a regular English one. Moving to high school the very next year was a bit of a shock, but as I started to play every sport I could I made more friends and by grade ten I had a solid social and academic life. Eventually, my accent smoothed out and it became an easier lifestyle all the way through to university.
What do you like most about living there?
Initially, the availability of all kinds of foods, electronics and possibility to make an honest living without cheating and lying, was a relief for my family. But as the first year passed, my university educated parents had a real tough time adjusting and finding work. Wherever my father was interviewed he was told apologetically that "without Canadian experience" he would not get the job, which would be hard to acquire without someone giving him the chance. In the end, he finally broke through the system but not without working for free painting AC units for a year. Hard work and patience did pay off in the end and the system came through for us when we needed it. The welfare, education and health systems are some of the best in the world in Canada, and we were very thankful for that.
Did/do you miss Romania? If so what in particular?
I did miss all my family and friends and still do. I did travel home the very next summer though, and was quickly reminded why we moved. The cheat-everyone-everywhere mentality and attitude was enough to send me back to Canada without any regrets every other year when I went to visit Romania. It got slightly better each time, but not enough for me to change my mind. I loved and still love traveling out of Bucharest where people tend to get more pure and truly Romanian, as they probably used to be in the Vlad Tepes era. I love going to my grandmother's village, and taking in the beauty of the natural environment, fresh fruit, vegetables, water and lots of family love.
Do you visit often?
Yes, I usually go back every other year; although since I got married last summer, I missed the opportunity to introduce my new wife to my family, simply due to the wedding and honeymoon taking up all our time and money. I plan on visiting next year and introducing my wife to the good and beautiful parts of my homeland.
Would you ever come back to live in Romania? Why/why not?
Maybe at some point during my retirement, when all the dust settles and the current generation of corrupt officials exits the political stage. I would love to buy a mountain villa or build a house on my grandmother's land and live the later days of my life off the land. As of now, I have just started my family here and would like to slowly introduce my French-Canadian wife to the culture and beauty of some of the purest parts of Romania. Once we have kids and take them back, they might all learn to appreciate it and possibly love it enough to want to live there. Never say never.
What do you do for a living?
I have enjoyed teaching senior high school math and biology in Toronto for the past eight years.
If given the opportunity, would you do the same thing here?
Maybe, although from what I know, teachers don't have it very easy back home. I'm not sure what it would take for me to have my diplomas and experience recognized. I never thought about teaching back home as I only think of coming back as a retiree.
Do you ever "promote" Romania where you are? Are you proud of your heritage or do you not mention it?
I have never shied away from telling everyone where I'm from and I never will. Romania made me who I am today and I am very proud of our rich history and heritage. I always take any opportunity I get to remind people that we are not "gypsies" and "orphans" and that Romania is more than just a breeding ground for gymnastics and vampires. We have a beautiful geographic layout, with pristine mountains, beautiful delta, sea and everything in between. Although there's been a huge "brain drain" movement since the 90s, I believe we still have a lot of educated people there to move the country forward. I take every opportunity to shed light on scientists, artists, leaders and innovators that have made a difference to the whole world such as insulin, the pen, the jet engine, cholera vaccine, cybernetics etc. I've always been a proud Romanian and have been part of many local groups that promote our wonderful culture and history, and I will continue to do so until the negative western view of our country and its people changes for the better.
By Matt Sampalean, Guest Writer
Matt was born in Romania and grew up in a world of ration cards and clandestine Radio Free Europe broadcasts. He emigrated with his parents to Toronto, Canada in 1991 where he spent twenty years before returning to Romania as co-founder of a technology startup. When he’s not working he blogs about his experiences as a person with ‘bipolar nationality disorder’. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania -Insider.com.
If you are you a Romanian in the Diaspora and want to share your story, talk about your experiences with emigration, culture shock, your new home, and your plans for retirement in the old country, either email Matt directly ( email@example.com) or firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with the editor of Romania-Insider.com.