Guest writer Matt Sampalean interviews Andrea F, who emigrated to Canada as a toddler, but who still feels the pull of her native homeland and is seriously considering moving back someday. Andrea is currently attending university in Ontario and studying for a degree in Business Administration.
When did your family leave Romania? Where did you move?
My parents left in 1997 (when I was three), and I followed seven months later in 1998. We first lived in Toronto, where we stayed for about five years.
Are you in touch with Romanian culture (language, traditions, holidays, etc.)?
I would say "Hell yes" if I thought it was true; unfortunately I have to settle for a boring "I believe so...". This is because no matter how much I may love Romania or do Romanian things -it will never be the same as if I grew up there; I depend on my parents and grandparents to uphold and teach me the traditions. However I do go to Romania every summer (for the entire summer), speak, read, & write, and my grandparents live with us for six months every year. So I am aware of much of the culture, and my grandparents have made sure Romania is still a part of our daily life in Canada (Romanian radio, satellite, newspaper, Remi [aka, Rummikub], books, food, stories, pacalici [cards] and so forth). We go to church -especially during the major holidays, watch Eurovision (I love that competition), celebrate ziua martisorului, listen to how Basescu screwed up Romanian civilization on the radio, and so on.
Do you visit often?
Definitely. I have fights with my parents every year around January about how Romania is worth it. They say I don't accomplish anything by going there and there's no point in staying for such a long time, or so often. It's not that they don't appreciate Romania, but they say that my future is here -why do I keep looking back? My answers are never satisfactory -for them or myself. I just feel like Romania recharges me. It's a break from Canada and the technology ( I don't have a computer in Romania) and the society and...everyone really. I love the simplicity, the idea of seeing a horse and buggy in the city, hearing folk music on the radio, having animals in my backyard even when I'm not on a farm etc. I love everything about the environment, the outhouses instead of toilets, the flies inside the house, the beautiful churches everywhere, and the open markets (and lack of malls). The nature is beautiful and a highlight; and though the people may not be to everyone's liking (even to my own sometimes), my entire family and some of my best friends live there. My happiest memories are of my summers in Romania. On a slightly different topic, I also completed parts of grade 3 and 5 there.
What are three differences that strike you most?
The simplicity of life (in the villages anyway). The increased freedom (especially for young people). The lack of happiness; I feel like people complain their lives away -about corruption, low salaries, the standard of living, the declining education system, the lack of jobs, the failing culture etc etc etc -but no one really does anything to change that; even in their own small way. I feel like the Romanian people need to be shaken and empowered.
What do you like best about Romania?
Everything? This is a hard question. I love everything about Romania -except sometimes the downhearted and cynical people. I love the radio, the TV stations, the villages, the nature, the language, the music (though it really is becoming way too sexual), and the food of course. I even like muzica populara (folk music) -which is not something many young people can say.
What do you dislike about it?
As I've mentioned, I find the people are too rooted in their bitterness and that very few have the will to change things (and if you do, you're often hindered by those who don't). I wish they would be kinder, more truthful, more caring, -and less superficial and dramatic (especially the reality shows). I also wish people would act more civilized -particularly towards the Roma. Though many hate the tigani, I feel (just like Ghandi) that you need to be the change you want to see in the world. If you're tired of how they act or their actions -then change yours and see how they respond. Overall, I feel like Romanians need a kick in the butt, end their moping, and start forgiving and moving forward.
What do you consider to be a root cause for the negative light in which Romania is often portrayed? Do you think it's justified?
I feel like Romanians have given up on their country, their image, and themselves -so why should others uphold a glorified or even positive image of us when we can't do it ourselves? If we showed a willingness to improve I think things would be different. But instead we let our problems go wherever they will -whether that's to France (the influx of Roma people), to China (the fight over Chinese vs. Romanian highway workers), or to all the countries emigrants choose. So I believe the negative light is justified, because I have no respect for those who see a problem yet do not try to fix it. I know I am simplifying the situation shamelessly -but as an overarching problem, I think this is it.
Would you like to live in Romania someday? Why/why not?
I say a definitive "Yes". I love it there, and I am happiest there -so I'd better return there! However, I also know it is very very hard to make a good life for yourself, and there much fewer opportunities; so I plan to make something of myself here, then take my success (in the form of a business most likely) and start applying it in Romania -at least then I can make life better for a few people, even if they are just my employees.
Do you ever "promote" Romania where you are? Are you proud of your heritage or do you not mention it?
If you asked my friends this, they would give you an earful. They always hear me say things like, " this reminds me of Romania", "this smells like Romania", "you know, in Romania there are ...yadda yadda yadda.". And when people at university ask where I'm from, I always say Romania first, then my hometown in Canada. Lastly, my biggest pet peeve is when people see me as Canadian now, and Romanian as my past -I will never be Canadian, because I feel no love for Canada. (Wow, that sounds harsh). I am a proud Romanian and always will be -no matter what my parents or anyone else thinks.
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 protected]) or [email protected] to get in touch with the editor of Romania-Insider.com.