Why have they returned home? Interview with Paula Anastasiade: Many people here would rather envy you than work hard to achieve more
Guest writer Matt Sampalean interviewed Paula Anastasiade, a young Romanian who returned to Romania after studying in Canada and Holland, and who is now working with the Center for International Private Enterprise.
How many years did you spend studying abroad? Where?
I spent four years as an International Studies and Sociology student at York University, Canada, and another year at the University of Amsterdam, where I got my MSc in Political Science/Conflict Resolution and Governance.
Why did you come back? What do you do in Romania?
Romania had absolutely no room in my initial post-graduation plan. I wasn't planning on returning to Canada and I wasn't going to stay in Amsterdam either, but I did consider looking for a job in the Hague, Brussels or even Warsaw at one point. On the other hand, I wasn't in the mood to start over from scratch in yet another country and I wanted to be close to my loved ones. I needed the break and, as it turns out, soon after returning I landed a job with the Center for International Private Enterprise, an American NGO that also had a regional office in Romania - so, that's how I came to live in Bucharest.
For the past two years, I've been working for the Regional Center for Organization Management, a foundation that was created by CIPE in 2007. My work mostly consists of daily project management activities, external communication, event planning and... dealing with a lot of bureaucracy.
While you were away, did you miss Romania? Anything in particular?
I remember missing my family especially when everyone would go home for Reading Week or all sorts of celebrations (Thanksgiving, etc.). And I missed our traditional cheese, the telemea!
What do you miss most about Canada/Holland?
I miss a lot of things about Canada and only a few things about Holland. I miss Canada's lack of bureaucracy and complications and its respect for basic rights. I miss Toronto's multicultural vibe, the freedom and the long walks on Yonge St., checking out all the nice boutiques on Lawrence Ave. I miss summer in Toronto, wandering around Kensington Market, heading to Chinatown with my sister to grab cheap fruit or trying out yet another Indian all-you-can-eat restaurant, and my job as a Research Assistant in the Sociology Department of York's Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. And, of course, I miss my uncle and my aunt, a few friends, Prof. Mazzeo, Prof. Radoeva and Prof. Hadj-Moussa (pour les connoisseurs). I miss hearing "sorry" even if it was you who accidentally bumped into someone, "excuse me" when someone passes you by and "thank you".
As for Holland, I mostly miss my neighbors-turned-to-dear-friends, whom I met in residence and the good times we spent together, even if for a short while. I miss the variety of tulips, Delft and the traditional dessert called pannekoeken, meaning very small pancakes served with lots of caster sugar.
Would you say it's an advantage to come back to Romania after living in Canada (or anywhere in the West)?
It is definitely an advantage, to the extent that you come back with more than you could possibly hope to get in Romania, in terms of learning experience, understanding different mindsets, being exposed to different lifestyles and ways of doing things - in other words, you get an excellent life experience. You come back with a strong work ethic, with the desire to prove your worth and let others benefit from your new skills. Of course, all this can hit you back like a boomerang - it's mostly this part that I've been getting but I'm trying to sound (and be) more positive.
Outside of school, what did you 'learn' while living in Toronto?
I loved what I studied - especially Sociology - as well as my school, with its small, green campus, great professors, and a reputation for being the only Canadian institution that offers a fully bilingual education. However, what I find has enriched me more than anything was the big exposure to multiculturalism. I've learned not only to stand on my own two feet (which was one of my goals when I left in the first place), but I've learned about other cultures, other habits, other lifestyles. I've mingled with people from all over the world, made some friends and learned so much in the process about relationships, expectations, disappointments, and mindsets. That's also where I learned to use chopsticks and cook Thai and Indian food.
If you had to pick one thing to change about Romania (Romanians) what would it be?
I would change what I'm mostly affected by right now: an overall lack of professionalism and a superficial work ethic. I'd like to see Romanians become less shallow in their way of judging things and performing their duties; in other words, I'd like to seem them become more serious about their studies, their work and their fellow Romanians in general. I'd like young people to be interested in politics and knowledgeable in that respect, just like the young people I met during my university years. I'd also change the way people think about and embrace Romanians who studied abroad, by becoming more open, less envious and more willing to learn and cooperate. I'd use my magic wand to erase, among other things, all the frustration that makes many of the people I've met or worked with feel less threatened by my background or the things I've done so far. But of course, this is a matter of individual outlook. Many people here would rather envy you than work hard to achieve more. And they'd go out of their way to hold you back, so you don't shine more than them. I'd definitely change the ridiculous process whereby it can take you ages to have your foreign degrees officially acknowledged in Romania. I support less bureaucracy in general, more effectiveness and, of course, meritocracy. I'd change precisely what you said you'd change about them on your blog. There are too many things to change and I'm an idealist, anyway.
What would you tell Romanians in the diaspora who are considering a return to Romania?
Back in 2004, I was struggling with the dilemma of staying vs. leaving. I wrote a piece about this, which Jurnalul National's editor-in-chief at that time, Marius Tuca, decided to publish instead of his regular op-ed. It was called "Why leave? Why stay?". At that time, I didn't really want to stay here. I was preparing to embark on a potentially never ending Western adventure. But then I came back. Everyone's different, so I think I would only tell people to think twice before making this decision and to follow their heart. Romania is a difficult and frustrating road - in my mind there's no doubt about that. I've followed my heart but, as much as I love stable, lasting things, I'm convinced that there's no "forever" and there's no "never" either. So I'm here now but, who knows, I might leave again someday, if the knife eventually reaches my bone, as the Romanian expression goes, or, in other words, when the going gets rough, as Canadians would put it.
Interview 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.