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June 2015

Uncovering The Issues Faced by Garcini School no. 5 (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)   (published in Romania)

June 23, 2015 by   Comments(0)

Reclined behind a large, glossed table that served as the centerpiece of the teachers’ lounge, it actually seemed to me that the kids, teachers and staff of School no. 5 in Garcini were well-equipped enough to provide a relatively high-quality education to the local Roma children who attend.

I was accompanied by two teachers, both smartly dressed, who spoke excellent English and exuded a similar degree of professionalism that one would find at a typical American elementary school. To my right sat a Smart Board, a piece of classroom hardware I never would have expected to find in a Rroma village, and if I craned my neck far enough the same direction, a desktop computer slept on a table.

As we spoke, however, I noticed the two women writing in large, paper spreadsheets. After my inquiry, I discovered that – assuming I understood correctly – they were entering students’ grade by hand. Had I not already strolled the grounds and seen the physical condition of the rest of the school, this would have been one of the first indications that this school needs help beyond the resources that are available to it.

As the conversation progressed, the three of us began to delve deeper and deeper into the many issues faced by the school. One of the first of these we discussed was the school’s high dropout rate. I had already been somewhat informed of this problem by my Projects Abroad colleagues, Beth and Becky, who are volunteering as English teachers at the school, but the teachers painted a clearer picture.


“Of course the dropout rate is very big,” said the first teacher, a woman named Ada of about 26.


“And they don’t value education,” the second, perhaps slightly younger and named Sabina, chimed in.


One of the largest reasons for student dropouts at School no. 5 comes from a cultural disparity: when a young woman in Rroma cultures is “married” -- which often occurs in her early teen years -- she simply moves in with her husband, sans any kind of traditional or official wedding ceremony. Once she does so, even if very happy in the marriage, it is often difficult to continue coming to school because of the chastisement she may receive from her classmates. Also, I presume, once she is married, her life seems more set in stone and school begins to seem obsolete.


Related to the issue of young marriages, naturally, is the issue of engagement in sexual activity at an early age. Many of these young women begin having children while they are are school age, and -- again presumably -- find that the responsibilities of motherhood and school do not mix.  


The school tried to establish sex-ed courses for the children in order to promote safer sexual practices, but this attempt was recently met with backlash from the local community. Many find sex-ed to be offensive and shameful, and attempt to stymie or censor their children’s exposure to it.


Another aspect of the typical Western education system that the School no. 5 lacks in abundance is one-on-one time with its students. Right now, certain staff members will spend face-time with the school’s more troubled students, but the teachers expressed interested in increasing one-on-one time with the remainder of the school’s student body. Ada suggested starting school one hour earlier, in order to increase facetime and effectively utilize the time that several students spend there before school, as many arrive early anyway.


In terms of after-school activities, the staff do offer a few, including dancing, painting and choir. These activities, however, are typically attended by the most well-behaved students, leaving a certain percentage to return to their homes to be potentially exposed to some of their community’s more negative aspects.


One of these aspects that has permeated the student body is violence. A teacher -- or a staff member, I can’t remember -- told me there is about 1 fight per day at the school, and many of the students’ knee-jerk reactions when faced with a playground confrontation is physical violence.


Scuffles are so common that they are generally “handled on the spot,” with no serious disciplinary action. More serious issues, which I didn’t ask for a definition of, are dealt with by calls home and essay-writing.


During our talk, Sabina mentioned an idea she had that may redirect their energy: after-school martial arts or boxing classes. Her thought seemed to be if the students had an outlet for their aggressive tendencies, they might begin to calm down at school. Ada, on the other hand, brought up the fact that exposing and encouraging fighting in a class could simply make the violence worse, particularly after the students had been better trained to fight. It is an experiment the school has yet to conduct, but both seemed in favor of at least giving it a try.


At this point, I remembered to ask about something I had developed curiosity about on the bus ride to the school: college. How would these kids pay for it? What would happen if a well-behaved student made it all the way through high school, then wanted to college? Ada and Sabina almost scoffed at the question of college.


“So few of them go to college,” Ada said.


“Zero point zero-two percent,” Sabina added jokingly, then immediately chimed in again with an even lower number -- again with a twack of sarcasm.


College is not expensive for those who want to go, and Ada said there are special places for Rroma get assistance with their higher education, but it seems that most of these kids just don’t want to go. Ada said a high school graduation is enough of a rarity among the students to warrant a serious celebration.


When it comes right down to it, what the school really needs is money. Money will help the teachers and staff of School no. 5 to experiment with solutions to the problems they have, help them provide supplies and classroom technology to their students. If you would like to donate to School no. 5 in Garcini, please contact Teach for Romania at, or visit their website here (right click, translate to English).

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Uncovering The Issues Faced by Garcini School no. 5 (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)
Uncovering The Issues Faced by Garcini School no. 5 (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)

An Unexpected Impact ( written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)   (published in Romania)

June 17, 2015 by   Comments(0)


Fueled by a desire to teach theater to kids abroad, Elizabeth Lengyel signed up to volunteer in Romania through Projects Abroad with little idea of what to expect – and certainly with no thought of the positive impact she was soon to make. As an Atlanta-raised aspiring actress living in Chicago, she was enticed by the opportunity to travel to a foreign country and use her talents to benefit children who haven’t had the same opportunities that she and so many Westerners are accustomed to.


Upon arrival in her placement at a day care in Prejmer, a village outside Brasov, Lengyel was quickly thrust outside her comfort zone. Facing a serious language barrier and conditions being below what she was used to in the United States, it would have been easy for her to give up and look for a new placement.


“At first, it was a bit overwhelming,” Lengyel said. “The kids didn’t speak much English, so teaching and general communication was a challenge. However, we gradually began to find ways to communicate, and Gabriella, a teacher at the day care, helped translate.”


Something about these kids inspired her, however, and she instead stuck it out. From the beginning, Lengyel said she felt a connection to these kids, which helped her overcome the challenges. After a few days of settling in, began to adapt to the various challenges of the project and find help through Gabriella.


“Even from the first day, there was something about these kids I just loved,” Lengyel said. As she got further into the placement, Lengyel set out to raise money for the kids at the day care, to help pay for various supplies that were needed. After consulting with Claudia, the head of the day care, she determined that new shoes were an important need the kids had.


After hearing of the need for new shoes, and already having set out to raise money for the day care, Lengyel had an idea. Her 20th birthday happened to fall during her time in Romania, and instead of asking for gifts for herself, she asked friends and family to donate to the fundraiser she set up for the kids.


In the end, she raised a little more than $2,500.There was enough money to buy all of the kids new shoes, a new shirt and a new pair of pants. Lengyel came to Romania thinking she was going to be the one doing the teaching, but she said the kids ended up teaching her just as much as she taught them. “I understand what’s really important in life now,” Lengyel said. I’m really thankful I was able to get involved in these kids lives over the past six weeks, and learn that happiness can be reached without the pursuit of material wealth.”
She said she definitely plans to return to Prejmer one day, and will continue to stay in touch and help in whatever way she can from her home in the United States.

The donations were made through a website called If you would like to make a similar donation, please contact Lengyel at


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An Unexpected Impact ( written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)
An Unexpected Impact ( written by Andrew Hoskins, USA)

Something Different (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA, Journalism Project)   (published in Romania)

June 9, 2015 by   Comments(1)

Sitting in London's Heathrow airport waiting for my flight was when it first hit me that I was not going on a typical vacation, or even a typical adventure by my Western standards. By the look of my fellow London-to-Bucharest travelers, I realized I was in for a trip that was about to be very different from what I am used to in the United States: the clothes were slightly different, the mood was somber, and the eye contact was fleeting and tense as I glanced around the airport gate. There was no turning back at this point, however, despite the sudden sense of apprehension that came over me.


Fast forward about two hours and I had landed in Bucharest at about midnight, shimmying my way down the airplane ladder straight onto the tarmac and following the crowd onto a tightly packed bus that led us to the baggage claim. After grabbing my bag and circling the frantically busy pick-up area in a sleep-deprived daze, I finally spotted Alex, a Romanian guy about my age who was to be my driver and conversation companion on the two-hour drive North to Brasov.


Slumped in the passenger seat of Alex’s BMW 3 series – and with my mind in a sort of travel-induced smog – I wound up in a very in-depth conversation with him about some of the biggest issues facing Romania today, including his views on the current Romanian political machine and the influence of Orthodox Catholicism on the country. This conversation, although unexpected and at times a bit edgy, actually gave me an excellent peek into some of the concerns Romanians have about their country. The talk we had may prove to serve as an important insight into a culture that is trying to break free from a checkered past into the modern Western world.


After speeding down several winding roads and racing through the various mountain towns that dotted the journey, the two of us finally made it to the apartment of Elena, the Romanian woman who was to become my host for the remainder of my stay in Brasov. Completely fried at this point, I barked a few mandatory polite words to Alex, who quickly translated them to Elena. I blacked out on the bed shortly after.


The next morning I began one of the oddest breakfasts of my entire life – but one that I will probably never forget. Elena sat across from me as I sliced up the cucumber she put in front of me and gnawed on the accompanying salami. For the better part of the meal, she was speaking Romanian, and was visibly animated about the stories she was telling me. Almost instinctively, I began to nod my head but in with „m-hmms” at just the right moments. When she would break in speaking, I would simply reply in English using filler words like „wow, that’s really amazing” or „yeah, I think I know what you mean, ”even though I had no clue what she was saying. She didn’t care, though, and we quickly began to bond this way. It was amazing to experience the power of eye contact, voice tones and gestures in this way.


As for Brasov, I’ve had a beautiful time here, in the past two days. The people exude a sly playfulness, coupled with a noticeable toughness, which seem to mesh into a collective mindset that indicates they live by that same simple-yet-profound rule of the world’s other Romance countries: enjoy life.


Thus far, I have had the pleasure of seeing the inside of the Black Church (Brasov’s notable landmark), strolling the old-style European quarter and briefly meeting some very interesting people. As the journey continues, I have no serious journalistic goal, other than to dabble in as many Transylvanian happenings as I can, and write them down for you all to read and learn something from.



Until then,



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Something Different (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA, Journalism Project)
Something Different (written by Andrew Hoskins, USA, Journalism Project)