Matteo from Italy, or Matt for short, is a youth worker and writer with a passion for positive change. A gentle young man, Matt’s purpose is to create the space for personal transformation especially around children who have less hope for life through art, travel, and non-formal education. He found himself in the summer of 2019 in Romania, teaching empathy, compassion, communication, and self-discovery to different age-groups in the village of Haghig, Covasna. The ride so far has had its challenges, from finding out a way to gain the children’s trust, although he didn’t speak their language, to dealing with harsh discrimination against the Roma community (even from the Roma community itself). Listen to Matt’s thoughts on the benefit of non-formal education for these kids, how he dealt with his first months in the country, how is it to work in rural Romania, his experience at Romanian funerals, and more. Please enjoy the conversation!
What topics we cover in episode 8:
- 0:00:34 – Podcast intro;
- 0:01:38 – How Romania appeared on Matt’s radar through a unique volunteering opportunity;
- 0:03:15 – Talking about UP Charity Romania, what they do, and what Matt does in rural Haghig, Covasna;
- 0:05:44 – Why Matt loves working with kindergarten children;
- 0:06:55 – The special case of the gymnasium students in Haghig, Covasna;
- 0:09:55 – Why teaching empathy and collaboration matters for the development of these kids;
- 0:13:13 – Why Matt’s first day with the children was a disaster and how he dealt with the situation;
- 0:18:50 – Building on the children’s self-confidence – how Matt does it;
- 0:23:08 – Matt witnesses discrimination among the children for the first time;
- 0:26:23 – Getting to know his students even more by visiting their homes;
- 0:29:11 – What have the children taught Matt during his Transylvanian adventure?
- 0:30:49 – Did Matt feel lonely during his time in Romania?
- 0:33:35 – Matt’s hope for the children of Haghig;
- 0:35:38 – Will Matt miss the kids at the end of his NGO experience?
- 0:37:20 – How this Romanian chapter is helping Matt with his life, looking at it from a bigger picture point of view;
- 0:38:50 – Getting Hungarian – Matt talks about experiencing the magyar side of life in Covasna;
- 0:41:00 – What is Matt’s favorite Romanian food?
- 0:41:38 – What does Matt think about Romania now that he has experienced it first-hand?
- 0:45:57 – Matt’s personal advice for internationals who want to dive deeper into what Romania has to offer;
- 0:49:17 – Matt’s experience at Romanian pork festivals and funerals;
- 0:51:41 – Podcast outro.
Interesting links from episode 8:
- Cowboys from Space – Matt’s website that hosts stories about art, music and travel;
- The Cowboys from Space Facebook page – keep up with Matt’s latest project updates on social media;
- UP Charity Romania – the official website for the NGO that Matt works with in Transylvania;
Listen to Wo/anderers’ episode 8 on YouTube!
Read the full conversation from “Episode 8: Hope with an Italian twist” with Matt below.
Daniela: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Wo/anderers podcast, Episode 8.
Daniela: [00:00:34] Matteo or Matt is a youth worker and writer from Italy. He has found himself in the summer of 2019 working with kids from disadvantaged villages in Romania through a local NGO. Matt initially wasn’t planning on coming to this side of the world again, especially after having already lived in Bulgaria. He thought that he had already seen it all in Eastern Europe, but then his more adventurous side got the best of him. He decided to give Transylvania a try. In Episode 8, Matt and I go over his work in the village of Haghig, Covasna, how he had to gain the children’s trust without speaking their language, the impact of non-formal education, the lonelier times of being an international in a new country, Matt’s experience with Romanian funerals and more. Please enjoy our conversation.
Daniela: [00:01:30] Hey, Matt.
Matt: [00:01:30] Hello.
Daniela: [00:01:31] How are you doing?
Matt: [00:01:32] I’m fine, and you?
Daniela: [00:01:33] I am very good. I’m looking forward to this interview. Thank you for accepting the invitation.
Matt: [00:01:38] Thanks to you.
Daniela: [00:01:38] So, Matt, you are originally from Italy and you had quite some international experience so far, travelling around, seeing a bit of the world. How did Romania appear on your radar?
Matt: [00:01:51] I was in Italy and as you say, I was in a situation where I wasn’t doing anything so interesting. So I started to look for some projects around Europe and a small organization from Transylvania, a charity texted me, “Hey, would you like to come here? We’re building a school. We need someone that helps us to organize activities. So I say, OK, let’s go. I was ready to do something different. So I was ready to go. I didn’t want to wait for a long time to stay there, to stay in Italy without doing nothing.
Daniela: [00:02:28] And what did you want to do in your life? Was there something specific about this project that attracted you? Or it was just like, let’s just go out into the world and see what happens?
Matt: [00:02:38] It was interesting because it was a project related to young people. It’s something different because when I was in Italy, I was used to tutor to teenagers, especially maths. And this is a project related to children. And we have no formal education activities in the villages of Transylvania, especially in Haghig. And Haghig, it’s town in Covasna county. And in this moment, I am having lessons… not lessons,but activities with kids from kindergarten to gymnasium.
Daniela: [00:03:15] Maybe you can tell us more about this organization that you came with. Like, what are they about? What is your role there? How did they get involved in the community in Covasna, in Haghig?
Matt: [00:03:26] So, this organization is building a school, their own school and a guesthouse in Haghig. And they hope to open this school next year. I came here to help them to organize activities, but unfortunately the work took a bit of time. And, meanwhile, we started to have some activities in the schools in Haghig. There are 2 villages in Haghig, in the town. One it’s Haghig and the other one is Iarăș. I started to have activities with kids this summer, for a summer project. And I went with them in… to Costinești.
Daniela: [00:04:08] To the seaside?
Matt: [00:04:10] Yes, for 2 weeks. For some of them, it was the first time ever. And I have to say that for me, it was easy to stay with them at the seaside than in the school, because it was a different context. At the beginning, I had some issues to communicate with them. I felt that they… it was related to the language because I know some words in Romanian, but I can’t say that I speak Romanian.
Matt: [00:04:37] But I think it’s something more related to… let’s say they don’t trust someone. And so, you needed to create an interaction with them. And this takes time. And I noticed that it was very interesting to create that interaction when we were at the seaside and we were in the water, swimming, playing football on the sand. So, just playing, where you don’t have to talk. You have just to play. And I think they felt, wow, this is here for staying with us, for making us doing something. So it’s great. So little by little, I think that I developed… developed a relationship with them. It is not so easy to work with them also now. But at least I… I think something changed in… in these months.
Daniela: [00:05:30] So it was easier to work with the children when they were just in their element, when they were playing than having… getting deeper into getting to know them or getting to know their feelings, right?
Matt: [00:05:43] Definitely.
Daniela: [00:05:44] What kind of children do you work with in Haghig?
Matt: [00:05:47] So, we work with vulnerable children. Most of them are from the Roma community. I always say before, I worked with kindergarten, that they are my favorite ones.
Daniela: [00:06:01] Why are they your favorite ones?
Matt: [00:06:03] Yeah, because when I arrive, there is a human wave around me all the time.
Matt: [00:06:08] Matteo is here, yaaaaay! They run to me. They hug me. And because they know that it’s time to play. I love to play with them a lot.
Matt: [00:06:18] With Lego, with “plastelina”. We play something like duck, duck, goose. I help them to draw and I really love to draw with them. Even if I’m not good at drawing. I’m more of a writer than someone good with drawing. But it’s funny. It’s… I think it’s a good way to connect with them. When you have your pencil.
Matt: [00:06:42] “Ok. We can do these” and “Oooohhh”, they are so easily surprised by everything.
Matt: [00:06:50] And it’s amazing. I love this.
Daniela: [00:06:52] It warms your heart, right?
Matt: [00:06:54] Yes.
Daniela: [00:06:55] How are they different than, for example, your gymnasium students?
Matt: [00:06:58] These students are… I noticed a huge difference between teenager students in Haghig and, for instance, some friends of mine from Brașov, that is a teenager. The teenagers in Brașov speak English very well. I have some friends that are 17, 18. So, they were still doing high-school. Meanwhile, the kids in the gymnasium in Haghig often don’t have huge preparation. They don’t know any words in English. Some of them have still some issues to read.
Daniela: [00:07:47] To just… to read texts in Romanian, right?
Matt: [00:07:50] Yes.
Daniela: [00:07:51] That’s interesting. How old are the kids that we’re talking about?
Matt: [00:07:54] Gymnasium are Clasa 5 (fifth grade) to Clasa 8 (eighth grade).
Matt: [00:08:00] So from 14 to 10 years.
Matt: [00:08:03] So before going to the high-school. And it’s very hard to explain why there is this huge gap between kids that study in some villages and kids that study, you know, in towns. There is a very huge gap. Yes, you can expect that boys in the city can have a better preparation than someone in the village, but such a huge gap, it’s something that’s… It’s difficult to understand.
Daniela: [00:08:39] And regarding this huge gap, do you notice it in terms of… only in terms of academic performance? Like, for example, OK, there are kids that are almost approaching their high-school age and they do not know how to read or do you notice it also in terms of social integration, like how they communicate and how they do take a part in their community?
Matt: [00:09:00] Obviously, it’s also related to the social skills. They have just issues to play together. You can, you can leave a game, OK? Play together. And sometimes, they start to fight for stupid issues. And I think it’s very important that they start to communicate better to each other. Today, I had an activity with them, with some primary school kids and it was very funny. It was very good cause they’re starting to interact more with each other. They drew superheroes, their own superheroes. And it was interesting because when they finished, they came to their older classmates to talk.
Matt: [00:09:50] “Oh, what did you draw?” “Oh, I drew this one. It’s nice.”
Matt: [00:09:55] And so, it was so nice to see them interact and not just saying, “oh, I drew this. I’m the best one.” And… because, especially in the beginning, there was a lack of communication between the kids, not only between us and the… and the kids.
Daniela: [00:10:10] How did that manifest?
Matt: [00:10:12] Well, between us and the kids, it’s like they weren’t interested in our activities. They didn’t understand that we were doing something different from the regular school. We were doing games because non-formal education… It’s learning something in a different way than studying a book or doing maths. It’s more related to doing activities for learning something. For instance, drawing, for instance learning throughout games, throughout experiments.
Matt: [00:10:48] Two weeks ago, we… we talked about empathy. We’ve made some bird-feeders together.
Daniela: [00:10:55] Bird-feeders?
Matt: [00:10:57] Yes.
Daniela: [00:10:58] Oh, and you actually put them in the trees and stuff, right?
Matt: [00:11:01] Yes, we used plastic bottles and we explained them about the birds in the winter, the small birds, that they need to find food for surviving. And so, it was a way to explain them about empathy. Today, we did a game where we gave them two cards, two cards for every kid. And some kids received two cards with meals. And some kids received nothing, received cards without food.
Matt: [00:11:36] And so, it was interesting to see them, how they react to this situation. “OK, I have two meals. My classmate doesn’t have food. What can I do?”
Matt: [00:11:54] But at least, it was something easy for them to understand, that it was better to give food to the other one. Because I don’t need the second meal. I think it’s the way to explain, maybe, difficult concepts to them.
Daniela: [00:12:08] More abstract concepts.
Matt: [00:12:09] Yes, through games and… for instance, we did a kind of electoral campaign, when there were presidential elections in Romania.
Daniela: [00:12:22] Interesting.
Matt: [00:12:23] Two kids made a kind of monologue for “Please, vote me! Please, vote me!”
Matt: [00:12:30] And after this, the other kids had to vote their president.
Daniela: [00:12:37] Based on the monologue of the two children.
Matt: [00:12:41] Yes, but I think they voted based on their sympathy, not…
Daniela: [00:12:46] Which is not that far away from what’s happening in real life. So, I guess they learned a life lesson in a way.
Matt: [00:12:52] Yes. It’s very interesting to see them, little by little, going inside the mechanism and get involved. It’s something that takes time, takes a long time, but little by little, I… Something is changing. But you know that it’s a long, long, long, long, long wait.
Daniela: [00:13:13] And comparing the moment when you first met these children, which I’m assuming was quite the… quite difficult?
Matt: [00:13:24] Yeah. The first day, it was a disaster.
Daniela: [00:13:27] How come?
Matt: [00:13:28] Yeah, cause they didn’t listen to us.
Matt: [00:13:30] They were like looking, “Hey, why are you here? Why?” “We are having activities with you.” “Hmmmmm. Yeah…”
Daniela: [00:13:41] But maybe you can explain to us how you got in contact with the kids.
Daniela: [00:13:45] Like, how did the organization provide the space or did you go to their school? Did you invite the children to your center?
Daniela: [00:13:54] How did it happen?
Matt: [00:13:55] So, now our center isn’t ready.
Matt: [00:13:59] So we are going to the schools.
Daniela: [00:14:01] And all these activities happen during school-time, after school-time?
Matt: [00:14:05] After school-time.
Matt: [00:14:06] So, during the summer, they happen during the morning, and now they’re happening during the afternoon.
Matt: [00:14:14] So after-school. We start with kindergarten and later we have the bigger kids. The gymnasium and primary school. We work in two different schools.
Daniela: [00:14:27] In the two different villages?
Matt: [00:14:29] Yes. Some of us in Haghig, some of us in Iarăș.
Daniela: [00:14:36] How many people are you, by the way, that are involved in the project?
Matt: [00:14:40] 5-6 people that work with kids in a week.
Daniela: [00:14:45] But tell us more about the first day, why was it a nightmare?
Daniela: [00:14:48] So, they were… they didn’t know what you were doing there? They didn’t… They didn’t have the context of the fact that you’re going to come or what happened?
Matt: [00:14:57] I remember that I and one of my a colleagues spent 1-2 weeks to make interesting activities for the summer project. So, we were thinking about activities related to financial education, sanitary education, civic education, English. We’ve brought a lot of activities. Something like 100 games.
Daniela: [00:15:24] Well, that’s quite some.
Matt: [00:15:26] Yes.
Matt: [00:15:27] We came there and the kids were totally different from what we were expecting.
Daniela: [00:15:36] Did you get a personal preparation for meeting this children?
Daniela: [00:15:40] Were you warned beforehand about hey, these are the kind of children that you’re going to meet and they have these kind of traits? Did something like that happened?
Daniela: [00:15:49] Or did you just learn on the… on the fly?
Matt: [00:15:52] We knew something about them. But, you know, when you know something about someone before meeting them, it’s different than when you really meet someone, when you really meet this person. Maybe you have an idea about them. But you need to meet them to have a real point of view. Your point of view. And so, you can start to adapt activities to them. You can start to know how to interact with them. And it doesn’t happen only with kids. For instance, they need to do something more active. They need to move a bit. You can’t pretend that they stay one hour in their place, just drawing, just talking and listening to someone. They need to move, they need to spend the energy. They need to talk. You can’t ask them, “please stay quiet for an hour” because it’s impossible. And they think they… they need to talk. They need to interact.
Matt: [00:16:59] And so, we have to discover out to use this energy to do something with them, because probably they don’t move a lot during the hours, during the school hours.
Matt: [00:17:14] And so, when we arrive in the afternoon, they’re like, “OK, we are tired. We need to move.”
Daniela: [00:17:22] I can definitely understand that.
Matt: [00:17:24] Yes. I remember that I was listening to Alisa, right?
Daniela: [00:17:28] Yeah, from Episode 6!
Matt: [00:17:29] When she was talking about kids in a kindergarten in Brașov. That they had a full schedule. And they didn’t play so much. I think that sometimes kids, not only in the kindergarten, need to play because it’s a good way to improve their social skills. Because when you play, you have to interact with someone else. You are not doing something that could be boring, like maths or Romanian. So you are doing a game. And so, you have to interact with someone else in a funny way, because you’re playing. So, I think it’s very important to teach them how to play, how to make activities together, how to collaborate and also how to express their feelings because one issue is that they don’t say if they don’t like something.
Matt: [00:18:26] They have a huge problem to say, “oh, I don’t like this activity.” And I think it’s important that they start to say, “OK, I don’t like this. I don’t feel good at doing this.” Because if you have a feedback, you can know how to help them, how to improve. And they have these huge problems with communication also.
Daniela: [00:18:50] Yeah, but that means that they need to build their self-confidence.
Matt: [00:18:54] Yes. It’s something that we hope to have create and creating a self-confidence. They have to know that they can sell… sell… they can say something. I have this lapsus about “sale” because we made also an activity about make a commercial. And they loved this.
Daniela: [00:19:16] For a product?
Matt: [00:19:18] Yes. To draw a product, to write a short slogan. And so, they get to say this in front of the classroom and they really love it. So, this is why I say it. Sell… it was a little lapsus (slip-up).
Daniela: [00:19:36] It was extra-baggage from the workday.
Matt: [00:19:40] Yes.
Daniela: [00:19:41] I’m curious to know, what was your biggest challenge in handling the kids? Like what pushed your buttons and how did you react to it? How did you manage it?
Matt: [00:19:53] Well, I think that my biggest obstacle was creating an interaction with them.
Daniela: [00:19:59] Creating an interaction with them?
Matt: [00:20:01] Yes. Not only related to Romanian language because, OK. They speak only Romanian. And especially the older kids don’t understand that maybe you are from a different country, you speak a different language and maybe you don’t know their language.
Daniela: [00:20:22] Did that happen to you?
Matt: [00:20:24] It’s happening… it’s happening to me. Yes.
Matt: [00:20:28] I think probably because they don’t know anyone from maybe the other side of Romania or from the city. They spend most of their life in… in the village. So, everything from outside sometimes is very weird for them. So, I have this feeling that the biggest problem, it’s related to the self-confidence you say before. Because they need to be, to be that kind of self-confidence. They need to trust someone for talking, for playing, for… “Ok. This person is here for doing something with us.”
Daniela: [00:21:10] And is actually interested in us and wants to interact and we get something out of it.
Matt: [00:21:16] Exactly. Because maybe they think, “oh, he’s nice with us because he wants something from us.”
Daniela: [00:21:22] Or he gets paid, then he has to.
Matt: [00:21:25] Yes.
Daniela: [00:21:25] Was that your case?
Matt: [00:21:29] I had some issues with them, but how to say, I’m trying to use my emotional intelligence to create an interaction with them. So to override some obstacles, so… I’m working a lot on my emotional intelligence for creating an interaction with them. For instance, there is a kid that reminds me of a friend of mine that was with me in primary school, because she’s very similar in her face.
Daniela: [00:22:02] Like the way she looks?
Matt: [00:22:05] Yes.
Matt: [00:22:06] And so, I’m trying to create some link between the kids that I meet and people maybe that I met in my life when I was a kid.
Daniela: [00:22:16] Hmm hmm, interesting approach.
Matt: [00:22:18] Above all, when I’m there, I don’t think about the ethnic group which they are from. I always see them just like kids. Sometimes like funny kids, sometimes like mad kids, but always as a kids… as kids because they’re kids.
Matt: [00:22:40] And it’s something that we don’t have to forget. So they have their needs, they have their… their passions. They have, they have their limited patience sometimes. They want to play. They want to have fun. And I think this is the key, not forgetting that they’re kids and they have their necessities.
Daniela: [00:23:08] It’s interesting that you mention ethnicity because I’m wondering if you saw any kind of discrimination happening between the kids.
Matt: [00:23:16] Unfortunately, yes. We made a game. And this kid had to say something nice to another one. But this kid was Roma. She’s a very nice kid. But she has dark skin and eyes. So he started to say bad things to her just for the color of her skin.
Matt: [00:23:42] And it was something like, what? Other kids tried to stop him, to say “why, why you don’t stop to say bullshit to her?”
Matt: [00:23:55] So unfortunately, there is this discrimination among the kids, among the kids. So, there are kids that… even among Roma kids, equaled up and that “Oh, I am richer than you, so I’m better than you.”
Matt: [00:24:13] It’s happening that someone from Roma community… because you have to know the Roma community is not a unique thing. Because we think that Roma people live in a same… in the same way. No, there are Roma people that are richer and other ones that are poorer.
Daniela: [00:24:34] Then there’s also different traditions involved in the different families that they come from.
Matt: [00:24:39] Definitely. And there was this kid that is from one of the richer families, that was a bit rude with one of the kids from the poorest families, so…
Daniela: [00:24:54] How were they rude?
Daniela: [00:24:55] Like, what would they say? Would they make fun of the fact that the other people would not have as much money or as much influence? How would they treat them?
Matt: [00:25:03] I think they… they said something about the… Just joking about her, not saying something about money or… just joking about her.
Daniela: [00:25:14] Just demeaning the other person.
Matt: [00:25:15] Yes.
Daniela: [00:25:17] And how did you deal with all of these cases that you saw around you?
Matt: [00:25:20] Luckily, I’m not alone because I can’t handle this case alone. I’m usually the one that helps them to draw, to do activities, like more a kind of assistant. I prepare activities and I work with them, but I’m not the leader. They are the ones that they have to listen because I don’t talk Romanian. I can say some words, but my pronunciation sometimes is funny and so, it is better that… because otherwise kids are like, “Ha ha ha. What you say? Hahaha!” No. It is better to avoid this, because there are some kids… There are some kids that they like to have interactions with me and they appreciate when I use my few Romanian words. Older ones, some are like, “why you don’t speak well?” They make jokes about the things that I don’t speak Romanian very well.
Daniela: [00:26:19] And then, it’s harder to interact with them properly.
Matt: [00:26:22] Yes.
Daniela: [00:26:23] I am curious how you got along with their parents. Because I’m assuming that the parents were also involved to a certain extent in the activities that you guys were organizing for the kids. And how was the relationship with the parents? Because also, for example, the discrimination part that you mention, it has to come from somewhere. And usually discrimination is pretty linked to the environments where the children spend most of their time. In the villages, it’s usually with people that they know, aka families, friends.
Daniela: [00:26:54] How did you meet these people and what is your impression about the the community in itself?
Matt: [00:27:01] So this summer, I went to the poorer aria of Haghig, because there is a poor area, a poor neighborhood.
Matt: [00:27:12] I went inside. I have to say that most of the houses are normal.
Daniela: [00:27:20] What do you define as normal?
Matt: [00:27:22] They’re made of bricks, we can say this. Because I saw… I saw something definitely worse when I was in Bulgaria. To be honest, I expected something worse. So I can call them proper houses, even if there were some houses that I can’t call houses.
Daniela: [00:27:41] They were broken down?
Matt: [00:27:43] Yes. They were few ones. I remember that there was one of the kids in the project that was our guide in the street.
Matt: [00:27:54] “Oh, I know where this kid lives. Follow me. Follow me, follow me.”
Matt: [00:28:00] So she helped us a lot to find the kids, because we were signing the authorization for going to the seaside. So we had to go to their houses for making them sign the authorization because otherwise, we couldn’t have brought the kids to the seaside.
Matt: [00:28:21] Something that surprised me were the gates because the gates were very fancy. They have a lot of attention about gates.
Daniela: [00:28:33] You mean the paint and the way that they’re structured?
Matt: [00:28:37] Yes, I think that I saw better gates there than in most of the places in Brașov. So it was like, well, it was a big surprise.
Daniela: [00:28:50] People like to protect their property, I guess?
Matt: [00:28:53] Yes.
Matt: [00:28:54] And I think, maybe, it’s a way to… to show to the people “Ok. How my house is nice.” So who passes from their house and see these gates can have a good opinion about their houses. I don’t know. Maybe it could be an explanation.
Daniela: [00:29:09] Interesting. It could be an explanation.
Daniela: [00:29:11] And I’m thinking… because you came to Romania and to Haghig, to this place in Covasna to teach children empathy, cooperation, collaboration, human decency at points. What do the kids teach you? What did you learn from them?
Matt: [00:29:28] Something very practical is that they are teaching me to interact more without using words. Because as you say, when you can’t speak a language appropriately, you have to find other ways to communicate.
Matt: [00:29:43] Like maybe smiling, like using your facial expressions.
Matt: [00:29:49] Dance. Yes, I know. I’m from Italy and Italy is famous for using hands a lot. But, you know that it’s something different. And so, using my body to communicate, creative interaction… and interaction throughout drawings or throughout dancing. I… I dance like a bear.
Matt: [00:30:10] But when there are some dance activities, especially the bigger girls are like, “please, dance, dance, dance.” They have fun when I’m there dancing with them. So, so I think it’s very interesting this way to communicate without using words, I really like this. I know I like writing, and so, I should say for me, words are everything. But it’s interesting to explore other ways to communicate, not just words.
Daniela: [00:30:45] I have a curious question about that.
Matt: [00:30:49] OK.
Daniela: [00:30:49] Did you feel lonely during this period?
Daniela: [00:30:52] Because especially when you come in a new community and you don’t speak the language necessarily, although indeed, you did learn a couple and you used some of your Bulgarian skills somehow to communicate in Romanian as well, which is interesting. But did you feel at any point throughout this trip that, you know, oh, well, I’m here and I cannot talk to people, or did the kids make you feel like at home?
Matt: [00:31:20] Well, I have to say that, especially in the summer, I had the feeling, okay, I can’t communicate with them. And it was a bit harsh, especially in the summer. Because, besides the seaside, when I was in the school, it was very harsh because I wasn’t used to them. They were trying to talk with me all the time. Sometimes, they weren’t so kind with me. Because, oh, you don’t understand my language. OK, I can tell you everything. And now, at least I… I understood… I understand most of the words. So, at least I can follow a conversation in Romanian.
Matt: [00:32:13] I have some problems to speak, cause when I try to speak Romanian, I mix let me think… Romanian, Spanish, Italian and sometimes I put some Bulgarian words. So, yeah, it’s a mess.
Matt: [00:32:27] It’s funny because one of the first times that I tried to speak in Romanian. I said something like “Estoy singur” (“I am alone/lonely”) That, a mix like Spanish and Romanian.
Daniela: [00:32:41] So you made it work. That’s the most important part.
Matt: [00:32:45] Yes. Yes. At least now, if I go to the supermarket, they… I… I tried to speak Romanian. People can understand me. And I was proud of me when I bought a new laptop. And I had this little, short conversation in Romanian.
Daniela: [00:33:09] Congratulations.
Matt: [00:33:10] Oh, thanks, but only because I… I know laptops very well, so.
Daniela: [00:33:16] So then you could connect all the different words and technicalities and just make it work.
Matt: [00:33:20] Yes.
Daniela: [00:33:21] But that’s perfect. And now that you are… you are towards the end of your stay at the project, right?
Matt: [00:33:29] I think that I will stay here for a few weeks and later, I don’t know what will happen.
Daniela: [00:33:35] I’m curious, what is your hope for these children that you spent… How many months did you spend with them?
Matt: [00:33:42] I did activities in August and then we started again in November. So I spend with them 4 months.
Daniela: [00:33:51] What do you wish for them?
Matt: [00:33:52] Something that is very important to me is that they can discover that they have different options about the future. I remember that they talked… My colleagues talked about this guy from gymnasium, so one of the bigger kids that say, why do you ask me about the future? I know that my future will not be great. I would not have… use opportunities in the future. And I… I would like that at least some of them realize that they have a small chance at least to… to live in a different way. Not like shepherd or working in a farm. And if they decide to work in a farm to work as a shepherd, it’s your choice because they like this kind of job, you know?
Matt: [00:34:51] If you do something because it’s your only option, you live this thing maybe very bad. But if you choose this and you know the other options, you… you live this job in a different way, I think. In a different way because you do this because you like, not because this is your only option.
Daniela: [00:35:14] And you live life in a very different manner.
Daniela: [00:35:16] You put your passion into what you want to do. You’re more content. I won’t say happier, but it’s not necessarily about happiness. It’s just knowing that you’re in your element and you feel like you’re contributing to what you desire, what you want.
Daniela: [00:35:33] It’s a totally different lifestyle and mindset.
Matt: [00:35:36] Yes, definitely.
Daniela: [00:35:38] Will you miss the kids?
Matt: [00:35:40] Well, I have to say that I spent the winter break in Italy and the day before going home, I bought a notebook and I decided to bring them to the school. And I ask them, “please, can you draw or write something for me? I would like to bring this to Italy.” And so, when I took my plane for going back to Italy for Christmas time, I was with this notebook, with their drawings and with some sentences from them. So I have to say that I will miss them. Yeah.
Matt: [00:36:24] Even if sometimes, they drove me crazy.
Daniela: [00:36:28] It’s like with any family, right?
Matt: [00:36:31] Yes.
Daniela: [00:36:32] That’s really sweet. Well, I’m pretty sure they’re going to miss you, too, because, you know, everybody who pays attention to these kids, they… they leave a mark. And sometimes we don’t even know how deep our impact goes. But usually it’s… it’s quite far. It can reach quite far.
Matt: [00:36:53] Yes, I think that they helped me in my personal growth because in the last three years I started to move a bit from… from Italy. This is my second long-term experience. I had the previous one in Bulgaria. And I have to say that this is helping me a lot to discover myself better.
Matt: [00:37:18] So I have to say also thanks to them.
Daniela: [00:37:20] Yeah, I wanted to ask how your Romanian experience helped you in the grand scheme of things? What did you get out of it so far?
Matt: [00:37:27] Well, it helped me to be aware that I can meet people in person, and interesting people in person. Because, so, when I was in Italy before coming here, it was a very particular situation because I was used to talk with very interesting people for my website, because I have a website, where I invite people to write stories. But in the real life, I missed to have these kind of meetings and say, wow, I’m really talking with someone interesting, I… I really enjoy these talk. So this helped me to say, OK, you can go around the world, you can meet interesting people, you can find new friends, you can discover hidden talents, because I think not only kids in Haghig have hidden talents that they know. Even we adults that maybe… have also important professional experiences. We can discover something about us. So we should ever try to discover something more about ourselves.
Daniela: [00:38:45] It’s work in progress.
Matt: [00:38:48] Yes.
Daniela: [00:38:50] And on the side, did you, by the way, because you worked in Covasna, which is a very renowned place for its strong Hungarian influence and presence. Did you get a chance to interact with the Hungarian culture as well?
Matt: [00:39:07] Yes, but not in Haghig, but in Sfântu Gheorghe. Because I went to Sfântu Gheorghe with a friend of mine that is very interested into Hungarian culture in Romania. It is something particular. And we visited three museums there.
Daniela: [00:39:32] Which ones?
Matt: [00:39:33] I have one… I don’t remember the names because they are very complicated.
Daniela: [00:39:39] Were they in Hungarian?
Matt: [00:39:40] Yes, I have here a book from an exposition… it is The Magyar Művészeti Akadémia.
Daniela: [00:39:48] So the Hungarian… something something academy?
Matt: [00:39:53] Yes.
Daniela: [00:39:54] What was it about?
Matt: [00:39:55] It was like a transmission, as suggested by the title, the exhibition to stick to our object. So it was a photography exposition and also painting.
Daniela: [00:40:08] Ah, I see.
Matt: [00:40:10] And there was a very interesting one, with this Egypt creator in front of electric… an electric tower.
Daniela: [00:40:19] Was it also an installation or something like that?
Matt: [00:40:24] Yes, I think there were… yes, there were some installations there.
Daniela: [00:40:28] Interesting.
Matt: [00:40:29] I remember that I went into a Hungarian bookstore and I bought a very nice notebook. If I decide to write a book, I want to write something there. So, I wrote something for the inspiration.
Daniela: [00:40:48] Nice. Did you also get a chance to eat traditional Hungarian food there?
Matt: [00:40:53] No.
Daniela: [00:40:53] You need to go back. You need to return and try all the goulash and the Kürtőskalács of…that you can find.
Matt: [00:41:00] Yes. I have to try. I… I think that my favorite Romanian food, it’s clătită.
Daniela: [00:41:06] Aw, clătită, it was good!
Matt: [00:41:06] Yes. Yes. I remember that when there was the Christmas market in Brașov, I went there with my friends.
Matt: [00:41:19] Ok, it is time for eating a clătită, wah, a clătită with chocolate cream, ahhh…
Daniela: [00:41:26] Wuuu, I hope nobody is hungry from our audience right now.
Matt: [00:41:30] They can make clătită in their flat, if they want some.
Matt: [00:41:33] It’s easier to make, I think.
Daniela: [00:41:35] That is very true, it is very practical.
Daniela: [00:41:38] And when you think about your Romanian experience, did you see a difference between your opinion of Romania before you started living there and the one that you have now, after you have some experience?
Matt: [00:41:50] I knew a little…there was… a huge difference between between Transylvania and the rest of Romania. Because Transylvania is the region of the castles. It has a different story, because it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And I think that my city and Transylvania were part of the same state for some years.
Daniela: [00:42:15] Your city being?
Matt: [00:42:17] Milan, because there were also Austrians in Milan, Austrian… Austrian domination in Milan, so… And we are talking about the 19th century. So almost 200 years ago. But I didn’t know. But at least I didn’t realize the huge difference between the cities and the villages. Because it looks to go to two different countries. For instance, I think that if someone from Western Europe goes to Brașov, go to Sibiu, go to Bucharest. Yeah, maybe Bucharest less.
Daniela: [00:42:58] It’s not really in Transylvania.
Matt: [00:43:01] Go to Cluj.
Matt: [00:43:02] It will love these cities. They’re pretty modern and you can find everything there. You go to the villages. I remember a friend of mine that tells me.
Matt: [00:43:15] “But there are still horses in the villages. How is it possible? I was in my car from Sibiu to Brașov and I saw these horses are on the street.”
Matt: [00:43:25] But, I think it’s not only related to the streets and to the horses, but it is also related the kind of… to the… to the kind of life, to the lifestyle that is totally different from the cities. You live in a different way. And cities are more international, they are used to host tourists from other countries. Meanwhile, the villages are more traditional. They’re very proud of their traditions.
Matt: [00:43:55] And I think that there are different kind of villages. There are villages that they want to show you their lives. And the other ones that are more reserved, that they were more closed to people from outside.
Daniela: [00:44:11] You do have the difference. I think it also depends on the area which you visit, in the end. There are more villages in Transylvania that are thinking to operate under this… This kind of eco-tourism ideal. Well, let’s put it like that, I can have a little farm where I can invite people, they can enjoy this more quiet, toned-down lifestyle. And then, of course, you can introduce them to different activities that you do on a farm versus people who are literally just doing… doing life from the morning until the evening. They have a certain rhythm. They know the people that they know and everything stays in that little universe basically. And they don’t see the reason why they should come into contact with other people, especially if they’re foreigners that don’t know their language. They don’t trust usually.
Matt: [00:45:07] Yes. It’s… there is also Astra Museum in Sibiu, where you can see traditional houses. I chose a bad time for going there. Because I was there in… I think the coldest weekend in December. So I stayed there for 1-2 hours. And later, we came to some cafe because we were freezing. And we needed to go.
Matt: [00:45:35] We needed to go to a warm place. But it was a very interesting place. And I think if someone wants to see something about the Romania traditions, having a walk there, it’s a nice idea.
Daniela: [00:45:51] And that takes me to our last question of the podcast episode.
Daniela: [00:45:57] What is your advice for internationals who are thinking of adding Romania to their destination list?
Matt: [00:46:02] If I have to plan a trip for them, I would say a seven day trip, so they can visit both cities, because I think it’s interesting to go to Sibiu, to Brașov, to the castles like Bran Castle.
Matt: [00:46:21] But also maybe having a bit of time for going in the countryside, to enjoy the nature, to have a picnic.
Matt: [00:46:33] Obviously if you go in the summer, maybe try to go to the Transfăgăran?
Daniela: [00:46:40] Transfăgărășan?
Matt: [00:46:41] Yes. I think it’s amazing, that street.
Daniela: [00:46:46] Well, that is a road which was built during the communist regime and it has some breathtaking views of the mountain. It literally goes through the mountains.
Matt: [00:46:58] I was thinking to go there now. But OK. It’s winter, it is very cool. The street is closed.
Daniela: [00:47:06] Yeah, you can only reach the Bâlea cabin. In case people want to go to the Transfăgărășan region during the winter, yeah, they would need… They would need to take the cable car to reach the cabin because everything else is closed.
Daniela: [00:47:21] You are going to see some very interesting snowy sights.
Matt: [00:47:24] Oh, I was forgetting about Sighișoara.
Daniela: [00:47:28] For the medieval festival, especially. Highly recommend. But it’s interesting because you… you talked a lot about the tourist attractions, but what about if they want to get to know Romania better, on a deeper level, what would you recommend they would, they should do?
Matt: [00:47:44] Well, I think that they, how to say, for the foreigners, it’s easier to go to the cities because you can find people to speak in English.
Matt: [00:47:56] My suggestion, if you want to go to some villages, it is better to have a car, to rent a car. And going there, going to the countryside, spend a day in, I think, like Măgura.
Matt: [00:48:12] I will go there soon. Like these places where you can so… you can see beautiful landscapes.
Matt: [00:48:23] You can try to walk in the villages. And I really don’t know if I suggest this to tourists. Yes. I can suggest to tourists to have a walk there. But I can suggest, because I think that they miss the interaction.
Matt: [00:48:40] If they don’t go with some local people, because you know, there is this huge problem with the language, especially in the villages.
Daniela: [00:48:49] There is a language barrier, indeed. Or it can happen.
Matt: [00:48:54] So, I think it’s good for going for a day out and say, OK, I don’t want to stay in my city. I can go by car. Or there are some buses for going to some villages. You can go there, you can spend all day, maybe having a picnic. Maybe if you’re lucky, trying to find a local festival.
Matt: [00:49:17] I remember that I saw a festival about pork in one village.
Daniela: [00:49:24] About pork?
Matt: [00:49:25] Yes, a pork festival.
Daniela: [00:49:27] Very interesting. I’m assuming that there were a lot of pork-based products.
Matt: [00:49:31] Yes. And I remember that one of the first days that I was here, there was a funeral. And I remember that after the funeral, usually people go to the restaurant. And they offered to me țuica.
Daniela: [00:49:51] That was an interesting experience.
Matt: [00:49:54] Yes. And there is also a traditional dissent, but… that is made mainly for the funerals.
Daniela: [00:50:03] Yes, the traditional colivă, indeed. Did you try it?
Matt: [00:50:09] Yes, I tried this sweet and țuica. A lot of sarmale.
Daniela: [00:50:19] Well, that… that anyway goes without saying.
Matt: [00:50:23] Yeah. If you visit Romania, you have to know what you sarmale. Otherwise, you cannot say that you visited Romania.
Daniela: [00:50:31] Exactly. You are not integrated. You have not lived.
Matt: [00:50:36] And something that is very different, that here it’s very common to eat soup. A lot of soup. I am more used to eat pasta.
Matt: [00:50:48] Yes. It’s good in the… during… especially during the winter, during the cold days.
Matt: [00:50:53] But, well, when you have soup in the summer, sometimes you’re like, no, please. No, no, no. I don’t want.
Daniela: [00:51:02] So other internationals should definitely pay attention to the food part. Because there’s an abundance of it.
Matt: [00:51:11] Definitely.
Daniela: [00:51:11] Cool! With that, Matt, I think we are done.
Daniela: [00:51:15] Thank you so much for joining the episode and sharing your experiences, especially the heartwarming parts that you…yeah, that you went through in Romania and with the kids and everything.
Daniela: [00:51:27] It’s something special. Thank you.
Matt: [00:51:30] Thanks to you, mulțumesc frumos.
Daniela: [00:51:34] Cu multă plăcere.
Daniela: [00:51:41] And that’s a wrap, not only for the episode, but for the entire season one. AAAA! It’s been an incredible journey so far with a very diverse range of conversations, from how it is to chill in Romania to the country’s dark communist past, to living with an international child here, to volunteering and falling in love. We had it all. One thing is for sure. When you come to Romania, if you give it a shot, the experience will leave a mark on you. We want to thank everyone who made this season possible: from all the open-hearted guests, to the engineers, musicians and artists who have helped shape Wo/anderers into what it is today. And to you, for making space for discovery with each podcast conversation. Thank you. Your support means a lot to us. Season two will be coming out in April 2020. Until then, stay up to date with all our activities on our website. That is w w w dot woanderers the com and spelling it out. It’s W-W-W dot W-O-A-N-D-E-R-E-R-S dot com. And don’t forget we have Facebook and Instagram for your social media delight. Thank you for listening. It’s been an honor. Mulțumesc, mulțumesc, and la revedere.
Daniela: [00:52:55] Last meow of the season. Meow, meow.