Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Romania
- 1 Communications
- 2 Mail
- 3 Alternatives to Mail
- 4 Telephones
- 5 Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
- 6 Housing and Site Location
- 7 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 8 Food and Diet
- 9 Transportation
- 10 Geography and Climate
- 11 Social Activities
- 12 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 13 Personal Safety
- 14 Rewards and Frustrations
Mail service in Romania is quite reliable. Mail from the United States takes a minimum of one to two weeks to arrive. Advise your family and friends to write “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
Your mailing address during pre-service training (for letters only) will be:
Str. Negustori, Nr. 16
Sector 2, Bucharest
Do not have packages sent to you during the 10-week training period. All packages go to a central post office in Bucharest, and you must pick them up personally to prove who you are and pay the customs fees. This will be virtually impossible for you to do during training and the Peace Corps cannot do it for you, so you could lose anything that is sent. The Peace Corps will forward letters sent to the Peace Corps office in Bucharest to the training site on a regular basis. Once you have been sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will have your own mailing address at your new site. Express mail from the United States is becoming more common, and DHL, UPS, and World Express all offer services in Romania.
Alternatives to Mail
Since the U.S. Postal Service ceased the surface shipping service worldwide in May 2007, sending goods overseas can seem prohibitively expensive. However, viable, economical options do exist to Romania.
Romanian-born Americans have a very strong tradition of sending parcels back to family and friends in Romania. Because of the high volumes involved, a number of independent small shipping companies have cropped up in areas of the United States with concentrations of Romanian immigrants. Particularly strong in Chicago and Detroit, such agents also exist in other places.
The cost is in the range of $0.80 to $1.20 per pound. An additional advantage is that because the duties are paid in advance by the sender there is no need for the recipients to go to the vama (customs office) to claim the packages. They are therefore delivered directly to the home/work site in Romania without further cost.
The most recent list of known shippers is contained in the Files Section of the "peacecorpsromania" Yahoo Group.
Telephone service in Romania is not as reliable as what you are accustomed to in the United States, although it is improving in most places, especially as mobile phone services increase. Sprint, MCI, and AT&T provide international long-distance services in Romania, and you can access such services from public phones or post office phones. Regular long-distance calls from private phones are possible but expensive. Many Volunteers purchase their own mobile phones as the best option for making calls. Prepaid cards that offer a variety of discounts for both telephone and Internet access are available locally.
Cell phones purchased in the US may work in Romania, provided they are unlocked to accept out-of-network SIMM cards and are tri-/quad-band phones compatible with Romanian frequencies. Many volunteers with internet access find Media:http://www.skype.com (also available in netcafes) to be a superior option.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Many Volunteers find having their own laptop computer very useful. Access to the Internet is available at some organizations, though some will have older, slower systems.
If you decide to bring a laptop, we advise you to insure it against breakage and theft. The Peace Corps will not reimburse any expenses for repairs or lost or stolen equipment; nor does it provide technical support to Volunteers. If you choose to obtain Internet service where you live, you will have to pay for it out of your living allowance. Refurbished desktop computers with warranties can be bought in some Romanian cities for $200 to $300. There are also cybercafes at which you can access the Internet (at varying connection speeds).
Housing and Site Location
You will live with a Romanian family in your assigned site for one to two months after being sworn-in as a Volunteer. Living with a family will give you an anchor in your new community.
The connection to a family will help ensure your safety and security as well as integrate you into the community.
Through this experience, you will improve your language skills and gain a better understanding of Romanian culture and the norms of your local community. After your initial months at site with a Romanian family, you and your host organization will locate appropriate permanent housing for you.
Your host organization will identify housing for you that meets Peace Corps standards for safety, privacy, a healthy environment, and proximity to shopping and work. The Peace Corps asks host organizations to provide housing, but contributes part of or even the entire rental cost, if necessary. The populations of towns and cities where Volunteers live range from 5,000 to 300,000, and the type and availability of housing varies accordingly. Volunteers serve throughout Romania except in Bucharest, and there are regional differences in housing as well. The most common accommodation is a small, one-room apartment in a large building.
In rural communities, there are often only single-floor houses and privacy can become a difficult matter. If assigned to a rural community, you may need to live with a host family for the entire two years of your service.
In the winter, you may lack central heating, hot water, and perhaps cooking gas, which are controlled by the government. Electricity is usually reliable. The availability of hot water depends upon the town in which you live. Many towns have hot water every other day for two to three hours. The Peace Corps supplies electric space heaters to Volunteers who need them.
If you choose to move into your own housing, Peace Corps must ensure that it meets our housing criteria. This includes safety, private space, healthy environment, proximity to shopping and work, basic furniture with cooking space, and a private bathroom.
Living Allowance and Money Management
You will receive a monthly living allowance in Romanian lei, which the Peace Corps will transfer by wire directly into your bank account. The exchange rate in February 2008 was approximately 2.51 RON (Romanian New Lei) to the dollar. The living allowance is intended to cover the costs of food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. The Peace Corps discourages you from supplementing your living allowance with additional money from home. You are expected to live in an unpretentious manner in order to fit in with your community.
Credit cards can be used on a limited basis in Bucharest and other large cities—usually only at expensive restaurants, shops, and hotels (do not let them out of your sight, accompany the clerk/waiter to the machine to scan the card). Bank ATMs are quite common throughout Romania and most of them support withdrawals from stateside bank accounts, but checkwith the issuing bank before going. Personal checks cannot be cashed in Romania, so it is advisable to bring some pristine American currency (worn or old notes or those with marks of any kind may not be accepted) in $10 and $20 denominations for vacation travel. Exchange bureaus in Romania will not change $1 bills and may not change $5 bills. Traveler’s checks are another option for vacation travel, yet are not commonly accepted in Eastern Europe.
Food and Diet
The variety of food in Romania is steadily increasing, especially in larger towns. In the summer, fresh vegetables and fruits of very good quality are widely available. In the winter, apples, oranges, and bananas are likely to be available, but there are fewer fresh vegetables. Meat and bread are the predominant foods in the Romanian diet and are usually eaten at every meal. As the Romanian economy moves toward a free market, the availability of imported foods is increasing dramatically, although the imports are more expensive than locally produced items. American and local fast-food restaurants also exist in many parts of the country.
Vegetarians may have a difficult time in Romania during the winter months when fewer fresh vegetables are available. They may need to adjust their diet to stay healthy. In addition, being offered meals heavy on meat will be a challenge when visiting Romanian families.
Getting around via train, bus, or “maxi-taxi” is usually quite easy and reliable, albeit often slow, and the costs are reasonable. Some Volunteers may have a 12- to 14-hour train ride to travel to the Peace Corps office in Bucharest. Volunteers in Romania are not allowed to own or drive cars or motorcycles, or to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle, for any reason.
International train and air service is readily available. The Peace Corps encourages you to travel within Romania or to other countries in eastern and central Europe on your vacations to enhance your understanding of the country and the region.
Some transportation websites in Romania include the following:
Geography and Climate
Romania is the largest central European country after Ukraine. The Danube River forms its southern border, and the U-shaped Transylvanian Alps and Carpathian Mountains extend through much of the central and northern regions. An eroded plateau with hills and valleys occupies the center of the U, while the Moldavian plateau lies to the east. Mountains account for about a third of Romania, with alpine pastures in the higher regions and thick forests below. Another third is covered by lower hills dotted with orchards and vineyards. The final third, mostly in the south and east, is an agricultural plain.
Romania has long winters (lasting from mid-November through March), a delightful spring (April through May), a hot summer (June through August), and a beautiful autumn (September through mid-November). The winter months can be extremely cold and windy, especially in the mountains and the northern part of the country. The summer months can be very hot and humid, especially in the lowland areas. Rainfall is heaviest from April through July, averaging five inches in June.
The cultural and social life of Romania is one of its most enjoyable aspects. You will have opportunities to attend inexpensive concerts, operas, and ballets, some of which are outstanding. The works of Shakespeare are performed alongside those of contemporary foreign authors and classic Romanian writers such as Ion Luca Caragiale. Cinemas in larger towns often show English-language films with Romanian subtitles. Entertainment at your site will depend on the town’s size. Some sites have a cinema and various sporting activities. Soccer, basketball, handball, tennis, and karate are the most popular. Dance clubs and discos also exist in most sizable towns. For winter activities, you can ski in the mountains or ice skate at local rinks. During the summer, visiting the Black Sea coast and hiking in the mountains are favorite forms of recreation. Many social activities center around the family, and you will be invited to many family events at your site.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the challenges for you as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting as a professional all at the same time. Your appearance at work can help set the appropriate tone and make your adjustment to your site easier. Romanians tend to dress up more for the office than Americans do, partly because it’s a luxury to be able to do so after so many years of communist rule. Because of this, they may react negatively to the equally extreme casualness of some American dress, such as baggy jeans. While you are at work, you will demonstrate respect and win credibility if you dress in a professional manner, as they do. Most of the people you work with will not have expensive clothes, or large quantities of clothes. For Volunteers, in most cases, pressed shirts, slacks, skirts and sweaters are fine. A suit or sports jacket or a dressy dress or skirt will be needed for special occasions.
Observing what your co-workers wear is the best way to identify the appropriate dress code for different situations. As in the United States, people in larger cities tend to dress more formally than those in smaller cities and towns. Your program sector may also influence how you dress. Environment Volunteers can wear more casual clothes at work but still need some formal clothes for meetings with agencies and certain school activities. Community economic development and institutional development Volunteers dress in business-casual or business clothes, the latter meaning jackets and ties for men and dresses, skirts or pants with tops, or suits for women. In some organizations, particularly in smaller cities, jeans for men and women are the norm, except when meeting with authorities or attending special events. TEFL Volunteers work in schools, where women wear dresses and skirts or pants with tops and men wear slacks with shirts and sweaters (and sometimes ties). Younger Volunteers will boost their professional demeanor by dressing somewhat more conservatively than they might in the States.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Romania Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The most common crime reported by many foreigners and tourists in Romania is pickpocketing. The next most common street crime involves the non-existent "Tourist Police." No plainclothes police officers will ever approach you on the streets. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be reviewed once you arrive in Romania. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
The Peace Corps experience can be described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur as you adapt to a new culture and environment. The potential for being productive and satisfied with your service is high, but so is the probability of being frustrated. Your school or organization may not always provide the support that you want, or it may not be sure about what it wants you to do. The pace and focus of life and work may be different from what you expect, and many people will be reluctant to change age-old practices.
On the positive side, you will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had. You will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little support or guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving any supportive feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Romanians are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Romania feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service. If you make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful and satisfied Volunteer.