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Kara Nonnemacher at the peak of Mt. Peleaga in Retezat National Park, Romania. Nonnemacher, whose parents live in Two Harbors, is studying abroad for a semester in Romania. Submitted photo.

Romania: So much more than a fly-over country

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When I stand on the main road in Lupeni, Romania, and look up, I see a number of things. I see the mountains rising steeply on either side of me. I see the ruins of the coal mining industry, with obsolete smoke stacks reaching heights of 300 feet. I see scores of apartment blocks built during the communist period. And, on occasion, I see the crossing paths of jet streams against the untainted blue sky.

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It's intriguing. These people in giant, flying buses so far above me are unaware of what they are missing. If they happen to look out the window, they may only see the contrasting contours of the mountains. The small town of Lupeni, nestled in the valley, goes completely unnoticed.

I decided to study abroad primarily because I made a commitment before entering college to maximize the opportunities offered to me. I specifically chose Romania for a number of reasons. First, I have a strong interest in the discipline of development, which is one of the foci of the semester in conjunction with a nonprofit organization called the New Horizons Foundation. Second, I wanted to be immersed in the culture, which is accomplished here through the hospitality of host families, Romania-specific academics and regional field trips. Last, I had some personal interest as my dad, Dave Nonnemacher, is on staff at New Horizons and pioneered the startup of the Romania semester program. I knew from him that the semester would suit my interests while taking me out of my comfort zone.

While these were some of my expectations before departure, I had no idea how they would play out. After nearly two and a half months in Romania, my expectations have been exceeded, although there have been challenges along the way. I now know how much those people flying high above me are missing.

They are missing Romanian hospitality. During the first half of the semester, the 10 students in the program stayed with host families in the community. I lived on a farm with a family of three, and I have never experienced more hospitality than I did with them. Both my host mom and dad sacrificed time to make me early breakfasts and late suppers. I was usually fed more food than anyone else in the family! I was never allowed to help with dishes, and my laundry was always washed and hung to dry by my host mom. They were willing to help me with homework, answer questions about their culture or religion, and I felt like I always received the best of what they had. This type of hospitality was both refreshing and humbling, and I continue to see it in other Romanians with whom our group interacts.

They are missing out on Romanian creativity. In Lupeni we do a lot of walking, but this walking has made me aware of the unique creativity that Romanians have. My favorite example of this is seen in their fences. In my 35-minute walk to class every day, I pass by fences that had been built by whoever lives in the house. These fences are needed to contain cows and horses and to keep out stray dogs. Whether they are sticks and thorns woven together or colorful palettes put together, each fence is unique and holds character. By looking at the fence, it is clear that it took much time and energy to build, and required creativity and problem solving ability.

They are missing out on Romania's natural beauty. This country is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. It has towering mountains in Retezat National Park (where we spent a week backpacking), rolling hills, valleys and magnificent gorges. Our group was fortunate to experience Romania in the fall, where the temperature is a consistent 60-70 degrees, and the hills that make up the Jiu Valleym where Lupeni is located, are covered with colorful trees. Upon arriving, we drove for eight hours through the countryside and saw fields and fields of sunflower stems that had just died. I couldn't even imagine how beautiful that scene would have been had we arrived when the flowers were blooming! I love the appealing variety that Romania's landscape offers, and it is one of the aspects of the country that I will miss the most.

I believe that Romania is one of the world's best-kept secrets. I wish the people who fly over Romania every day would realize what grandeur awaits them here. For now, I will appreciate that I am aware of that grandeur, and relish it while I am still here.

Kara Nonnemacher is a junior studying at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is pursuing a degree in public relations and Christian community development. Upon high school graduation, her parents, Dave and Jody, moved to Two Harbors. Kara considers Two Harbors to be home, and she loves visiting on breaks.

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