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Optimists and Pessimists - The Romanians at Columbia University

A Very Brief Questionnaire (November 17th 2003)

(Read here in Romanian)

Like all the groups of international students and/or professionals, we want to better define our pluses and minuses. Much has been said about the shortcomings of the psychology of the Romanians; even more has been said (and written) about what makes us unique, exquisite, amazing, different.

During the fall semester of the current academic year the "Nicolae Iorga" Chair of Romanian Language and Culture at Columbia U. sent a simple questionnaire to the members of our Romanian Club, in order to see how they react to the eternal problem of our identity in the contemporary world. I have received only three answers so far. Shall I count this under minuses or pluses?

We let you judge their answers and we would like you to engage in a dialogue with us. We know that all the communities of international students have their ways of "making a difference" within the Columbia Academic Community.
Here is the questionnaire in English, as well as the answers of those who took some time to share their opinions with us. For which we thank them.

As members of a prestigious academic community (CU), you may want to comment on the characteristics of the educated Romanians.

  1. How much truth is in the stereotypes about the Romanian education system (highly theoretical, multilateral but also less efficient from a practical point of view, limited access to the latest publications in a certain domain)

  2. Do the Romanian academic communities worldwide have a certain Romanian label?

  3. Which are the psychological/cultural features of the educated Romanians who live or study abroad? Do you recognize yourself as a "bearer" of those features/traits?

  4. What do we show to those who want to know us and what do we hide from them (being proud of vs. being ashamed of behavior)

  5. List some icons of nostalgia frequently invoked by the Romanians who live/work/study abroad

And now, you have the answers (in alphabetical order):

Dr. Cristian Bartoc, Post-Doc Clinical Fellow, Anesthesiology Dept.

  1. I do not think I can generalize the conclusions I had reached to before I left; I left Romania because, as a MD, I felt discouraged by a distorted system of values in the field of medicine. I felt it was unacceptable for me to be content with a little reward for my activity (monthly wages equal to those of a shop assistant without any experience!). I believe that the characteristics of the educated Romanians who study and work abroad are tenaciousness, a certain desire of social justice (do not read this as remain of the socialist jargon!), self-respect and persistence.
    As for the aforementioned stereotypes, I believe they are true; I would say that everything should be judged at an individual level: if someone wants to study hard, they can get access to information and they can channel their knowledge toward a practical and creative finality at home.

  2. I cannot say that I am very knowledgeable in the mechanisms of academic communities; from my own experience, I can tell that Romanians seem to have little interest in congregating, in becoming a homogeneous group, as opposed to other communities. Some of them are very suspicious (shall we assume that this attitude may be an effect of the generalized suspicion inoculated by the Securitate before 1989?). I believe that Romanians who succeed abroad do not do enough to promote their origin and their country.

  3. I believe that after you spend some time abroad, you become more tolerant, more inclined to listen to other people’s opinions. After a while, you are less and less provincial, you gain in the capacity of sustaining friendly conversations on cultural or political subjects with people with various ethnic and educational backgrounds

  4. Again, I speak for myself: I am proud of our past. I always tell other people that the reasons why we "fell" in history were independent of our will, to a great extent. I usually shun from speaking about the situation of the orphans and Roma people with non-Romanians; not that I am personally ashamed of anything, but I consider that there are many issues unknown to non-Romanians in this respect

  5. I have no answer for this question.

Adrian Chitu, Lab Technician, Applied Physics and Applied Math Dept.

  1. I believe that the Romanian educational system provides the basic theoretical and practical knowledge that allow Romanian students to continue their education anywhere in the world, Columbia U. included. Limited access to more sophisticated equipment (due to their rather high price in Romania) may be a handicap. But I know that Romanians learn fast.

  2. I cannot make any comments concerning the Romanian academic community. If I, as an individual, am able to do something that is notable in my field, I never fail to mention that I am a Romanian; this is a source of joy and pride for me.

  3. I believe that when two or persons who were previously educated in Romania get into contact while abroad, there is a short period of "mutual adjustment", caused by suspicion, maybe. We question everything that is told to us and we question almost everything that we see around. I would say that our lack of confidence in people is the psychological "minus" when abroad. A little bit of suspicion may be productive, but when it is pushed to the extreme it becomes terribly annoying and alienating.

  4. We are proud of the performances of our gymnastics school, with other universal values. I am shamed for my Romanian peers when I hear of thefts, burglaries, when I hear that certain parents abandon their babies in the street, when I hear that senior citizens have very little financial support after a lifetime of work, I am shamed when I hear that the criminal behavior increased, a.s.o.

  5. I shall stick to more earthly issues; Romanians appreciate their flavorful and tasty traditional cuisine. I recommend two Romanian restaurants in New York (La Cornel and Romanian Gardens); they also value music and culture in general. Sometimes nostalgia becomes very powerful and I feel I have to be more detached of what happens back home in order to be efficient here.

Serban Smadici, Student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Physics Dept.

  1. I guess that the fact that we are native speakers of Romanian makes us different and can be an advantage in certain situations. The multilateral education is also an advantage, although focusing on theoretical problems and less on their practical relevance can sometimes be a handicap when confronted to other educational systems.

  2. I guess they have.

  3. I don’t believe that we are much different from any person who can easily "move" within two languages and two cultures. In a more "applied" field, all these seem less important.

  4. I am proud of the Romanian language; I am not ashamed of anything.

  5. I believe that the Carpathians and the Romanian forests are my icons of nostalgia

Last Update: Jan 31, 2004