When I went to Romania, I couldn’t speak Romanian at all. There were no books written to learn to speak Romanian. There were no classes to learn Romanian. There were no Romanian teachers. However, it was my job to learn to speak Romanian. I found a Romanian New Testament at a book fair in America. I also got my hands on a very dry very limited Romanian grammar book put out by the American government written by someone who really couldn’t speak Romanian. It was hard. I found a Romanian English teacher in Romania who wanted to help me. He gave me lessons in Romanian. He said he didn’t know what to teach me and asked for suggestions. I had a set of children’s reading books in English that used the most used words first, slowly presenting the words one at a time. The philosophy of the books was that if you taught children the most used words first, they would start reading faster. I thought, “if I learn the most used words first in Romanian, I will speak Romanian faster.” I also told him to teach me simple present tense, simple past tense, and future tense. As I studied, I could see a lot of similarities between Romanian and Spanish, and I had studied Spanish in high school. My Romanian teacher didn’t always know how to explain the rules of Romanian to me, but I recognized several grammatical principles in Romanian that were the same as Spanish. After a bit, he got me Romanian children’s school books, and we were studying from them. After six months, I was basically communicating in Romanian. I was having conversations with everyone in Romanian.
I sat in church and listened to translators, and I learned a lot from listening to translators. I had conversations with people, and learned a lot of expressions from having conversations with people and just listening. I was learning Romanian like a child learns their first language. I began reading adult level books in Romanian. I read the Bible in Romanian. I began translating for Bible classes from English to Romanian. I learned that if I didn’t have a word in Romanian, it was okay because I followed a long in the Romanian Bible and just pulled the Romanian words I needed from the Bible. There was a free medical clinic with lots of doctors and nurses from America. They needed translators. They asked me to find Romanian translators, so I used my students as their translators because I knew my students wanted experience. The Romanians made me the head translator at the clinic. They said that if the Romanians couldn’t translate, they were to call me and have me translate, and they were right. I could translate things the Romanians couldn’t.
A Romanian woman asked me to go into translation business with her. She knew her English was good and my Romanian was good, and she thought between the two of us, we could make a dynamic team. However, I had not come to Romania to make money off the Romanians. I had come to do whatever I could to help them, and I didn’t want to make money off them, so I turned her down.
Down at immigration, they were always talking to me. They decided to offer me Romanian citizenship. They thought I fit all the qualifications. I thought about it, but I saw the Romanians taking one another’s homes away from each other. They couldn’t touch my house because I was American. Being Romanian scared me. I may have looked and sounded like a Romanian, but I decided it was better to not be Romanian. I told them I didn’t want to give my American citizenship up, and they told me that I would never have to give my American citizenship up to become Romanian, but I still didn’t do it. I saw the Romanians treating one another terrible and I just didn’t want to be treated the way they treated one another. I enjoyed the protection of being American.
When we left Romania, I wan’t really ready, and neither was my family. We had learned to love Romania and the Romanian language, but we also loved America. My oldest daughter was speaking Romanian just like a Romanian teenager her age, so her and I spent all our time speaking Romanian together because we didn’t want to forget. Eventually, due to circumstances beyond our control, she and I were separated. She had to go to college, and my husband wanted to go back overseas, so we went, and she and I haven’t had the chance to spend a lot of time together since.
I tried speaking Romanian to my younger kids, and they could, but not on the same level that she could. She and I were like native speakers, and we enjoyed it. My younger kids could just communicate. I used to write long letters back and forth in Romanian with a Romanian lady I called my Romanian mother. I was used to speaking in Romanian, but not used to writing Romanian. I always wondered if my written Romanian was any good, but she never said anything negative about it. She passed away last year. I have other Romanian friends I keep in contact with on Facebook. I read in Romanian and make comments in Romanian.
Eventually, I came to Korea. I ran into a Romanian lady in a bookshop here. We spoke Romanian together. We became great friends, and we are still great friends. However, she is an English teacher and loves to speak English. We only occasionally speak Romanian. I go to lots of Romanian events here. I am making more Romanian friends here in Korea, but I speak Korean more often than Romanian now, and at times, Korean accidentally comes out of my mouth instead of Romanian. I don’t want to lose something I learned so much of.