Words I live by:
“Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach”. -Aristotle.
” We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” – Stephen King.
My full name: Ecaterina Teodora Nechitescu.
I was born on the 30th of July, 1975, in a little town called Vaslui, in the eastern part of Romania. I have two elder sisters and one younger brother.
Till 1989 we lived under a communist regime which made things pretty difficult. But I always knew I wanted to become a teacher, maybe because I saw it in my family. My mother was a French teacher and I remember I loved watching her correcting tests, assessing projects, or preparing the lessons for the next day. Life was not easy but we were together as a family, and for that, I am forever grateful to my mom. She had to work twice as hard as our father died when I was 4 years old. She struggled to make sure that all her children were ok.
I fell in love with English, thanks to a great teacher I had who made me see the beauty of this language. The richness of this culture and the infinite possibilities it offers. So I became a student at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, the English – Romanian department, at “Al. I. Cuza” University, in the beautiful city of Iaşi, Romania. In 1997 I became a teacher of English, and have been teaching ever since. In 1999 I met my husband, Sebastian, we got married in 2000. I moved to Timişoara with him, in the western part of the country. We have two wonderful children, Raluca, 13, and Radu, 9. I am a teacher at the best high school in the city, the Grigore Moisil Highschool, based on Mathematics and Computer science.
Sometimes our paths cross with people, and there is an instant connection. It is beautiful and indescribable.
We were fortunate to have met on the train from Bucharest to Timisoara.
Our stop, Baile Herculane.
We had no time to spare.
We had no time to purchase food.
Thank-you to Ecaterina, Raluca, Radu, Mirel, and Victor for your generosity of spirit, and sharing of food. Victor didn’t have any food, he gave us the book he was reading.
Ecaterina, your openness, humour, and graciousness was the greatest gift you gave us.
When I think of you, this quote comes to mind.
“You can be quietly humble, yet amazingly effective.”
Teachers have influence and power. Many would consider teachers as those who have the greatest impact on directing lives.
You have an effect on people, this was seen with your children. After I meeting you and having Whattsapp conversation I was surprised to find out it was Raluca.
(My technical ineptness at the time). She amazed me with her mastery of the English language, her ability to “teach me”. Her wisdom, then to find out at the time she was 12! Definitely an old soul. Your influence was truly evident.
You are humble in your approach. I recall your comment, “…find it strange to talk about myself even if I keep telling my students that they need to find their strengths and present them to the world.” There are many times while we converse that I write down your quotes. I find what you say has a profound impact. You make me think. This is what you do for your students.
You indicated you are shy by nature and how it was an inspiring teacher in your first year of college, a Scottish volunteer, who showed the importance to be able to communicate. I appreciate you allowing me to have that honest conversation. For you to show your vulnerability. I am happy to share you with others worldwide.
The teacher you mention, who had influence….the Scottish volunteer. Would you tell us about what you meant by “showing the importance of communication.”
You have to understand that my first year as a student was 1993, only 4 years after the Romanian Revolution from December 1989 which had taken down the communist regime. I had been brought up in a society where talking freely and expressing your opinion was something unheard of, as you could have been punished if you had not followed the party’s rules. Our society was still struggling with the inherent difficulties following such a sudden change, and I had never met anyone from another country before. This is why I was totally shocked to meet Callum, a young Scottish volunteer who had come to the University in Iasi to teach students how to communicate in English. I remember that the first classes with him were horrible for me, as I was extremely shy and not used to talking to others, especially in a language other than Romanian. But at the end of the first year, I had come to love his courses, as he was trying to make us discuss in a constructive way, and to express our opinions with arguments but without rejecting other points of view. He showed us how important it is to communicate with one another, to brainstorm to find solutions to our problems, to accept other ideas and learn from them. I am thankful to him for being able to do that, as I feel I owe him this part of me as a teacher.
I recall you said, “Humour is our weapon.” Would you elaborate on that comment?
I will have to reference again the period before 1989. The communist regime destroyed our society. You were thrown in jail, convicted, sometimes even executed if you had been considered an enemy of the state. Your family also had to suffer, they could not find good jobs, your children were not accepted in good schools, so basically few people dared to openly criticise the regime. Therefore, we found a different weapon, which sometimes proved to be a sword with two blades: humour, more precisely, political jokes. I remember some of the best jokes I heard back then, which were related to what we all experienced on a daily basis. I recall having a feeling of being in the Resistance because not everybody dared to make jokes about the regime. That would have been a sure road to jail.
There were different types of jokes, starting from using code names for our former President and his wife, and going all the way to making fun of the extreme poverty we were in. All these types of jokes were, in fact, a method of getting rid of your frustrations, as there was nothing else we could do. In stricter periods of the regime, we can even say that it was forbidden to laugh, and this is the reason why people had learned to laugh at apparently harmless things. But many times, behind those things, there were sad realities which we all made fun of. It was if you want, the Romanian way of coping with it.
In my opinion, humour is essential in any society. If people are able to make fun of the things around them, and even of themselves, they are able to detach themselves from their daily problems. So I am trying to teach my students that a little laughter here and there has not hurt anyone and that it is very good to make the people around you feel well by cracking a joke.
What is the one thing that you would want those in other countries to know about your country, Romania?
It is very difficult to choose only one thing, as there is something for everybody. If you love hiking, we have beautiful mountains, the Carpathians. If you love summer, we have perfect weather and the Black Sea. The Danube Delta is a place worth visiting, being the second well preserved Delta in Europe, with an abundance of flora and fauna. There are seven sites declared UNESCO patrimony, and the Delta is one of them. We have good food, good wine, and our spirits (more than 45% of alcohol) are known to make foreigners want to take a bottle home with them. But for me, the best thing you can still find here is the kindness of people. We are still trying to help the person near us, trying to make our communities a better place. We love to talk to people and to share with them parts of our identity. So this is what I would choose: us, the Romanians. We are hard – working and intelligent.
You are an English teacher, the message you convey to your students is they need to find their strengths. Please let us know about former students doing important work. In previous conversations, there was mention of cultural and historic projects.
I consider myself blessed for having this job. I have been teaching since 1997 so I have had the opportunity to interact with a great number of generations. The educational system here allows us to spend four years with a class of students, as we teach them from the 9th grade to the 12th grade (14/15 to 18/19 years of age). This gives us, teachers, the possibility of seeing how these young people develop, how they become interested in a certain topic, or how they take small steps towards fulfilling their dreams. I have worked in two different types of high school: the first one was a high school based on training young athletes, and the one I am currently at, a Computer Science and Mathematics one. Two different types of school, but in each of them, I have had the huge privilege of getting to know extraordinary people. Some of them became handball players with important Romanian teams, others became coaches or Physical Education teachers. Some of my former students are software programmers, or engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers. Many of them are involved in volunteering projects, others have decided to become singers, painters, or writers, because they felt their passion and talent could bring a moment of beauty, peace, relaxation and calm into this world. It is very hard to choose only some of them, as they have done extraordinary things, and I am very proud of all of them.
But I will mention the latest project of a former student of mine, an Architectural student. Who together with a group of young enthusiasts, decided to take action to bring back to life a very beautiful old building in a town called Baile Herculane. The town is famous worldwide for the quality of its mineral waters, and in the past, even royalty came here to find cures, and treatment.
These young architects have decided to draw attention to one of the most beautiful buildings there, which is now in an advanced state of ruin. They created a group, called The Herculane Project. They are trying to get the necessary monies, plans, experts, and documents which will allow them to renovate the building I was telling you about. If you want to find details, I have included a link to an article written by one of the initiators of this group: https://www.boredpanda.com/the-unbelievable-story-about-how-an-article-became-a-project-the-story-of-herculaneproject/
Your country is beautiful: nature, people, food. Where is your favorite destination in Romania, and why?
Again, this is a very difficult question for me, as it is very hard to choose only one. There are hundreds of beautiful and interesting places in my country. We have ancient ruins of the first fortresses from the 2nd or the 1st century B.C. Built by our ancestors, the Dacians, and then the ruins of the cities erected by their conquerors, the Romans. These are important parts of our history and they help us understand our national identity.
Then there are amazing castles which inspired famous authors like Jules Verne or Bram Stoker, where Dracula is supposed to have lived. (That is just a myth, by the way.) We have modern cities, where you can feel part of the globalization movement, but at the same time, we have old traditional villages, where you can experience life as it was a century ago. Of course, I will let my heart choose, and I will pick my native region as my favourite destination for a holiday, because my mom and my eldest sister and family are there. As long as our parents are alive, we are still children. Whenever I go home I feel protected and I try to spend as much time as possible with my mother. My native town, Vaslui, is small, but very clean, with nice people. The region is known for several important landmarks. I also visit Iasi the city where I attended University, and where I have lots of good friends, even 20 years later.
I like to take my kids and discover parts of the country we do not know, as I believe that you can travel the entire world, but you have to know your own country first. Every summer we drive through the country and learn as much as possible about the places we consider to be worth visiting.
The food memories are vivid. I recall the freshest vegetables. Describe a special meal. What would that consist of?
We, the Romanians, like to eat and to cook. We spend time in the kitchen, cooking delicious meals for our families. We prepare jams, pickles, and other very tasty things at home, instead of buying them from the supermarket. If we are fortunate enough to have parents or grandparents living in the village, then we can say we eat @bio@ food.We all work to have the freezers full for the winter months. Food is something I can talk about for a long time, as I love to cook. We often eat soups or sour soups we call “borsch”, same as the Russians call it. We bake cakes and pies for holidays like Christmas and Easter making it impossible not to gain 2 or 3 kilos! Each region has its own specific foods, but my favourite one is something we call sarmale, English translation being: “Rolled minced meat with rice in cabbage leaves”. Actually, it is saurkraut. We eat sarmale for Christmas. During winter it is nutritious, and extremely delicious. We serve them with polenta, cream, and a hot red chili pepper.
Here is a link to the recipe, maybe you will decide to try it: https://www.jocooks.com/main-courses/pork-main-courses/sarmale/
You work with young adults, describe their hopes for the future?
This is a pretty sad topic for me at the moment as the social, economic and political situation is pretty complicated. Since December 2016 we are being governed by a Democrat Socialist party whose leader wanted to be prime minister, but he could not fulfill his ambitions as there is some corruption allegations. Therefore the party and the government have decided to do everything in their power to return us to a kind of a communist society. They are openly against the E. U. and are inclined more to Russia, which is a frightening thought. The civil society is fighting as hard as they can to prevent things from happening. Under these circumstances, young adults feel rather hopeless and many of my pupils choose to go to University abroad, never intending to return here again. This is very stark as we are the country with the highest number of economic migrants in the E.U. Some young people see a gloomy future so they leave. And this is not only sad, it is also worrying.
You were a young teenager when your country was under communist rule. Are you able to talk about this time in history. Through you, I learned it was the city of Timisoara that took a stand against dictator Ceausescu.
It can be difficult to explain how it was back then to someone who has never lived through this experience. We did not know it was bad because we were born under those conditions and that represented the norm for us. I remember supermarkets not having anything to purchase, very limited selection of goods. I remember not celebrating Christmas and Easter as these were religious holidays and religion was forbidden. In the winter we did not have central heating so we went to bed fully dressed. Warm water was a luxury, we only had access to a couple of hours once a week. We used to boil water on a heater and pour it in a little plastic can so we could wash more than once a week. In the last years before his death, Ceausescu had a dream: to finish paying all the external debts of our country, and in 1989 he managed to do so, with great sacrifices for his people. We were 5 in the family, and we had to queue for hours to get a tank of gas that would help us cook for one month. Each person was entitled to half a liter of oil per month, half a packet of butter a month, and half a loaf of bread per day. There were agendas which we took to the shop and the shop assistant stamped them each month. When we were fortunate to receive a chicken from relatives living in the countryside – my mom knew how to prepare 6 or 7 different meals so nothing was wasted.
There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press. There was one national tv channel broadcasting 2 hours per day, and they transmitted only what the party wanted. The same happened with the newspapers. If you had a different opinion, it was dangerous to express it. Even members of your own family or close friends could go to the authorities and betray you, because they were rewarded if they helped catch an enemy of the state.
This is how I remember that period and I definitely do not want my kids to go through such a thing again.
Timisoara is the city where the Revolution began. We suffered the most. Many people lost their lives fighting for our long-desired freedom. The authorities did everything in their power to keep their actions away from the public. Bodies disappeared from hospitals, never to be found again. Dead people were incinerated or buried in common tombs. People were shot, to make people afraid. But the events could not be stopped, and soon other cities joined the Revolution, and the regime was overthrown. Unfortunately after violent fights.
Tell me the state of your country today?
Politically speaking, we have a very difficult situation right now. The leading party does everything in their power to make a better life for themselves, with the risk of destroying everything we have accomplished in these 28 years. We feel democracy is threatened, and we are fighting hard to not let that happen. Economically speaking, the situation is not good either, this is why every 40 minutes at least one person leaves the country to find a job somewhere else.
Canada is a bilingual country, English and French languages, multi-cultural, and diverse. In your country what languages are taught, and from what ages? Would you describe your education system.
From this point of view, we can consider ourselves lucky. The Romanian educational system contains the obligatorily of learning 2 foreign languages. We start with one class per week in the first and second grades, usually English, and then two classes of English per week from the third to the 12th grade. In the 6th grade a second foreign language, French, German, or Spanish is added, also for 2 classes per week. There are also schools where you learn English, French or German intensively, more than 7 classes per week, or even other subjects are taught in those languages.
Children start school at the age of 6 or 7, there are 5 years in the primary school, 4 in the secondary school and 4 in the high school. The last two years of high school are not compulsory, so you can choose to leave school after only 10 classes. But this will not give you the possibility of going to a University, you can start work afterward.
We discussed the new word coined by 6-year-old Levi Budd, “Levidrome”. Oxford dictionary needs the word to be in common usage before consideration as a new entry.
I discussed this new word with some classes of mine. The pupils found it very interesting and they particularly liked the fact that it was created by a 6-year-old boy. Languages need to be alive, they are constantly changing, and everything which makes a foreign language more attractive for the learners is welcomed. We tried to make some exercises, the one that was most successful was a work in pairs one. The pupils had 5 minutes to make up sentences in which all the words were levidromes and the results were amazing!
Thank-you Ecaterina for sharing, and educating those reading this interview. Your spirit of authenticity. The memories so vivid, meeting you, seeing your creative culture. Knowing about your students “doing” what they are able with the Herculane Project. My hope is to inspire others to learn about your country. Looking forward to seeing your exercises on levidromes. We can all do better, the more we know the better we do.
You are an inspiration, education is pivotal, the cornerstone of society.
Multumesc foarte mult.