I am referring to my Romanian language teacher here in Chișinău. He was perhaps our most chance encounter in Moldova, but he has turned out to be one of the best. I did write about our meeting in an early blog post. But to sum it up – last December we met a random lady while walking to a store and chatted with her for approximately 10 or 15 minutes. She then contacted my language professor who called me that very same day. Two days later he was at our apartment for my first lesson.
I could go on and on about why he is remarkable. He is patient, kind, and flexible. He is willing to side-track our lessons to fill me in on important aspects of Moldovan history and politics. And what is more, his positive stance on American foreign policy has been a breath of fresh air when I can only see the disaster that is the current American political state.
Like I said – lots of reasons. But in this blog post, I want to focus on one thing in particular: He is a connector.
Being a connector
Now, I’ll have you know, I actually google searched the term “connector” right after I wrote it. I wanted to know if a different or better term existed for the idea I was going for. It turns out “Connector” is a legitimate business term. HAH. Perhaps that’s what happens when you willingly remove yourself from the world of successful people and move to an unheard of country…you lose concept of all the basic terminology of said successful world. (Or did I ever even know these concepts to begin with??)
In any case, I will one-up-you and tell you that my language teacher is a connector in the core of his being, and not just in regards to his business portfolio.
He certainly has the credentials to be well-connected. He has been an educator for decades, has published didactic books on the Romanian language, facilitated international language exchange programs, and tutored numerous foreign diplomats. This guy knows his stuff. And for some reason he is teaching me. Me – the young adult with globally insignificant professional experience who still feels like a clueless 18 year-old (unless actually surrounded by 18 year-olds).
And what is more, he facilitates connections for me that I have no hope of reciprocating.
Here is where I give you some examples…
He put me in touch with a journalist not long after I arrived in Moldova. The journalist interviewed me for a segment about people who learn Romanian as a second language. The interview ended up being an exhilarating challenge and also a painful experience for everyone involved (my Romanian speaking was pretty dismal in those early days).
He also put me in touch with woman in Ukraine who is now my Romanian conversation partner. She squeezes in Romanian learning between her full-time job and her role as a mom. Though not exactly regular, our intermittent phone calls are a fun chance to practice speaking with a non-judgmental partner. Also, it’s frankly just an interesting cross-cultural exchange! I always smile and laugh a lot during our conversations. And I have my Romanian teacher to thank for that.
The most recent connection (and focus of this blog post) started with our reading of a book called “Ingerii dispar în ploaie” written by Aurelian Silvestru. It’s a lovely book full of short stories that expose the reader to traditional Moldovan culture and beautiful moral values without feeling preachy. And as it turns out – my teacher knows the author. One day I received an unexpected phone call from my teacher who proceeded to put Domnul (Mr.) Silvestru on the line. Our conversation was brief and rather embarrassing on my end. (Being under pressure generally does not enhance one’s speaking in a second language they are still acquiring.)
The next day, I wrote a message of thanks to my teacher for giving me the opportunity to speak with Domnul Silvestru. In response, my teacher worked his magic once again and worked to facilitate a meeting with Doamna Silvestru – Aurelian Silvestru’s wife.
Going out on a limb
Perhaps a little back-story is appropriate here. Though to be fair, I will only give you as much back story as I myself had. Because as I have found, a connector gives you the bridge to a new relationship, but doesn’t always give you the name of the river nor a detailed map to navigate the new territory on the other side of the bridge. I knew only this: Aurelian Silvestru founded a school in Chișinău and his wife worked there in some capacity.
That’s it. Seriously. My teacher gave me Doamna (Mrs.) Larisa Silvestru’s phone number and told me I should give her a call and visit the school.
So, hesitantly and without confidence, I called her.
And you know what? She was absolutely delightful on the phone – kind and patient with my Romanian. So we set up a meeting at the school where she works later that week.
Our Moldovan school adventure
And that is how Daniel and I found ourselves at the Prometeu Primary School at 1 PM on Friday. We entered nervously – not quite sure what to expect. But within five minutes, I found myself stuck with a sappy grin that I couldn’t get rid of. Doamna Silvestru met us outside in the cold and ushered us into a warm building – straight into three different grade school classrooms. We marveled over art projects, admired students’ English, shook teachers’ hands, and felt altogether much more important than we are.
She then led us to her office and led a fascinating discussion about the history of the school as well as the current challenges that Moldova faces. After that, we found ourselves in the teacher lounge, sipping coffee and eating nuts. One of the teachers from the school joined us for our chat.
How do I explain how bewildering this all was, but in the best possible way? Why any of these academic professionals would choose to pause their day to talk to us is beyond me. They never once looked at their watch or rushed their conversation. The atmosphere and conversation felt comfortable the entire time. They chose simple words and sentence constructs so that I could understand their Romanian.
It’s not like teacher lounges are made for entertaining, but they pulled out tea cups and saucers from drawers, heated water in a hot pot on the floor, and made fresh coffee on the spot for us. We left with apples tucked in our bags – because no Moldovan host will let you leave without taking some kind of food with you.
And why?!? This is the part I can’t understand. Why in the world would my teacher set up such an interesting and positive meeting for me? Why would anyone chose to meet with us?
Moldova never ceases to amaze
I’m still trying to process the take-away from this event, and to internalize the appropriate lessons.
One thing I’m sure of is that connectors find people inherently interesting and want to forge new relationships between people. They don’t withhold connection just because one party may not have as much to offer. I think of the part of the Bible where Jesus encourages children to come sit near to him while he is teaching. Children have little to offer, but the best people give generously to them despite that fact.
Which reminds me of my other take-away: that although we felt like Prince William and Princess Kate as we smiled at children and toured around the school, we most certainly were not. In fact, our reception at the school had nothing to do with us and everything to do with Doamna Silvestru. Her welcome was warm simply because she is gracious, open-minded, and constantly working toward the good of all humanity.
You know how they say that animals and small children have a sense of whether someone is a good person or not? Well, if the number of hugs Doamna Silvestru received from young students is any indication, then she is a very very good person.
I don’t think we can do anything to directly repay the lovely reception we had at the Prometeu School. And I also don’t think I am adequately paying my Romanian teacher for all he has given me in terms of both education and open doors in the past year. And yet, I don’t think these two individuals are motivated primarily by financial return. These people are philosophers and humanists, Moldovans who love their country but are not bounded or blinded by a specific culture. These are the kind of people I am honored to have met while in Moldova and who I hope to emulate upon my return to America.