So, the time had come, and I arrived in Romania. To my surprise and additional comfort, I was fetched with another volunteer who arrived at the same time I did. She was coming from the UK and like me was also a first-time volunteer. At that point, I knew I was not alone and it was nice having someone to be with at the very start. We arrived at our accommodations around 6:30 in the morning and it was then that we met up with Peter and he briefed us quickly on what would happen in the next few days and how things work within the accommodation. Although they did send pictures beforehand, the accommodation was not what I expected. I thought it would be cramped, with a general sad feeling to it, but it was not like that at all. It was such a cute, spacious, homey place with high ceilings and adequate lighting from the windows. The kitchen was complete with basic necessities like coffee, ingredients for cooking, food for sharing, snacks, etc. Storage for food and amenities (like extra towels, blankets, paper towels, laundry items) were available and if anything else was needed grocery shopping was done 2x a week. My anxiety about spending a lot just to eat out and having a problem with food supply all went away after seeing all that. Bedrooms consisted of bunk beds and separate single beds, housing about 4-8 people in one room. Bunk beds had curtains which was nice because one could have their own privacy when they wanted to. We were assigned a bed and in a decisive way—by age bracket, which I must agree was smart. My roommate and I were early risers and always the first to wake up in the morning. The room given to us was the last bedroom and closest to another door that goes out through the back. It was great to have that separate key because when we wanted to go to the kitchen, we would not need to go through each door of every room. The Sunday that I arrived was also a good time to get to know the other new volunteers as well as the others who were already staying there. I was able to get a feel of the accommodations and it was also an opportunity to go around and explore. Sunday in Miercuria Cuic was very quiet, and rarely did we see a shop that was open or even notice people walking around. Happily, we did find several bakeries, cafes, restaurants (of different kinds), banks, pharmacies, exchange areas, a cozy little park and a grocery all within walking distance to our place. The accommodation was very central to everything and that was a plus for me.
When Monday, the official orientation day came, we were met by Jackie, who started Care2Travel. At orientation, we were briefed on the whole organization, how it started, its goals, and how it has grown over the past few years. It also provided a chance to ask more questions about the induction pack that was initially emailed to us, including things about the ins and outs of the city, the Székely people, the history, special days, etc. The meet-up was very casual and I just knew it would be easy for me in the next few days. Orientation to the Hungarian language (which is spoken in this area of Romania), tour information and my placement in sustainable agriculture came the following day. Learning Hungarian from a British lady (that being Jackie) was such a treat. We learned the basics in the simplest of ways and it was a quick learning tool that I could use when speaking with locals. The tour info was bittersweet for me because in the short time of my stay, I would only have an afternoon for a short trip. I do love that these tours were being made available for the other volunteers—definitely part of the term “volunteer vacation” that initially caught my eye. Later came an introduction to my placement. My placement was within the accommodations but when Peter showed me the area where I would be working, I was surprised to see quite a huge yard out back, with a newly installed greenhouse and several plots with an irrigation system. It was then that I learned about the winter season not being the time for seeding and cropping. I felt a little bad that I couldn’t do the stuff I thought I could, but I also knew there was still plenty to do. Peter briefed me on the things that needed to be done, explained to me where all the tools were, and from there I was all set for the following days work. The week provided lots of challenges but fun too! I was the only volunteer for sustainable agriculture, which meant I was working alone the whole time in the backyard, with the timely supervision of Peter. I had no problems working by myself and it was nice to pretend that it was my own garden that I was tending to. One challenge I had was handling the tools. I am a small person and the tools were a little heavy to handle, but I found they were easier to carry the more I used them. The cultivator to help with the weeds was another piece that challenged me, but it surely became my friend after I figured it out. At one point, Peter and I worked on the greenhouse to patch things up with new wood. I’ve used a saw before but only to cut very thin wood, and nothing of a carpentry level, so this was another challenge for me. It was definitely the type of volunteering I signed up for—working with my hands. Plus, I learned so much including the simple ways of caring for a vegetable garden: how to hoe the soil to give roots some space to breathe, aligning everything up so planting seeds would be easier next year, and wasting nothing by using appropriate left-over food as compost. I also had the experience of picking something up directly from the soil and eating it fresh. I have never tasted a radish that way before in my life. Those three days felt like a month to me, since there would always be something to do.Placements are usually for 3-5 hours and the rest of the day is free. There were extra-curriculars you could attend. There was a quiz night, the English club (where a specific topic is discussed each week) as well as extra volunteering such as an environmental community clean-up. Those were a good use of time when work is done and a nice way to interact with locals. Also, when needed elsewhere, we could be asked to help around—like when we transferred and carried some wood for construction. That was such a nice moment for me with the other volunteers, because we had the opportunity of working together on something that wasn’t in our own volunteer placement. There was constant and open communication from Care2Travel about the activities and they make it a point that it wasn’t mandatory to go or attend. Apart from my placement, I had the chance to take the mini city tour as part of the orientation day, a short hike on top of a hill overseeing the whole city, and a major hike of about 1800m high to a place called Lonely Rock. The tour to Lonely Rock was a paid trip and it was surely the best way to end my week. It was such an accomplishment for me to be able to hike that high and it was so beautiful, especially with the sunset. Another event I was able to experience was the local market which celebrated the production of honey. There were dances, music, a mini-play, a parade around the city, and local food and products which were all hand-made. Those were perfect gifts I was able to buy for my family and friends—bringing them a little bit of Miercuria Cuic back home.
I only have high praises for my experience as a first-time volunteer in Romania. If anyone was ever interested in trying to volunteer the first time, you can be assured that the team and programs in Romania will be a good place to start. I certainly had the two things I wanted to do on my 1-week time off from work—-to contribute and give service where there is a need and traveling to a beautiful place I have never been to before. And not a day went by that I did not have fun while I was doing it. The Care2Travel team makes sure you are well-taken care of. I believe that while volunteering in a foreign country I was able to give service to others without compromising safety and well-being—volunteering without all the worries and having fun at the same time. My experience with IVHQ and Care2Travel in Romania gives me much reason to consider volunteering again in the future. Thank you, IVHQ and Care2Travel!