I was invited by my Romanian friend and colleague Ema to run a workshop at ‘Homing’ pop-up festival (25th June – 2nd July) in Timisoara, Romania, a city I had never been to in a country I knew nothing about. I had never thought to run a workshop there – I guess out of the naive viewpoint that locals wouldn’t speak English.
I agreed to be a part of this collaborative project on the concept of ‘home’ – leaving home, coming back home – in a country where young people finished school and almost immediately went overseas to further their career and educational opportunities. They learn German and English at school and are almost groomed to leave and start a ‘better life’ causing both a gap in the number of young people in the city and also a lack of connection between the older more traditional Romanians and the younger generation.
I was to run a workshop for ten teenagers and decided to run two evening sessions with adults too, mostly because I was there so why not! But here I want to talk about the teens. Ten 14-17 year olds and one twenty year old from the Heavenly Hell theatre group came and met me in the morning at Casa Artelor in downtown Timisoara for what was to be a three-hour creative writing workshop on the idea of home.
I had organised three to four activities and was a little nervous. By the end of the introduction I was feeling quite comfortable that I was on the presence of a group of confident, intelligent and perfect English speaking young people.
We never got past the first exercise which was about understanding where you think from and trusting yourself (trusting your gut) and believing in that space. We spent the next three-hours brainstorming, throwing around ideas, sharing concepts and thoughts and asking questions. Lots of questions.
The conversation turned to politics, spirituality, religion and trying to understand their place in such an orthodox country where thinking for yourself and voicing any opposition was still considered taboo by the powers that be. For me it was a tricky navigation of guiding young teenagers through trusting their doubts, concerns and their voice whilst recognising the country and culture that I was sitting in.
Once they recognised that sitting with me – an Australian author and counsellor was a safe place to voice their difficulties the questions got deeper and we went an hour over time allowing them to try and get to the bottom of what worried them – How do I found my spiritual path? How do I know if I am on the right path? Is there a wrong path? Where is God? How do we know?
And my favourite question that genuinely stopped me in my tracks when I had to answer this: “My priest tells me that if I don’t pray and come to church every week I will go to hell … but if you murder someone you can repent and still go to heaven. How does that make sense?”
I will never forget these incredible, bright, enthusiastic and inquisitive young human beings who both supported and challenged me in this new environment.
Here are some of the comments the students said afterwards.
“Such a fresh air in this traditional city you are. I didn’t get the answers but more questions to help put me on my path. Good to see that there are people whose stories can have a really nice impact on you. I’d love it if I could stay in this state of mind at least for a few more hours. This workshop was such an interesting one. Nice to meet you Romi.”
“This meeting was really unexpected (in the most positive way). People like you inspire me to try new things – from religions to cultures and lifestyles and to be a better person. After getting to know a bit about you and your purpose I know that maybe that’s something that make me happy and feel fulfilled. Thank you for teaching us about what instinct and gut feeling is and how to use it. Thank you for coming to Romania and especially Timisoara. I will never forget you.”
“In a really traditional country it is nice to have free and open discussions about such profound themes. I liked the first exercise but what I liked the most about this workshop is that the conversation flowed freely and it ended up being an interesting session of learning and deeper understanding not only of ourselves but the world. Good job Romi.”
“… I was surprised to see how easily I could write because I have always said things in a complicated way in which people can not understand.”
“It was a really good and relaxing atmosphere. I felt like I could talk about anything and it felt really good to see that there are people who share the same thoughts as I do because sometimes I feel like an outsider. At this workshop my mind felt relaxed because it didn’t need to always be prepared to give the ‘right answer’ and I learned how to handle my emotions and embrace spontaneity because sometimes what comes from the heart or the gut can be better than what comes from the brain. I felt that I received a new little family here when I was accepted as I am.”
“Today I felt like I discovered a lot about myself and that felt really good. The boundaries that I had before just went away and I feel so much more ready to experience the beauty of life. I am not much of a writer but it was a really nice and warm experience.”
“It was quite interesting to meet a person of likeminded mindset (double usage of mind – you know where this comes from). I read a lot of history and philosophy and the most recurring themes appeared here today. The gut of writing and the aspects of the body discussed were a cool way of looking at writing itself. It is also interesting how the other people interpreted it and even more how the discussion came about to a wider scope.”
“Today was a very fun experience. We learned a lot, we chatted a lot and most important we had fun. The activities were smartly chosen because they had a purpose: to teach us how to handle life. I wish for myself in the future to participate in more workshops, projects and activities like this because I think it will help me grow up with hope, be smart and in a happy way.”