WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Paige Rudin, a senior Honors College and Engineering student at Purdue University, has earned a Boren Scholarship. Rudin, also a 2018 Truman Scholar, is currently in Romania to study language and culture through a self-designed study abroad experience supported by her Boren funding.
The Carmel, Ind. native is studying in the Honors College and College of Engineering while majoring in multidisciplinary engineering with a concentration in veterinary health engineering and a minor in global engineering studies. She plans to use the unique knowledge gained from her Boren experience to help develop public policy on the preventing the transmission of diseases. While in Romania, Rudin will gain veterinary experience through studying with Romanian veterinarians.
Rudin already has experience in the prevention of communicable diseases. Through a service-learning project at Purdue, she worked with students at the University of Anténor Firmin in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti on best practices for water sanitization. She has also served as a National Defense University analyst, an intern for Purdue’s Internationally Genetically Engineered Machine team and a design lead for Engineering Projects in Community Service.
Boren Scholarships provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students planning careers in national security field to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad. These include Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Students interested in prestigious scholarships are encouraged to work with Purdue’s National and International Scholarships Office (NISO). Additionally, students who accept Boren scholarships agree to work for the federal government and serve national security interests for at least one year following their return to the United States.
Rudin, who is dedicated to fostering community and public engagement with the sciences, will detail her experience in Romania through the following blog.
So, what language do they speak in Romania? Well, Romanian. It’s Latin-based (ROMANian), not Slavic, but has some influences from other regional tongues. It closely resembles other Romance languages—specifically, Italian. Sadly, I don’t speak Italian, but my Spanish still came in handy when learning grammar. My 3-week course was taught entirely in Romanian from Day 1, so I was immediately immersed in the sounds and structures of the language. Some words have four vowels strung together in the middle of them, which is a bit of a mouthful for a native English speaker. Making plural words is also a challenge; for example, “copiii” is the word for children. Fortunately, you don’t really hear all of those I’s when you say it quickly.
Babeș-Bolyai (pronounced “bab-esh boy-yay”) University, the organizer of this course for the past 47 years, has casually been in the business of educating students since 1581. It’s the largest university in Romania with about 42,000 students—similar to Purdue’s total student population. In addition to BBU, there are several other universities in Cluj, giving the city a young and trendy vibe. Cluj is also a booming IT hub, attracting techies from around the world partially because Romania has the fastest WiFi in Europe and partially because of its cafés and work spaces, which definitely contribute to a positive feedback loop. After four hours of class each morning, I spent my afternoons adventuring through the city with a friend, exploring new cafés where we practiced Romanian and accomplished other work.
Cluj’s food culture is diverse and delicious, ranging from vegetarian to Indian to traditional cuisine. Something I found particularly interesting was the fact that the menu of almost every fast food counter boasts a combination of shawarma and falafel sandwiches, gyros, and schnitzel, speaking to Romania’s complicated history and heritage. A beautiful, massive cathedral in Piața Unirii is complimented by a line of restaurants where patrons can be found sitting outside throughout the day. A long, river-bordering park nearby provides the perfect setting for an evening stroll or afternoon hammocking. While walking back from class one day, I counted 47 hammocks strung up throughout the park. There were more, but I was tired of counting (sorry). Every weekend, a different festival’s booths were strewn through the park and circled the stadium at its western end. Jazz music, street food, and craft beer each occupied the space that was a convenient 15-minute walk from my accommodations. Music festivals are also held throughout the summer, including Electric Castle, an electronic rave inside a nearby medieval castle, and Untold, headlined by The Black Eyed Peas, The Chainsmokers, and Jason Derulo this year, with the main stage inside the stadium.
Another highlight of my time in Cluj was a weekend trip north to Maramureș, a region home to traditional wooden churches and a slower, more rural lifestyle where horses can be seen pulling carts as a family’s main mode of transportation. The scenery flashing past the bus windows was beautiful, filled with rolling hills, wildflower fields, and stacks of hay. We traveled so far north, distant hillside villages were Ukranian rather than Romanian. Our itinerary included visits to the political prison at Sighet, now a memorial to victims of communism; famed author Elie Wiesel’s house (you probably read his book about the Holocaust, Night, in high school); a potter’s studio where we attempted to make something resembling pottery from the region; an extremely well-manicured Orthodox monastery overlooking a valley; and many tasty traditional meals featuring ciorba (a specific variety of soup), mamaliga (polenta), and sarmale (meat and rice filling wrapped in cabbage).
Within the BBU course, everyone’s motivations for learning Romanian were different, ranging from scholarly work as linguists, translators, and historians to wanting to perfect communication with extended family and loved ones. “What’s your reason?” was a common question as we got to know each other. On the Fourth of July, I gave a radio interview for public broadcasting describing what the holiday means to me, my experience as an American in Romania, and my reason for hopping on a trans-Atlantic flight. In short, while working with veterinarians here, I want to be able to interact with clients to understand the public health landscape and prevalent perceptions related to the transmission of zoonotic disease. Each reason was unique, and time in class passed quickly as everyone was eager to learn. I look forward to continuing to exercise my new skills in the veterinary clinics to come.
Let me paint a picture for you: I’m sitting in the middle of the bench seat of a late 2000’s silver sedan filled with veterinary students and our fearless surgeon leader charging into the Romanian countryside. The radio loudly belts out American 80’s music while we bump over the pot holes of a road that turns from highway to asphalt to dirt as we make our way to a remote farm, a cloud of cigarette smoke trailing behind us as it escapes from the car’s cracked windows. Outside those windows, the sky and grass pulse with gemstone tones, and flocks of sheep herded by shaggy working dogs dot the rolling hillsides as we catch a glimpse of the vista while catapulting over the crest of a hill.
I survived the Romanian roller coaster ride and spent the day gaining hands-on veterinary experience with a team of veterinary students. As we were outside working, we saw and heard rain rolling toward us over the hills, finishing tying some suture and ducking into the barn before the monsoon. My time spent shadowing reproductive surgery at USAMV-Banat (University of Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine) in Timișoara in the Horia Cernescu Research Unit could best be characterized as widely varied and consistently engaging. I got a taste of a bit of everything the university had to offer, helping to administer exams, sitting in on administrative meetings, touring laboratory spaces, caring for research animals, and scrubbing in on surgeries. My morning commute was significantly shortened by the fact that I lived in the university hostel, and my hosts were incredibly kind in including me.
Timișoara itself was beautiful. I enjoyed the independence of solitary living, using the evenings to run and explore the city. The university’s forested campus was about a mile and a half straight from the city center, and the weekends were filled with festivals—fitness and Hungarian street food on the first and jazz on the second I was in town. There are a series of three well-composed, colorful plazas ringed by stately, ornate buildings including Piața Unirii, where the Romanian Revolution began in 1989. The best scoop of gelato in town can be had for $1 (4 lei), and restaurants and cafés line all the main public spaces, supporting the population of the third largest city in Romania.
After playing soccer for many years, a good pick-up game always brings me joy. Especially here in Eastern Europe, it’s unusual for women to play football; men are always surprised when I ask to join them and absolutely floored when they discover I possess the remnants of good foot skills and the ability to pass and shoot. Students were finishing their exams on campus, but enough were left to find someone to play on the fields adjacent to my apartment most evenings. I regretfully packed only my sneakers, not cleats, but enjoyed myself anyway.
Now, I am in Cluj-Napoca for a 3-week intensive language program at Babeș-Bolyai University upon which I will report soon before returning to Timișoara to shadow a small animal practitioner. La revedere!
I’m Paige, an Honors College senior at Purdue studying Multidisciplinary Engineering with a concentration in Veterinary Health Engineering. Basically, that means I’m developing an engineering core plus taking pre-veterinary classes with the intention of going to veterinary school (shameless MDE plug: please reach out to me if you have any questions because it’s a wonderful program). Ultimately, I hope to develop public policy related to preventing disease transmission. This summer, the Boren Scholarship is affording me the opportunity to study language and culture in Romania while shadowing veterinarians and learning about linkages between animal and human public health. Boren is a National Security Education Program initiative that supports U.S. students who want to travel and study in countries where U.S. students don’t usually travel and study. It has an incredibly flexible take on the definition of “national security” and is worth exploring if you’d like to take a path other than the well-loved one (full disclosure: I also spent the spring semester studying in Madrid, Spain; the established path is still rich and colorful and full of growth moments).
So, Paige, why Romania? Well. It made sense. Logically, the Balkan region has endemic diseases not found in the US and could be a site of re-emerging disease that is important to global health to track and understand. Logistically, Dr. Mark Russell, a Purdue professor-mentor-friend, had existing connections with Romanian veterinarians to facilitate homestays, travel, and interesting experiences. Laughably, I was curious about Eastern European culture and wanted to see whether or not Dracula was real for myself.
I boarded the overnight plane ride armed with the essentials—words for coffee (cafea) and bathroom (baie), a couple pairs of jeans, and my Hydro Flask. Taking a bus from Budapest to the town of
Oradea, my journey began as I traveled to my first stop at Caminul Felix orphanage and dairy farm located just outside the city. Caminul Felix Village, founded in 1990 & linked below, consists of a
series of specially-constructed houses with a central nucleus for parents and their biological children and two dormitory wings for boys and girls. A family generously welcomed me into their home for ten days, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of their daily lives.
Mornings and afternoons were spent bucking bales, feeding calves, and generally enjoying getting dirty at the dairy. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, and I enjoyed some scrumptious Romanian fare before tucking into donuts, sour cherry turn-overs, and croissants for supper. Yes. I repeat—DONUTS FOR DINNER.
Evidence of the country’s communist past is reflected in its memories and words, its buildings and infrastructure, and its systems and ideology, but people aren’t focused on the years before 1989—they’re thinking about the future. Recently, the mayor of Oradea obtained a 30 million euro grant from an EU initiative to renovate the city’s downtown spaces, transforming them into beautiful pedestrian zones and parks. Construction is on-going, and progress is clear as the canvasses of many buildings under construction snap in the wind.
I am continually reminded how none of this experience would be possible without the generosity of so many veterinarians, hosts, and new friends. As I continue my journey with a few more stops across the country, I look forward to practicing my language skills, eating more good Romanian food, and exploring these rolling green hills.
I’ll check in again soon. Multumesc.
Caminul Felix: http://www.caminulfelix.ro/index.php?hl=en