Funny how things change
Author: Peter Krupa
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 03/14/2005
Like all of us, Ruxandra Tanase
has a few vivid memories from her childhood snapshots she calls them, and for
her they are images of life in Romania before the fall of communism.
She remembers the shortages, the huge bread lines, the empty stores. Foreign
products bought on the black market (as simple as Kent cigarettes,
foreign soap or t-shirts with something written on them) were exotic and
therefore highly valued, even if they were of low quality. Foreign was a synonym
She remembers a song she used to
sing with her friends as a little girl: Little plane with an engine, please take
me to the country with bananas the song went, because in communist
Romania, a banana was a rare
Funny how things change.
These days, Andra (as her friends
call her) is living in Costa
Rica and can buy all the bananas she wants for
a few colones. A masters candidate in
International Peace Studies at the University for Peace, Andra doesn t forget
those few years that she lived in an Eastern European communist country.
It s a completely different
world, she said. Growing up in communism is something very few people can
She and a few friends in her age
group have considered writing a memoir called The Last Pioneers to share their
experiences as the very last members of that state-sponsored and state-wide
youth club before the collapse of communism.
Andra was eight years old when
Romania was freed from communist
control. She attended school there until she was 16, and then it was off to
Italy for two years. She calls that
time she spent at the United World
College the most important
years of my life so far. There, she and her classmates learned to respect and
really, really like each other by virtue of being different.
Reflecting on the past, Andra
said that the communist influence in Romania did have its good side. For
instance, the public education system worked well with its strong emphasis on
the hard sciences. She remembers her parents insistence on academic
It was almost a way of expressing
their freedom, although the discussions were limited by the poor access to foreign publications, she said.
But sometimes she can still see
the negative effects of the oppression her parents endured for most of their
lives. For instance, there was the time they came to Minnesota to see her graduate from Macalester College.
(My parents) lived through the
communism period. It affected their way of thinking and perspective on the
outside world, Andra said.
It s almost only at an intuitive
level that I can analyze their reaction. I could see a sense of insecurity with
this other world they were exposed to By closing down the borders, communism
created that sense of insecurity, and I think that was maybe one of the worst
handicaps communism created.
Fortunately for Andra, she did
not inherit that insecurity. A smiling, amiable woman, Andra moves fluidly among
all the different cultures represented within UPEACE. Not content with just
studying, Andra looks to build an extracurricular community that will have an
influence both within UPEACE and without.
In what I want to do, I m always
inspired by the place where I m at, she said.
Her current project is working
with the Colegio Internacional SOS Hermann Gmeiner in Santa Ana, helping them
develop their peace studies program and also heading a program that brings the
students to UPEACE to give Spanish lessons. In addition she is working with
Christy and other UPEACE students and staff to organize the second edition of
the Cultural Day at UPEACE.
In a way, I m trying to integrate
what I m learning here into my work at the Colegio Internacional and what I have
learned in the UWC and at Colegio Internacional at UPEACE, she said. There is
more in you that you think, as my email ending says, and the greatest feeling of
satisfaction is making people discover that more.
When she left Romania for Italy
at age 16, Andra swore to herself she would spend the majority of her life
abroad. Since then she s been home on and off, a few times a year, and as she
has grown up, her perspective has been changing.
That was my dream, to leave and
be able to make good money and travel and get out of that place I can t say that
Romania feels like home, but at the
same time I still feel very Romanian.
Romania, she has decided, could still
be an option for her in the end. But let s not get ahead of ourselves.
Realistically, it depends so much
on the person I fall in love with or whatever, she said with a smile. Right now,
I m just trying to enjoy the freedom of not knowing where I m going while still
watching where I set my next step.
Bio: Peter Krupa is the editor of the Peace and Conflict Monitor