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Sommer and I have exciting news to share. We’ve been working on a Web site that gives a quick overview of our trip (which is part of the reason we’ve been dormant here). It’s located at www.RomaniaRevisited.com. Our blog has been moved over there, too. The direct link to the blog is www.romaniarevisited.com/romania-revisited/blog.html.

We’re still beefing it up, so please let us know if we missed anything important.

Also, shout out to Clayton for helping us with the site. We appreciate it.

When we postponed the trip, Lindsey and I set a goal to expand our Romanian network. We want to reach out to all of our connections. So I sent a message to Arwen Kidd who worked on a documentary with a colleague of mine from University College London. She has spent a considerable amount of time in Romania working on a lot of different projects (did her journalism thesis project there on the changing media landscape since communism to joining the EU; was originally hired to co-write a book about a rock band in Bucharest, ended up as the Marketing & Communications Manager for the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation; did photos for a number of Romanian-based magazines and NGOs; was communications coordinator for an international film festival based there; helped organize a human rights documentary fest with the Czech embassy and more).

From her resume, we decided she MIGHT know a thing or two about Romania. Maybe.

Her words of advice were helpful and some points got me thinking.

First she said responded to our blog by saying, “Number one thing to keep in mind is that Romania is very much a developed country. Although it’s not England, it is highly capitalistic, it is full of culture and entertainment (Bucharest and its ‘mall’ fixation is something in its own right, to be sure – plus great cafes and night-life), over all very business-minded, and really changing rapidly – even since I started going there back in early 2006.”

I’ve heard from a couple of people looking over our blog that they’ve gathered the impression we might think Romania is a very down-trodden third world country. We don’t. And Lindsey and I are making it a point not to try to peg a story into a hole sized to our perceptions (if our perceptions do not reflect the reality). We’re going with an open-mind and we’re going to investigate. We’re also researching, and I am pulling from my first-hand experiences from my trip in 2006.

Arwen also voiced a pretty reasonable question to the premise of our trip: The orphanage story is an old (and covered) one. What’s the new angle?
Our answer: Yes, it’s been covered. But not a lot has been written recently. And we’re going after the “then and now” stories no one else has covered. We know the conditions the orphans faced right after communism collapsed. But what sort of system did the kids grow up in? And what are their options now?

And here are some random comments and tips she gave that I thought were interesting:

  • The countryside is gorgeous. Mountains and beaches, and vineyard country too – it’s all there.
  • Romanians are thoroughly hospitable (once you get past their sometimes cold first impression exteriors…), and friendly people.
  • Watch out for a drink pronounced ‘Polinkah’ however…. known to kill that one is. Tsuica is the lesser version. Both are offered widely and drunk with hosts. Sometimes early in the morning. Romanians like to sip.

Thanks, Arwen, for the great feedback.

And to everyone else: feel free to share more tips. Our goal is to be practically Romanian by the time we get there. (Lindsey is working on a Romanian tan as we speak.)

I forgot how nice it feels to be productive.

Lindsey and I met with Jose Bowen, Dean of SMU’s Meadow School of the Arts, today to discuss our project. He seemed really excited about the trip and gave us some tips for further grant research. Hitting people up for money in this economy has been kind of difficult, though. But Lindsey and I are troopers and we’ll apply for grants until our fingers fall off.

Then we met up with our first Romanian contact. We’ve decided we’re going to get in touch with all of our random Romanian contacts, conduct interviews and put together mini-packages to post on our blog as part of our plan to get as familiar with Romania as possible.

Today we met up with Cristian. He’s working on his PhD at UTD and stumbled upon our blog. It was a really interesting interview. So interesting, in fact, that I can’t tell you all about it now. I don’t want to spoil the excitement of watching our audio slideshow. But let me just say we talked about what it was like growing up in Romania (he didn’t move to the States until after high school), how he feels about Romania’s portrayal in the media, Ethan Hawke’s mom, gypsies, dogs and Brigitte Bardot, and a whole lot more.

Stay tuned. Trust me, it’s worth it.

I came across this quote the other day courtesy of @youquotedquotes via Twitter:

Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to stir the souls of men.

-Victor Hugo

I would say this is right in line with our thinking. In the early stages of our trip, Sommer was joking around (as usual) and said, “Dream big or go home.” And that’s pretty much how we roll. There’s no point in stopping yourself from trying something because you’re not sure you can do it. Also, Sommer and I are journalists because we want to impact people and ideally present stories that act as a catalyst for positive change.

Check out this article from The New York Times about Romanian health care and corruption.

Story starts off with a great lede about a family that had a heartbreaking experience with the health care system.

And here’s a fact that caught my attention: “And Transparency International, the Berlin-based anticorruption watchdog, ranked Romania as the second most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union last year, behind neighboring Bulgaria.”

It’s hard for me to imagine living in situations like these, where bribery is not only normal, but expected. I wonder how seeing this aspect of the culture in person will affect me.

The importance of respect in our life was reinforced to me twice last Wednesday. Once in lecture form from my negotiations professor and then later tonight at the ASMP/DSVC event, where internationally known Chicago-based photographer Sandro spoke.

My professor can be summed up in one word: badass. He is a very experienced negotiator so when he speaks, my classmates and I listen. I immediately got ready to take notes today when he started discussing negotiating abroad. He told us that the number one thing you can do when dealing with people from other cultures is learn how to show respect. Even if you botch it up, your actions–just the attempt–creates goodwill. I remember traveling around Europe last year and finding that people were more willing to work with me if I attempted to speak their language, no matter how badly I was butchering it. Even though I’ve traveled to foreign countries before, I feel like I’m coming to Romania with a different purpose, which means that I will need to be more aware of these differences. While what my professor said is common sense, I’m glad I heard it before we leave.

For respect lesson #2, I turn to Sandro. He talked a little bit about how he builds trust with his subjects and shows them respect. When taking pictures of people on the streets, he will begin to photograph them from a distance and slowly get closer until he gets all of the shots he wants. If people indicate to him that they want their photo taken, he stops and apologizes. But when the people allow him to continue his work, he thanks them for sharing an intimate moment with him at the end of his shooting. Such a small gesture goes a long way. His awareness of respect was even present during the lecture. After answering a question from the crowd, he more often than not would thank the person for asking the question. The humbleness exhibited by Sandro was quite refreshing. He’s talented and successful but still down to earth. And I’m willing to bet that the importance of respect in his work is probably one of the reasons that he is successful.

These are all things that Sommer and I need to keep in mind when we’re abroad. Not only are we trying to interview people that speak another language, but they also have a different culture with different traditions. If we forget this, there’s very little chance that we’ll be able to accomplish our goal of reporting the current conditions of the orphanages in Romania.

Our destination remains the same. We’re going to Romania. The journey, however, involves a few more twists than anticipated.

For those who have been following along with the blog, we’ve blogged about putting together this trip through one main contact. I have yet to blog about our story ideas, but some of our key stories are “Then and Now” features that will chronicle the experiences of some of the children who grew up in the orphanage system. They are children that our non-profit contact has been in touch with and can get us in touch with for interviews and pictures. Last week that contact expressed some concern over her ability to take the trip in March. We were quick to discover that was just fancy talk for postpone.

So we were left with two options: fly solo or postpone until the summer. And out came the pros and cons lists.

Cons of Postponing: We wouldn’t be going now, and although Romania isn’t exactly a “Spring Break! Woohoo!” kind of place, it was our plan for spring break. And we knew that changing our tickets would be a costly inconvenience. We didn’t realize HOW costly and HOW inconvenient until yesterday, but we knew it wouldn’t be a party to get that all sorted.

Pros: We’d be able to travel with someone who can get us access to places that were indispensable to our reporting (which was our biggest concern). We could spend the next few months building our network in Romania, learning more about Romania and writing several relevant preview stories, expand and update our blog (I’m going to buy a flip camera so we can have some fun with that and post videos), and search for more grants and seek more financing for the trip.

We mulled over our lists earlier this week in the convergent newsroom at SMU. Journalism Chair Tony Pederson saw us through the glass doors and popped in to say hello (or ask me to stop loitering around campus–one of the two). We laid it all out for him and got his opinion.

He told us to wait, which was the same thing we heard from other seasoned journalists, family and friends.  Feeling a bit defeated, I turned to Lindsey and said next time we’ll be sure not to work with only one contact.

Pederson laughed.

I turned to him and said, “I guess we’re learning a pretty obvious lesson?”

With a knowing smile on his face, he said we’re learning to be journalists.

And I guess that’s the point of this whole thing. Yes, we’re passionate about the stories we’re covering and we’re dedicated to producing some really great quality work. But we also know this is going to be somewhat of a test run. The first adventure of many to come.

And although Perkins and I are supposed to be in the air right now, we will be come June, and we’ll keep updating the blog until then (with more pictures and more video, too). So keep reading. I plan on becoming increasingly interesting as time goes by.

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