Growth Is A Journey is honored to share Emilia’s story of service and excellence. Emilia is an English teacher at an elementary and secondary school in a small rural community in Romania. Over the last years, Emilia has engaged in multiple initiatives with other schools in Europe. In many of those programs, Emilia’s school was the only school or among very few participating schools in Romania and Europe.
GIAJ: Can you tell us a little bit how your interest in such initiatives started and how you moved from finding out about those programs to pursuing them?
Emilia: First, I am glad to be here and talk about education as I consider it to be very important for all of us and for all countries. A famous German philosopher said : “A people without culture can be easily manipulated” . I totally agree with this idea.
My passion for educational programs started in 2008 when I joined the European community of enthusiastic teachers called eTwinning. I really enjoyed learning by sharing and I tried to find ways to motivate my students to learn a foreign language in a practical way. As my students couldn’t afford travelling abroad for summer camps or with their families to practice their English language skills, I decided to partner online with different European schools and work together in a collaborative and communicative way via the eTwinning platform. Our projects were eventually successful and our school was recognized by receiving an eTwinning Quality label award. Little by little, kids started dreaming about meeting each other one day and enjoyed mailing nice postcards, brochures and souvenirs from Romania. So through these international projects, I focused on sharing about my country’s values, culture and traditions, while learning about tolerance, respect and friendship. It’s a practical way to enrich your life when we travel online without spending money and having in mind an educational goal.
GIAJ: I know your proposals were rejected several years in a row and representing a school from a rural community might have been a disadvantage, however you continued to submit year over year. What kept you going?
Emilia: Yes, I have applied for 3 years. The first year we were on the back-up list. We had a good score but the European Commission’s budget wasn’t sufficient that year. It was disappointing that the project was so close to being accepted and financed, after the huge work put into finding the international school partners and a project around common needs and problems that we face every day in our schools.
I continued applying thanks to the support of my team and colleagues at school. I discovered that they really wanted to make a change for our school. In this small community we want to bring innovation and new ideas to involve more our students in their learning. I realized that without people to support your ideas, who are ready and open to apply new things, you can’t succeed. Fortunately after 3 years of hard work, to our big surprise, all my projects were approved and we are now implementing four projects with schools from nine European countries. One project is called “Unblocking Limits Together” and is focused on social inclusion, diversity, empathy, tolerance and resilience. Students share experience and knowledge with schools from the UK, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy. Another project is “Wise Online Web Surfers” with a goal to make students aware of the importance of staying safe online and of becoming wise digital citizens. For this project, my students will collaborate and visit with students from Spain, Greece and Lithuania.
GIAJ: Can you share with us what ages the participating students generally are and what changes you have seen after the experience of those programs?
Emilia: Participating students are between 11 and 15 years old. I think this type of international and educational program positively impacts students’ lives and futures. It opens their horizons. Two years ago while attending a seminar, I met a former student. She was happy to thank me because as a student at my school she used to take part in an eTwinning project doing online collaborative activities. This experience was a small but impactful step for her towards learning about other cultures, how to collaborate and share ideas with fellows in a diverse world.
I also generally see a change in my students’ behavior and attitude. They become more responsible and eager to get involved themselves in different activities for our community and of course to put into practice what they have seen and experienced in the schools visited abroad. They are more receptive and motivated to change the community and the world around them.
GIAJ: When looking back at past trips, countries and schools visited with your students, can you share with us a couple of memorable moments?
Emilia: Yes, it’s a pleasure to talk about these moments. For example, I remember how excited my students were to prepare for our trip and to fly for the first time. Also it was a first time when they were apart from their parents for a whole week. Everybody was excited and also anxious –how would they manage alone in a foreign country, trying to put into practice what they had learned at school? In the midst of such mixed emotions, the host school welcomed us warmly by singing songs in the native language of the partner schools. I also still remember how during breaks we were surrounded by different students from the host schools trying to talk to us even if not all of them could speak English. I can see their curious eyes, smiley faces, waving their hands and trying to communicate with us : ”Ola! Hello! Ciao! Bonjour ! Buna!”.
GIAJ: What has those experiences most taught you as a teacher and at a personal level?
Emilia: These experiences have showed me that everywhere you can meet wonderful people, starting with a simple person on the street. During our educational trips we met friendly people eager to learn from us and to hear about our country. I learned once again that it’s not good to judge a book by its covers. I am referring here to my official meeting with the Romanian Ambassador in Dublin, who in spite of her function, showed us her friendly personality during our visit to the Romanian Embassy in Dublin. The Ambassador gave an informal talk explaining to my students the roles of an Embassy in a foreign country. In turn, my students recited some Romanian and Irish poems, which made the Ambassador express her wish to come and visit my school. For all of us, this was a special and unique event, for many of us it was the first time in an Embassy.
As a teacher, you learn all your life. This is not a myth at all if you like your job and you want to keep up with new methods and trends. All these projects are different and represent pieces of a big puzzle that at the end will lead to a richer personality and a more motivated and enthusiastic teacher.
GIAJ: By pursuing all those programs, you and your colleagues engaged in those initiatives are doing something unique and exceptional in your community and profession, behind which there is a lot of hard work. What is your hope in doing this?
Emilia: Through these programs, we want to open new doors to our students, make them aware that our world is in continuous change and movement and that we have to live in peace and harmony by understanding better what social inclusion and diversity mean. Generations are also changing thus we have to stay relevant and in touch with technology and the new trends in education. We also hope that our students will be more responsible and more involved in their communities.
GIAJ: As we are at the end of the interview, do you have any special message for the Growth Is A Journey community?
Emilia: Yes, I have. It’s important to guide children with this Chinese proverb in mind : “Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn”. By starting with small steps and involving them in their own learning process, the experience and teaching will stay in their minds for a long time. My experience as a teacher showed me this. Making their learning memorable is my aim.
In a post-interview exchange, Emilia shared the letter below written by a London school professor for Emilia to read to her students upon their return from the Dublin trip. This is not only a beautiful token of the power of those programs but also a good reminder for all of us during those COVID-19 days to stay strong and positive.