Romanians are a curious people, so whenever I return to my second home, friends and family never fail to inquire about my plans for the future. My response has been unwavering – I would like to build up knowledge and experience abroad and later return to lend a hand in development at home. When I was younger, people would smile and commend me for my optimism. Now that I have matured yet reiterate my desire to return home, some have expressed their surprise and even indignation. Why would I do such a thing when all of the best and brightest are leaving? And what would I, an American, be able to contribute to a country that I left when I was a mere toddler? These questions began to trouble me just at the time when my career plans started to come into focus. I was baffled by the blatant contradiction: on the one hand, Romanian society was bemoaning the crippling brain drain that was affecting all professions, yet on the other, the community, including my own close friends, were ridiculing those wanting to do something about it. It seemed like half a century of dictatorship had imbued a national sense of fatalism that was paralyzing progress and snuffing out hope wherever it appeared. A troubled history had also bred hostility towards the outside, towards those who ‘could never understand.’ Whereas the community had always been proud of the accomplishments of the diaspora – they were Romanian achievements away from home – the fear of uncomfortable change meant resistance towards our return. Normally seen as a Romanian living abroad, I rapidly became an American with Romanian roots when bringing up the possibility of return. This superficial play on identities was less hurtful than the haunting fear that I might not be accepted at home despite my best intentions and efforts.
Yet this period of questioning has only reinforced my commitment to return in the long term. I have come to realize that the road ahead will not be easy – I will have to work very hard to overcome prejudices and integrate in Romanian society. Nevertheless, my childhood ties to the country make this otherwise daunting challenge all the more alluring. Though I have spent fifteen years in the US, I cannot forget the defining role my home away from home has played. I have matured alongside both my parents and grandparents immersed in Romanian language, culture, and tradition. By visiting regularly and briefly working in the country, I have maintained strong links to my birthplace and therefore feel an emotional yearning to go back.
A sense of responsibility also draws me back to Romania. The country needs its younger generation to return and lead the development effort with fresh ideas and expertise. A new youth movement is starting to take initiative on reform and I hope to take part in this exciting new effort. Encouragingly, attitudes inside Romania about the role of the diaspora are changing and optimism is finally beginning to appear two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The legacy of an iron-fisted authoritarian regime is beginning to fade, allowing ambitious reformers to make themselves heard and felt. The stage is now set for return.
I have spent the last few years preparing for this move, both directly and indirectly. I have done my undergraduate studies in Europe and have traveled during my time off in order to get a better sense of people’s experiences of growth and change around the world. For example, in Bangladesh I studied the potential effectiveness of microfinance in combating poverty. Academically, I have focused on politics and economics in preparation for my goal of working in public policy. Yet this is not enough – in order to be ready to make a genuine impact at home, I feel that rigorous training in law is essential. The importance of the rule of law in transitioning states such as Romania cannot be underestimated, and an American JD background would best prepare me for invaluable work experience in the US or Europe before returning home. This international policy experience would in turn be an excellent way to develop professional skills that I could apply in Romania. Equally importantly, the unparalleled analytical training offered in US law schools would complement my British undergraduate experience, preparing me for difficult policy decisions back home. So while I know the task in front of me will not be easy and will require serious commitment and perseverance, this is how I hope to prepare for the road home.
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