When, we, Erasmus students, arrived in Bucharest, we barely knew anything about Romania and its capital… All we had in our minds was some crazy words (mulțumesc), some Romanian places to visit, and some famous songs (”Despre tine” – Ozone). But we didn’t know any Romanian or anything about the Romanian culture. We didn’t know how to talk to Romanian people and we had no expectations about the life waiting for us, and neither did we know how to integrate and get along with the Romanians. My integration has been synonymous with friendship, a discovery of myself and others that, in a succession of cultural shocks, has introduced me to new country and a new family.
We hear many things about the Erasmus life: an adventure that leads to discoveries, international exchanges and friends… an experience that features Erasmus parties that are usually fueled by too much alcohol. And then, when we are tired and when we need to get back to a healthy life, we join our Romanian schoolmates for the discovery of the original and traditional local way of living.
When it comes to integrating in a foreign country, how do you succeed? There is a recipe with several ingredients in addition to an open mind, an understanding attitude, patience and a desire of communication. First of all, the integration is going through the history and the language. I remember how nice the taxi drivers were treating us when we were trying to speak Romanian, even if our vocabulary and our accent were terrible. Traders were nicer when we were trying to order our fruits and our vegetables in Romanian. Then, we have to discover the neighbourhood, the city and the country and its tradition. We can thank the ESN team of Bucharest, who organized these visits. Finally, we need to build a social life through the political life (the faculty of political sciences is the best place for that), networks, jobs, and associations.
My integration in this Romanian way of life arrived faster. Actually, I didn’t look for it. It came to me and Kerstin, a German student and a very good friend of mine, through another French friend: The Bucharest Wolverines. The Bucharest Wolverines is a young and dynamic American Football Team in Bucharest. It competes with nine other American Football Teams in the Romanian championship. Players are both Romanian and foreign, and they form a huge family. Kerstin and I were talking to our French friend about sport in Romania because we were looking for an activity. He was a volunteer for the Bucharest Wolverines and he was looking for some more volunteers. Kerstin and I, we both had a cheerleading experience so we agreed to help them. One week later, I was meeting George and Andrei, the managers of the Bucharest Wolverines, asking us to create the first cheerleading team for American Football in Romania. Sorry, what? I talked about it to Kerstin. She agreed because we had a lot of free time and because when you start cheerleading you become addicted. Challenge accepted!
At the end of September, we started to train. We didn’t have any room but the sun was shining so we trained outside with the whole Bucharest Wolverines team. Our Erasmus friends did not have courses yet so they joined us. It was more about curiosity than involvement and conviction. Kerstin showed us some amazing positions. Some liked it, others didn’t. We found our first members. We really needed a room so I decided to meet Alina Stoïca, gymnastic teacher at the faculty of law. She knew a lot about cheerleading and she wanted to create a team on her own. She just didn’t know how to do it. So, we decided about an agreement: she was lending us a training room and at the end of the year, the team would be hers. She had no reason to help me. I was a stranger, without any official qualification, asking for help in a risky project. But she did help because the passion for sport is universal. We had a room and some friends. But it was not enough. A cheerleading team is strong thanks to the number of its members. We talked about it around us, Romanian girls and foreigners. Kerstin and I created a choreography quickly but we were not numerous enough and we were not certain that our team would survive until October.
Why is it so hard to find members? Kerstin and I came from countries where cheerleading has a full recognition. We didn’t understand why people were so skeptical and were laughing at us. So we tried to learn more about collective sport in Romania. We went to rugby and football games. We talked about recruitment to George and Andrei. From these both experiments we came to a conclusion: it’s hard for Romanian people to play a sport together. Oh, they can play together but not as a team, as family, as one. And this is why, cheerleading is quite unknown in Romania. Cheerleading is more than involvement. You put your life into someone’s hand you’d better trust. Kerstin and I were convinced we could change that because cheerleading can change your way of living. So we started with Erasmus first. We found some Romanian girls in night clubs. Some came but didn’t stay. Others stayed. Erasmus and local girls were enjoying the trainings: hard sport, team spirit, always outperforming ourselves, trusting in ourselves and the rest of the team. Regardless of our nationality, French, German, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, we learned about patience, sport, dynamism and we learned lots of things from each other. We learned how they were feeling about people’s judgment. And this was a culture shock.
After two months on, we were good friends, practicing along with with each other, welcoming some new girls, saying goodbye to others. But unlike Kerstin and I, they didn’t have any experience with facing up the public. So, for them, the training was real, but did not reach our goal: to cheer for our team, to represent a team all around Romania and to fight with our team in the National American Football Championship. The first time they had to act as cheerleaders in public it was with the guys of the Bucharest Wolverines. Every Sunday, we were watching the NFL games, trying to learn the rules of this complicated game and trying to learn from each other. The guys were not students like us. They had a job, a family, a wife, a life of experiences in Romania. They accepted us as family and they taught us a lot about Romania, how complicated life was but how strong Romanian people were. They changed too. They were excited about having cheerleaders but it was not real for them yet. They saw us, they saw how hard our trainings were and they started to really respect what we were doing. More than friendship, we were creating a family of people who can trust each other and suffer and act together. We donated our blood in hospitals together. We went to charity events together. And we, Erasmus students, have discovered more about this Romanian life we were sharing. We were part of the Bucharest community.
Trainings were getting better and the girls were staying. But once again, they didn’t believe for real we would be ready for a public show. So, in April, we left our training room at the Faculty of Law and trained in Parcul Unirii. They were worried about the looks of other people walking by and they started to lose their faith when laughter was directed towards us. A part of the cheerleading training is mental because a cheerleader needs to be strong, happy and determined. They stopped laughing when they saw how high and strong our pyramids were. They were impressed when they saw how synchronized and stately we were. Altogether as one, ready for fight and ready to prove it to the whole country: that’s who the Bucharest Wolverines family was. Then our first show came. The audience did not consist only of uninterested pedestrians. They were critical, betting on how ridiculous we would be. The girls were scared. But Kerstin and I trained them to be strong and determined. When we threw a girl in the air higher than three meters, the public stopped laughing and started to applaud us. This was the adrenaline pump we needed. We made the show. The public was crazy. What a girl of the team told me after the show has really remained imprinted in my memory: “Now I understand, now I know what you and Kerstin mean, we fit, we all fit and we can make things change because, whatever other people say, we are strong enough to fight, to succeed and to inspire.”
This story is not about politics, and this is more than sport. I received more support in Romania than in France with this associative project. In France everyone, even parents, would have said it was impossible. In Romania, I met people who became friends and family – which to me still seems as unbelievable as a beautiful and vivid night-dream. They were afraid of the critics and they accepted to try something different. They gave a chance to a stranger. They gave me a chance because I believed in Romania. I believed in all the opportunities one can find there.
So, the question was: how do you get integrated to Romania? Cultural shocks were numerous. I decided to speak a universal language: sport. I arrived with an idea and I let Romanian people surprise me as much as I surprised them. Today, I am back in France. But all the American Football teams from Romania are waiting for the Bucharest Wolverines cheerleaders to create another team with Erasmus people and, of course, Romanian girls. Romanian people gave me happiness and the most incredible experience of my life. Romanian people are more generous than I could ever imagine. Erasmus students can easily discover the kindness and wealth of this country and its people. Romanian people are welcoming and they are happy to share their history, their culture and their hopes.