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Last Updated: 03/14/2005
Funny how things change
Peter Krupa

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 of quality.


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 treat.


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 imagine.


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 excellence.


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.

Peter Krupa is the editor of the Peace and Conflict Monitor