When you think of Romania, the first thing that pops into to most minds is Dracula. The legend of the blood-sucking vampire that lurks in the night, haunting towns has been around since the late 1400’s and has loomed over Romania ever since. But what if there was more to this historic country than things that go “bump” in the night?
Romania’s gorgeous countryside, growing industry, and low cost are all aspects that would attract a traveler. There are many different programs that provide these interested travelers with opportunities to make a year abroad possible.
However, there are many things to consider when planning a year abroad-- something known as a gap year. For example, the type of program and the places to live as well as cost.
First things first: choosing a program. When deciding to take a gap year it is important to do all of your research in finding exactly how you want to spend your time in a different country.
There are thousands of orphaned children in Romania, most of which are housed in group homes and orphanages in the major cities like Bucharest and living under harsh conditions. The government has been working since the early 90’s to improve conditions however the orphanages are incredibly understaffed and always looking for volunteers.
Volunteering doesn’t only have to be with children. Romania is home to the largest bear sanctuaries in Eastern Europe and an excellent volunteer opportunity as well. Programs provide housing in Brasov with fellow volunteers and hands-on experience working with beautiful animals.
A second option is teaching English. English teachers are in high demand; 31% of the 20 million people residing in Romania speak conversational English and the number is itching to rise. A teaching certification can be earned in Romania or in the United States, and assistance in job placement and resume building is also provided.
Wages vary from school to school however, it is typical for teachers to be paid a comfortable amount to support a healthy lifestyle in the city in which you are working.
Teaching is not limited to a classroom and English. Romania’s mountainous terrain provides opportunities for the snow bunnies as well. Ski instructing is a great way to experience the wilderness of Romania while also earning a little money.
Instructors are given accommodations throughout the entire season and paid 800 LEI, or just under 200USD per month for 9 hours of work a day, 5 days a week.
Another less popular option is finding an internship. Growing industries in major cities like Bucharest are home to business, medical, and journalism internships. Although this provides unique experience in specific fields, it is important to research the working conditions in your chosen field as well as the taxation on your wage.
Choosing a city is almost as important as choosing a program. Romania is home to many exciting cities, but Bucharest and Brasov provide the most opportunities when it comes to working abroad. Depending on the program you choose, one of these cities will have what you are looking for. Both being located in the historical Transylvania region, you will be surrounded by traditional Romanian culture.
Compared to the United States, Romania is incredibly inexpensive. An apartment in the heart of the capital, Bucharest, will cost around 350USD. After adding in utilities and groceries, the occasional meal out, and excluding shopping trips, your monthly costs will be around 500USD.
Brasov, being a smaller city, is roughly two-thirds the cost of living in Bucharest.
However, any expense is a stress on the wallet if you have no income. Make sure to read the fine print of each program you are considering. The minimum wage is 800 LEI a month, enough to support a family of four in Romania, and most programs will provide living accommodations or a stipend for living expenses.
From January teaching positions, June summer camps and preservation volunteer work to September teaching positions and internships and winter ski instructing jobs, there is always an application available to submit.
Most programs have rolling admissions and are always accepting applications. However, the best time to apply is one to two months before the hiring season. By this time, companies usually have an idea of which employees are leaving and which are returning giving them a rough estimate of how many new employees they can accept.
Living in Romania
While all of this information is helpful on how to get started on a gap year, there is always an adjustment when living in a foreign country. Much like any eastern European country, Romanians have a reputation of being surly and hard to get to know.
Due to the history of war and turmoil both in and around the country it has gained a reputation of being dangerous. But it is one of the safest places in Europe and as long as you don’t go looking for trouble it is unlikely that you will find any.
The Romanian cities are thriving with culture and are pretty accepting of Americans and other foreigners. If you like minced meat and stew, you are sure to love the food and the desserts of custards, fruits, and cinnamon covered dough are even better. Don’t worry, McDonalds and Starbucks can still be found if you have a craving American staples.
There is so much more to Romania than the rumored surly people, dangerous alleyways and legends. Whether you choose to work, teach, or volunteer, the perfect gap year in Romania is waiting. Just remember: even though Romania is very safe, the Romanian government does not deny the existence of Vampires so be sure to avoid forests at night, just in case!