Well, it’s here.
I am officially Ms. Morgan to a group of curious and excited (i.e. loud) Moldovan students ranging from 12 to 18 years old. September 1st marks the first day of school all across Moldova and the school year started off with a ceremony referred to as “First Bell”…but more of that in a minute.
I arrived at school this morning with my partner teacher and, immediately, I felt the intrigued and overt stares coming from every single student that I walked by. Some of them knew they were “getting an American”, but others did not so they were frantically trying to figure out who this (clearly) non-Moldovan person was walking through their school. I just smiled my typical American smile and continued on, greeting other teachers with Buna ziuas and polite head nods.
Standing outside with another one of my partner teachers, a 9th form student approached us to give her a flower (another Moldovan practice…students often gift their teachers with flowers to show their appreciation) and she asked him to introduce himself to me. He did, in clearly spoken English, to which I replied “Hi, I’m Morgan. Nice to meet you!” After this exchange, my partner and I stood beside the school building facing out into a concrete parking lot area where the ceremony was to take place. We positioned ourselves so that we could see all the students and the ceremony from the best vantage point.
The ceremony started with a speech from our adjunct director, welcoming everyone. Then, the beyond precious procession began. As per tradition, the 12th form students escorted the 1st form students into the ceremony, symbolizing the beginning and the end of formal schooling in Moldova. It was a very moving process (for me, at least) as it encouraged community between the students and gave the very young students a goal to strive for in their education.
After the cats were herded…err, I mean the 1st graders were placed…more speeches followed from our school director, the town priest, our Ministry of Education representative, and the police inspector. There were some student performances as well.
Another beyond precious moment is when the 2nd form students presented the 1st form students with their first textbook. When prompted, 2nd form students walked over to where the 1st formers were standing and handed them their ABC book, officially welcoming them to their first year of school and allowing the 2nd formers to move into the big leagues.
After this, the new first form students gathered in front of the entire group and recited a poem for everyone. Moldovans love their poetry–memorizing and reciting poems for class is a frequent practice so this was the 1st form’s first opportunity to participate in this activity for school. They were all very brave, reciting their portion confidently into the microphone when prompted. I can just imagine the chaos that would ensue if 1st graders in the US were asked to do such an activity.
The last major part of the ceremony was the traditional ringing of the first bell. A 12th form boy hoists a 1st form girl up on his shoulder and carries her around the circle while she rings the first bell of the school year. This year, the 1st form girl was the daughter of one of the math teachers at my school and she was so excited to be able to participate in this special ceremony as witnessed by her huge smile.
When the ceremony was complete, students reported to their diriginte (homeroom teacher) for a brief lesson on Moldova’s independence since they celebrated their 25th anniversary this year! Our director came around with Soldanesti’s Ministry of Education representative to each class to welcome them. After our director told the MoE representative that I was the Peace Corps Volunteer serving in their school for the next 2 years, he walked over to introduce himself by extending his hand and welcoming me in Romanian. I was very pleased as it is rare for men to shake hands with a woman and I appreciate his cultural awareness in this situation. My male students, however, were very confused judging by the looks on their faces during this exchange. Guess a discussion about greetings in America is officially on the agenda!
At the end of class, the students gifted my partner teacher with the flowers that they brought for her, except for one girl who gave the flowers she brought to me instead. I was very touched by this simple act since it is rare for new teachers to receive anything on the first day (which makes total sense). Also, as I was walking downstairs, the same 9th form boy that introduced himself to me earlier presented me with a long stemmed rose and welcomed me to their school. Now, as I sit looking at my flowers sitting in my Brita pitcher (because what is more Peace Corps than making a vase out of a Brita pitcher), I am so thankful for the acceptance and hospitality shown to me by the people of Moldova over the past 3 months and I couldn’t imagine serving my 2 years anywhere else.
Anyway, my first day of actual classes was nothing short of an adventure. This year will definitely keep me on my toes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.