Though Dr. O’Keef had taught at Roanoke for three years prior to her May Term experience, innovative teaching outside of the classroom in a foreign country was a new experience for her. With the assistance of her sister Irina Mihalache, a professor at the University of Toronto, Prof. O’Keef led fourteen students across the country of Romania in an intensive three-week course on Food, Politics, and Globalization.
For months, Dr. O’Keef prepared her course and itinerary and patiently answered students’ questions about life in Romania. For many of the students in the class, Romania was their first glimpse of traveling abroad, while for more seasoned travelers, Romania presented new adventures and new ground for exploration. Dr. O’Keef, a native of Romania herself, wanted to ensure that those joining her on this expedition would have an enjoyable and productive experience and that they would participate as travelers rather than tourists. As soon as we touched ground in Bucharest, we took on the role of detectives, working in teams to answer questions about practices of eating, tools for food production, the business of food, and food-related social movements. For three weeks, we talked to Romanians from all walks of life, ate, dug through old barns looking for clues, ate, visited sheepfolds and jam factories, took photos, kept thorough field notes, complained some, and ate some more. In the process, we learned quite a bit about Romania, politics, food, and ourselves.
The course took students throughout nearly every region of Romania. While we went to Romania to study food politics and globalization, we extended ourselves beyond the course objectives. Brendan Horgan, a junior international relations major remarked, “My experiences in Romania have simply broadened my horizons. Everyday was filled with fun, engaging, and interesting activities. It was amazing to be immersed in a culture different from our own. The immersion was at times new and weird to us but that was a sign of growth and expansion of conceptions. Going to Romania was a phenomenal experience and a trip I would surely go on again!”
While the group spent a good amount of time traveling throughout the country and sight seeing, we also had the opportunity to see emerging entrepreneurship in rural Romania. Prior to this trip, many of us envisioned Romania as solely the birthplace of Dracula, but after the trip we realized that Romania is much more than that. To capture the experience of Romania, I will borrow the words Ben Weckstein, a senior political science major and fellow traveler to Romania. “Have you ever read the first page of book and thought it was terrible and why would you want to keep reading this? This was my initial reaction when I first stepped off the airplane in Bucharest, Romania. The air was hot, traffic was everywhere, and people jeered. However, just like a good book, you have to read more than one page to discover the true contents. As my time in Romania progressed, I learned that the Romanian people are hard working and strive to achieve a life of normalcy post communism. The landscape and the hospitality in the countryside were unbelievable and I hope that I can act as hospitable back in the United States as the Romanian people turned out to be. The travel course was something that I truly will never forget and I am certain I’ll take this experience with me as I continue to grow and mature.”