I am 24 and working at the American Embassy in Bucharest as a Romanian / English teacher. It is my last year of college, and I am trying to make a living. I come in to collect my pay-check for the month and someone, a gentleman, stops me. I had seen him around the embassy but only just in passing. I don’t know who he is. He says: You don’t know me but I know you and there is a job at the American School I think you would be good for. I was 24, still fighting hard to fit in, just make a living and finish college. I just labelled that encounter as weird and went on my merry way. After all, the only thing I was after was a job in the embassy – I had this vision that everyone in there had such job security and a wonderful place to work that I did not take the time to look elsewhere.
The next day I go to teach one of my students – the vice-consul at the time. Always looking for subjects to use in my conversations in Romanian, I tell him about the encounter at the cashier’s office. He immediately stops the lesson, scolds me for not sending in a CV and tells me I have to go. Asks me to put him down as a reference.
Hmmmm … when two people tell you that you are drunk, you should go to sleep. Or at least this is how the Romanian saying goes. So I send in a CV and references and I get called in to the interview. The rest is history … . My history.
It’s funny, the details you remember even two decades later. The suit I had bought at Madame – gray/green, that made me feel important. The impressive building on Calea Dorobanti and the large gate that opened in front of me so I can get in. Walking down the yard between impressive chestnut trees and observing the order and peace, already building on my impression that it would be amazing to work there and that it will probably never happen. The faces of people I now call family who were looking at me, sizing me up, looking to see if I was it. (Spoiler alert: I was. 🙂 ) The several interviews, the questions and my feeling like everything was meant to be, my future boss asking me if I have anything to ask or say and me telling him that if he yells at me or calls me names I will walk out (I was coming out a traumatic job related event). The expression on his face when I tell him that.
The job I had applied for was Secondary School Secretary. Twenty years down the road, as one of the two managers in the leadership team who worked their way up in the same institution, I look back with amazement. Where has time gone? Who was that person who walked through those gates? How was I worthy of so many miracles that happened to me over these two decades? Twenty years: a lifetime of growing, learning, frustration, joy, tears, goodbyes, hellos, successes, failures, building and tearing down. I had come in for a cushy position of a year of two on my way to a communications agency or maybe a career in journalism. And I never left.
The times we walk into life changing moments catch us unawares more often than not. Exactly one week after I had graduated college, on my very first day of work (having arrived one hour earlier, just in case …), nervous and self conscious, little did I know that I was entering a haven meant to ensure my survival in more ways than just financial. Community around me when I lived through my brother’s addiction and eventually buried him, work to keep me going through all of my mental breakdowns and give me meaning when there was none other in my life, the place where I welcomed the two loves of my life into my existence: Laura and Matei (I still remember my work family cheering on the phone as I gave birth to him). I found family here, said goodbye to people I thought I would never part with and found the strength and support to fight some frightening demons.
In the field of PR, Communication and Marketing, your value seems to diminish if you stay in one place for too long. And I worry about that sometimes. From the outside looking in it may seem this way, but the truth is, I have moved to different places without ever changing physical surroundings. The ongoing dance of the incoming and outgoing international and local colleagues around me, a long time stayer, has been like the insidious caress of a spring flowing over a stone: the stone may seem like it is never changing to the unobservant eye but if one looks closely, they see the shapes of change, the patina of continuous flow and the healed crevices of shocks that passed.
Around ten years ago, I receive an email with questions from a parent that stops me in my tracks and catapults me into my past. The new Head of the Board is looking to enrol his children. It is the same gentleman I met years before, in front of the cashier’s office, who knew me but whom I did not know, who stopped in his daily tracks to change my life. Full circle. I get to say thank you!