The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
From Romania With Love

Each June, a group of TASIS students travels to Romania to work with Hope and Homes for Children, an NGO that seeks to replace institutionally focused child protection services (state-run orphanages) with the concept of family. Through commitment, individual attention, love, and stimulation, Hope and Homes for Children works in partnership with the Romanian government to provide better opportunities for disadvantaged young people.

Ekaterina Plotnikova ’18 was one of 11 TASIS students on this year’s trip, which was led by Middle School teacher Perri Sartorelli. Elementary School teacher Carol Anklan and Nurse Lyn Paquin also served as faculty leaders.

TASIS GSP trip to Romania

By Ekaterina Plotnikova ’18

Every day was magical. It felt like we were in a completely different world because every second was life-changing for all of us. We talked a lot about what we are blessed for, what we worry about, and how we can improve our service to the homeless children in Romania.

One thing I am blessed for is that I have my parents everywhere with me, and they make my life so incredible. They are here for me no matter what, and that defines who I am as a person. In contrast, these kids do not have families that support them and love them for who they are.

I am thankful for always having as much food and educational resources as I need and want because that has helped shape my identity from the very beginning of my life. I know that I have built my personality with the help of the world I live in and the treatment I receive from others. By being here in Romania, I understand that these kids often lack love and the fulfillment of their basic human needs because even if they have someone looking after them, that doesn't mean they get to build their own social character and expand their potential in all areas like I do.

Thinking about the children, I get very worried about their naivety. The only people from the beginning of a lifetime that do not take anything from you, love you unconditionally, and care as much as they can for you are your parents. The kids from the institutions also try to find someone who will fill in that space in their hearts, so they decide to trust anyone who comes along and seemingly cares for them. Unfortunately this world is not as pretty as it seems, and I am scared they might get hurt.

I loved every second I spent with them, and I always had a thought in my mind: How are they so wonderful and smart, so loving and modest, and yet nobody wants them?

I loved every second I spent with them, and I always had a thought in my mind: How are they so wonderful and smart, so loving and modest, and yet nobody wants them? I just simply do not understand how fate chooses our destiny because any one of us could be a part of that institution.

On one of the days, we didn't get to spend as much time with the kids because they were too tired from traveling from Baia Mare to Sighet. We provided them with an opportunity to enjoy a camping experience with us in another town. Before we departed, we had lunch together. For some of them it was the first time eating out in a restaurant.

After we arrived, our group went to the The Memorial Museum for Communist Victims. There I saw some rooms full of posters about the regime and some examples of torture, such as the dark rooms with no windows and beds for the prisoners.

It reminded me of my Academic Travel trip to Poland in February. We traveled to all the concentration camps in Warsaw and Krakow, including Auschwitz and Majdanek. It was a horrible image, and all the feelings I got there about people dying in crematoriums and gas chambers now became stuck in my head again. That was a very unpleasant feeling because I remembered the atmosphere so well, I could almost feel it myself.

In Poland we spent seven days walking around and learning about the history of fascism, and it was very complicated to locate the impression in my mind. I despised how this day at the museum reminded me of the time after World War II.

To connect this to the kids we spent time with in Romania, I can only impose my emotions. I feel very negative about their conditions and way of living, and how they have absolutely nothing—much like the people during communism except that Romania is not preventing a war anymore, and there are definitely no soldiers fighting on the fronts of the country. It's a shame that some human beings still live in ruins with limited resources when we can provide them with all they need, because these kids deserve the world.

TASIS GSP trip to Romania

I had a favorite girl called Luminita, and we always sat with her—hugging and drawing different things on paper. Lumi got excited every time she saw me, and when it was time for me to leave, she started crying. All of us did because it was so sad to see them trust us and love us, knowing that we couldn't give this to them forever. Their little eyes were watery, and it was just heartbreaking to watch. This little boy came to me and said, "Don't ever cry again,” which made me feel unbelievably blessed for having such small problems in life that aren't worth my tears if that little man wasn't crying for not having parents and good living conditions.

To conclude, I must say I was amazed. To be honest the very first thing I learned about a service learning trip at TASIS is that it does not necessarily have to be bad. From my point of view, service learning trips were all about survival in terrible conditions, where students had to deal with starving and poor hygiene. But I feel that this trip is more about other people and our ability to provide them with love and basic needs than it is about pushing ourselves to survive in bad conditions.

I got to meet wonderful human beings and know that I have given them all the love I could—and that this love really changed their lives. No matter where you come from and what your background is, we are definitely all humans and all have small non-material needs.

I feel like I will appreciate all my little family moments more right now because I have met these children. Even though the kids do not have a family, they seem so happy with anything they do have. If I were in their place, I don't know how I'd deal without my parents. It's hard, especially knowing that there is someone that could be there for you, and that you wouldn't have to carry it all on your shoulders alone.

I have realized again how lucky I am to have an opportunity to have pretty much anything I want. And yet, I am not as open about sharing as these kids were with their snacks, emotions, and care. They gave us small things, but it was everything they had to make us feel warm and welcomed. I will never forget that.

I feel like I have really brightened these children’s days. Even though we didn't stay in Romania for a very long time, I feel like it's significant to understand that we brought smiles to their faces and made them feel extremely wanted.

They do not need much, and we were able to provide it to them, even if it was just for five days. I feel like it's a great opportunity for both of us: for them to experience this unforgettable sense of love and attention, and for us to learn more about human emotions, as we are still kids as well and are new to this world.

I think this trip provided me with a deeper understanding of the kids who have to live in such conditions. I knew that they suffered, but I never knew they were so kind and loving—just like any other kids in the world.

TASIS Opsahl Global Service Program

The Opsahl Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.

The Opsahl Global Service Program, which has been directed by Zach Mulert since its inception, transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.

See a gallery of photos from this year's June trips to Romania, Cambodia, and Mongolia.

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