Sommer and Lindsey in Romania

Sommer and Lindsey are traveling to Romania for two weeks in summer 2009 to report on the status of orphanages, 20 years after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Their project is partially funded by a Meadows Exploration Award. Sommer ’08 graduated in December with degrees in journalism from Meadows School of the Arts and history from Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Lindsey is a senior marketing major in Cox School of Business and a photojournalist.

We’re rockin’ and rollin’

An update from Lindsey on their new site Romania Revisited:

Yes, we ARE alive! No, we haven’t forgotten about our trip or this blog! We’ve just had a lot going on in life lately.

In the past two months, Sommer traveled to London and New York to check out grad schools. I’m proud to announce that she’s going to Columbia next fall for journalism. What a stud! I’m now obligated to visit NYC next year. (What a shame!) I graduated in May and started working for the Allen Americans, the newest CHL team, as Director of Media Relations and Marketing.

Even though we’ve had all that going on, we’ve been working on our trip – just quietly.

We bought our plane tickets and we’re finalizing our travel plans. As Sommer said excitedly, “We’re going to Romania…again.” Haha, yes, we are going. And for those who were with us for our postponement experience, we learned our lesson and bought the travel insurance. We’re hoping we don’t have to use it though!

We’ve made some changes to our original plans and we’re planning on going to Bucharest, Timisoara and Targu Mures in Romania now. We’ll share more details later (only to ensure you keep coming back).

On another note, we got a shout-out in SMU Magazine from President Turner. Thanks for the publicity, RGT.

We’ll be in touch, Internet peeps.

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Current thoughts on Romania

An update from Sommer on Sail Right Into the Storm:

When we postponed the trip, Lindsey and I set a goal to expand our Romanian network. We want to reach out to all of our connections. So I sent a message to Arwen Kidd who worked on a documentary with a colleague of mine from University College London.

She has spent a considerable amount of time in Romania working on a lot of different projects (did her journalism thesis project there on the changing media landscape since communism to joining the EU; was originally hired to co-write a book about a rock band in Bucharest, ended up as the Marketing & Communications Manager for the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation; did photos for a number of Romanian-based magazines and NGOs; was communications coordinator for an international film festival based there; helped organize a human rights documentary fest with the Czech embassy and more).

From her resume, we decided she MIGHT know a thing or two about Romania. Maybe.

Her words of advice were helpful and some points got me thinking.

First she said responded to our blog by saying, “Number one thing to keep in mind is that Romania is very much a developed country. Although it’s not England, it is highly capitalistic, it is full of culture and entertainment (Bucharest and its ‘mall’ fixation is something in its own right, to be sure, plus great cafes and night-life), over all very business-minded, and really changing rapidly [even since I started going there back in early 2006.]

I’ve heard from a couple of people looking over our blog that they’ve gathered the impression we might think Romania is a very down-trodden third world country. We don’t. And Lindsey and I are making it a point not to try to peg a story into a hole sized to our perceptions (if our perceptions do not reflect the reality). We’re going with an open-mind and we’re going to investigate. We’re also researching, and I am pulling from my first-hand experiences from my trip in 2006.

Arwen also voiced a pretty reasonable question to the premise of our trip: The orphanage story is an old (and covered) one. What’s the new angle?
Our answer: Yes, it’s been covered. But not a lot has been written recently. And we’re going after the ‘then and now’ stories no one else has covered. We know the conditions the orphans faced right after communism collapsed. But what sort of system did the kids grow up in? And what are their options now?

And here are some random comments and tips she gave that I thought were interesting:

• The countryside is gorgeous. Mountains and beaches, and vineyard country too. it’s all there.
• Romanians are thoroughly hospitable (once you get past their sometimes cold first impression exteriors), and friendly people.
• Watch out for a drink pronounced ‘Polinkah’ however- known to kill that one is.
• Tsuica is the lesser version. Both are offered widely and drunk with hosts. Sometimes early in the morning. Romanians like to sip.

Thanks, Arwen, for the great feedback.

And to everyone else: feel free to share more tips. Our goal is to be practically Romanian by the time we get there. (Lindsey is working on a Romanian tan as we speak.)

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Making plans is like daring life

An update from Sommer:

Our destination remains the same. We’re going to Romania. The journey, however, involves a few more twists than anticipated.

For those who have been following along with the blog Sail Right Into the Storm, we’ve blogged about putting together this trip through one main contact. I have yet to blog about our story ideas, but some of our key stories are ‘Then and Now’ features that will chronicle the experiences of some of the children who grew up in the orphanage system. They are children that our non-profit contact has been in touch with and can get us in touch with for interviews and pictures. Last week that contact expressed some concern over her ability to take the trip in March. We were quick to discover that was just fancy talk for postpone.

So we were left with two options: fly solo or postpone until the summer. And out came the pros and cons lists.

Cons of Postponing: We wouldn’t be going now, and although Romania isn’t exactly a ‘Spring Break! Woohoo!’ kind of place, it was our plan for spring break. And we knew that changing our tickets would be a costly inconvenience. We didn’t realize HOW costly and HOW inconvenient until yesterday, but we knew it wouldn’t be a party to get that all sorted.

Pros: We’d be able to travel with someone who can get us access to places that were indispensable to our reporting (which was our biggest concern). We could spend the next few months building our network in Romania, learning more about Romania and writing several relevant preview stories, expand and update our blog (I’m going to buy a flip camera so we can have some fun with that and post videos), and search for more grants and seek more financing for the trip.

We mulled over our lists earlier this week in the convergent newsroom at SMU. Journalism Chair Tony Pederson saw us through the glass doors and popped in to say hello (or ask me to stop loitering around campus, one of the two). We laid it all out for him and got his opinion.

He told us to wait, which was the same thing we heard from other seasoned journalists, family and friends. Feeling a bit defeated, I turned to Lindsey and said next time we’ll be sure not to work with only one contact.

Pederson laughed.

I turned to him and said, ‘I guess we’re learning a pretty obvious lesson.’

With a knowing smile on his face, he said we’re learning to be journalists.

And I guess that’s the point of this whole thing. Yes, we’re passionate about the stories we’re covering and we’re dedicated to producing some really great quality work. But we also know this is going to be somewhat of a test run. The first adventure of many to come.

And although Perkins and I are supposed to be in the air right now, we will be come June, and we’ll keep updating the blog until then (with more pictures and more video, too). So keep reading. I plan on becoming increasingly interesting as time goes by.

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I’m not surprised, but I never feel quite prepared

An update from Sommer:

dsc_07181.jpg Lindsey and I are working so hard trying to get ready for this. She says the trip has consumed her already. She’s talking about cell phones and SIM cards to use when we’re there. She’s thinking about things to pack and equipment we’ll need.

I have a secret, though. We’re nowhere near ready. And there is no way we’ll ever be.

That statement is somewhat misleading (and since our families are hopefully reading this [I promise we’re getting our shots and practicing how to say ‘Help!’ in Romanian).

But I’m talking preparation for the bigger picture. I’m talking about seeing two-year-olds barely clothed and in dirty diapers. I’m talking about seeing orphanages with cribs lining every bare wall. I’m talking about the challenge of grasping the reality of the nation’s current situation, understanding the context, getting the anecdotes and most importantly capturing all of that on paper.

I love being a reporter. But it’s a pretty difficult job.

Looking back at my journal from my trip two years ago, I notice that I wrote a lot about wishing I could do something more permanent than provide diapers or play with the children. I think this trip provides me with that opportunity. I just hope that I’m prepared to ask the right questions and observe the right details. And I hope I maintain an open mind while I’m there. I don’t know the story, yet. And I can’t assume I do. I’m looking to report it.

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It is a small world after all

An update from Sommer:

As Lindsey and I speak to more people about our plans, it becomes clearer that a lot of people seem to have some sort of connection to Romania. Somebody’s neighbor adopted a Romanian. Somebody’s best friend is in the Peace Corp in Romania. Somebody’s mother is Romanian. Whatever the connection – we want to know.

So please post a comment and tell us what you know about Romania.

Lindsey and I are trying our best to be as prepared as possible, so please share your words of wisdom.

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And the countdown begins

An update from Sommer and Lindsey’s blog, Sail Right Into the Storm:

We’re honestly not sure how it got to this point, but we’re less than one month away from leaving for Romania.

That’s not completely true. We know exactly how we got here. But I guess in the midst of preparing we’re sometimes overwhelmed, and it suddenly seems like this all came at us out of nowhere.

Subconsciously, though, I think Lindsey and I have been planning this trip since the day we met freshman year of high school. We’ve repeatedly joked about taking over the world through our writing and our photos. I’m not so sure we’ll be successful at taking anything over, but I do think there is hope for our plan to help bring the world to life. We are going to travel to Romania and tell the stories that will make their world a part of our world (because last time I checked, we’re all sharing one world).

Two years ago, I was a Maguire Center for Ethics summer intern. I worked with Humanity United in Giving (HUG) Internationally, an organization that works with Romanian orphanages. I was fortunate enough to travel to Romania and spend two weeks working with the children. Instantly I recognized there are stories to be told. And we’re going to tell them.

This trip is happening for several reasons. Lindsey and I are journalists. We’re not studying to be journalists. We don’t want to be journalists when we grow up. We’re journalists and we want to report on what we know is a newsworthy region with newsworthy events. Plus, we love adventure (an addiction nourished by Lindsey’s time in Copenhagen and my time in London). And it might just be me – but two weeks in a foreign land with not much more than paper, pens (and pencils in case it rains) and a camera sounds pretty adventurous. And we applied and received a grant from the SMU Meadows Exploration Fund that will partially finance our trip. All of that – plus our overly ambitious, youthful natures – has brought us to this point. 24 days to departure.

On my trip two years ago, I bought one souvenir for myself. It was a t-shirt that read “Sail right into the storm across the ocean.” Honestly, I doubt the random Romanian T-shirt shop owner had any idea what the words on the shirt meant, but Lindsey and I thought the expression “sail right into the storm” was fitting. We’re sailing right into all of this.

Luckily, we both know how to swim.

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