Elizabeth Searles is an American expat, who has spent the past few years living in various countries across the world. She's lived in India, China and Poland, and has now settled in the small Romanian town of Tulcea. She shares her experiences of expat life and parenting expat children.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: United States
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Tulcea, Dobrogea, Romania
Q: When did you move here?
Q: Did you move with family?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We came to work with institutionalized children and youth in Tulcea County via
Asociatia Umanitara NOROC (New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children).
About Tulcea, Romania
Q: What do you enjoy most about Tulcea?
A: We enjoy being “river rats” on the Danube, boat trips into the Delta Biosphere Reserve, and the generally friendly small-town vibe. It's also close enough to Constanta for Black Sea resorts and shopping, and four hours or so to Budapest. We can swim every day in a good pool, eat great fish and traditional Romanian food in inexpensive restaurants, travel to villages for a getaway, and enjoy fresh local fruits and vegetables in the markets, as well as imported specialty treats in the larger chain stores. We think the quality of life is very good. Living in Tulcea is much more cost-effective than living in larger Romanian cities. Everyone knows just about everyone else
Q: What do you miss most about home?
A: Since we haven't lived in the USA since 1997, “home” is hard to define. We have lived in India, China and Poland, and each has pluses and minuses. What do we miss in Tulcea? Good beef, chunky 100-percent peanuts peanut butter, world-class concerts (symphony, opera, ballet, theatre), ethnic food (Asian, Middle Eastern, etc.), clubs with live music. That said, we have the Galapagos of Europe on our doorstep.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Tulcea is amazingly safe, compared to almost anywhere.
Q: How would you rate the public transport?
A: Hardy souls with good shoes and a tolerance for steep hills can walk anywhere in Tulcea. Bus tickets and taxis are very cheap, however. We have access to a car, but only use it for travel out of the city or a big monthly shopping trip to Kaufland or Dedeman or something.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Fair. Accessible, cheap, sometimes excellent, sometimes not. We have good US insurance and also Romanian health insurance.
About living in Tulcea
Q: Which are the best areas to live in the city as an expat?
A: The E3 area is supposed to be good. Some like to live near Lake Ciupercu.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?
A: Fair. We're paying too much for an older apartment but it's central and close to a big grocery store.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Compared to the US or Western Europe, Romania is a bargain. We get cheap flights to Brussels, Budapest, Paris, London, Denmark. Local and even imported veg and fruits are cheap and high quality. Expensive? Toys for Tots. We need Christmas and other toys for our work with institutionalized children and it's cheaper for people to collect them outside (Europe, USA, Asia) and ship them in.
Q: What are the locals like?
A: Other than a few Norwegians who come in to work with shipyard businesses and one other couple, we have found few expats. There is no central meeting place. We meet English speakers in the sauna at the Delta pool or in restaurants.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Some Romanians distrust foreigners; others are not crazy about American influence in Romania; still others are not confident that they can communicate with a foreigner because of the language difference. We have communicative competence and confidence, and we are gregarious extroverts, so we don't have trouble connecting with interesting people. Our work keeps us busy.
About working in Tulcea, Romania
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Not really once we figured out the system.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Our job is financed from outside of Romania, but for youth rising out of Tulcea institutions, prospects are very bleak indeed. We're trying to solve this problem with life skills, job skills and economic/financial skills development.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Very top down, with men at top and women on the bottom; undeveloped administrative or collaborative skills; resistance to teamwork and working as a group; developing customer service orientation; developing strategic planning skills.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: No. We are professional “adjusters” and have adaptation training and experience.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Expat children need to learn Romanian or go to English-language boarding school outside of Romania.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Just settle back, drink some suica or palinca, and take your time getting to know the local culture. It seems very open and direct. It is not. It seems very welcoming, but no one wants to hear your songs or stories really. Appreciate theirs and forget about sharing stuff from outside. Except for English language practice there's not too much interest.
► Interviewed in May 2015