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Paynesville Press - August 24, 2005

Paynesville graduate teaches in Romania

By Melissa Andrie

"I learned to not think so American," Heather Fenske reflected on her time teaching in Romania. While explaining Thanksgiving to Korean students (who before then did not know who the Pilgrims were), she had an inquiry as to how "eating food until we burst and watching football" demonstrates thankfulness.

Experiences like this made Fenske evaluate the American culture and explore the cultures of her students, in order to better teach them. She had a lot of opportunity for interaction like this in the past two years, which she spent teaching an American curriculum to African, American, Asian, and Romanian students from missionary and embassy families in Bucharest, Romania.

fenske and kids Right now, the 1999 PAHS graduate is spending eight weeks at home, and in the middle of August she will return to teach another year at the Bucharest Christian Academy, a K-12 school which was formed by a consortium of mission groups to serve missionary families in Bucharest.

Teaching for children of missionary families in Romania has provided cultural variety for Heather Fenske, from Paynesville. At her school's Christmas program last year, she reconnected with two former students.

With about 100 students supervised by 15 or 16 teachers, the school - located in the center of Bucharest, Romania's capital - is an English-speaking environment. Most of the "good mix of veteran teachers and new teachers" are from the United States, Fenske said. Arriving shortly after their college graduations, many of the younger teachers volunteer for two or three years, while the older teachers typically spend many years there after retiring from teaching careers elsewhere.

Fenske attended Trinity Bible College in North Dakota, graduating in 2003 with an elementary education major in biblical studies and a coaching certificate.

Though she cried herself to sleep every night of her first month in Romania due to loneliness and insecurity about her teaching ability, Fenske adjusted well. She now has wonderful friends from the school and her church there and quipped, "I feel now that I do know more than my students."

Those students have ranged from "a teacher's dream" of a six-child second-grade class during the mornings of her first year to a combination of first and second graders that was three times as large. During the past school year, she taught ten fourth graders as well as a dozen fifth- and sixth-grade social studies students.

Previously a procrastinator, she has learned to plan ahead and stay organized, saying she "can't just have Plan A, but must have Plan A to Plan M" because many unexpected things may happen in a classroom. Though the curriculum is American, teachers at the academy adjust lesson content according to the culture of their students. For example, Fenske taught American history lessons that became American, Argentine, and Korean history.

career day Another minor adjustment had to be made for the age of one her students, who was a Korean mom. Feeling as though she was "losing contact with her children," who all attended the academy and would speak English at home, this mother joined her son in Fenske's first-grade class in order to learn English.

These first through third graders were dressed up for career day, which Heather Fenske included in her curriculum to help kids enjoy school.

When her son told her she could not be in his class again, the mother joined Fenske's fourth-grade students last fall. She completed all the work with the students, even taking spelling tests, and joined in activities like field trips.

While marvelling at these experiences, Fenske said she is in Romania "because God wants me there." During her senior year of college, she heard a Romanian missionary speak about a summer trip to the country and felt called to go. She committed to the summer of 2003 trip, which involved 12 days of volunteer work in orphanages and street missions, mostly in Brasov (located north of Bucharest in the middle of Romania).

While the group was there, the director of her trip met with a school board member from the academy who asked if any of the volunteers were elementary education majors that might be interested in an open position.

Two days before the end of the trip, Fenske met the school board member, who was part of a missionary family, and was told that she would have an interview in a half hour. In her jeans and a t-shirt (with puke on it from serving at an abandoned baby shelter that day) and with her hair frizzy from the humidity, Fenske did not feel prepared for the interview, yet she was offered the position that same day. She accepted it immediately, even before filling out an application, with she submitted the following morning.

That fall she exited a plane in Bucharest and picked up her manuals from the school on the way to her new home. Two days later, at the end of August 2003, she was officially teaching for the first time.

Fenske, who is working as an Assemblies of God missionary associate - not an official missionary - raised all her financial support and prayers in less than three months. Reflecting on the way her opportunity to serve in Romania came together, she called it an "incredible miracle God performed."

She has taken advantage of the opportunity, enjoying it so much that she signed up for a second year and now will do a third. Challenged to create an environment that got students out of their seats, the new teacher devoted days to specific themes. On the 100th day of school, students came up with 100 sets of rhyming words. An "ABC countdown" she created devoted each of the last 26 days of school to a letter and was used by the entire elementary school. On "flag day," the students - who were wearing one of the three colors in the Romanian flag - created a live version of the flag by lining up in its three-column pattern. Soon after, "ick, ick, ick day" had the children picking gummy rings out of chocolate using their teeth.

romania map Her Paynesville background showed when Fenske taught her students the diddy "My hat, it has three corners" (Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken) in both English and German. Her time in German class with Mr. Carstens paid off, though unexpectedly, she laughed.

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is home to the missionary school where Fenske teaches and the city is near Brasov, where she first went on a mission trip.

Beyond this rendition, though, she has not spent much time speaking foreign languages. Since the school is run in English, she can only practice her Romanian at church and while volunteering in area orphanages. In everyday conversation, she does know enough to get by, though, and sometimes finds herself associating a Romanian term with an object more than its English word. She discovered this when she had trouble remembering that the English phrase for "cuseta" is "sleeper car."

Summers since she left to teach have been punctuated by trips home - a three-week visit between her first and second years and this eight-week break - and travel within Europe. She has been in ten countries there besides Romania, mostly through travel to conferences and retreats for Assemblies of God missionaries, and has visited the Translyvanian Alps a couple of times. Despite this, she has not spent as much time touring as she would like.

During her free time in Bucharest, Fenske takes many walks on its gorgeous park trails, visits the local markets, and teaches Sunday school at her church. When five kindergartners at an orphanage needed to learn English, she volunteered for that, also. For five months, between her normal school duties, Sunday school, and time at the orphanage, she was teaching all seven days of the week.

It was no hardship, though, and she said, "I love what I do, and I feel like I've found my place." This fall, Fenske will teach 15 fourth- and fifth-graders in addition to fourth- through sixth-grade social studies. Her coaching certificate will also be put in use as she coordinates the elementary phys ed program. In the past, there have been only four sports teams for the students to participate in, but more are likely to be started, and she may even coach.

Her time in this land where everything is carried in plastic bags, cows wander the streets, and horses and carts fill the highways along with trucks and cars has been amazing, Fenske said. She has not made plans beyond teaching this year, but that does not worry her. Her trust is in God, she said, as she embarks on the third year of her adventure.

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