The US Embassy in Moldova asked each Fulbright scholar to host an hour’s English conversation each week. My Monday group usually included 10-12 people, professionals, high school students, even a few younger pupils. During one week, most of these sessions were cancelled so I was not surprised to have nearly 50 people in a very small room but it seemed an unlikely situation for conversation so I chose to invite each person to introduce him or herself and, in a sentence or two, share their reason for seeking to know English.
The first speaker was an attractive, well dressed young woman about 20 years old who introduced herself as follows: “I have been to Washington and New York City; it should be a crime for anyone in this country to speak any language but Romanian and anyone who does so should be sent to prison.” I was well aware of the tensions in 2007 between Moldovans who wanted to unite with Romania, those who wanted to return to Russia, and those who wanted Moldova to be an independent country. The tension in the room was high as I sought for a response. I thought there might even be violence. An unknown source inspired me to say “Thank you all but we have to leave now” whereupon the group stopped staring at the young woman and said to me “we just got here” to which I responded “I’m sorry; I don’t speak Romanian” which brought laughter and a release of tension. The young woman said “English is different” to which I replied “it is a gift to know any language, to be able to read great works in their original form, to be able to speak to others” The session continued with input from the others without further stress to my great relief.
Norma J Hervey – Fulbright to Moldova 2007