“Just like home” – An Easter story about Romanian Youth Migration

Andreea colours the eggs with paint sent by her parents. Picture taken by Miriam Tepes-Handaric

Because of the pandemic, many Romanians who study abroad celebrated Easter without their families this year. Some have received packages with traditional food and egg paint from their relatives to feel at home. However, this isolated holiday may be the first of many. Numerous students have decided to not return to Romania after they finish their studies.

“It looks like it was sent to war, ” Andreea Minculescu says, cutting the multiple layers of tape. With the screech of the knife, the pulling of the tape, the box is finally opened. Inside, there are jars, bottles, bags, all carefully packed by her mother for the 2.000 km journey from Romania’s capital Bucharest to Groningen, a city in the north of the Netherlands. “It looks like we’re smuggling something,” Andreea says.

Romanian snacks and egg paint pile on the floor around her, while on the laptop, a screensaver with her and her parents appears. “It is sad,” Andreea says when asked about how it is to celebrate Easter for the first time without her family, “but at least I am surrounded by Romanian things”. She adds: “It tricks my brain into thinking that I am at home for Easter”.

She is just one of the Romanian students living in Groningen who ended up far away from home during Easter. According to UNESCO, almost 37,500 Romanians study abroad. The Netherlands is the fifth country of choice, with approximately 2,400 Romanian students. After Brexit, Italy is the preferred one, with almost 9,600 students.

Andreea plans to develop a business that would use Artificial Intelligence to ameliorate the environmental crisis. She feels she has more chances to succeed outside of Romania. Many other students feel the same. The lack of opportunities is the first reason for not returning home, according to a 2020 survey among students. The distrust in political leaders is the second one.

The massive Romanian youth migration is an ongoing process poorly charted by the local authorities. According to PRO TV, a Romanian news channel, less than 10% of the students who study abroad return home. However, the numbers differ substantially from one article to another. For years, Romanian authorities haven’t published the student migration statistics.

“I would like to do something and be part of the change, but I don’t feel I have to remain in the country”

Daria dinu-draganescu
An Easter away from home is not as bad as a Christmas without your loved ones. Picture of Daria taken by Miriam Tepes-Handaric.

“I would like to do something and be part of the change, but I don’t feel I have to remain in the country,” says Daria Dinu-Draganescu, a medical student. “It might sound selfish, but I don’t feel I should sacrifice my career and the opportunities that I have here.”

In her kitchen, Daria prepares Easter eggs for the Sunday celebration, with the traditional red paint sent by her parents. She notices that they don’t look like they’re supposed to, so she adds more vinegar to enhance the colour. “Maybe they’ll end up tasting like vinegar,” she laughs.

According to a UN report, the consequences of massive youth migration is the “brain drain,” meaning that the country loses its most educated and skilful citizens. The severe hit is evident, especially in the health and education sectors.

“I feel that many young people, including me, were raised with the idea that it is not ok to remain in Romania.”

Daria dinu-draganescu

When asked if Romania offers a helpful environment for students, Daria laughs. “No, far from it.” She explains: “I feel that many young people, including me, were raised with the idea that it is not ok to remain in Romania,” she adds, “that you won’t have the career opportunities that you could have abroad.”

For Daria, this is a widespread attitude. “My parents never told me to leave Romania because it’s awful, but I saw them getting upset over the injustices and events that were taking place in the country”. She adds: “Seeing this, year after year, I knew I would leave by the time I started high school.”

Daria likes the traditions she was raised with, and she would like to keep them wherever life will take her. She plans to earn enough money to enable her parents to live close to her. Daria laughs while she takes the pale red eggs from the pot. “It is what it is,” she says, “mom will be proud of me because I tried.”

Daria tries to fight back the tears: “I feel that sometimes mom misses me so much that she asks me random questions, only to hear my voice”. She is homesick, but an Easter without her family is a piece of cake compared to what Christmas was without them.

A Romanian Easter celebration always involves the knocking of two eggs. Picture of Andreea taken by Miriam Tepes-Handaric.

On Easter Sunday, Andreea meets with other Romanian friends to celebrate together. The COVID-19 measures allow two guests now. One of Andreea’s friends wears a traditional blouse. They paint the eggs, eat cake and play the traditional game where they knock the boiled eggs, with the words “Christ has risen”. Andreea’s egg wins without a scratch. “Just like home,” she says.   

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