Dragoş Trifănescu: Hi, Cristina! We want to know, above all, a few things about you. How would you describe yourself in a few words?
Cristina Puiu: Hi, Dragoş. You started with the hardest question. Well, I can say I'm always looking for the new, beauty lover and kind of nonconformist – I mean I like to make my own rules. I love working with people, although I’m feeling repulsive when I'm talking with people who are narrow-minded. I resonate with the unprejudiced.
D: You are one of the young people who have stepped forward and trying to change society for the better. How long have you been doing this and how did you realize you want to get out of the crowd?
Oh, big words. I did not propose either to change society or get out of the crowd. Both came naturally (though I can not say that I get out of the crowd - I do not think I did things great enough to put this seal on me.)
I believe that the desire to change things in our country becomes inherent from the moment you cross the border and admire the progress of others with a critical eye. You think we really have the potential, both from the point of view of the place and the people. And the frustrations that make up your mind make you - if not to go - then try to make a change in the place you are in - either through an educational activity for disadvantaged children or by participating in information sessions on people with disabilities by collecting of goods for people who really need it, or by learning others about tolerance and inclusion.
I've been trying to get involved in my community since I was in highschool, back then I started my first volunteer activities.
D: We know you're a student from province who chose the life in the capital. How did you take the courage to take on all your responsibilities and, I would say, to risk?
"Life in the capital," as you called, it was the backup option for me - * backward until the end of the 12th grade * My wish at that time was to study Media and Communications in Birmingham. I had been accepted to them and to four other universities in England but, because of some unforeseen problems, I could not leave. I said to myself, under those circumstances, that I will go to the best university in the field in the country. The capital seemed to be the most promising then in that sense.
As regards the assumption of responsibilities, I was responsible since I was young. It wouldn't have intimidated me much more the beginning of my journey in a foreign country, as I didn't feel it as an extraordinary challenge the beginning of life in Bucharest at the expense of a city closer to home. That later it was full of challanges, it's part two. But I learned a lot. I've grown a lot. You know what it is, you don't risk, you don't win. Although I don't know if I will stay in Bucharest, I think I have won from this point of view.
D: For almost a year, you are the president of ESN ASE Bucharest, an important pawn in the national network of the largest student association in Europe. What made you take the step for this job?
1. Desire to work with / form people;
2. The desire to change things.
D: Can you give me some concrete examples of groups of citizens you helped and how did you contribute?
Just to mention a few, I participated in a "bridging the gap" project to bring together young people and the elderly, a fundraising activity for children with disabilities and a charity activity for the people in need. I joined the Children's Village SOS community and, since the beginning of the year, I have donated each month to the little ones from there.
D: What was your most successful activity coordinated by you? Were you impressed with any particular action?
I will always mention the project that had the biggest impact on me, project that I implemented when I was Project Coordinator. Along with the team I went to a primary school where were taught children from disadvantaged families. Being from ESN, our activities involve involving Erasmus+ students not only in cultural or entertainment activities, but also in social activities.
The activities we were preparing for children were more of a linguistic nature. Our goal was to facilitate the communication between Erasmus+ students and children - as they had previously been deprived of interaction with the foreign environment - and to help improve their English vocabulary. Our surprise was that, in addition to word groups and addressing formulas in this language, children aged between 6 and 12 years had also learned expressions in the languages of origin of the students they met.
I was very happy when, in the following activities I had with them, they came to tell me what their names are in Spanish and Portuguese and what countries they want to visit. I felt then that we had an impact on them. Not great, but if we woke up in them the desire for knowledge and we made them imagine for a moment about horizon, I'm happy.
D: We know about volunteering that it is a demanding experience. Have you ever thought of giving up?
If someone had told me at first that it was inevitable that the thought of giving up was inevitable, I wouldn't have believed him. I would've said that if you are really motivated, you don't think about it, not even in troubled times. But you're thinking. I don't think anyone is ready to be a leader, with all the theories that support the qualities of the innate leaders. You are confronted with situations that exceed you, either at the level of experience or at the level of processing, in the sense that you feel that you fail to make the right decision without disappointing someone (most of the times that someone is you, if you started with a plan or if you have strong principles). Multiplied by n, situations such as this get tired or demoralized (often a causal relation between the two). And then you say, "I ... want to give up." )
But you remember that you have people to whom you have made a commitment, volunteers who are dear to you, board colleagues who also need motivation, and so on.
And then you take a respite break, think again and you remember why you're doing this and move on. I often do not know how to answer the question, "Why am I still doing this?". And then I realize it's maybe out of passion. And for the sake of the people.
D: I'm sure this experience has changed you radically, so I'm asking you directly: in what way?
I would have said again that it's too much to say radically, but yes it is. I was telling my volunteers at one of the meetings that, for almost four years of college, my ESN experience mostly shaped me. From the tasks I have had, the activities I have participated in and the international environment I have been exposed to, to the people I worked with and the responsibilities that came with the position of department coordinator, and then, the section.
It has changed me on several prospects, from logistics management of hundreds of students, to managing inter-human conflicts. I have learned that people are the most important resource and that investing in them is the most important, although the most difficult to achieve or often comes with a small indicator on the return on investment side. But it's a variable you cannot control. It's volunteering. People come and go. The most suitable remain.
And, by the way of controlling things, I learned that you cannot control everything. Then I learned that you do not even have to control everything. Not even as a leader. Things often have a natural way to unfold. But when you learn this, you consume you a thousand times.
D: Do you see yourself doing this over many years?
If I see myself engaging in society through volunteering? I don’t think this should be seen as something desirable / difficult to accomplish.
I think it should be the background activity of each of us.
D: Thank you, Cristina!