Reflections on Bucharest: Perceptions of a City

As my time here in Bucharest draws to a close I am surprised to find myself feeling nostalgic for this place and my memories here. I often feel nostalgic about a place as I prepare to leave it but I did not expect to feel the same about the city of Bucharest.

When I first arrived in Bucharest, the city was not what I had expected. Many buildings coming into the city are rundown remnants of the communist era mixed with shiny new malls and shopping centers. The streets were littered with trash and slowly melting snow. I found myself feeling surprised and perhaps nervous. However rather than these thoughts being strange or out of the ordinary, they were rather a reflection of what we in the United States have been taught about the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

I cannot point to exactly when my opinion of the city began to shift but as the weather warmed, so too did my opinion of the city begin to brighten. Part of it was getting to know the character of the city beyond my surface level first impression. Whether it was a tea house with friendly cats or amazing restaurants in hidden corners of the city, I felt as if I was discovering something that was all the more special because I had had to work towards finding it. Rather than being put off by the strange combination of buildings, I found myself appreciating how the old ornate architecture was complemented against new development. I have realized since being here that Bucharest is an incredible city, but you just need to know where, and perhaps how, to look.

One of my favorite parts of the city is Cismigu. A large public garden in the center of Bucharest, the beautiful old park is starkly different from the surrounding industrial-feeling buildings. The park feels like an oasis completely separate from the rest of the city. But as I have learned more about Romania and the city of Bucharest I have realized that Cismigu does not represent something separate from the city, but rather something distinctly Romanian. A place to stop and celebrate the simple beauty in the center of the bustling city.

Now as I prepare to leave I find myself not only appreciating the moments with the friends I have made but also appreciating that I had the opportunity to get to know this city which I am unsure if I would have visited otherwise. Beyond that, I am not sure if only a few days in the city would have given me the appreciation for the multifaceted nature of this place that I now have.

Part of what influenced my first perception of the Bucharest as well as Romania was U.S. elitism towards other countries. This is especially prevalent towards post-communist countries and places that we perceive to be un-western. These attitudes take root in long-held biases against the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Whether it was Western historians deeming Romania uncivilized or the European Union’s trepidation towards Romania joining the EU, prejudice against Eastern Europe has deep roots.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to overcome my own biases and perhaps to help show others, such as my family in the U.S., that Romania and Bucharest is not a poverty-stricken, dangerous city but just a city like any other. With positives and negatives, strengths and issues. While it would be naive to claim Bucharest to be a perfect city, now when people ask me about my experience in Romania and Bucharest, I can tell them about a place that I have come to love.

Reflections on Bucharest: Perceptions of a City

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