Life in Lupeni

Lupeni, Romania, is in the heart of the Carpathian Alps in the Jiu Valley, which follows the Jiu River. This valley is on the southern border of Transylvania and consists of one larger city - Petroșani - as well the smaller cities of Vulcan, Lupeni, Petrila, and Uricani. Lupeni is about a 6-hour drive or train ride from Bucharest, and about a 9-10 hour drive or train ride from Budapest, Hungary.

In looking at the Jiu Valley from a community development or social work perspective, the area has many strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include the tourism industry, strong religious institutions such as the Orthodox Church, the availability for food and basic resources of local residents, and the potential of shared knowledge through the University of Petrosani. According to the Jiu Valley Region Development study from 2004, the largest problem facing the area is out-migration of the Valley. Another major issue affecting the development of the communities in the area is that 10.4% of the residents were living under the poverty line in 2004. Today, the unemployment rate is lower, but still not good. Under communism, Lupeni was at the head of the coal mining industry that powered much of the country. Since the late 1980s, the Jiu Valley has had to close down many of its coal mines, causing a decline in economic development. The main source of revenue for the Valley is now largely drawn from the winter sports on local mountains like Straja and Parang.

As a student here, you will learn through seeing the beauty and tragedy of this valley. As you look up, you will see the picturesque mountains, as Lupeni is situated at the opening of the Retezat National Park. If you look around you, you will see tall cement block apartment buildings; a newly paved road; meat, bread, and fruit markets; and a smoke stack that can be seen throughout the city of 15,000 residents. It is easy to fall in love when looking up, but soon you feel your heart being tugged by the people and places at eye level.

Our tips for Living in Lupeni – the Rough and Ready Guide

Living in a new place can be an interesting experience, full of little things that may not seem important, but are part of transitioning well into actually living there.  Below is a list of things we have compiled of ways living in Lupeni may be a bit different then what you would expect in the States.

  • Look both ways! Romania is typically not pedestrian-friendly, most of the time drivers have the right of way. However crosswalks or “zebras” sometimes serve their purpose.
  • There are a LOT of stray dogs. Generally they leave you alone, but if they seem aggressive, pick up a rock or two and they’ll usually back down. Throw if you need to. If you want to go on hikes, it’s probably a good idea to take a large stick.
  • Most Romanians will drink from the tap water, but it isn’t recommended that you do. Go for either bottled or bubbly beverages – you can find large bottles at all stores
  • Share juice/pop…food… - if you are eating anything, at least offer to share.
  • Eating only soup (not stew) for a meal is considered offensively “not enough”.
  • Don't throw towels down on the floor in bathroom!
  • Orthodox church services cherish reverence. Don't put hands in pockets in church, cross your arms, don’t turn your back to the front of the church, or act casual at all; dress up – don’t wear shorts.
  • If a person offers an item (ex. a drink), it is customary to not instantly accept it. A sort of role play forms with the person offering being refused several times out of politeness before their offering is accepted. This tradition is known as 'tarof' which in Persian literally means 'offer'.
  • Take off your shoes! While in the United States and Western Europe, it is considered acceptable to enter someone's household and leave your shoes on your feet, this behavior is not acceptable in Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia, and most households in Hawaii. It is also considered impolite in many Canadian households, though this is by no means universal.
  • Don’t give somebody an even number of flowers, which should only be done in funerals.


Romanian Food

Bread is a staple in a Romanian diet. A loaf of white bread is usually present at every meal. A typical lunch consists of bread with all the fixings: liver pate, cheese, lunch meats, and zacusca (a very good vegetable spread usually made of eggplant). You will probably eat more bread here than you ever do in North America. To most Romanians, a meal is not a meal without meat. Pork and chicken are the most common, though you can also find dishes with fish and beef. Liver pate to Romanians is synonymous to peanut butter to Americans (though this is disputed by some New Horizons staff!) Kids and adults alike love it on sandwiches and crackers. Slanina is pure pork fat that is used for both cooking and eating straight off the block. Goat and wild boar sausages are considered a Romanian delicacy.

There are several traditional Romanian dishes that you will encounter most places. Mamaliga, a cornmeal polenta, is usually served with smantana (sour cream) or branza (a salty sheep cheese). Stuffed cabbage rolls, known as sarmale, are filled with meat and rice. Ciorba (soup) and ghiveci (stew) are prepared in a variety of ways, including vegetable, chicken, meatball, and garlic. Salads are usually lettuce-free and contain cucumbers and tomatoes. Pickled vegetables such as cucumbers, peppers, and cabbage, are very popular here.

Romanians make delicious pastries (placinta) filled with anything from apricots to cheese. Clatite, or thin, rolled crepe-like pancakes, are spread with jam and sour cream. Gogosi (doughnuts), langos (flat fried dough), and covrigi (large pretzels) all make delicious snacks.

Vegetarians, vegans, and lactose-intolerant individuals may feel a bit left out of the high protein, high dairy diet of Romanians. But do not fear. It is possible to restrict meat or dairy products while living here, though you will have to be willing to give and take. Devout Orthodox Christians frequently fast from meat and dairy products (a.k.a. vegan fast) specifically during the Christmas and Easter seasons and every Wednesday and Friday. Therefore, restaurants may provide some vegetarian options and stores often provide some animal-free alternative to the usual (soy cheese, soy or rice milk, soy pate). There are also staff in Lupeni who are vegetarian or on gluten-free diets who can provide more information on options available in the Jiu Valley.

Student Apartments

During the second half of our semester program, our students live together in apartments. This is the more academically heavy portion of the semester, so many students appreciate having the space and time in student apartments to study after living with a lively host family for the first half of the semester.

Interns and volunteers have the option to live in our student apartments as well. All are cozy and within a short walking distance to grocery stores, pharmacies, maxitaxi stations, the New Horizons office and our classroom building. They might be a little different than the apartments at your home university though! 

Each apartment has a washing machine, wifi, a landline, multiple bedrooms with bunkbeds, desk and storage, a kitchen with a stove, refrigerator, pots, silverware, hot pot, etc, and a common space with tables and seating. Do not expect to find some appliances such as a microwave or clothes dryer! These are not common in Romania. You will quickly adjust to drying your clothes on a line on the balcony, or hanging your clothes on a drying rack near a radiator. If you find yourself missing a small appliance during your time in the apartment, you can find many inexpensive appliances at local stores.