I'm currently in Vata de Jos, a rural village in Western Romania, sitting on my Romanian porch, looking out at the Romanian landscape, and sipping Romanian wine. It's a fine life I must admit. This is my way to travel - The tourists are few, and nonexistent outside our group. The food is homegrown and homemade; and the people kind. The landscape is mountains and countryside, quaint homes w/ character oozing from every red roof and colorful clay wall, and the occasional cobbled cow or horse making its way leisurely through the fields.

This home's garden looks frighteningly similar to my parents' garden
where I spent most of my childhood doing chores

I'm here with a group of upperclass agriculture students from Purdue University, two Purdue professors, and one Elanco rep. As much as I'd like to say our purpose here is coupled w/ Heifer International, a corporation I cannot rave enough about, I must admit the most I can realistically hope for myself and the students is to have our minds and hearts stretched.

HI is a nonprofit organization with a mission to "work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth." Most notably, it's an organization that works towards this mission in an intelligent and conscientious manner, respecting the cultures and people it visits. The students accompanying me are completing an international service learning project - the goal of which is for them to glimpse Romanian culture and agriculture and HI's impact on families in one village. We'd like to say we're helping out while here, but in truth we're primarily learning from the people and getting fat from their boundless hospitality.

Before departing for Vata, we were prepared to endure a lack of running water, the possibility of insufficient food, and an absence of most luxuries we Americans have begun to consider necessities. Instead we've found open arms, loving great-grandmothers, tightly knit families, and hard working individuals w/ their own luxuries to show for it - delicious homegrown foods, large front porches w/ swings to share, and the time and patience to stop and "literally smell the roses," as one student put it.

One of the host families: their teeny great babushka, me, their babushka, Pam, and their father

I look around and don't see the poverty I was warned of, but instead simply see a different way of doing things and a lifestyle not entirely unlike that of rural America. And perhaps for good reason - those of you thinking HI is only out there feeding poverty-stricken areas couldn't be more mistaken. Although this is one important role of HI, they are also very involved in the advancement of agriculture technologies beyond meeting basic needs. In Vata, for example, there are currently three HI projects, including one to improve genetic selection and breeding systems via artificial insemination. Not that there isn't need for additional resources and education here but it is a far cry from the impoverished community of our expectations.

Hopefully, I'll be able to bring some of their graciousness and tranquility back home w/ me. At the very least, I'll remind myself to take time to relax on the porch and soak in the world around me.