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TEM Lab - Fall, 2017
Romania, Montana
Written by Nate Flake

You never know what you will experience when traveling. I think that’s what draws most people to travel. Experiencing things outside of what you are used to. Seeing things that you don’t normally see. And if you’re not careful, you might learn some things along the way. That’s what happened to us this week as we spent a couple days in transit, and we wanted to share two of those lessons with you. We are Team Montana, part of the Thunderbird Emerging Market Lab heading to Campulung, Romania to work with a manufacturer in the auto industry.

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Marius and I in his taxi

No matter where you travel in the world, the ritual is always the same when you arrive. You go to your hotel, shower off the dirt from whatever form of transport you took to get there, and finally, go out and treat yourself to a meal for surviving the journey. That’s exactly what we did on Sunday when we first arrived in Cluj, Romania.

It was pouring rain and already late as we made our way through the city, stopping under each awning we came to in an attempt to not get completely drenched. Because of where our hotel was located and the fact that it was coming up on 10 PM, we settled on the first place we came to: Pizza Toskansa.

We were shocked at how busy the place was for being 10 o’clock on a Sunday night. Teenagers, young couples, and even families with young children were all sitting on the terrace to have, what we considered, a late dinner. We waited a while for the server to come take our orders, and although the menus were had the English translations underneath the Romanian names, I still had some questions. I pointed to the picture of the pepperoni pizza and let the waitress know that I wanted “that one”. She smiled and in her best English she can muster, explained that was just a stock photo they pulled from the internet. I asked if they had a plain pepperoni pizza and she didn't quite understand. I tried again and said, “I would like the margarita and then just add pepperonis”. She nodded and confirmed, “pepperoni”? I told her “Yes, pepperoni!”, to which she again replied “pepperoni”? This time I figured I would mix in some of my recently learned Romanian words and said “Da! Pepperoni!”. She smiled and I handed her my menu, excited that we were done with this late game of Romanian charades.

When the food arrived, I was the last one to receive their pizza. We were all unbelievably hungry at this point so I was glad that the wait was over. The waitress set down my pizza in front of me. Hmmm. There must have been a mix-up. I had the cheese, just not the pepperonis. Instead, my pizza was covered in red pepper slices. That was it. I grabbed a fork to check if the pepperonis were perhaps under the cheese, like some restaurants make their pepperoni pizzas. Nope. Not there either. I signaled to the waitress and asked her if there was a mix-up with my order. She said, “No, of course not, you said yourself you wanted PEPPERS ONLY!”. I thought that we better let the waitress go and just enjoy the pizza.I told her no worries and she walked away, and we all had a good laugh after that. Lesson one: Stick to the menu, don’t try and be a hero and customize your order.

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Peppers only!

Our second lesson came from our taxi driver. He was an older man probably in his late 60’s named Marius who drove us to a hill that is popular in Cluj for being one of the only places where you can see the entire city. Surprisingly he spoke English well and this gave us the chance to chat.  He spoke of us his son in London who was playing tennis for the university there, his love for the Romanian tennis player Simona Halep, and of his lifelong dream of one day attending Wimbledon to see a match. Then the conversation turned more serious as he explained he had the chance to go to Wimbledon last year but he couldn’t afford the plane ticket because he lost his company, which is why he was driving a taxi now. He explained that his company went under because of crazy instability in the economy in the last few years. I asked him whether he thought Klaus Iohannis, the current president known for his anti-corruption views, was helping the situation. He turned and laughed in my face and said that he was a “puppet” and makes tons of money just like the rest of them. He said that Romania could build themselves back up if they made the right decisions but that “once corruption has a grasp of the country, it is very difficult to break free of that grasp”.

Our ride ended, we tipped him a little bit more than normal and told him it was for his Wimbledon dream and went on with our night. Lesson two: Sometimes to get a real handle on what is going on somewhere you just have to be there and ask regular people what they think. Research alone won’t give you the full story.

 We hope he makes it to see a tennis match this year.  

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The view from the lookout point in Cluj where Marius dropped us off.

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The team standing in front of the university that partners with Thunderbird to help with TEM Lab. Members from left to right: Chelsey Hauston, Nate Flake, Christopher Reimschussel, Saranya Seetharaman