Portrait of the month: Christophe and Thomas, students in Iasi (June 2022)

This month, meeting with Christophe and Thomas, two French Erasmus students who are involved with Emmaus in various fields…

Hello ! Can you introduce yourself?

Thomas: I’m Thomas, and Christophe and I are both architecture students in Lille, and we decided to come to Iași as part of an Erasmus program for our master year. I am here for 6 months and Christophe for one year. We are 22 and 23 years old.

How was your life as a Frenchman abroad and more particularly in Romania? 

Christophe: We were very well received by everyone in Romania, whether it was students, people in the street, in the shops, etc. In general, people have a good attitude towards us French persons, which makes it easier to get in touch, I think. […] I have never had any problems here. You fit in relatively easily and with a smile.

The students we were with at the university were people who had chosen to be in classes with Erasmus students, with courses in English, so they were welcoming and sociable people.

Thomas : Yes indeed, I did not learn Romanian at all after six months and that did not prevent me from speaking with Romanians, thanks to English, the language was not a barrier. It was a good welcome.

Why did you choose Romania?

Christophe: We both share this interest for Eastern European countries since a few years, through music, we like the mentality here too. And it’s still in Europe, it’s next door and there are lots of great things. In our school, nobody had been to Romania before us. And for the teaching of architecture, it’s a place far enough away to feel out of place, but not so different that we learn things that will never be useful in France. […] It felt right in terms of geographical and cultural distance.

Tell us about your experience at the Faculty of Architecture.

Christophe: An example: here concrete is the reflex material. On our side, we do soil and wood projects, and that’s something they don’t do here. This leads us to defend these materials with values that we believe are those of the future. […]

Christophe: Yes, sometimes they were very reticent when we presented our projects, we had to explain a lot. For example, we chose to make a shopping centre project out of chirpici (a mixture of clay, dung and straw), a local Romanian material that we think is great, but which tends to get lost. It seemed logical to us to use this material, to ensure the survival of know-how etc. But for them, it’s the poor man’s material in the countryside, and there are two French ” archis ” who come up with this idea… Here they build concrete towers, without asking any questions. We didn’t want to, so we had to negotiate. Concrete is not an obligation.

Thomas: It wasn’t easy to talk to them about their own culture, it’s difficult to communicate. Sometimes we didn’t dare say too much… We didn’t feel totally legitimate, as we came from elsewhere. We felt the language barrier when we had to discuss ideas.

And more generally, what did you retain from your experience?

Thomas: Good meetings! And we also travelled a lot, in a good part of Romania and in Bulgaria.

Christophe: Yes, when we talked to the Romanian students here about our travels, we realised that we had travelled more than they had in their own country!

Any negative aspects?

Christophe: A lack of information sometimes, like when we wanted to go fishing… Especially the information from the institutions, we don’t always know where to ask. For example the post office. Even the Romanians didn’t know how to give us information, they do it on the internet. But looking on the internet in French does not give the same results as in Romanian. Afterwards, there are certainly associations, things for students and Erasmus students […], but we didn’t take these steps.

How did you discover Emmaus in Iași? 

Thomas: It was a very big coincidence, we had just arrived, there seemed to be a great concert so we went there and we heard French behind us. And then we met a volunteer from Emmaus! Sammy. We asked them what they were doing there as French people. Maureen, also a civic service volunteer, had arrived a week before. We created links. It was the only French presence we had, it was good to speak French. 

Were you surprised by the presence of Emmaus in Iași?

Christophe: Yes, I didn’t know much about Emmaus in France and even less abroad, I didn’t even know it existed. We just knew that in France it is about recycling and selling objects to do social work.

Did Emmaus Iași bring you anything during your stay?

Christophe: Yes, the people we met helped us discover the city and it also allowed us to speak French. And to know more about how things work here in everyday life. They were great resources for us.

Thomas: I had a lot of free time with my classes, so we asked them what they were doing and I was tempted to help. We could also help in Ukraine. We always offered to help. Finally, we helped to move furniture in a house (Sârca), we felt useful, it felt good to be a volunteer. We had a good time, it was work without realising it. It took us out of the school environment, it allowed us to spend a day with friends, beyond work. […]

Did you discover new things about the association by being here in Iași?

Christophe: Yes, about how it works, and the whole Emmaus principle in fact. But this is how it works here, we wonder if it’s the same in France? We would be more keen to see an Emmaus in France, to compare with here.

Thomas: I don’t live far from the Emmaus in Wambrechies (North of France), where Maureen went to load a truck. I didn’t know there was an Emmaus there, it’s a nice coincidence.

Christophe: And then we came with a suitcase, without knowing what was already here, and there was almost nothing to cook with so Emmaus allowed us to find things.

Thomas: And I found a silver camera!

Christophe: And now we’re going to leave soon, we’ll have to leave things behind unfortunately, so we’ll give them back. It’s nice to know that students can give away what they can’t take with them, it’s a way of making a donation.

How did you get involved in Emmaus Iași?

Christophe: With the Belvedere model. That was the moment when things went “the other way”, when it was us who brought something. At Sârca’s house, it was the Emmaus team that taught us, and here we were the ones who passed on knowledge to create a tool that could be useful to them later. And we like making models.

Thomas: I would also like to point out that before, we mainly hung out in the town centre. And now, seeing people in the street means seeing things that you don’t see, that’s the other side of the city and that you shouldn’t forget. We see that here you manage to build things without concrete, with recycled material like desks, it’s something we don’t learn at school, it’s really a matter of making do, so it’s very nice.

Did you talk about Emmaus to people around you?

Christophe and Thomas: To our friends in France, yes, but not really to Romanian students. We also plan to talk about it when we go back to school in France, Emmaus has been an important part of our stay here, so we will definitely talk about it.

Thank you Christophe and Thomas for all the time you gave us!