Common Connections: An Appalachian-Romanian Exchange

By W. Spencer King

High school students from different sides of the world recently took part in a year-long cultural exchange program that involved frequent communication and highlighted similar folk traditions, arts and music.

In fall 2014, four Romanian students visited Wahama High School in Mason, W.Va., for two weeks, exploring the connections between traditional Romanian folk music and music from Appalachia. The students found that both cultures share a history of coal mining, and the music from both areas reflects themes of wages, labor and class.

This past spring, four students from Wahama High School traveled to Anina in Gorj County, Romania, to spend two weeks learning about Romanian customs and heritage, and to share some of their own Appalachian culture.

The Clay Center in Mason received a grant that paired them with museums from around the world. “It was sort of like speed dating,” says Melissa Rhodes of the Clay Center. “People from other countries and people from [West Virginia] got onto the site and tried to find similarities … we have a lot in common with Romania with our folk music, geology and geography.”

“[The Romanian people] are very proud of their heritage and their history,” she says. “Tradition is very important to them, and they’re very family oriented just like we are here in West Virginia.”

“You go to another country and expect things to be really different,” says Jamie Adamik of the Clay Center. “But when you get there you realize that everybody there are people just like us, teachers, students, we got to visit their homes and see where they lived.”

The students and teachers remain in contact through email, Facebook and letters. The Clay Center is working on a grant that, if approved, will continue the project with new schools from West Virginia and Romania.

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