In Moldova, school generally starts on September 1st (unless, I’m assuming, September 1st falls on the weekend). It’s a very different experience from the first day of school in the United States. In the United States, you arrive at school, are shuffled to your classroom, and once you’re settled in, you start going over rules or expectations, or some basic classroom routines. There might be an assembly with the rest of the students, but not always.
The first day of school in Moldova is a big deal, and it’s kicked off with a ceremony called “First Bell”. The teachers had a short meeting in our faculty room, with wishes for success and a good year of school. Then we headed outside, where all the students, as well as parents, were waiting in the courtyard. All the students were dressed very nicely in uniforms- girls wore white shirts and blue or black skirts, while the boys wore dress pants, dress shirts, and ties. The teachers and parents were all dressed very nicely as well.
Once everyone was organized by class, the ceremony began. Two of the older students welcomed everyone, then the school director (like a principal) said a few words. The Moldovan national anthem was played, and the flag was raised. After, the first form (first grade) students were brought to the front steps of the school, holding hands with students from the ninth form. First grade is the first year of school for students in Moldova, so this was their very first day of school.
A man from the regional educational agency handed out a few awards, and then it was my turn to speak. As the newbie (and American), I had been asked to prepare a short speech in Romanian to present to the students. I introduced myself, explained that I am a volunteer in the Peace Corps, and wished the students a year of success. It was short and sweet, and a number of people told me I spoke very well!
After all of this, the first form students performed both a poem they had memorized and a couple of songs. Then the second form students brought them their first textbooks. At this point, one of the ninth form boys came forward, and he carried one of the first form girls on his shoulders as she rang the big bell to begin the school year, walking around the circle of students. When she finished, all of the first form students walked around in front of the group of older students and parents, then headed to their classroom, and the rest of the students followed.
We had about 2 hours of class with our homeroom class. This was mostly spent doling out classroom responsibilities, choosing electives, and figuring out the schedule. We also spent a little bit of time playing some English games- hang man and a form of concentration. The students asked me a couple of questions- they wanted to know if I had brothers or sisters, how old I was, and what my family name is (my last name). They had me write my name and there was a short discussion about my first name (teachers go by their first name here). Although Elisabeth isn’t too difficult for Moldovans to pronounce (minus the h at the end- they pronounce it Elisabet), the Moldovan version of the name is Elizaveta. And we also explained Mrs. and Miss to them. I have a feeling some of them will be calling me Mrs. Elizaveta. We’ll see!
Around 11, students were released for the day and the teachers gathered in the cantina for a masa (special meal). There were many toasts, and I was wished (to the best of my Romanian-understanding abilities): health, many years, that I will find a husband in our town and never leave, that I will stay with them many years, and much success in the school year to come. And then, around 1, we all headed home!
It was a good first day and I’m excited to start teaching!