Former exchange student pursues teaching path

Catalin (Alex) Vilae, former exchange student at the Cedar Falls High School, is getting prepared to enter college this summer as a freshmen at University of Bucharest. He plans to be an English teacher. He also wants to teach Romanian as a second language.

In 2018, another Alex came to the Cedar Falls High School, but instead of Iowa, this Alex was from Romania. 

Catalin (Alex) Vilae came as a senior to the high school through the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. Throughout  his visit, Vilae stayed with Thompsons and the Poes. 

Vilae was a part of men’s cross country, soccer, journalism (which he planned on continuing after high school), culture diversity club, theatre and Environmental Awarenss Team (E.A.T) 

Although Vilae said he enjoyed his time in the United States and was ready to return to Romania, he said it was challenging making adjustments. “I must admit that the whole exchange year, including before and after, wasn’t easy at all,” Vilae said. “When I came back to Romania in May 2019, I couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours. I was shocked in the sense that all those places that used to be familiar to me seemed really strange. Everybody was telling me that I had an American accent in my mother tongue, Romanian, and I couldn’t believe it. The accent disappeared in a couple of weeks, but some habits that I’ve developed throughout my exchange year are still there.”

“It was kinda hard to readapt to the Romanian culture, food, different mentalities, but I do love my country and that made me overcome all the impediments that I might have encountered,” he said.

Immediately when Vilae returned, he had the task of studying for a final exam and deciding where he wants to attend college. “I had to take my final exam (Baccalaureate or just Bac, as we call it), and for that I’ve only had three weeks to prepare. All my colleagues had studied hard for the past few months before the exam, but I only had three weeks to do it,” he said. “Of course, I studied a little bit while in the U.S., but I didn’t get much out of it since I had a lot of things to do during my exchange year.” 

However, even under the time constraints, Vilae received a 9.16 out of 10 on his Bac and was able to go to college, yet Vilae said he was still lost with where he wanted to go. “All my friends were like, ‘Oh yeah. I know where I am going. This university is really good yada yada yada …,’’ but I wasn’t sure about anything that had to do with college. A part of me wanted to go to college in Romania, because I feel that I belong here, not anywhere else, but also the University of Sheffield sounded good to me and my parents as this university is on top of a lot of universities in the world, and even their journalism program was high-ranked,” he said. 

Vilae decided that he wanted to attend University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, but he ended up moving after one semester. “I didn’t feel good in the U.K. I didn’t feel welcome, I didn’t feel that I belonged to that place, but these are not  the main reasons why I did it. The fact that I didn’t have a lot of lectures, Wednesdays and Fridays I had nothing to do. It was the worst in terms of academics. I was paying tons of money for nothing. For the first semester I wouldn’t have had any exams. I know a lot of people might argue that this was just the beginning and stuff like that, but I don’t agree with them. I looked over the schedule for the next semester, and it was nearly empty. Then I realized that my place was not there, that I should go back to Romania and start all over again,” Vilae said. “Since I was a little bit reluctant before going to the U.K, my decision wasn’t a surprise for me, but it definitely was a surprise for my family, friends and people I know because they had no idea that I was going to do it.”

Since he has been back in Romania, Vilae said he has decided on a new plan regarding college. “Now my plan is pretty straightforward, and I am 100 percent sure I am going to stick with it. So, in July this year I will take an entrance exam for the University of Bucharest in Romania, the foreign languages faculty,” he said. “I wanna become an English teacher in the future.  I also want to be able to teach Romanian language as a second language, it will be such a satisfaction for me to see people interested in learning Romanian and me being part of it … it’s just dreamy. I’ve already stated to teach my father English, and it works. I am so happy I can help people learning languages.” 

While he waits to go to college in Romani, Vilae said he will help his father with his roofing company. Vilae also said he will be getting his driver’s license. 

From America and Americans, Vilae said the most valuable thing he learned during his exchange is to smile more and what patriotism is. 

“The best thing that I’ve learned is to smile. It might sound like a normal thing to you, but I wasn’t smiling enough before coming to the U.S. I love that mentality in which people smile to you on the street, and being friendly really helps your wellbeing. I don’t know If I’d ever come back to the U.S or Cedar Falls, but, hopefully, I will. After all, Cedar Falls is my second home,” he said. 

“This patriotism that I show here (Romania) is thanks to the U.S. I don’t know what happened, but I came back as a patriot from the U.S. I think that all those American flags hanged outside the porch definitely made me realize how much I appreciate my country, habits, etc. Those things should be preserved if you want a country to prosper,” Vilae said.

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