Just an Ordinary Day
Teaching SuggestionsPrint this Page
- Subject(s): Language Arts & Literature, Social Studies & Geography
- Region / Country: Central & Eastern Europe / Romania
- Grade Level(s): 6–8, 9–12
Students will weigh the old with the modern in contemporary Romania and examine how culture changes with the introduction of new elements.
- Students will be able to identify Romania on a map and describe its location.
- Students will be able to describe technological and cultural changes in Romania today.
- Students will be able to hypothesize about the impact of modern technology on a traditional culture.
- Just an Ordinary Day by Nina Porzucki
- Ask students to think about America around the year 1900. How did people get from place to place? [Walking, horseback, horse and carriage, railroad, trolley] Now ask them to brainstorm about how the invention of the automobile and its popularization in the 1920s changed the way people lived. [New industries developed, such as car manufacturing plants, factories to produce rubber tires, gasoline stations, paved roads, and, eventually, motels. Other industries, such as blacksmithing and livery stables, faded. Suburbs expanded, as people no longer had to live in the city or along train lines. Air pollution from engine exhaust became an issue. Major highways were developed. Bureaucracies for drivers' licenses and car registrations grew. Teenagers got greater freedom to move around their communities.]
- Point out that the discussion has been about just one invention and its effects. Ask students if anyone can think of other inventions that have had far-reaching cultural effects. [Airplanes, computers, electricity, gunpowder, telephone, television, for example.]
- How fast do some of these changes occur? Help students understand that the rate of cultural change many vary and that some inventions have greater impact than others. This activity examines ways that modern technology can change a nation.
- Tell students that this activity is based on a letter from Peace Corps Volunteer Nina Porzucki, who is serving in Romania. If students do not already know about the Peace Corps, explain what the agency does and the kinds of tasks Volunteers undertake in the field. [See background information about Peace Corps efforts in Romania and a map of Europe, showing Romania]
- Ask students to listen carefully while you read Porzucki's biography aloud to see if they hear any indications of cultural change in Romania today. Students should easily pick up on "Pizzeria Okay" and McDonald's. Tell students they are now going to read an essay by Porzucki that describes how the modern and the traditional co-exist in Romania.
- Distribute the letter and allow time for students to read silently, or read the letter aloud.
- Divide students into groups of four or five and ask them to read back through the story to identify what is traditional about Romania today and what is modern. Having each group make a chart could help students identify these elements. They should come up with the following, and possibly more:
Traditional Modern Horse and cart Cell phones Tilling fields by hand Honey Nut Cheerios Herding flocks of sheep Hallmark and Discovery channel on TV Chickens in the street Internet cafés Turkish coffee made in ibric Learning English Hundred-year-old school building with gargoyles Colorful market Scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables in winter Lack of modern kitchen appliances
- Ask students what criteria they used to distinguish between traditional and modern. (For example, did one trait simply seem old-fashioned, such as a horse and cart? Is it arguable that "herding flocks of sheep" is traditional and not contemporary? What factors can the students consider to make that decision?) Ask the students what modern aspects they found and record each answer at the top of a large sheet of chart paper. Post the chart papers around the room. Explain that you are going to ask the students to hypothesize ways that the introduction of each modern aspect might eventually affect Romanian culture, just as the automobile affected American culture. Then conduct a carousel brainstorming activity: Have each student group go to one piece of chart paper and write down all the ways they can think of in which the modern element might have an impact on traditional culture. Give them a few minutes and then ask the groups to move clockwise to the next sheet of chart paper and repeat the brainstorming to see what they can add. Continue until each group has had a chance to write for each innovation. Then have them circle the room one more time to read what other groups added.
- Conclusion: Ask students to list in their notebooks the advantages and the disadvantages of introducing modern technology or other modern aspects of culture—and therefore change—in a society such as Romania's. Then hold a class discussion, allowing the students to report and defend their observations.
- Read the first paragraph aloud to students: Before I left the States, I tried to imagine what my life in Romania would be like. I envisioned joining the Peace Corps as two years of roughing it. I pictured bucket baths, hiking to the outhouse in the middle of the night and teaching English in a one-room schoolhouse. Instead I was sent to Eastern Europe. Romania is not a place I typically considered, when thinking about Peace Corps service.
- Have them free-write in their notebooks or journals about a time when their expectations were different from what actually happened. This could be turned into an essay if time permits.
- Have your students re-read Porzucki's description of the market. Explore her use of vivid diction and analyze the tone she has created by her selection and arrangement of images. How does she use contrast to make her point?
- Read a folk tale recorded by another Peace Corps Volunteer from Romania.
- Interdisciplinary activity: You can find additional information for student research about Romania at the website of the U.S. Department of State. This information could be used by a math or computer teacher to give students practice in creating charts and graphs.
Framework and Standards
- Technological innovations can have surprising implications for cultural change.
- In a country that is rapidly changing, the traditional and the modern co-exist in surprising ways.
- How does the introduction of new technology affect traditional culture?