The Transylvania Semester: Let Your Adventure Change the World!

Extended Romania Semester brochure (click image to download pdf):

Romania Semester brochure

And watch a great 2 minute introductory video!


Northwestern and Gordon Colleges provide a unique study abroad experience engaging the culture of post-communist Romania, building on the grassroots development work of New Horizons Foundation. Living in the Jiu Valley of Romania, students study and experience: Romanian culture, history, and language, Eastern Orthodoxy, Sustainable Development and other topics. All of these are combined with a strong praxis component in the form of an experiential internship as well as the benefit of working within the context of a dynamic non-profit organization – New Horizons Foundation. The semester abroad program includes national excursions, back-packing trips into Romania’s Carpathian Mountain ranges, and homestays with Romanian families. 

Endorsement by Dr. Roland Hoksbergen (Calvin):

"But what really sets this program apart from many others is the vision that Dana and New Horizons have for making the Christian faith come alive in ways that speak directly to the realities of Romania, both in terms of its brokenness and its blessings. They are not teaching only about Romania, but are also integrating a deep Christian understanding of how we can and should live together in community, in nations and in the world. In addition to all the extra-curricular learning that takes place naturally , the four courses offered in the Romanian semester are nothing less than a powerfully beautiful, integrated whole." 

Click here to read the entire endorsement!

The Romania Semester is hosted by Northwestern College (Orange City, Iowa); participating colleges include Calvin, Gordon, and Gustavus Adolphus. The Romania Semester runs during the Fall semester, from late August until early December.  For academic programs offered in the Spring, please see the Academic Internships or Alternative Programs links.

The main courses of the Romania Semester Abroad Program are these, or combinations:

1)    Romanian Language, Culture and History will explore Romanian culture and history through visits to historic sites and museums, home stays, readings, language study, formal and informal cultural exchanges, periodic lectures by qualified specialists, and Romanian film. Students will take local and all over country excursions , (ex. Sinaia, Cluj, Sighet, Timisoara, Hunedoara, Horezu, Bucharest).  Objectives of this course are as follows:

  • Participants will experience the grandeur and challenges of Romanian culture and history by exploring both implicit and explicit facets of its culture.
  • Participants will gain understanding of their own culture by reflecting on and experiencing the “other” via home stays, excursions, etc.
  • Participants will gain solidarity and friendship with a generation of young Romanians and learn about their personal and corporate struggles to better their lives and their communities. 
  • Participants will gain an appreciation for the Romanian language by acquiring rudimentary language skills and practice during home stays, Viaţa, IMPACT program participation, and daily life in the Jiu Valley.
  • Participants will better understand the plight and possibilities of the Jiu Coal Mining valley in Romania and the social pressures in an impoverished region (over 50% unemployment).

 2)    Eastern Orthodoxy is an introductory course to give Western students an understanding of Eastern Orthodox faith, dogma, aesthetics, and lifestyle. Even though the Christian Church started in the East, the Eastern Orthodox Church is largely unknown to Western audiences. This course will explore both theologically and culturally the national faith of Romania, Eastern Orthodoxy. This course will allow expert Orthodox authorities to speak on behalf of their Church, thus facilitating a phenomenological approach to Romanian Orthodoxy.  Objectives of this course are as follows:

  • Understand the main concepts such as theosis, the Liturgy and the central importance of the Trinity in Eastern Orthodoxy;
  • Understand both theoretically and experientially the importance of and canons for “beauty” in Eastern Orthodoxy theology through their art (especially iconography) and architecture;
  • Understand some of the similarities and differences between the East and the Western orientations to the Christian faith, thus gaining a better understanding of faith and culture as well as that of “otherness” (alterity);
  • Understand some of the internal diversity within EO, reform movements, the effect of Communism on religious life, culture, etc.

3)    Experiential Education class will explore and experience firsthand how the two principle pedagogies of experiential education - adventure education and service learning—are applied to an international development context, more specifically, post-Communist Romania. This course is expressly designed to benefit the youth of Lupeni, and thus contribute to the mission of New Horizons Foundation. This course includes the students’ participation in NHF’s VIATA and IMPACT programs in the Jiu Valley, a week-long backpacking trip into Retezat National Park, with classroom time.  Objectives of this course are as follows:

  • Understand the concepts of and put into practice the basics of adventure education, both hard and soft skills;
  • Gain leadership experience through developing and presenting a workshop for the IMPACT service-learning youth clubs;
  • Explore conceptual and empirical linkages between experiential education and social capital development;
  • Explore and experience how experiential education can be a tool for transformational development especially in socially atomized post-communist cultures;
  • Struggle with Romanian youth for the development of their community through the implementation of specific community service projects.

 4)   Sustainable Development will explore issues of poverty, underdevelopment, and human well-being correlating best-practices and insights of the secular world with that of Christian faith. Special attention will be given to bridging the vision of the Kingdom of God (just and loving relations) with concrete mechanisms aimed to achieve this such as human rights, free media, public education, and social and policy mechanisms.

  • Understand basic “secular” approaches to development, such as geographical, liberal, cultural and economic approaches to development; gain a basic understanding of varying development priorities and policies such as the Basic Needs approach (and its current version in the Millennium Development Goals) as well as an introduction to the Capabilities Approach pioneered by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum;
  • Understand the main features of Marxist inspired Communism as a global social science experiment, its ideals, theoretical bases, and the causal reason for its failures;
  • Understand the nature and causes of corruption for both individuals and institutions, especially as a feature of the post communist legacy;
  • Understand different measures or indices of development such as the Human Development Index, Gender Development Index, GNP (and its severe limitations), and MDG’s (Millenium Development Goals);
  • Think critically about religion and its role in development and empowerment;
  • Understand the importance of social capital, civil society (this will be discussed extensively throughout all courses);
  • Gain a basic understanding of grassroots development interventions via NGO’s (the work of New Horizons and others) and situate this within the broader development strategy of developing local change agents;

For more information, please contact:

Janelle Silva , Study Abroad Program

Administrator for New Horizons Foundation

See what a semester is like for students by following their blog!