We resume the series of interviews through which we aim to discover together the passions and talents of the members of the Avenor College community. The initiative belongs to Ioana, a 12th grade student at Avenor International High School. Viorel Căpățînă is a professor of Geography and Global Perspectives at Avenor College, an incurable optimist, an enthusiastic storyteller and a collector of experiences and passions. We invite you to find out more about him from the next interview.

Ioana: Tell us a couple of words about Viorel Căpățînă. How would you describe yourself?

Viorel Căpățînă: I am an optimist, a person with a sense of humor, a simple man who really loves nature and his job: teaching. I come from a family of simple, modest people, from whom I have learned common sense and having a proper attitude.

Ioana: You were my Geography, Biology and Global Perspectives teacher. What is your specialty, what university did you graduate from?  

Viorel Căpățînă: I graduated from the Geography and Geology University from Iasi, specialising in Geography-English Language. I had my PhD in Geomorphology (the Science that studies the genesis and characteristics of landforms, their grouping and distribution on the Earth’s surface) in 2008. Next, I moved to Bucharest and I got a job at an international school, where I took IB (International Baccalaureate) courses in the subject of “Environmental Ecosystems in Societies” and I did an online Geography course also for IB. Then I went to Singapore, where I taught these subjects at school – Humanities and Environmental Systems. Later I returned to the country, teaching at Avenor College, where I currently follow the Cambridge curriculum and also where I studied online the subject of Global Perspectives and in particular Cambridge Geography.

Ioana: Where does the passion for the subjects you teach come from?

Viorel Căpățînă: I grew up near the mountains, close to Brasov. Almost every day I roamed the meadows there and I was desperate to know more about plants and nature. I remember having a book called “Romania’s Natural Resources,” something like that, a book that had a collection of medicinal herbs. With this little book in my hand, when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I would walk on the grass and identify by myself the plants from the book.

Later on, in high school, I had a teacher, who was also my form tutor, named Popa Mariana. She was a teacher of Geography and English and had also finished the University in Iași, studying the same subject that I would eventually end up studying. She had a method of teaching that appealed to me; I think she was my role model. She was the kind of person who had a lesson plan, tested the students’ knowledge in front of the map, and had these open-ended questions that made you find an answer by yourself. Something we do today as well, known as “Critical Thinking”. She was very nonconformist for Communist times.

I remember as a child I really enjoyed pretending to be a teacher. I was making my own gradebook and I was testing and grading children from my neighbourhood. It looks like that’s where this madness came from. I knew that after I finished high school, I would become either a priest, a veterinarian, or a teacher. Later on, I wanted to become a comedy actor as well, but I gave that up and focused on Geography.

Ioana: I know you have taught in other countries also. What cultural challenges have you encountered there?

Viorel Căpățînă: It’s like another world in Asia. From the language, the behaviour towards people, towards the environment, cultural traditions and the celebration of the Chinese New Year, where there was chaos for a week. The noises woke you up in the morning and you didn’t know what was happening, or if the fire alarm went off. Actually, it was the person who announced – as we have ” Mascații” and “Plugușorul”- the arrival of the new year. The culinary variety bombarded me in terms of taste and digestion. I had just arrived in Singapore, and because I was very curious and wanted to taste the local cuisine at Hawker Centre, a place where all kinds of food were prepared, I said why not try a sauce with some rice. I remember that I had to go to school at noon – it was during the accommodation period for me when I was doing medical tests and I was looking for a house to live in – and I told the school secretary that I couldn’t come because I was currently in a very close relationship with the toilet. I couldn’t get too far, because I had to hurry back. In three days, I lost about two pounds.

On top of all these cultural influences, I had to deal with an unbearable climate. I was sitting at the bus stop, not moving, and I was sweating profusely. I was one of the few people there who wore linen and cotton clothes to allow the skin to breathe, but I was always soaking wet. I was traveling with the bus where it was 16 degrees inside, and people felt very good, and when I got off the bus, I was shocked by the 33 degrees Celsius and almost 100% humidity where I felt that I was suffocating, I couldn’t breathe.

The first Christmas in Singapore was very strange because my wife had cooked sarmale and we had wine, but looking out the window everything was crazy green, the birds were singing and I didn’t understand where winter was and where Christmas was.

But what I really appreciated in Singapore was the fairness of the people. There were situations when I would leave my camera on the tables where we ate and people came after me, shouting: “Sir, sir, you forgot your camera!”. I also really liked that in Southeast Asia it doesn’t matter how rich you are, it matters how you live in the moment. I noticed that in simple people, who had nothing to offer, ate maybe a portion of rice and two Pak-Choi leaves a day, a kind of salad or spinach, but who always had this power to smile. Something that we have lost. We are in this continuous chase and we no longer know how to enjoy what we have and to be grateful for the roof over our heads, for the healthy family, for the mother who loves us and so on. I think the kindness of the people there came from their religion or from the fact that nature provided them with a lot of fruits and vegetables, which have a taste incomparable to ours. For example, when I first ate mangoes there, I was dumbstruck. I ate eight or ten mangoes a day and I never got tired of them, they were so sweet and fragrant. 

I can say that I had cultural shocks of all kinds, but the most impressive were the culinary ones. We became addicted to spicy food, we often go to stores that sell Asian products, we buy and cook Thai and Indian.

Ioana: Tell us about a memorable experience from your international teaching career. 

Viorel Căpățînă: I had all kinds of cultural shocks with children in Japan. In Singapore I only taught high school students. I taught the 9th and 10th grades students Humanities, meaning History, Geography, Economics. In class I had a little girl named Maki, a hard worker, like all other Asians, especially those from the East. She told me that she had to do a lot of projects, and that she didn’t know how to say no. Due to her culture, she had to accept anything, and complete all of those projects. At one point, I talked to her and she told me that she feels a little overwhelmed by the many tasks she has to do and she doesn’t know how to proceed. After our discussion, in which I tried to resolve her situation, I saw her crying in the hallway, after which I quickly went to the school counselor who told me that I had done very well because in many cases, because they are not allowed to say no, students arrive on the brink of commiting suicide. For me, this situation was frightening.

Another thing about the children in South Korea: they were terribly noisy. I thought the Asians were all silent, and they told me very cheerfully that they were called the “Italians of Asia.” I loved this association so much!

But the most beautiful experience I had was when the whole class, all Asian children, entered the classroom. Everyone greeted me in a fantastically respectful way, and at the end of the lesson they thanked me for the class and for the things they were taught and learned in class. It seemed unbelievable to me.

Ioana: What do you think about the Avenor College experience as compared to the experiences from other countries?

Viorel Căpățînă: I must confess that when I first came to Avenor College in 2015, I was a little shocked. I went from the IB and Romanian systems, which were a kind of semi-chaos for me, to the Singapore system which was by the book, to return to Romania, where I couldn’t help but wonder “what am I going to do now?” and “where am I going?”. I ended up here at Avenor. Georgiana Socoliu, Middle School Coordinator, had told me to come because I will definitely like it, that the school is not very big, and the children are very nice and very well raised and in the end, I said why not give it a try. 

At first, I was afraid that it would not be the same as my last experience, but I must admit that I had a very beautiful transition, from an international school to a Romanian school that also follows the Cambridge system.

I remember intending to teach Geography, but the High School Coordinator at the time suggested that I should teach the high school students Global Perspectives as well. I had no idea about this subject, but it wasn’t the first time I would be teaching a new subject. She told me that as a Geography teacher, I have this ability to juggle with concepts in Global Perspectives. 

I went through this change very smoothly, without any setbacks, and the group of teachers helped me to integrate perfectly. It was an extension of the previous experience, only the characters changed. That is, from Asian children and teachers from all over the world, to children mostly from Romania, and Romanian teachers – at that time there were not so many foreign teachers. The transition was elegant and pleasant.
Ioana: What other passions do you have besides teaching?

Viorel Căpățînă: I have so many passions! I am deeply grateful to my wife who has shown fantastic patience with me. Before leaving for Singapore, because I was and am very close to nature, I really enjoyed watching birds in nature, a sport invented by the British called “Birdwatching”. In Singapore, I made her go through all the swamps and holes in the earth to see some birds, lizards, snakes, beetles, etc. In time, however, she became part of my team, and she also shows me from time-to-time birds in the trees or in flight. I had a backpack that weighed 10 kilograms, containing only cameras, tripod, telescope … By the time I got to the location I was already tired, I was returning home beat but happy that I had added to my list another 20 species of birds.

Coming from Singapore, and seeing different botanical gardens there, I fell in love with the world of orchids. I was struck primarily by the scents that these flowers can have, and their size. There are extraordinarily large plants, and some extraordinarily small ones. At the moment I think I have about 120 orchids, contained within a very small space, and their sizes range from a peppercorn to 60 cm leaves. Our place is a studio, and all my plants are lined up by the window, in the room. It’s a jungle.

In addition to the hundreds of orchids, I have an aquarium with fish for the simple reason that it relaxes me a lot. Orchids develop my patience, the aquarium helps me relax. And I also have a Labrador. My wife really wanted a dog 2 years ago, and all that was missing from our studio transformed into a jungle was our 40-kilogram „piglet” who became a member of the family, like our child. We do everything for him and we are grateful that thanks to him we get three hours of physical activity every day. 

Ioana: I know you are passionate about the culinary arts and you have stated that you like to try different cuisines. Could you make a top 3?

Viorel Căpățînă: I really like Indian Curries; they are extremely rich in spices and I find them fantastically good in combination, of course, with basmati rice or Paneer, which are some Indian sticks. I would say Seafood Curry is one of my favorites. Then I rediscovered in Indian cuisine, legumes, chickpeas and lentils. In second place I would put the Indian-style chickpeas, semi-stewed with a harsh sauce, a lot of coriander, pepper and ginger. Somewhere in third place I would put a terribly spicy Tom Yum Soup, Thai soup, which is based on coconut milk to which is added either chicken, sweet potato or seafood.This doesn’t mean I don’t eat Romanian food. I would always eat a lot of “piftie de curcan”, there is no Christmas without “piftie de curcan” with a lot of garlic and a little spice. And I would eat sarmale all the time.