Expats in Romania: Emma Bernard

Woman and dachshund sitting on a paddle board in a pool.

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Emma Bernard – Ruff Start Rescue CIC

Can you please introduce yourself and share a bit about your background?

My name is Emma, I was born in Shrewsbury, England, and lived most of my life there and then in Mid-Wales. I am married with two adult children – my daughter is 26 and my son is 23.

I worked in the medical field for many years, from secretary to phlebotomist. When I hit 40, I had lost my job as a practice manager at an equine vet and decided to retrain as a nail technician, opening my own salon. I then went on to become an educator and was finalist for nail technician of the year twice.

During this time, we moved to a larger house. As the children were older and I wanted to take on another dog (and wanted to take one that nobody else would, who had been overlooked) whilst looking I came across a rescue who were finding homes for dogs from Romania. This was the first time I had ever heard about the issues faced in Romania by the animals.

I found a dog locally, Alfie, who came to us and although only had 5 weeks with us for end of life care, he made a huge impact on us. I began volunteering for a rescue who worked in Romania, my first visit on a trip was in 2017. All of this was swiftly followed by several more visits. In 2018, I decided to set up my own rescue, Ruff Start Rescue CIC.

What motivated you to choose Romania as your expat destination?

Obviously wanting to continue my rescue work. In 2021, I had eventually rented an apartment in Arad, which allowed me to come and go when I wanted. It also saved me a lot of money on Airbnb/hotels!

I brought my own car here with help from a friend – as I never get my deposit back from rental cars! We had wanted to purchase land here but unfortunately, Brexit has made that impossible. We kept looking at options with our plan being to retire here.

What surprised you most about life in Romania when you first arrived?

I don’t know that anything surprised me really. I’ve seen things change over the years I have been coming, costs have certainly risen! I have also seen the country modernise in leaps and bounds. Still, other things remain firmly rooted in the past, certainly the more rural areas. That, however, isn’t always a bad thing – tradition is important.

Can you share a particular cultural aspect of Romania that fascinates you?

I love the strength of faith that seems to persist in Romania. I am not a religious person myself, but there are times I wish I was. Faith is important to far more here than it is in the UK these days.

I also like how they place real importance on Children’s Day, International Women’s Day, etc. These holidays have real meaning for Romanians and I think that stems from the fact that they still value community so much. In the UK, it’s common to not even know who lives next door to you, yet here it isn’t like that.

How easy or difficult was it for you to learn the Romanian language?

It is the hardest language, I think! I still am not fluent at all, though I understand a lot more than I can speak. I get by well enough and can manage short exchanges, but thank goodness for Google Translate!

Do you have a favorite Romanian dish?

I like covrigi, and love all the fresh fruits and veggies that are widely available. I don’t eat meat so sometimes its not so easy to find things! Gogosa also are amazing!

What was your biggest challenge as an expat in Romania and how did you overcome it?

Getting a visa! My goodness what a journey. I did own land at one point and could have gotten my visa before Brexit but just didn’t consider it – how I wish I had done it then!

The first time I applied for my visa, I had been to London (full 8 hour round trip from home) and put in all the required papers, told them when I was due to leave etc. and heard nothing. I had the tunnel booked, so I had to go.

About 4 weeks after I arrived here I got an email saying my application was rejected because of item 3, appendix l, 1.i or similar – which when I looked it up was because I was not over 14 years of age!! They had a copy of my passport! This left me needing to redo everything.

Thanks to friends, I was able to find an employment offer and go with a working visa, but of course my 90 days were running out and I had no choice but to leave Romania and return to the UK – and I literally picked up the last of my paperwork in Arad as I headed to Nadlac to leave on the very last day.

I then had to go to London again to apply, and pay once again, then a week or so later return once more to collect the visa. This (of course) was not the end!

I went to immigration again to hand over all my documents. I was again refused, because I was not allowed to hand over MY DOCUMENTS. While I was there, I had to get my employer to complete a form, which allowed my friend who was with me, authorisation to act on their and my behalf, get that signed and stamped, emailed back, so that I could then hand the folder to my friend who handed it to the man who had refused to take it from me.

Bureaucracy – that is the biggest challenge in Romania.

Can you tell us about your experience with the healthcare system in Romania?

It has been good, I had a nasty cat bite that became very infected, and was in fact very close to sepsis. Thanks to friends, I was able to access what I needed and be treated.

Really its like most things here – not what you know, but who you know!

Can you describe a typical day in your life as an expat in Romania?

I take care of around 30 dogs in my care, as well as some cats. I also have chickens and ducks, rabbits and guinea pigs.

My day is spent caring for them, cleaning their pens, ensuring they have food and water. Every day all the dogs get free run time and I play with them. I drive them to the clinic when needed.

I also have been growing my own fruit and veggies, as well as helping my friend caring for her rescue animals. In the evenings I concentrate on online work for the rescue, promoting the dogs, updating my followers on how certain dogs are doing, finding fundraising ideas, engaging with people.

We are also in the process of getting a mobile spay ambulance up and running to allow us to visit the more rural villages and provide spaying and neutering for those who cannot access clinics in the city, and to help educate people how important it is to reduce the number of unwanted litters.

How has living in Romania influenced or changed you personally and/or professionally?

So many ways! I have seen the worst of humanity with animals brutalised and injured beyond comprehension for no reason other than ill advised beliefs.

I’ve also seen the best of humanity in the friends I have made here who have the same compassion for animals and the wish to save those in need or in pain.

Can you share an unforgettable moment or experience you’ve had while living in Romania?

Not long after I returned to Romania once my visa was sorted, a friend found a dog on the side of the road who had clearly been hit by a car. He was in such incredible pain and was unable to move his back legs at all. The poor pup had nearly 2kg of matted feces etc. in his fur around his back end and his legs were just open wounds. He had given up.

My closest friend here is a vet and she asked could I help him – of course I agreed. It was an incredibly long process, he was of course doubly incontinent and nothing could be done to save his back legs. He ended up having both back legs, his tail and his penis amputated over several operations.

I cared for him through all of this, and once he realized he was being helped, he started to fight back himself, too. One of my long time supporters and a previous adopter offered him a home, giving us a goal.

After 4-5 months of operations and rehab, finally Watson left for the UK. He now has a good set of wheels and absolutely nothing stops him, he is incredible. It is one of many proud moments for me.

And of course every sunset in Romania is absolutely stunning and an experience each time.

How did you find your first home in Romania? Do you have any tips for house-hunting in this country?

My rental apartment I found online and with the help of a friend, who was able to negotiate, etc.  I have my current home as part of an agreement to care for the resident animals, so I have been very lucky, I guess.

Do you have a favorite phrase in Romanian?

My favorite perhaps can’t be repeated here 🤣🤣 but I do like cu placere – in the UK if you say ‘thank you’ to a retail worker or similar, you tend to just get ‘thank you’ back – but here you get ‘you’re welcome’!

Can you tell us about a time when you experienced a cultural misunderstanding and how you resolved it?

I have been shouted at many times for feeding strays, I tend to ignore it.

How have you seen Romania change since you first moved here?

Prices have risen dramatically! Some things are still cheaper than the UK but it is not as cheap as it was pre-Brexit, that’s for sure. 

Have you found it easy to make friends and socialize in Romania? Any tips on this?

I had my friends before I moved here, so it has been a little different for me, I think. But on the whole, I have found people to be friendly and welcoming.

In your experience, how does Romania’s history and culture affect daily life?

I still find the public holidays confusing!

The history of the communism is still so obvious every where you look and see abandoned factories etc., and the high rise apartment blocks.  Modernity seems to come fast in some areas and not so fast in others!

You can apply online for a visa – but still need to go to an office with around 4 copies of everything stamped and signed!

If you could change one thing about your expat experience in Romania, what would it be?

The visa process!! I do understand why it has to be in place – but when someone wants to be in a country and will be spending money in the local economy, etc., I do feel that should be taken into account perhaps.

What advice would you give to someone planning to move to Romania?

Research! And possibly marry a Romanian. It makes it much easier!😝

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