From Olympic student to working in Germany to afford University

Cristina, one of the World Vision Romania alumni
Monday, October 23, 2023

Cristina, 20, graduated from one of the top high schools in Vâlcea, a Romanian county, just as the world was recovering from the pandemic. A standout student, she always aspired to attend university. However, financial constraints kept her from moving to Sibiu, the nearest city where she could get a university education. 

Instead, she moved to Germany to work on seasonal jobs such as harvesting strawberries, lettuce and onions. Between trips, she worked at a local supermarket. While assisting her family financially, Cristina also saved for her bigger dream to get higher education. 

She recalls the laborious hours in Germany, starting work at 4 am and finishing by 7 pm. Although challenging, her parents' presence made it bearable. On a subsequent trip, she faced even tougher conditions, encountering cold and dampness. Family financial struggles persisted. Her father went to work in Finland while Cristina, her younger brother, and mother stayed home. Later, her mother left again for work in Germany. 

Cristina recollects their humble beginnings and her parents' unfulfilled dreams. While her mother was hoping that she would become a doctor, Cristina was passionate about foreign languages. She was always considering  that good education could assure better job opportunity. 

In 2021, Cristina understood even more how essential education is for a brighter future. Having rocked the Latin Olympiad in school, she dived deep into her books. Because she was working a lot, Cristina missed a lot of classes. Luckily, a friend from school offered his notes to her, which was super helpful for her lonely studying hours at home. Cristina's hard work paid off when she passed her exams and secured a place at Sibiu's Foreign Languages University. 

Cristina pays her tuition from her savings that she managed to collect while she was working in Germany, and her parents promised further support if she excels academically.

During the years the financial situation of their families has improved. Her mother recognises the importance of education over work at her age. But before that, one of her significant supports came through the "I Want in 9th Grade", a World Vision Romania programme. 

"The 'I Want in 9th Grade' programme was a game-changer for me, fueling my college aspirations. It taught me that success requires effort, not waiting for chances. Initially shy, I grew through its activities, honing my public speaking, argumentation, and resume-building skills. I uncovered a love for languages and became more open with others. The invaluable insights from guest speakers and the nurturing spirit of World Vision members have been irreplaceable. I miss the monthly meetings and summer camps, where learning was abundant. In life, you must strive for your goals, and World Vision equipped me for this journey," explains Cristina. 

Concerning statistics on higher education enrolling 

65% of high school graduates from rural areas do not enroll in higher education, compared to 35% from urban areas, according to a study by UEFISCDI (The Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding). At the same time, 80% of students from disadvantaged communities face financial difficulties in college, according to a survey by World Vision Romania. 

The percentage of Romanian youth graduating from university in 2021 was almost half (23.3%) of the European Union average of 41.2%, according to the latest Education and Training Monitor report by the European Commission. One of the reasons cited in the report is directly related to the low level of participation of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the university system. 

To cope with the expenses for college, 70% of high school seniors from disadvantaged backgrounds plan to work during their studies, according to World Vision Romania data. The reasons given by young people are: 

  • 78% of teenagers are concerned about the rising cost of living; 

  • 34% of respondents say their families will not be able to financially support them in college; 

  • 14% are afraid they won't find a place in the dormitory, and the costs for rent are too high compared to their budgets. 

As a result of these material deprivations, for one in three high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds, one of the most important criteria in choosing a university is the possibility of receiving a scholarship. 

Recognizing this World Vision Romania in collaboration with Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca County launched "I want to college" a program to support 100 underprivileged students in completing their university education. "I want to college" is inspired by the success of the "I want in the 9th grade" program - that provides scholarships, mentoring, non-formal educational activities, personal and professional development opportunities and summer camps for highschool students mostly. 

Therefore, between 2023-2026, 100 students included in the project will benefit, with the support of donors, from the following: a laptop or a computer for the learning and study process, thematic workshops specific to student life, a mentoring and career guidance program, access to summer schools, and monthly scholarships to cover the minimum expenses for dormitory and transportation. 

Companies and individual donors who wish to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds to graduate can donate here.