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Romania's Honorary Consul General brings global perspective to ASU students


Ileana Orlich, ASU professor and Romania’s Honorary Consul General in Arizona
July 15, 2011

Q&A with professor Ileana Orlich

Ileana Orlich has been described as “a force of nature” for setting her sights on a goal and not swerving until it has been achieved. She plays a crucial role in mediating the distance between cultures and in bringing Americans and Romanians together in her roles as a professor of Romanian studies and comparative literature at Arizona State University and as Romania’s Honorary Consul General in Arizona.

“I have been so impressed by what Dr. Orlich has done to build a robust Romanian program at ASU,” said Deborah Losse, a professor emeritus and former dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Through teaching an overload and building cross-listed courses with a number of departments, she has encouraged students to learn about Romania.”

The Romanian studies program in ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures is the largest of its kind in the United States and has agreements of academic collaboration with five universities in Romania. Its strong summer abroad program “has enabled many students to experience Romania first hand,” noted Losse. “Dr. Orlich brings Americans and Romanians together to learn about each other’s cultures, to appreciate shared values and artistic endeavors, and to work together in the civic and business arena.”

While many on campus know of Orlich’s commitment to students, research and scholarship (she recently was named Professor of the Year by the ASU Parents Association and has won acclaim for her translations of Romanian works into English and of British and American works into Romanian), those in the Arizona Romanian community know her as a devoted liaison between her two countries.

In the fall of 2009, Orlich was asked to organize the voting process by which Romanian citizens living in Arizona would be able to participate in Romania’s presidential election. She put together a team of Romanian citizens to assist in hosting an election site at the Mercado facility on the ASU downtown Phoenix campus for a November election and a December run-off.

Orlich’s appointment in January 2010 as Romania’s Honorary Consul General in Arizona was seen by many as a natural next step, a step that Consul General Catalin Ghenea said acknowledged the importance of the large Romanian community living in Arizona, “which they call their new home.”

During an interview with professor Orlich, she provided insight into her life, Romania and the Romanian studies program she cultivated at ASU.

Question: For those who do not know a lot about Romania, what would you tell them about the country, its language and culture?

Answer: Romania is the seventh largest country in Europe, a member of NATO (since 2002) and of the European Union (since 2007). What is distinctive about Romania today is the ongoing process of democratization, a concerted effort to ensure the country’s peace and prosperity, and a cultural solidarity that emphasizes human values. Like its multiethnic culture that combines Western and Eastern European traditions with an infusion of Oriental influences, the Romanian language defies easy categorizing. It is a Romance language that displays robust Latin roots and a mingling of Slavic elements in its simplest approaches: It uses the all-too-French “merci” for thank you and the Russian “da” for yes.

Q: What languages do you speak?

A: Romanian, English and French, and reading knowledge in Spanish and Italian.

Q: Where in Romania were you born? When did you come to Arizona?

A: I was born in Bucharest, one of modern Europe’s must-see capitals. I came to Arizona in 1975 and have dual U.S. and Romanian citizenship.

Q: What duties do you have as Honorary Consul General of Romania in Arizona?

A: The representative duties of the Honorary Consul General are to protect, according to the laws and usages existing between friendly states, the rights and interests of Romanian citizens and legal persons in Arizona. Also, to contribute to the development of cultural, educational, economic, commercial, and other similar aspects while promoting cooperation between the representatives of the Romanian communities; to support the development of friendly relations between Romania and Arizona; and to provide information about the business environment and the opportunities in Romania. The Honorary Consul General also distributes information about Romania to the local communities and mass-media; encourages the creation of associations of friendship with Romania and supporting their activities; and stimulates cooperation between Romanian and Arizona universities.

Q: What makes the Romanian studies program at ASU so successful?

A: The Romanian studies program in the ASU School of International Letters and Cultures grew to capture cultural engagements linked to the humanities and many other academic disciplines. It also openly facilitated dialogue and sustained cooperation with the Romanian community of Arizona, whose generous support led to unprecedented cultural interactions and exchanges materialized through the formation of the Central and Eastern European Cultural Collaborative (CEECC) in 2000.

Q: How does the collaborative work?

A: The mission of the CEECC is to focus on Romania’s cultural identity and to foster mutually beneficial cultural exchanges between ASU faculty and students, Romanian dignitaries, universities and actors and writers groups of both countries by creating a bridge of mutual understanding and cooperation between American and Romanian universities and communities. CEECC’s cultural engagements tell us about Romania through unmediated contacts with and approaches to the customs and traditions not only of Romania but of the entire Central and Eastern European region. For the last decade, CEECC has hosted at ASU and the greater Phoenix area numerous cultural visits of actors, musicians, playwrights, writers and academics from Romania, France and the United States who have inspired students to pursue further studies in the humanities and the fine arts, while discovering other cultures. Such programs have received continued support from local businesses, such as the former Steinway of Phoenix, and local nonprofits, such as the collaboration with the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. Several of my translated works, like Tom Stoppard’s play “Travesties,” were staged by Romania’s National Theatre in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca, and the Theatre Denis in Hyères, France. We also had a French professional acting group visit our program with a staged performance at ASU of my translated collages from the French and Romanian avant-garde. Another recent guest was the playwright Matei Visniec who is an exile Romanian and voice of the Radio France Internationale in Paris. Among the attendees at our events, we have members of the Arizona Consular Corps, former students and their families, and many ethnic Romanians who live in the Valley.

Q: Just as the Romanian studies program is growing, so is the study abroad opportunity you offer each summer. Tell us a little about that summer session.

A: Romania is an incredible place, culturally and linguistically; it’s such a multi-cultural entity located at the crossroads of the former Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. I enjoy going abroad with my students because we see so much beyond classroom possibilities. The annual summer program in Romania and to Central and Eastern Europe, which this summer has a record high enrollment, is designed to give students a comprehensive view of the rich and unique cultural history of pre- and post-Communist Europe. To learn more about this program and the countries included in our study tour, please visit http://www.public.asu.edu/~orlich.

Q: You earned your undergraduate degree in English and Romanian studies from the University of Bucharest, and your master’s degree in English and doctorate in English and comparative literature from Arizona State University. What impresses you most about the faculty and students at ASU?

A: ASU is truly an amazing institution that promotes student learning and academic excellence as well as administrative support to its faculty. There is also remarkable engagement from the students’ parents in the development of a truly outstanding academic community. President Crow’s vision of the New American University, which led to the creation at ASU of new schools, such as the School of International Letters and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has opened rich opportunities for unique programs, like the Romanian studies program and its CEECC, to expand beyond traditional possibilities and reach unprecedented academic growth and global engagement.