Key word: planning.
If I had to choose one thing that's essential to coping with cultural differences here, it would be flexibility. I don't think Americans realize just how structured our lives really are, and I wonder if this comes from a deeper need to feel like we are in control. Think about it, isn't the "American dream" ultimately about taking control of your destiny? If you ever come to Romania, you better leave those control issues at the border, or else you will drive yourself crazy. I like to think I'm a pretty flexible person, but I admit there are times when it stresses me out a little bit just knowing that whatever I think I can expect is likely to change. It can be unnerving to be put in a situation you don't feel prepared for, or to prepare for something that ends up not working out. It's taken some getting used to, but honestly, I think this makes for a healthier perspective on life.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. -James 4:13-16
I've come to the conclusion that the difference really isn't in the fact that things change; it's in the fact that people aren't surprised by change. Maybe we think plans are set in stone, but are we ever really in control of whether or not they're carried out? No. I noticed not long after I got here, and even in my correspondences before I came, that Christians often say something like "with God's help" or "if God wills" when they are making arrangements. I soon came to understand this as a disclaimer, an acknowledgment that even though we're agreeing to a certain schedule or course of action, God is sovereign and He might direct our circumstances otherwise. It's not just a nice thought to make us sound religious; it's the reality of everyday life, and something we would all be wise to bear in mind, no matter where we live.*
So, after two months in Romania and two weeks of school, I wasn't at all caught off guard when I needed to teach while my partner was on lunch duty. Did I have some doubts about how well the class would go? You bet! But we had vocabulary to learn, and after all, this is Romania... Plans change, you know.
*On a related note: I read somewhere, possibly in this book, that "expectation is the mother of disappointment." Maybe if we lived life with the expectation that things might not go as we'd imagined, fewer people would be unsatisfied with their lives or unhappy with each other. God is the only true Constant -- only He will never change and, therefore, never disappoint. Just a thought.