Lavinia is 34, was born by the Black Sea in Constanta, but now lives in Axente Sever, Sibiu. We’ve known each other for over 20 years now, went to the same schools and were even desk mates for 4 years in high school. She was the other girl in our gang. We laughed, cried, partied, shared teenagers’ secrets, philosophised, learned together for exams. I think it’s safe to say we shared life together. Even now, so many miles apart, we still do. This is her story.
Tell me a bit about yourself. What hobbies or interests do you have? What kind of person are you
I was part of the first generation that started school after the fall of communism, but building a sense of direction and questioning the world were not taught in class back then. I wasn’t exactly a straight A student, nor a teacher’s pet, but you could easily put me in the top 5 in my class, to give you an idea. As a teenager, I enjoyed reading a lot, I suppose that would qualify as a hobby, also thanks to my parents and to the bookshelves they stuffed along the years.
What did you study? How did that turn into a profession?
I focused on Math and German. A big turning point in my life was leaving Constanta and moving to Bucharest to become an engineer. I chose electrical engineering taught in German. As it turns out, I found math to be a safer choice for building a higher education and, eventually, a career.
Which path did you follow after ending your studies? How did you end up following that particular one?
After five years of studying, I started working in a corporation, the place where all clueless graduates end up. Needless to say, the years of hard study didn’t have anything to do with my job in Sales Operations. I started from scratch and built my business acumen during the next four years, I became a team leader and reached the point where I felt stuck.
How did you feel about working in a corporation? What’s the atmosphere there? One hears all kind of stories …
My life at the time was split between the long hours spent in the office and my home. I couldn’t really grasp that whole company culture nonsense and that corporate oneness that was being poured in my ear day in, day out. My only comfort back in those days was travelling. I worked so I could make enough money to explore cities and countries, during my short vacations. They were my breath of fresh air. Stretching from the Canary Islands, through India and all the way to Hong Kong, the map was my playground.
My life at the time was split between the long hours spent in the office and my home. I couldn’t really grasp that whole company culture nonsense and that corporate oneness that was being poured in my ear day in, day out. My only comfort back in those days was travelling. I worked so I could make enough money to explore cities and countries
Why did you leave for Prague and what made you decide to go for it?
Travelling around, I came to the conclusion I had to move to another country, basically combining my work experience with my passion for travelling. I chose Prague, because, during a city break, that place lured me with its magic, in ways I cannot comprehend even to this day. The magic lasted for three years. I spent my time there working and exploring the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries, partying and meeting people from all corners of the world. I think it’s worth mentioning that I was working for the same corporation, but the work/personal life balance was quite different to the one in Romania.
You came back to Romania when others were leaving. Why? How did you decide to go for it … again?
In spite of a really great life I had build up in Prague, a feeling of pointlessness was still lingering on. It felt I was contributing to someone else’s dreams, rather than my own. My love for travelling and exploring cultures and countries made me get a better understanding of the untapped potential of my own country, Romania, through its natural and cultural heritage.That was my big AHA moment. In 2014 I took a huge leap of faith, signed my resignation and moved back to Romania. I started to look for an old house in Transylvania, with the thought of turning it into a guest house and, eventually, a way of life. My search led me to Axente Sever, close to Sibiu. I found there a 300 years old house, that I now call home. To restore the beauty of this place, I decided to apply for European funding.
How difficult was it to start this kind of business? How did you prepare for it?
I had to start again from scratch, learn how to register a business, how to prepare the project and apply for EU funding, how not to take no for an answer, how to build piles of documents, how to interact with local authorities and ministries, with architects, with constructors, with consultants. But for the first time, the pointlessness was gone. Friends ask me if it’s hard. My answer is: these are the best hard times of my life.
What do you currently live of?
While preparing the project and waiting for the response from the Ministry of European Funds, I’ve decided to polish my hosting skills, so I’ve signed half of my house up on Airbnb, this summer. I’ve welcomed people from all over the world for three months. And if I needed more proof that I’m on the right path, I sure got it and then some. My guests became my friends and I absolutely agree that if you put people at the core of your business, you are heading the right way. I got great reviews and made enough money to cover my bills for the rest of the year.
What are the achievements, what keeps you going through a rough patch? You know, given the fact you are new at this.
I will always remember my first guests, a family of four from Berlin, a german journalist, Thomas, his Russian wife, Dascha, and their two little boys. As it turns out, Thomas was very familiar with Romania, visited parts of it in the past and covered our country’s struggles in his previous articles. As I told them my story over some glasses of local moonshine, he told me he’d like to write a piece on European funding in Romania and my journey in particular. I felt like this was a providential encounter indeed. But then I met Alina, a girl from Bucharest, working for a non profit organisation for kids with special needs, that wanted to spend a week in my home. That’s the point where I stopped believing in coincidences. Something more powerful was at work here. The universal law of attraction. She simply chose a house in a remote village and then there we were, sharing a bottle of wine in my garden. And as we were talking, we both discovered our grandparents and parents came from the same city or village in Romania, that we were in Prague at the same time, that we both worked for corporations and then quit to go for something truly meaningful instead. We were both grateful for listening to our guts for once. I felt understood and humbled throughout this entire experience.
In the last 5-10 years I heard about more and more people leaving the city life for a little house somewhere in the wild. Why this going-back-to-the-roots trend?
Running a guesthouse in a village means changing your way of life as well. I’ve started growing my own vegetables, planting flowers and buying poultry, fresh milk and eggs from my neighbours. Let me tell you, there are few things out there more satisfying than eating the first tomato, radish or carrot from your own garden. As I am writing this, in front of the fireplace, with the ever-present cat in my lap, I feel a million miles away from my city life. I remember the mornings at the subway when I had to elbow-fight my way through the crowds, just to catch the train on time. I can imagine why more and more people my age or younger, see a new life in the village as an escape from the dehumanising cities. And today, more than ever, it’s possible. The paradox here is that technology and globalisation make returning to a simpler life possible. You can work remotely; you can promote your business or products all over the world.
When it comes to the clash between generations, I see the two main driving forces behind mine and the previous ones. It’s the never-ending dispute between „to have” and „to be”.
What difference is there in your generation and the one ten years older? What changed and why?
The opportunities we now have … our older generations could have never dreamt of. When it comes to the clash between generations, I see the two main driving forces behind mine and the previous ones. It’s the never-ending dispute between „to have” and „to be”.
How have your priorities shifted in the last ten years? Why?
While I started my journey through life with the best lessons my parents could ever teach me (get an education, get a good paying job, a house, a family, a car, a pet), I slowly, yet surely, shifted my focus from having to being. Being and evolving by listening to my own instincts and inner calling, instead of following the steps of a predefined recipe.
If you had only one wish, what would that be?
If I would have had the chance to travel back in time and meet my younger version, I would have told her to stop wasting her time and running in all the wrong directions. For now, I am at peace with myself and the world. I am grateful for this year’s harvest; I am so excited about what’s coming and about finally having a clear sense of direction. My biggest wish, after the house is renovated and the B&B becomes fully functional, is to see my future baby girl or boy running barefoot through the flowers in our garden.