The decision to stay, the power to act
Moldovan entrepreneurship expert and university professor Rodica Crudu on the challenges of staying in your home country and making your way in a male-dominated environment
Talk about multitasking! Rodica Crudu is an associate professor, a European economic policies expert at a non-profit, the Laboratory for Initiatives for Development-Moldova, and editor-in-chief of the Eastern European Journal of Regional Studies. “We’re focused on fostering economic development, attempting different strategies on how the country can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and on implementing green politics, including by introducing EU policies.”
Up until recently, she was the dean of the Faculty of International Economic Relations of the Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova. She has also been recognized as a Jean Monnetprofessor, a network of teaching posts for university professors and senior lecturers with a specialisation in European Union studies. She has also coordinated several EU-funded projects in the field of European integration studies.
It’s rare for someone to mention the word “ambitious” in a positive manner nowadays, yet Rodica Crudu decides to use it in exactly this way, signalling a clear vision of her ideas. “I’m an ambitious person. I’ve always wanted to climb all the peaks available’, says Chișinău-based Rodica Crudu.
Running up that hill
She teaches courses on “European Integration and Economy” for undergraduate students and “EU Institutions and Policies” for those in master programmes. “I like to initiate debates, challenge certain behaviours and ways of thinking, and analyse the different perceptions found in society. But in this process, you can’t stay neutral or impartial to European values – we stand behind them”, says Rodica and, in her experience, this sentiment clicks with the crowd.
“Young people in Moldova are more pro-European; I feel this is the case even among the Russian-speaking students. Even if they were taught otherwise by their family circle, they know what advantages the West brings.” She likes to see how students are starting to see more than the obvious and are having healthy discussions. “Their minds are starting to open up to new ideas, they’re embracing European values.”
In 2018 she was given the National Crystal Quality Award for promoting quality in higher education in Moldova. “The feedback from students about my achievements – there is an undeniable pleasure from this that’s more important than the financial rewards.”
Bringing the good examples back home
Her experiences through the fellowships she won through the years, including a Fulbright one, have led her to rethink her teaching strategies and to put aside the old models she was subjected to as a student. “Going to the US was not an easy decision since I was taking care of two kids but I was encouraged to make the move.”
Her determination to change the environment and the atmosphere around her did not stay in the classroom. She pushed the faculty to have more presence on social media and established exchange programs with foreign universities for students and teachers. Rodica also helped create a well-equipped space for students to work and meet, modelled on what she saw in Western universities and libraries.
She has been teaching entrepreneurship in both Romania and Moldova, which provokes comparisons between the students of these two countries, who are as close as they can be in terms of language and tradition. “It feels different.” She says the intuition and the decisiveness in the two groups are different. “Imagine there’s a cake. Moldovan students can admire and smell it, but they only watch how others taste it. Romanian students already know the taste and the flavour very well. When some young Romanians are searching for an idea, they quickly focus on how EU funds might work for them. For Moldovans, these options are not available in the same way.”
“Moldovan students are still shy, lack the words to express their ideas, and are afraid of failing.” That’s why she rarely gives written exams and prefers to speak with her students. “One of the qualities that they need to work on more is communication. It’s not just about the knowledge in one’s brain – it’s also about the ability to send a message. Some bright minds actually stay closed. They need to open their wings and fly, to become personalities.”
She can also recognize her younger self in these issues. Coming from a village, she actually took some time after moving to the capital of Moldova to fully realize that she wants more from life than what has been given to her. “It took me a few years to open up.”
Earlier in 2021, she stepped down from being a dean because this position took up a lot of her time and it is still a struggle to get a fair wage in academia. “But I think it’s not the position or the title, it’s about the human element you bring.”
Fighting for a better Moldova
Since the turbulent events in Eastern Europe in 1989 and dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Moldova, independent since then, has been a territory constantly deserted by its citizens. The long-term economic instability has led to the immigration of almost 45% of its 3,6 million population. In 2019, official data by the National Statistical Bureau found that around 246,000 Moldovans are migrants, working between their country and abroad, ready to live elsewhere on a temporary basis. This represents about 27 percent of Moldova's labour force.
Despite the opportunities to live abroad permanently, Rodica has always decided to come back. During her professional activity, Rodica Crudu participated in numerous study visits and professional internships in various European countries (the UK, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, etc.) and also did a Fulbright Fellowship in Washington, DC.
“I was always missing Moldova”, Rodica says but understandably, there’s a deeper reason. “I guess it’s my family background, the way I was brought up – with the belief that we can have a better life at home and everyone should contribute to that. I don’t remember how many times I have been asked why I’m still in Moldova: “You’re wasting your time!”, she recounts with a bittersweet smile. Her older daughter is studying in the UK and her younger one wants to do the same so she’s not sure if she’s passing this philosophy on to her children.
Mrs Crudu has been unceasingly optimistic about the future of her country since late 2020, when Maia Sandu from the pro Party of Action and Solidarity became the first female President of Moldova.
Regarding her own experience as a woman in academia, she has faced a few struggles, mainly in finding it hard to exist in a space where you can see the ceiling which limits where you can go. “There were a few times in my life when I have asked myself why I was born a woman – I have always thought that boys have easier lives”, she says with a more sombre tone. “I have always had the feeling that in academia, men are more easily promoted while women are supposed to work harder.’
She tries to frame her story as an example to her two daughters. “I tell them that if you’re consistent in your efforts, if you work hard, the results will always come but work shouldn’t overshadow happiness. Because at the end of the day it’s all about happiness and empowerment. If you find the right balance, it becomes easier later on.”