Munteanu’s success in cross-country encouraging to his parents

Photo courtesy DyeStatCal.

By Kevin Green

For many kids, moving to a different city or state can be a difficult process.

Moving countries can be even harder, and Vlad Munteanu found that out the hard way when he and his family moved from Bucharest, Romania, to Stillwater in 2010.

Munteanu, a sophomore cross-country runner at Stillwater High School, didn’t know what to think when his parents, Cristina and Vasile, informed him about their decision to make the 5,847-mile move. His 10-year-old mind could not comprehend how his life would change. He viewed it as a vacation and a travel experience.

“I didn’t know anything about America, honestly,” Munteanu said. “It was kind of surprising, and I had to get my head around moving and being away from all of my friends I had been with. It was kind of alarming at first but then I got used to it.”

The Munteanus had always called Romania home. All of their friends and family lived there. They had Munteanu advancing through one of the best school systems in Europe. Those living conditions would be ideal for many people, but they did not leave behind everything they had ever known and love for no reason. They wanted opportunity.

Cristina Munteanu earned her PhD in Romania and worked as a biochemist at the University of Bucharest, but she desired new opportunities not only for herself, but also for Vlad Munteanu. She got her wish when Oklahoma State University offered her a job as a research associate at the Center of Veterinary Health Sciences.

“It’s a huge step and we took the risk,” Cristina Munteanu said. “Now we are far from family and friends, and that’s the most difficult part of our experience.”

Vlad Munteanu said they stay in close contact with their family through Skype.

“My parents will just call them and have like three-hour-long conversations,” Vlad Munteanu said. “I think they talk every weekend. They don’t talk about anything exciting like sports, it’s just, ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘How are you doing?’”

Vlad Munteanu and his family had to overcome many obstacles, with the language barrier being the main challenge. Neither he nor his parents spoke English.

In Romania, most people invest their time and money into learning German, and the Munteanus were no exception.

Vlad Munteanu began learning German at the age of 5, but when he switched to English, he forgot mostly everything.

“We wasted money,” Vasile Munteanu said. “Now if you ask Vlad, ‘Hey, tell me something in German’, he completely forgets. ‘Nein [No]. He says nein.”

Instead of playing soccer with his friends in one of the many parks near his house in Bucharest, Vlad Munteanu spent most of his spare time six months before the move learning how to speak English. Private lessons became a normal part of his daily life.

Vlad Munteanu never had the opportunity to speak English with anyone because everyone spoke Romanian, but when he arrived in the US and started attending Will Rogers Elementary School, his English-speaking skills began to improve.

Vasile Munteanu said the kids Vlad Munteanu went to school with had a major role in helping him learn English quickly.

“The kids here are just amazing,” Vasile Munteanu said. “The kids here in Stillwater, I mean, we don’t have any troubles with, ‘Hey, you have a weird accent,’ or ‘Hey, you don’t know that word’. That happens to me at my job because I have a bad English. I know, I know, I have a bad English.”

Vasile Munteanu is a plumber for OSU.

With all of their family and friends in Romania, the Munteanus said they hoped overcoming the language barrier would help them start making friends. Things didn’t go well at first.

In Romania, they would interact with friends every day, but they did not have that opportunity when they arrived in Oklahoma because not many people approached them.

“It’s not that the people who are here are not friendly, it’s just a different environment, and it’s hard to make new friends,” Cristina Munteanu said. “Once you have this kind of opportunity to meet people, that’s amazing.”

Finally, after a few months, the Munteanus found someone who could relate to their situation. His mother, through a coworker, met Oana Pana, an oil and energy economist in Oklahoma City, who is also from Romania.

Pana has since become a family friend, and they often celebrate major holidays together.

“The main holiday for us is Christmas,” Pana said. “Usually we do a lot of caroling, but it’s different here because usually in Romania we’d go from one house to another, but in Oklahoma we normally spend Christmas in my house.”

Vlad Munteanu gets excited for the holiday celebrations because he knows there will be plenty of food.

“I really enjoy it because there’s a lot of food on the table,” Vlad Munteanu said. “I really like eating, so that’s a plus.”

Although it took time for his parents to find companionship, Vlad Munteanu did not have that problem, for he made friends quickly through running cross-country.

Vlad Munteanu began running in middle school when the coach made an announcement about starting a cross-country team. He had never heard of the sport before moving to the US, but the idea peeked his interest, so he decided to try it.

“A lot of my friends did it, so I thought I might as well try it, and if I don’t like it, I’ll just drop out,” Vlad Munteanu said. “I turned out to be pretty decent at it, and I’m pretty sure I still have a record or two records at the middle school.”

Vlad Munteanu placed fifth in Class 6A State Championship this season, and his fastest time in the 5-kilometer race is 15 minutes, 56 seconds, something his parents take pride in.

“They were so excited because of what he was doing,” Pana said. “They are really proud of him.”

Cross-country coach David Crynes said once Vlad Munteanu has the potential to move on to run in college after he graduates high school in 2018.

“Vlad is a natural athlete with loads of untapped potential,” Crynes said. “I think Vlad can win an individual state championship or two. He will definitely have an opportunity to run in college if he chooses.”

That is what his parents are hoping for.

One of the main reasons his parents went through with the move from Romania is they wanted Vlad Munteanu to have a better chance of success in the US. They did not know about his running skills while they were in Romania, but Vlad Munteanu’s success in cross-country has reassured them they made the right decision.

“I think we made a good choice because Vlad now has multiple options,” Cristina Munteanu said. “He can choose based on his results and his work if he wants to move forward and stay for longer is US; we gave him that opportunity.”

His parents know the expense of attending college in the US, and though they would like Vlad Munteanu to earn an athletic scholarship, they encourage him to do well in school as well.

“We can move forward on his athletic skills, along with his grades,” Cristina Munteanu said. “We try to keep him at a very high level with his grades as well, so he has to do great in both. If he doesn’t do great in school, cross-country doesn’t exist for us, so you have to balance.”

That is the condition they have given Vlad Munteanu. If he wants to play sports, he has to do well in school. If he doesn’t, then he must stay home and study.

Despite everything Munteanu’s family has gone through, it said it regrets nothing because it is for Vlad Munteanu’s future.

“It’s worth it,” Cristina Munteanu said. “It’s all about Vlad now.”

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