Leaving to Get an Education

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By: Ryan Olds

Editor: Katie Williams and Oliver Hackett

Political Science Professor Cristian Cantir has found his place in America teaching at Oakland University. Since coming to Wisconsin at age 15 his life has changed a lot. Although he left behind his family and his Nirvana cassette tapes, he found a new home in America, and eventually ended up getting Oakland University’s help to become a citizen.

RO: Describe the place or places where you grew up. What was your life like there?

Cantir: I was born in 1984 in what was then the USSR. In 1991 it became Moldova when the Soviet Union fell apart. There was a war between Moldova and Russia in 1992. My father fought in the war in a nearby city and would come home every few weeks when I was 8-years-old. Moldova was a dangerous place in the 90s, you couldn’t walk on the streets at night. My parents kept me busy with extracurricular activities.

RO: Why and how did you leave? Where did you go? 

Cantir: George Soros, a Hungarian-born investor, funded many Eastern-European students to go to high school in America as foreign exchange students. I participated in contests to be able to go to school in Wisconsin. I came to the US in 1999.

Although I was 15, the education differences between America and Moldova had it so I was put in Walden High School as a senior. I was the youngest in my grade. The high school didn’t have sports teams, so there wasn’t your typical jock scene. My friends and I would go to Goodwill to get clothes. A lot of my friends were more punk, they had clothes with pins and patches.

After high school, I got a scholarship to a local college, then went on to get my master’s and Ph.D.

RO: Who came with you? Who did you leave behind? Why? 

Cantir: I came by myself at age 15 as a foreign exchange student. I left behind my parents, who are still in Moldova, and my sister, who also became a foreign exchange student in America before moving to Glasgow.

RO: How does it feel when you go back to Moldova?

Cantir: When I visit my parents in Moldova we usually stay inside. I never really felt at home there so when I visit it’s mostly to catch up with family. We speak Romanian when I’m home, but I learned Russian as a kid, and then English.

RO: What did you bring with you? What did you leave behind? Why? 

Cantir: I brought one bag with me. They told us not to bring a lot of clothes with us because of cultural differences. I didn’t bring much with me but I remember leaving behind my Nirvana cassette tapes.

RO: How did you feel when you left? 

Cantir: I was excited to go to America, but of course, it was sad leaving my family behind. Although that became easier as technology advanced. I used to spend a lot of my money buying minutes so that I could call my family in Moldova. I missed my family, but I never missed Moldova itself.

RO: Describe how your life is different where you live now. 

Cantir: Here I live in a house. Moldova is very conservative, so in America I feel free to explore more of my interests. I also have more access to things like books, TV, and culture. In Moldova, we had some American television, especially when I was older.

RO: Is there anything you would like to add about your immigration process?

Cantir: I got my citizenship in 2019, so it’s been 20 years since I came here. I’m very excited about being able to vote now. The immigration process was fairly straightforward because I was privileged to have support from OU. After I got my doctorate, I applied and got accepted here and they supported me throughout the process which was very helpful.

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