A complex Romanian astronomer sharing his view upon the world. Gabi is enjoying the most beautiful years of his life, hoping to learn as much as possible, move back sometimes, spread his knowledge and have his skills acknowledged. Could it get more interesting than that? Yes it can - he has been living for the last seven years in... Hawaii!!!
Name: Gabriel Dima
Hometown: Rosiorii de Vede & Bucharest
Abroad since: 2003
Living in: Maui, Hawaii, USA
Current occupation: PhD candidate at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii
TGR: Wow. A Romanian in Hawaii... You know people probably hate you back home right?
GB: Yeah I guess maybe some do but I like to think it's not a big deal and people got other stuff to worry about.
How did you get this opportunity?
It's been a long journey to get here and my mom and step-father played a key role in getting this chance. After high school in Romania I applied for a few US universities, had shit SAT scores and interviews and was rejected en masse. That didn't feel good and I still wanted to study in the US. So I gave up my spot at Poli, went to live with my parents in Norway and did two more years of high school in the IB program. It's all in English so I didn't have to learn Norwegian immediately.
After I finished I got rejected from a whole bunch more US universities, but I managed to get into Cambridge. So then I spent 4 years in Cambridge getting a degree in science and astrophysics. In the meantime my mom found a job in Australia. The Brits love long school holidays. I was only in Cambridge for about 30 weeks of the year. So I spent a lot of my holidays in Australia surfing and doing pizza delivery.
After I finished my degree in 2009 I applied to a bunch of US astronomy graduate programs and again I got rejected from all apart from the one in Hawaii. So I packed my favorite board and a suitcase with shorts and t-shirts and here I am 7 years later.
That was a long journey, but it seems you have found the perfect place to settle. What do you do now?
My main responsibility is to figure things out about the Universe and write about what I find. Right now I specialize in research related to the Sun's atmosphere. But I am becoming more interested in research related to finding out more information about planets around other stars and whether they have life on them or not.
That is so interesting and unique! Not many people are keen to astronomy!
I guess most of the researchers who work here are unique in their abilities and their knowledge. I would say by the end of my PhD coming up in a few months I will have spent over 150 days on the summit of Haleakala using one of the telescopes up there. The picture above shows the telescope and the blue reflection is coming off the guider camera attached to it.
How many colleagues do you have?
I have an advisor I work closely with. He's one of the two tenured professors here. Then there are around 5 post-docs and one engineer. Sometimes we go days without talking and sometimes we talk for hours.
Is your team mainly made of locals or expats?
All the researchers working here now are not from Hawaii. Some are from the mainland US and a couple are foreign: Swiss, Japanese and Italian. During my time here I met other students from China, Taiwan and one from Romania. My first advisor was from Bulgaria and his Romanian wife was a post-doc here. He left before I finished and I had to change my project but we still keep in touch.
What about your free time - do you spend it with locals or other expats?
I spend my free time with whoever would have me Hawaii is a very transient place. People come and go all the time so it's easy to meet new people and lose them in a few years.
Do you feel integrated in the local society?
It's harder to get locals pay too much attention to you. They have their old friends they knew since childhood. It's hard for someone to integrate. I have some very good local friends though and whenever we get together (whenever if I fly back to Oahu) it's super fun. I like Hawaiian society. People are respectful as long as you are respectful. So showing respect and deference to the local people will get you respect back. The same applies for surfing, shopping, driving, talking.
Is there anything dissapointing, maybe something you've expected to be different?
The cost of living is incredibly high. Rent is very very high and houses cost half a million dollars. I guess I didn't know what to expect. It's just been difficult living here on my research salary. My parents have helped along the way and I was married for 3 years so we shared costs. But it's worth it. The years here have been among the most beautiful in my life so far.
I'm sure they have been, wasn't expecting something else! What about Romania? Do you miss it?
I miss my family and friends. I miss joking in Romanian with them. I miss the mountains!
How often do you travel to Romania?
I used to go home every year until about 3 years ago when I couldn't afford it and other things got in the way. I'm planning to come in 2017 to see everyone!
Do you see yourself moving back? What could convince you?
Yes I see myself moving back. I fantasize about it actually. But I know the reality is not all that rosy. My skills are not particularly useful in Romania. I feel my life would not be very fulfilling. But I sometimes long to live there again and be immersed in my own culture for a change. If I came back I would teach science. I've taught here and learned a lot more about effective teaching methods.
Do you see any changes in the Romanian society?
I think it has changed a lot over the past 13 years I have been away. But the youngest generation is very similar to the younger generation here. The old culture is gone - there is silence now when I go around my old neighborhood. The streets are suffocated in cars. I am very optimistic about the anti-corruption push. I believe civil society was very badly damaged by the surveillance culture of the communist regime. But people, especially young ones, now want it to change. They are writing, they are traveling, they are questioning. Romania has been a very isolated society but it's opened a lot more in the past decade. The history I learned in school was very incomplete and I feel like I don't know my own country and history. A lot was propaganda (there is much of that here as well and everywhere). But some of the problems that still exist would be easier to address if we thought more critically about our own history.
I like your optimism and faith in the younger generation!
Romania has a lot of potential. It has a very low population for its size. And much of its area is habitable. I am convinced it can be a great and beautiful place to live and work/do whatever. But I also think the world as a whole is heading along a difficult path now. Romania is still very fragile and I'm afraid about what may happen. It sounds ridiculous to worry but anything is possible. I worry about Putin's and Erdogan's ambitions. Most of the countries around Romania now have Russian leaning governments. The exception is Ukraine and you know the situation there. NATO is weak now that Trump is in the White House and Brexit is keeping the EU in retreat. Romania doesn't exist in a vacuum and the gathering storm will affect it as well.
Please tell me something particular about Romania that you would say to a foreign friend.
I like to tell people that when we were attacked by overwhelming forces we practiced a “scorched earth” policy and retreated to the mountains until the invading forces left. I don't know why this makes me proud and even if it's very true. But we always rebuilt everything again and again.
I guess it's because we have always been and still are very creative. My final question, Gabi - what is your biggest dream?
My dream is to still be alive when we figure out scientifically how to prolong consciousness in whatever form possible, either through biological or cybernetic means. That way I can see and learn so many new things. Death is only a by-product of natural selection and as far as I know we are not bound by any natural law to die. Death only make sense as long as we are relying on natural selection to advance our species. But we don't have to rely on that anymore. Within certain parameters we can now adapt (and destroy) the world around us.
Your views are absolutely fabulous and I am glad you've decided to make your message heard! Thanks, Gabi, it was a pleasure to interact!
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