CARRINGTON - Although he's a long way from home, Valentin Ciubotareanu has made a second home for himself and his young family on the fertile plains of North Dakota.
Originally from Moldova, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe surrounded by Romania and Ukraine, Ciubotareanu was born in Abaclia, a town in the Basarabeasca district in southern Moldova. Growing up Ciubotareanu knew what he wanted to be very early in life.
"In the sixth grade my teacher, they used to give us like a piece of paper and (ask) what you wanted to be in your life. So I was sixth grade and I want to be a farmer, and it looks like I end up farmer," Ciubotareanu said with a laugh.
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Valentin Ciubotareanu and his wife Valentina sit with their 1-month-old daughter Madalina and 2-year-old son Max Wednesday afternoon in their apartment in Carrington. The Ciubotareanus are originally from Moldova and are in the United States through Communicating for America, a cultural exchange program.
After completing high school - there are only 11 grades in Moldova - Ciubotareanu went to an agricultural university and graduated in 2002 with a specialty in agronomy.
With grapes as one of its main crops, Moldova has a thriving wine industry. This led Ciubotareanu to one of his first agricultural learning experiences outside of Moldova.
"In 2001, in the fourth year in my school, they send me (to) Switzerland (in Western Europe) for kind of experience with grapes," Ciubotareanu said. "So I did that for 4 1/2 months."
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To add further practical experience to his agricultural education, Ciubotareanu became involved in Communicating for America, a cultural exchange program that brings international students into the United States to get hands-on experience in a variety of agricultural fields, while also sending Americans overseas for the same purpose.
Ciubotareanu first went to work on a beef farm in Minnesota, and soon found out just how hard working in agriculture is.
"That was nice, but it's a lot of work; seven (a.m.) till 11 (p.m.) ... not everyday, but pretty much," he said.
After spending about eight months there, he left for Florida in mid-November and spent five months packing fruit such as oranges. Then in April of 2003 he finally ended up in North Dakota on the Gussiaas Family Farm near Carrington. Besides traditional crops like spring wheat, barley and sunflowers, the farm also exports oilseeds like flax and borage.
This was the traditional type of farm Ciubotareanu had always wanted to work on. It was a love of this work that began with his father, who was a farmer himself and gave Ciubotareanu his first lessons about machinery, how to fix it and how to work the land.
"I learned it from my father, everything that he did with machinery," he said.
Things worked out so well in Carrington that the farm's owner, Roger Gussiaas, worked to get Ciubotareanu back to the farm after he had to return to Moldova later that year.
"From April till October I was on a J-1 visa, like a student visa," he said. "Then Roger make me a H-2A visa, like a worker visa. So I came back in '04 in April."
In 2005 Ciubotareanu's wife Valentina - they weren't married at the time - came to Chicago on a J-1 visa, then went to Minnesota for half a year in 2006.
"After that she came here and we got married in 2006," he said. "On this kind of visa (H-2A) you know you can take your family with. So if I have to go home, they come with me. If I came back, they come with me."
Along with his wife, Ciubotareanu also has a 2-year-old son, Max, and a 1-month-old daughter, Madalina.
Ciubotareanu usually spends about nine months out of the year, from April to December, working on the Gussiaas farm, and lives the other three months in Moldova before coming back in April. While here he lives in an apartment in Carrington with his family. This schedule can change depending on how the rules of his visa change from year to year.
Even though going to Switzerland helped prepare Ciubotareanu for life away from his family and friends, he said after a year he started to become homesick.
"I went to Switzerland for five months, and I knew kind of how is to be done. I stay here one year and a half the first time I came, but when the first year was done I feel kind of, you know, I want to go home, I miss my family, my friends," he said. "But I didn't. I survive, I guess."
Being able to talk to his friends and family several times per week over the Internet has helped Ciubotareanu settle into life in the states, as has having his wife and children with him.
Ciubotareanu said he couldn't be any happier with how his experiences in the United States turned out. He's now living out his dream on a family farm near Carrington and would advise other students who are interested in agriculture to take advantage of the opportunities Communicating for America has to offer, whether they are in the United States, Moldova, or any number of other countries.
"(It's) very good, I like it, I like this program. I recommend to a lot of young kids to start, you know, like go overseas ... and see how they do things over there," he said.
While he enjoyed his time at all the places he visited in the United States, Carrington and the Gussiaas farm have a special place in Ciubotareanu's heart.
"(I've had a) very good experience. Actually here in Carrington, most of my experience is from here," he said. "I learned the language here, and I see more machinery, probably because it's more farm area. And I learn a lot on Roger's farm."
Ciubotareanu's brother Ilie, who is currently in Moldova, also works on the Gussiaas farm when he is in the United States.
One of the things Ciubotareanu really worked on when he came to the United States was his English. His grasp of English wasn't very good when he first came here, but over the years he has gotten much better at it. Besides English, he also speaks Romanian, which is very similar to his native Moldovan, as well as Russian. Ciubotareanu also used to speak German, but his skills with that language aren't what they once were because he doesn't get many opportunities to use it in North Dakota or Moldova.
His skill with languages is so good that the North Dakota Trade Office uses him as a translator when groups from Eastern Europe visit the state. In fact, the first time he was asked to translate in September of this past year, the former vice president of Moldova was among a group from Moldova and Russia he translated for.
"We visit Carrington Research Center, we visit Roger's farm, they really liked it, the U.S.," Ciubotareanu said. "And they gonna come and see it again."
The group also toured some machinery in Fargo, and Ciubotareanu was able to explain to them how it all worked using his mechanical background. While Ciubotareanu said translating for the former vice president was neat, it was also extremely nerve-racking. If he couldn't figure out how to explain something in Russian, he'd switch to Moldovan, and vice-versa. Juggling three different languages was tough for him the first day, but he said the second and third days of the trip it became easier.
Adding to his nervousness was the fact that Ciubotareanu didn't know the former vice president was coming until he saw him at the airport. Ciubotareanu also thought he was the current vice president at first because he was not aware of a recent governmental change.
"When I see him at Fargo airport, I start shaking," Ciubotareanu said with a laugh.
While Carrington and its residents might have had a big impact on him, Ciubotareanu has left an equally large imprint on them. Gussiaas said Ciubotareanu has not simply become one of his best friends, but a friend so close Gussiaas considers him family.
"I want him to be a U.S. citizen and a partner in the farm, even though I think we're partners now. I mean I feel like we're partners now, but I want him to be a partner in the farm, definitely," Gussiaas said. "I want him and my son to take it over."