Doing "something meaningful’ |

Doing "something meaningful’

Claire Eskwith
While spending most of his time working with the Peace Corps by aiding community organiztions, Trent Ruder has also found time to explore Romania and enjoy what his new environment has to offer.

Yet another Vail native now making a positive impression in far off lands is Trent Ruder’s sister, Blair.

Blair Ruder, 21, is currently in Vietnam for a third time, visiting those to whom she previously lent medical and educational aid.

Blair Ruder first traveled to Vietnam the summer before her senior year in high school with the Boulder-based program Where There Be Dragons, which takes youth into third-world countries to expose them to various cultures.

Halfway through the six-week trip, the group visited the city of Hue, where she became invested in helping a local physician, Dr. Nhan, and further intrigued by Buddhist temples.

“I still remember incredibly clearly walking around the entrance gate and feeling the presence of the temple,” she said.

Blair Ruder and four other group members became so interested in remaining in Hue to help they stayed behind while the rest of the group pushed on.

“I spent half my days at the blind school and the other half at the temple,” wrote Blair Ruder in a recent e-mail. “I had nearly daily conversations with the Venerable through writing in one of his notebooks, and I practiced morning and evening meditations. I still am not quite sure why I feel so strongly about the temple, but I missed it for the next three years.”

Blair Ruder missed Vietnam so much she learned Vietnamese during her senior year in high school and began to collect wheelchairs and crutches to send to Dr. Nhan, who researches genetic diseases and coordinates a number of afternoon programs for the disabled.

Following her freshman year at the University of Rochester, in New York, where she majors in religion and minors in sociology, Blair Ruder returned to Hue for the summer to work with Dr. Nhan and again visit the Buddhist temples and monks. While in Hue again, Blair Ruder helped Dr. Nhan by teaching English at an orphanage run by Buddhist nuns.

“Blair is clearly interested in helping people,” said Blair Ruder’s mother Beth McMakin. “That’s what she’s done in Vietnam. Just little bits of volunteering – whatever she can do.”

Blair Ruder spent most of her time at the main temple in Hue, which she previously visited.

“I spent many hours meditating, doing prostrations, joking with the monks, discussing issues with them, and writing in my journal,” wrote Blair Ruder. “One of the big jokes of the summer was when one of the monks told me the monks there want my “loving,’ but he meant “laughing.’ Then when I tried to retell the story I made a similar mistake, because the I didn’t know the word for “laugh’ and “get married’ are identical, except for a tonation mark. Long story short, the monks teased me all summer by asking which one of them I was going to marry.”

Blair Ruder said the monks have given her the nickname “Cuoi,” which means laugh.

After returning to the United States, Blair Ruder longed to return Hue. Now she is once again in Vietnam to visit her friends, and this time she has brought her friend and fellow Vail-native Jane Chipman. The duo might also travel to Nepal to volunteer at a school, yet their plans are not definite.

Blair Ruder will return to Vail for a short time at the end of the summer before returning to college, where she will assume her position as captain of the women’s ultimate frisbee team. She said she is uncertain about her future goals or where exactly Vietnam will fit into her life, but she greatly values the experiences and relationships she has fostered there.

“I’m not really sure what to say about why this place keeps drawing me back mentally when I’m in the States and physically when I have the time and money,” wrote Blair Ruder. “It started as a strange feeling of connectedness to something that’s so different form everything else in my life, but it’s evolved into something that is much more mine. I have a full life here, and it’s one that I not only chose but went out of my way to get and keep.”


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Most of those who move to the Vail Valley come here to experience the mountains, the incomparable snow, wilderness, sky and air. Most people here have common interests, yet hale from the all over the world.

Such a unique mix of a breathtaking environment and myriad individuals make for, let’s face it, a great vibe. That’s why people move here.

Then there are those who were born here, those who have been immersed in the good vibe since Day One because their parents took a chance and moved to the Valley when you could purchase an acre lot for $12,000.

Those who were born here are fortunate enough to have always had the good vibe, and that is why they will always keep in touch with this place, even when they have moved far away.

Vail’s good vibe can be felt all over the world, as many Vail babies move out and take it with them.

“Not just a career move’

Trent Ruder, 23, grew up in Vail and has picked up and moved half way across the world in order to make an impression – and spread the vibe.

Ruder recently joined the Peace Corps and is stationed in Romania, where he will serve for two years.

His sister Blair, 21, is also taking adventurous humanitarian strides by visiting Vietnam for a third time, to see those to which she has previously lent teaching and medical aid.

“They’re taking a course that comes from their center and that’s integral with them,” said the siblings’ mother, Beth McMakin. “It’s developing them more as people, and it’s not just a career move, and I think that does a lot. That more than anything is what makes me proud.”

The Ruder siblings both attended Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through high school.

“In the five years since I left Vail Mountain School I have never met anyone who had quite the schooling experience I did,” Trent Ruder wrote in a recent email. “Graduating from the same school you went to kindergarten at is certainly a unique experience, and it affords certain elements which develop and sustain me even as I move far away from its classrooms, soccer field, and hallways filled with teachers and students both young and old.”

“A highly unprofitable exercise’

Ruder graduated from Tufts University in Boston last May with a degree in sociology and film. His desire to spend a significant time abroad was sparked during his junior year in college by studying in Italy. After graduating, he decided to join the Peace Corps.

“My decision to do the Peace Corps was not an easy one,” he wrote. “Service is two years long, and from the monetary sense, a highly unprofitable exercise. For me other elements of service are more rewarding. I have found I love to learn new languages, and the Peace Corps gives me a wonderful chance to learn and live in a host country.”

Ruder traveled to Romania the following February. He said the main philosophy behind the Peace Corps is to provide development assistance to countries and create a venue of mutual cultural exchange between the United States and another country’s citizens.

The Peace Corps does regulate the information he sent home to be printed, Ruder said, but he has provided many detailed accounts about his involvement with the organization and his experiences in a foreign culture.

“Events such as Sept. 11th solidify my desire to actively participate in how not only the U.S., but the world, works,” wrote Ruder. “There is a quotation I am quite fond of by Mahatma Ghandi: “We must be the change we seek in the world.’ The Peace Corps provides an avenue for me to live and change the world through myself.”

Ruder completed 10 weeks of training in the Romanian city of Plopeni, where he lived with a “Gazda,” or host family, and began to adjust to a new language and culture.

A two-year commitment

Following the training period, Ruder began his two-year commitment to the Peace Corps in the bustling and fashionable city of Alba lulia, where he works with a Roman Catholic social work organization called Caritas and a student organization called Liga Studentilor Universitatea 1 Decembrie 1918 Alba Iulia.

Ruder helps the Caritas organization recruit volunteers, assist in translating various documents and develop media projects. Right now, Ruder said, he is helping translate and edit a video that will go on the Internet to help publicize the organization and hopefully attract funding opportunities. Ruder also helps students find ways to represent their rights and interests to the university administration, organize student programming and local and regional volunteerism and conduct campaigns, such as AIDS awareness and stopping domestic violence. Through the organization,, Ruder has also become involved with a project to help educate Gypsy children in Alba Iulia.

“I have met children as old as 19 who are in the seventh grade, or completely illiterate 14-year-olds,” wrote Ruder. “So there is a huge demand here, and if we are able to improve the minds of these children it will go a long way to helping demarginalize the Gypsy community.”

Ruder said the students are idealistic, yet he finds it difficult to promote original individual thought in a country so recently under communist rule.

“Though communism ended 13 years ago,” wrote Ruder in an early email to his friends and family, “most of those in power are former members of the communist party, which results in inconsistent service as well as knowledge deficit.”

Romania is an agriculturally-driven country, yet more of its students graduate from college with computer science degrees than anywhere else in the world, Ruder said.

Though this allows for some job growth within the country, Ruder said graduates often immigrate to other countries which seems to financially and socially handicap Romania, a country that is trying to pick itself up out of 50 years of misrule.

“It tugs at your heart and gives greater resolve to work harder on your own projects,” wrote Ruder. “Sometimes I become frustrated when I see someone struggling and realize there is nothing I can do to help. I really have to stick to what I know I can achieve and push forward on that.”

Redefining hospitality and kindness

Even though Romania is still somewhat affected by a rocky political past, Ruder said the Romanian people have redefined the way he thinks of hospitality and kindness.

“When you visit someone’s house, it’s not a housecall, it’s an evening,” wrote Ruder. “When visiting, there is no rush on anything, just enjoying time together. One of my favorite elements of hospitality is when one leaves. As compared to the “ahh-get-the-door-yourself-attitude’ of many Americans, Romanians hold the the door open and watch you go. It makes for a lovely final impression.”

Ruder said after nearly four months his Romanian is steadily improving, and he often makes light of many Romanian phrases.

In an e-mail sent home during his stay with his host family, Ruder explained: “When a Romanian wants to say, “I do it’, they say “fac eu’, which humorously enough sounds exactly like the famous English insult. I’ll tell you I about died of laughter with that one.”

The phrase quickly became a joke between Ruder and his host family.

“For example, after dinner I offer to clean the dishes,” wrote Ruder. “Marina [the host mother] responds “fac eu,’ to which I sternly say “no, fac eu’ and so on and so forth. It’s silly things like this that make learning a language a real gem of a thing to do.”

Though Romania is a world away from Vail, Ruder said he is able to find similarities between his new environment and his home state.

“The open plains [of Romania] resemble those of our Midwest,” wrote Ruder. “The Apuseni mountains nearest to Alba Iulia resemble the Catskils and twist and move in lovely fashions. The Carpathians crossing much of the country provide a parallel (albeit much lower) to the Rockies. Some stretches look just like the Front Range. The Bugegi mountains near Brasov hold some great skiing, and shoot up like European Alps or 10 Mile Canyon near Vail.”

While not emersed in Peace Corps community assignments, which take up about 40 hours a week, Ruder has been able to explore much of Romania’s terrain and enjoy its culture. He said he has gone spelunking, watched Champion’s League soccer games, wrote in detail about his favorite chocolate, called Primola bar cu alune (chocolate with hazelnuts), and reassures that Romania is home to some very good beer, including Ciuc, Timisoaranna and Bergenbeir.

Far from homesick

Ruder seems far from homesick, and his mother said Ruder, as well as his sister, probably will continue to travel abroad.

“They both love coming back to the Vail Valley, but I don’t think either of them see anything for themselves here in the long-run at this point,” said McMakin. “I think Trent would ultimately like to find a job overseas or something that allows him to travel.”

As Ruder becomes increasingly involved within the Romanian community, he seems to maintain the level of enthusiasm and excitement he conveyed in one of his first e-mails home.

“This has been such a long and laborious time coming and to finally be realizing something that I have wanted and waited for is exhilarating,” wrote Ruder. “I hope I am not too corny by saying that I feel a great deal of personal harmony in my situation. With this work I have the chance to do something meaningful. No paycheck, and that’s rather missed, but I feel far from poor.”

Vail natives may move far and wide, but their good vibe seems to remain wherever they go.

Ruder said he encourages those who are interested in the Peace Corps, Romania or living in a third-world country to contact him via e-mail at

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