How do you swing a pickaxe, sheetrock a wall and learn what it’s like living in the shadows of the legendary Count Dracula’s castle?

For the first two weeks of classes this fall, two Mays students encountered a different set of lessons when they joined a group of Mitte Foundation scholars in a Habitat for Humanity build in the Transylvanian Alps of Romania.

Jace Goodier, a senior in the Professional Program, and junior finance major Danny Pohlmann joined a dozen fellow Mitte scholars from across the U.S. in early September to help reconstruct a concrete apartment building that will house working-class families living near Pitesti, Romania. The work was grueling and labor-intensive as the team dug out trenches to connect the building to a water supply, knocked down walls and framed out doors to expand the original one-room apartments into living spaces for families.

Blisters that rose the first day of construction were still healing on the students’ hands weeks later. But the Mays scholars admitted the work tapped into in their sense of service and gave them an amazing week-long experience with tools and physical concepts.

“I was actually building and reshaping a family’s home, and I could see that as I would swing my pickaxe to knock out a wall,” Goodier said. “I could see the benefits as I worked alongside the moms and dads who would live there. In accounting with a client, you don’t always get to see the end results of your work.”

The duo also got to see the countryside, venturing into long-hidden crawlspaces inside Dracula’s castle and befriending their Romanian translator to learn more about the pride and pitfalls of the former communist country. Their day-long labor at the build site was offset by the comfortable hotels and three-course meals that greeted the workers at the end of the day, courtesy of the Mitte Foundation. “It was invigorating—some of the 12 best days of my life,” Pohlmann said.