August 23 Journal
First off, let me just say that typing on a Hungarian keyboard is gonna take some getting used to, much like the country. Before I begin about Hungary, I should mention some things about traveling to this place. The night before my departure, I had an episode of insomnia. I got around 2 hours of sleep before I had to wake up. The drive to the airport was sad but exciting. I thought I knew what I had in store, but I underestimated the toll 24 hours of traveling can take on one's body. I felt sluggish by the time I made it to Amsterdam, which is probably why I nearly missed my flight. After getting off the plane from Detroit to Amsterdam, I checked my connecting flight to Budapest on the giant plasmas littering the walls. Unfortunately for my tired eyes, I saw the gate for Bucharest, which is Romania's capital city, not Hungary's. So I sat at the wrong gate for 5 hours eating Chex mix and Snickers, but when I went to board the plane, and my ticket was denied, I almost died right there. Not only was I in the wrong part of the airport (which is gargantuan if you haven't been there) but my plane was leaving in 10 minutes. I ran faster than I had ever run in my short 18 years of life. And by the time I got to my gate, tired and sweaty, turns out my flight was delayed 20 minutes anyway. It was just one of those moments where I couldn't help but laugh at myself. The flight to Budapest was short and uneventful, but I knew the adventure has yet to begin.
Stepping off the plane I was instantly immersed. No one was speaking English, and I loved it. I found my bags, and walked towards the exit sign. Beyond that swinging door was my host family, ready to pounce on me like a pack of wolves. I greeted them in my best Hungarian, and then proceeded to stumble over something else to say. We proceeded to the car, where Soma, my host brother informed me that we would be spending 1 week at Lake Balaton. We spent the rest of the 5 minute car ride attempting to communicate. Turns out my host dad knows a bit of Spanish, so this lessened the language barrier a bit. My host mom Beata is very nice to me, even though I can barely understand what she is ever saying to me, I just know it's nice because she is always smiling.
This first day has been incredible! I spent most of it just listening, but they sure do know how to have a good time! First we went to lunch in Budapest, and boy was I starving. I had a veal soup which was delicious, and then a giant plate of flattened fried chicken, topped off with a cappuccino for dessert. Then we drove off to Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Hungary. I spent some of the afternoon walking around with Soma talking and translating. This works out perfectly for the both of us, I only speak in Hungarian and he only speaks in English, except to his parents.
This year has promise to be incredible. I'm overwhelmed with the amount of change my life has experienced within the last 30 hours. But I'm overwhelmed with feelings of happiness and curiosity, as well as the desire to learn. Hungarians all seem like very nice people, but I would like to understand what they are saying just to be sure. Sticky-notes are my best friend right now, it was my host mother's idea to put them on every piece of furniture and object in their lake-apartment, and I am taking full advantage of that fact.
November 8 Journal
Wow. I've almost been here 3 months. To some, it may seem like such a short time, but to me it feels like a lifetime. I considered writing a journal every day since I have been here, because every day I have some new experience to write about. Unfortunately, I have neglected to write a journal until now. (Sorry) Today I changed host families for the first time, and today I also ate McDonalds for the first time in months, so I decided this was a good day to write a journal. haha.
So here goes...
I'll start someplace simple, my setting. My home. My city. When I first saw the name Sátoraljaúhely I tried to say it and every time I attempted so, it felt as if I was coughing out a hairball. But now the name rolls of my tongue as easily as Szia or Köszönöm (Hello and Thank you). The city itself is rather small, with only about 17,000 inhabitants. There are plenty of places for youth like myself to hang out, such as the skatepark, the movie theatre, various bars/restaurants, the sportpark, or one of the ice cream joints dotting the city. I have found my favorite ice cream place, it's affordable and they also sell Waffles or Gofri. These Gofrik (the plural of Gofri) can come with an array of special toppings. I like strawberries but Nutella is a close second. There are also many different pizza places around my city, and so far after sampling 2 locations, I have come to the conclusion about Hungarian pizza. It's delicious. They don't stick to the normal American toppings, they branch out quite a bit. Sometimes I long for my simple pepperoni and cheese, but after trying pizza with ham, pineapple, corn, chunks of tomato, shrimp, garlic, bacon and cheese...I fear there's no going back.
Speaking of food, I have become what my mother always wanted me to be, a food taster. I accept anything and everything offered to me. That is obviously just part of exchange, trying new foods. I haven't found a favorite dish yet, but I am a big fan of all Hungarian cuisine. Of course, Hungary is known for its Goulash, and for good reason. I have never tasted a better soup/stew in my life than homemade Gulyas (pronounced Gew-jash for English speakers). Another favorite food of mine here is call "Strapatchka" which is basically pureed potatoes, eggs, turo (curds), and fried bacon, mixed together with sour cream (tejföl) on top. For breakfast, it's rather common in Hungary to just eat a sandwich, but I like to eat a special type of sandwich. In America, it's similar to a grilled cheese, but prepared a different way. The Hungarian name is "melegszendvics" which literally means "hot sandwich." To make this, you have to have 2 things. A sandwich, with all your preferred toppings, and a hot sandwich maker. Being a teenager and feeding yourself is not always an easy task. This 2 step procedure can be accomplished by even the most hazardous cookers. Step 1. Make Sandwich. Step 2. Put in the sandwich maker, and remove when you think it's done. That second step can be tricky for those easily distracted. If you got lost reading those steps, stop reading this, go back to high school and/or enroll in Home Economics.
So enough about food, what about the reason I am here? What about fulfilling my title as an exchange student? I'll let you in on how things are going with being a successful and happy exchange student. Before I got here, I didn't really know what to expect. I had been told, it's the best experience you can ever have, that you will remember it for the rest of your life, and that you will change as a person in a good way. So far, I can attest to all but one of those things. I have been having the most incredible and insanely different experience than anything I have ever done, ever. As far as personal traits and issues, I think I have become slightly more well rounded in the last few months. I was always a social person, but now I don't spend all my time doing social things. I have become obsessed with learning this language! I study every day, for 1-2 hours with my first host families grandmother (nagymama). I also have two Hungarian lessons a week in school, each of which are 2 hours. I recently googled the Hungarian language, and one of the results read that Hungarian is the third hardest language in the world, behind Chinese and Japanese. A website states "Hungarian is one of the hardest as it has masculine, feminine and neuter genders as well as about 7 different verb conjugations. It is also one of a handful of 'independent' languages, meaning no one really knows their origins and they are not linked to any base language set like Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) One of the easiest is supposedly Polynesian." Anyway, as far as remembering this exchange for the rest of my life, I am sure I will, but I cannot yet attest to that statement, as I have not yet lived past this experience.
So. School? Exchange Student? I love the concept, but at first I didn't love the atmosphere. My first real experience with my school/classmates was not a great one. About one week after I arrived in Hungary, it was already time for school! The first day of school, I didn't have to go! But that afternoon, I was told to don my Rotary clothing, and head to the school. Slapped on some fancy pants, a nice white button-down and my nearly empty blazer, and I was off! Before I made it to the school though, I had the opportunity to meet with the other exchange students in my city! I had been told the countries from which these fellow exchangers hailed from, but I didn't know their names, or faces. I'll give a little Bio of each now. Mauricio Moreno Reyes from Mexico. He's a really funny guy who speaks great English. That kid never stops smiling. He has become one of my best friends here. Ludyevina Tominaga from Brazil. She's very smart, and speaks amazing Hungarian. I always go to her when I need help with a concept. Her English is moderate, but I cant complain, it's better than my Portuguese. Lastly, Penny Chen (Yi-Ping Chen) from Taiwan. She's the youngest exchange student in the country! She is very shy, polite, but funny. Her English is decent, sometimes she has to consult her Chinese/English talking dictionary, which has Tetris. Overall, these people have accepted me as I accept them, we are all crazy enough to do exchange and we all love this place called Hungary. ...
After meeting each other, we made our way to school where we were required to give a speech...in Hungarian. This would have been great if we spoke well enough to accomplish such a thing. The speeches went better than expected, with only one mishap. Penny froze up halfway through the speech and never finished. Just walked off stage. I've never felt more sorry for anyone in my life. I was so afraid to speak after her, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and stepped on stage to read my 3 line speech crumpled in my hands, wet with nervous-hand-sweat. I read my speech, with no faults, and there was clapping. But I didn't care, I was just glad it was over. Next I headed off to meet my teacher and my classmates. My teacher is a red haired lady name Eva Miszack. My classmates, all have typical Hungarian names such as Akos, Gabor, Istvan, Gyuri, Máté and Dani. At first, my classmates approached me slowly, asking questions like where was I from, do I like Hungary, and how come I'm not fat? I think in the past 3 months I have changed most people's minds about Americans. I have shown them we are not lazy, we are not fat, and we don't eat McDonalds 3 square meals a day.
School here in Hungary is very different from Bartram Trail High School. For one, there is a sort of "homeroom" procedure where the students stay in the same room for the majority of the day. Each room has a number and a letter, according to the grade. My class is 12B. The school is small, it only houses about 1000 students. The school was founded in 1786, it's mad old! A lot of renovation has been done to the school, but many parts are very old and antique. The school is famous in the area for their basketball team, but I have yet to see them play any serious games. My classes consist of Math, Ethics, History, Art, Sport, Physics, German, Technology and Grammar class. My level of understanding of my subjects is slowly but surely rising, but I still can't do much during class. Most of my teachers ignore me, others try to involve me in class, whether that's letting me take the tests, or yelling at me for not doing my math homework. Not much has changed in that department...
Overall, I believe my exchange is going fairly well. I get homesick, but not as often as I used to in the first month. I have adapted to the culture around me, but sometimes I still have little moments where I think "Hey, I'm walking down the street surrounded by people who don't speak my native tongue, and I have to learn theirs if I plan to survive, wow." Little things that I could have never pictured myself doing, I enjoy taking part in because everything is new and fun. I played squash, a game I had never heard of and now I play every weekend. I scored a goal in soccer, for the first time since I was 5. I speak one of the hardest languages all day every day without many problems. I have visited 3 countries besides Hungary since I've been here (Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine). I am happy, positive, and I love my life here. Minden Rendben (Everything is in order). Unfortunately, my hair has almost grown back to its old length before I cut it and then left the USA. But do not fear! The forces of good have willed me to cut my hair once again, but for now enjoy the pictures of me from the last 3 months.
I plan to experience a lot more in the months to come, and I will be sure to chronicle my events along the way. I assure you, it won't be 2 months before I write another one of these.
To everyone bac in the USA, I miss and love you all. To my fellow exchange students around the world, I miss you all and enjoy reading your journals. To my family/friends here in Magyarország, köszönet mindenért, szeretlek titeket mind!
January 6 Journal
These journals get harder and harder to write the longer I wait in between each one. I feel like it has been ages since I wrote my last journal but it has only been like 7-8 weeks. Lots of things have happened since way back then, and I am rather compelled to chronicle everything for you, the reader. So let's start from now, and go back in time!
It is now 2010, January 6, 2010 to be exact. To reflect upon the year of 2009, I would say it was a pretty amazing year. Over a year ago I decided I wanted to be involved in Rotary Youth Exchange, and now I am writing my third journal in 4 months of living a new life in a new place. So much has changed in the past 4 months it’s rather ridiculous. I realized in my past life I have not appreciated anything as much as I appreciate things now. I owe a great debt to Rotary, my parents, and people who influenced me to become an exchange student. I took everything I had for granted including the people that loved me; I will never do that again.
Exchange has changed me in so many ways I cannot explain through a journal. But the ones I can explain I will illustrate for you now. First off, I have gained weight, which may seem like a miracle to some, and a curse to others. I have never heard any statistic for guys gaining weight but it is rumored that most girls on exchange gain some weight whether they want it or not. But honestly I really expect to gain more, what with the amount of amazing new food I consume on a daily basis! Not to lie, some food I try and stay away from, such as csirke máj (chicken liver). The first time I tried it, I realized what it was and gagged a little. The next time I ate it was an accident, it was mixed in with some other various chicken parts and mushrooms, needless to say when I had that familiar taste in my mouth I had to pretend to blow my nose and spit the liver into a napkin. Other than that stuff, I like all Hungarian foods.
On the subject of change, I would like to pose a question to other exchange students. “ARE YOU LOSING YOUR MIND TRYING TO REMEMBER SIMPLE ENGLISH WORDS!?!?!” Because I am. Sometimes in conversation with English speaking people, I have to stop and try to remember an English word for a minute, which my Hungarian friends think is hilarious. Also, as mentioned by several Rotex and elder Rotarians before my departure, I have started to think in Hungarian. It wasn’t really a big deal at first, simple things like Yes or No (Igen vagy Nem) became automatic and even during Skype conversations with family and friends, such small things would slip out of my mouth as if I had no control over what I was saying. It has gotten really bad recently, where someone will be speaking English to me, and I am reading something in Hungarian, I will respond in a mixture of Hungarian-English, which I have dubbed (I don’t take credit for this) Hunglish. Hunglish is an appropriate form of communication when someone is learning Hungarian, because to speak full Hungarian sentences doesn’t start happening until after the first few months.
In the area of language, my confidence is soaring! I listen more than ever now when people are having conversation, I understand lots of expressions commonly used, and I have created a few of my own which have caught on among friends. I have been told countless times I speak very well in the Hungarian language, both by people I know very well and by people I have just met. I have been proud of my accomplishments before in life, but never has a feeling been so fulfilling as successful communication in a language I knew next to nothing of 4 months ago. I hate comparing myself to others, but from what I can tell I am one of the most fluent out of the exchange students in Hungary. I know I am not the best, because I have spoken to the best. There is a contest coming up in February, in my city, for non-native Hungarian speakers (specifically exchange students) to compete in. I have no thoughts of winning, but putting my Hungarian to the full test is something I do on a daily basis. I don’t expect to live up to the Drake Starling standard, but coming close would be pretty cool though.
I have plans to do more traveling in the near and distant future. I want to visit as many cities in Hungary as possible, while on my limited budget. I am being very frugal with my Forints (Hungarian Currency) and thanks to the dropping value of the USD even more so! Also, Euro-tour is coming up in June, so that is one more awesome trip I get to look forward to! Here is a list of the cities and monuments I will be visiting in the future…
I have no doubt by the end of this adventure I will be exhausted, but I will also have seen some of the coolest places in Europe!
Christmas is a wonderful day for many people around the world. But for an exchange student, Christmas means memories of Christmases past, and spoonfuls of homesickness that make them nauseous. Anyway, that’s how things have been for me the past few weeks. Everyone gets a little homesick sometimes, and Christmas is definitely one of those times. I’m pretty sure it says that in every RYE exchange students handy dandy notebook!
As for Christmas itself, it was better than the days leading up to it. On the 23rd of December, my second host family and I traveled to their second house in Eger, a beautiful city sort of near Budapest. Here we met with many family members whom I shook hands with and held conversation with over dinner (which was fish soup and goose, DELICIOUS). After dinner we all went to the living room and exchanged gifts, something I was not expecting at all. This exchange process on Christmas Eve reminded me of my sister begging and pleading my mother to let her open gifts that same night when we were much younger. My mother always fought my sister on this, but would eventually cave and let my sister and I open my Grandmother Kristi’s presents, which were always very interesting and useful. So for Christmas in Hungary I received quite a few presents, both from my host sister, host parents, and host grandparents, whom I barely know. I was very grateful and thankful for these gifts, as I always am. One of the gifts was a book full of 1000 words and phrases for small Hungarian children to learn with, it includes stickers of every word and object, which have to be placed on their corresponding pages. It will be a wonderful learning tool to expand my Hungarian vocabulary, which is not as extensive as I would like it to be.
A week before Christmas I was in Italy! The exchange students from my city and I were given the opportunity to go on this trip. The adventure lasted one week, and I had some of the best times on my exchange during that week. The whole trip was centered on skiing, which I had never tried before. For those of you who know me, I am not exactly an extreme sports inclined person. I have tried water-skiing, skateboarding, even windsurfing and failed miserably at everything. But despite my past failures, I can honestly say I am now an above average snow-skier. I will describe to you how the trip progressed day by day.
The first day, everyone got to the hotel where we would be staying and began to get settled in. Hotel Erica was awesome! The staff was very nice, and spoke great English. The bottom floor of the building had a “wellness center” which included 3 different saunas and steam rooms, massage parlor, tanning booth, as well as a 20 person Jacuzzi hot tub for tired skiers. I can tell you I took full advantage of this wellness center during my stay, with the exception of the tanning booth. Heck I’m from Florida; we don’t pay for skin cancer!
Anyways, the first day of skiing was very interesting. All the families (there were 7 different families, 4 with exchange students) made their way to the slope about midday. Up on the mountain, to say it was beautiful would be a massive understatement. I was dumbfounded. The sight was spectacular, and it stole my breath away, plus the oxygen was much thinner up there. The weather all through the week was very, very cold. In my family a minimum of 4 long sleeve t-shirts, 2 pairs of socks, and long underwear was required underneath the necessary ski pants and ski jacket. To be dead honest, I don’t think any amount of clothing would have saved me from negative 17 degree Celsius weather, plus the wonderful wind-chill. My face froze, countless times, which could only be countered by taking shelter inside one of the many bars/restaurants dotted around the mountain range. My skiing skills began to improve by the end of the second day. I fell down way less by the third day once I was able to control my speed, and by the fourth day I didn’t fall at all. Every day I was always exhausted and my legs felt like they were going to fall off. All in all, the trip was an incredible experience, and I can honestly say I will try to ski for the rest of my life.
The weekend before I left for my ski trip, I visited another one of the most beautiful places in Europe, Vienna! The trip started with a train ride to Budapest, where I met with all the other exchange students in Hungary as we got on a bus to the city of Győr! The ride to Győr was a few hours, and I spent the time catching up with people I had met at the orientation at Budapest back in September. Everyone has been having a wonderful time, and I only heard a few complaints about homesickness. Once we got to Győr we found out we would be sleeping in a student hostel, and I immediately thought about the horror films. After laughing off general feelings of awareness for my surroundings, as well as decisions of whom I would use as a human shield in the event of an attack, we all made our way to dinner.
The local Győr Rotary Klub hosted dinner, where a surprise was waiting for me. A person who I got to know a little bit during Rotary related events back in Florida. Monika Ignacz was an inbound in Florida last year. I saw her welcoming other exchange students at the door, so I shouted “hey Monika!” Her eyes lit up and she ran at me and gave me a huge hug. It was cool to reunite with someone you haven’t seen in 5 months and then talk to them like you saw them yesterday! She was impressed with my Hungarian, and kept telling me about all the things she misses about Florida. I agreed with her on about every point, and she even made me homesick for some things I had forgotten about.
After dinner we all went to bed early because we had a big day the next day. Not! Exchange students are super-human beings that can stay up all night talking and playing games, and the next day function like normal-ish crazy teenagers.. I love them all. The morning before our venture into Vienna, after breakfast it started to snow. Not only was it the first time I had seen snow fall in Hungary, but also for most of the kids there it was their first time seeing snow period! Brazilians were crying with happiness, and I caught about 100 snowflakes on my tongue. I am the master of that sport. After a while it got cold so we got on the bus to go to Vienna. After a short trip, we arrived at a truly amazing place. Vienna is awesome! There was a giant Christmas festival going on, that was our first stop. The Christmas festival was full of people from all kinds of places, Austrians, Germans, Hungarian and even some Americans I met with. Food stands sold German sausage, drink stands sold hot wine or punch. The city itself is structurally beautiful, but my group did get lost a few times… I also encountered an establishment I was actually for once in the mood for because of the freezing weather. Starbucks! The comfy couches and overpriced drinks were open arms welcoming me back and reminding me why I sometimes like Big-Corporation-Western-Society's effect on the rest of the world. I only visited one museum, where some German girls asked to take a picture with me. I felt used and weird knowing that picture would be on some girls social networking page sometime in the near future. The Vienna trip was successful; I was happy I had seen another beautiful part of Europe and experienced so much culture in one day.
Before I finish, I want to say good luck to all the future Outbound Students, I can’t wait to hear from those headed to Hungary! I am sure Daphne has given you some assignment to talk to me, or to read April or my journals about Hungary. If she hasn’t assigned that yet, well she should! Questions about being an exchange student are welcomed, as well as anything regarding your upcoming responsibilities. Meet the deadlines, for He-who-must-not-be-angered shows no mercy towards slackers!
Much love from Eastern Hemisphere, and I hope everyone had a Happy New Year! That rhymed, but I am not about to start writing Haikus like some of the other crazy kids on this website… And now, Pictures!
May 31 Journal
I would like to dedicate this chronicle of my exchange to my loving mother, who waited so long for it.
Months, weeks, days, minutes, seconds, moments. Time can only be measured by experiences. I feel the last few experiences of my exchange are the ones that will define how I feel about it for the rest of my life. That said, I have so much to look forward to in the little time I have left in Europe. There are also many things I am not looking forward to which may be the hardest things I have done in my entire life. It has always been about staying positive for me. I realized there is no point being sad about anything, because it won’t get you anything in the future. I’ve been following the words of one of everyone’s favorite deceased artists, Bob Marley. “Don’t worry, be happy.” For me though, it’s not so much about worrying, than being generally glum. This exchange is the perfect example of life as a whole. It’s short, too short to experience everything. Also, if you don’t enjoy it you will regret it.
Talking about ourselves is a waste of time. I write this journal for the benefit of my friends and family who are generally interested in what I have been doing. I do not write this for personal gain or recognition by the public or anyone else.
Everyone is ever changing, from the moment the fastest sperm finishes his race, to the moment our relatives stick us in the ground. Most worries of today concern fruitless problems that are either impossible or improbable to achieve the results that we desire. That is why I think it is our duty as humans to live out lives, because there are so many fruits to be tasted.
It has been proclaimed that "everything has already been said and done" While this points out the length of time documentation as well as communication has taken place, it fails to communicate the necessity to regard the world around us as our world, and we must do with it what we can. Time is everlasting, as far as we know.
I make it my mission very day to experience life, by cutting out the idle undertakings of our existences. While millions of people watch television, I prefer to count the clouds in the sky or the birds in the trees. Life is loitering all around us; we just have to interact in order to live.
Real life is coming at me like a speeding bullet. This exchange has been a time to reflect, think about my problems, and the problems of the universe. I believe I have a better understanding of the world around me. Decisions have been made, but the path in front of me has yet to be decided. I have the asphalt; it just has yet to be laid down.
Now then, enough with the philosophical stuff… You’re probably wondering what I have been up to lately?
I can account for the last few months in next to perfect detail, but to tell you of all of my adventures would be the equivalent of writing a book. The thought to write a book has of course occurred to me, but I have decided to write once I have graduated University.
In VERY recent news, today is May 31st 2010 and in 29 days I will board a plane to return to Florida. Some wait my arrival others, dread my departure. I myself am stuck, somewhere in the middle of insanity and absolute happiness. This past weekend I had a taste of what it will be like to leave all of those whom I have come to love this year. This Saturday was the district conference in Szentendre (small city near Budapest). I wanted to arrive early to the conference so Friday I packed my bags, grabbed my rotary blazer and jumped on a train to Budapest.
I arrived at about noon, and took the usual public transportation to my final destination. I was traveling to my friend Margot’s house. Margot is an exchange student from California, and I consider her to be more like a sister than a best friend. She of course, likes to sleep in, so when I called up to the house with the intercom, the maid picked up. I asked kindly if Margot was home, the maid told me she would come and open the gate. When she finally arrived at the gate I greeted her with a typical Hungarian greeting. “Kezed Csokolom!”(I kiss your hand) I proclaimed with a smile. She opened the gate silently while looking at the ground. When I thanked her she smiled and walked behind me back into the house to finish her tasks. Once inside, I climbed the 3 floors of stairs to Margot’s room, where I found Margot (of course), Huani (Brazil), Chandler (Wisconsin), Pedro (Brazil), and Carol (Brazil). Everyone was lookin' tired, having just woken up when I slammed the bedroom door to greet everyone. I dropped my bags and jumped into bed with everyone. There were grumblings about breakfast, and wanting to take a shower, so I decided I would help. I went back downstairs with chandler to make breakfast. Chandler is 6 foot 1 with blonde hair, gauges who wears contacts/glasses. I always get a long with chandler, as he and I think alike on a lot of things. He was on exchange last year too, in Brazil! He speaks English, Portuguese and Hungarian fluently. We decided to make omelets for everyone. We chopped up Paprika (peppers), Sonka (ham), Hagyma (Onions) and added them to a hot pan of olai (vegetable oil). After everything was nice and sautéed, we proceeded to add the tojas (eggs). The omelet came out nicely, with only minor burning. Pretty good for two dudes in the kitchen.
After breakfast we all went outside. Chandler decided it would be a good idea to use the vizipipa(hookah/waterpipe). We all laid out in the sun on towels or reclining chairs. I chose a yoga mat to catch the sunrays on. We talked about plans for the weekend, and that night particularly. Soon chandler brought out the hookah with melon-flavored tobacco. At about 3 o’clock more people arrived. We had all had a little sun and decided it would be a good idea to jump in the pool! The new arrivals were John (New York) and Roxy (Mexico). We all jumped in the pool and started to play pool volleyball. I got spiked in the ear, no biggie. The swelling went down after 15 minutes. We decided after the pool that we would leave for the night at about 6pm. We all took showers, separately of course. Afterwards we started to get ready.
The bathroom was full of girls straightening their hair, dudes gelling/straightening. I brushed my teeth, and stole a miniscule amount of wax from Chandler. On accident, everyone but Carol put on black clothes. We decided we WANTED everyone in black, but Carol went in white. She was the “angel” of the group. Right when everyone was ready, Marina (Brazil) arrived. I love Brazilians so much, but one thing is true about them, they take longer than everyone to get ready. But they are usually the best looking when we leave the house. That night was crazy. We danced our gluteus maximus’s off! The clubs in Budapest on Friday nights are usually quite packed, and this night was no different. I think I saw 1000 different men and women, all moving in unison, to the typical “unsz aahnsz” beat of the club/house/techno/pop/dubstep music that was blasting through the speakers at 8,430 decibels. So after dancing for a few hours, we decided to turn in because we had things to do tomorrow.
The next morning, we all woke up at 8 o’clock to get ready for the Rotary District conference. I cut my khaki pants into shorts because it was too hot that day, but I had to wear nice clothes, so I put on a polo and donned my rotary blazer. We were out the door by 8:30 and at West End (a huge shopping mall in Budapest) by 9:45. There we met with 15 or 20 other exchange students, plus our president of rotary youth exchange Kertesz Bela. He is our boss, and I have mad respect for him. He has to deal with us plus all of our craziness, and he does a darn good job.
Once every exchange was accounted for, we made out way to the bus, which would take us to Szentendre. On the bus most people slept, talked or listened to music. Once we arrived in Szentendre, we took pictures of the beautiful landscape. Then we made our way into the hotel where the district conference was being held. There we waited, played some pool and foosball, but mostly waited. 2 grueling hours later, it was our time. We went inside the conference room, where approximately 200 Rotarians awaited us. Our president was awarded something, my district councilor was awarded something, they talked a little bit, announcements were made, and then we all sang a song. The song is about spring and it goes like this:
Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt, virágom, virágom*. Minden madár társat választ virágom, virágom. Hát én immár kit válasszak? Virágom, virágom. Te engemet, én tégedet, virágom, virágom.
After this presentation, almost all 25 of us went back to Budapest together on the bus. This was going to be the biggest party of the year, and everyone wanted to come. We started our evening at Margot’s house, where everyone got ready by showering, changing clothes, putting on makeup and generally getting ready to par-tay. So once everyone was ready, we got on the bus to go to Heroes Square. All 20 of us.
Wherever we went, people looked at us. It was as if they had never seen a mixed group of foreign teenagers going to party before. Most of us were speaking English, with the occasional Spanish or Portuguese. The busses and the trams were not prepared for us. In our wake we left death, destruction and frightened Hungarians. It was impossible to stay organized, but we managed to get separated just two times! A personal record for all Hungarian exchange groups since 2003.
After Heroes Square, we decided we wanted to go to a bar to hang out, like exchange students do. The first bar we found was nasty, so we decided to go to a different one that everyone was familiar with. This bar is called “Szimpla, Kert Mozi(which means Simple, garden movie theatre). On the way we found a gyros stand, and everyone ate something or other.
Once at the bar, we couldn’t find a spot to fit all of us, so we started asking people if we could steal chairs from their table. We made a giant circle of chairs around one area, then people started to separate into the usual “cliques.” I hate that sometimes this happens with exchange students, because in essence we are all the same. We just like to find differences and separate ourselves so that we may feel “special.”
After awhile, the bar scene was starting to get boring and smelled too much like one big cigarette. We all wanted to dance, so we set off in the direction of a good disco in Budapest. We walked, almost 10 kilometers, and by the time we got halfway, everyone was complaining they wanted to sit down and drink something. So we stopped at what is called Deak Ferenc Ter. There were about 1000 people in the square, and it was a cool place to hang out, for a while. Then it started to get cold. It was only 12:00 at this time, but I was beginning to get tired, and I wanted to start dancing before I passed out. So we left, and continued our search for the disco. We found it. And boyyyyyyyy did we dance! No matter what music was playing, someone’s foot was tapping, or someone was jumping around and screaming like a pig. At 3am a group of sick girls left, because they were tired, and well…. sick. The rest of us danced until 5 am. At about 5:30 we got on a bus home, and at 6 we arrived back at Margot’s house. When we went in the door, we counted 17 of us. 17 spots had to be coordinated. A few people ended up on the ground, others in beds, or on mattresses. I slept on a mattress. Before bed, we all wanted to eat something, so we made breakfast! At 7am, everyone had eaten, but we weren’t going to school (thank goodness) we all went to bed. At about 11 my host parents called, and I packed my things to leave. That day I slept in the car, and when I got home I slept some more. Today I didn’t go to school, I just slept, and as soon as I finish writing this sentence I’m going to sleep again!
So I am sure a few of you are wondering about my skills in the language. Let me just tell you a few experiences. Recently, I have been mistaken for Hungarian, or Slovakian because of how well I speak the language. I spent an entire day in a bus full of Hungarians and none of them knew I was an exchange student until I handed them my Rotary card. It was pretty funny. Also recently any time someone asks me where I am from, they make me show them my drivers license so they know I’m not lying about my origins. Sometimes I don’t even tell people I am American, I just say I’m Hungarian who lived in America for 18 years. Two weekends ago (21st -23rd of May) there was a Hungarian language competition in my city. (Almost) Every exchange student came out to compete. The competition consisted of a writing portion, as well as several speaking portions. I came in 3rd place, out of the 23 exchange students who came. I had not expected to win this competition, but I am glad I did place. I studied a lot this year, but I learned a lot more than just the language. I got to know the people, the culture, and the history of this unlucky but wonderful country. The people here amaze me day by day. I love Magyarország.
On a different note, I did some international travel recently for reasons I dislike talking about. Death in general is a very common subject of today, because death is just as big a part of life as birth. Whenever people die and people report about it on the news, it never affects anyone unless they were personal acquaintances or family of the dead. Death should never be feared by anyone, because it is an absolutely natural and inevitable part of life. Sure, life can be extended through exercise, good diet and evolution of body/mind; but at the same time one can never be sure when it is their time to expire.
My Great Grandmother was not a political figure, a war veteran, or a mountain climber. On the other hand, she was a maternal figure to many; the list of survivors is lengthy. Surviving are: two daughters, Andrea (Gerald) Nelson and Kristi (Arthur Coulton) Cowles; two sons, Michael (Lorraine) Cowles, Jhan (Colleen) Cowles; nine grandchildren, Lynnell (Bill) Grimes, Marney (Joe) Weaver, Wendy Nelson, Richard (Leanne) Nelson, Nils (Anneke) Nelson, Carrie Lynn (Mike) Dougan, Todd (Traci) Cowles, Clinton (Kellin) Cowles, and Taylor Cowles; 15 great-grandchildren, Adam and Andrea Grimes, Tanner Hayes, Kristina Nelson, Hannah, Erik and Mitchell Nelson, Aubrey, Magnus and Cammack Nelson, Sarah, Katie and Emma Dougan, and Aiden and Graham Cowles. I love my Great Grandma and I will miss her very very much.
On April 8th, I found out via Face book of my Great Grandma Betty’s death, and her funeral that Friday. My parents and my sister informed me they would like me to return to the United States for the funeral. I was devastated, and utterly confused. I felt bi-polar for the next few days, considering all of the options and the details. I didn’t know how much it would cost for me to go back to the US, and once I was there, how was I going to feel? Would the feeling of being with my family be overwhelming and make me more homesick than ever? Would I want to stay in the US and end my exchange early? Should I even risk going back there? Will leaving ruin the cultural experience of living in a foreign country for 1 year? I was driving myself insane with thoughts of all the different possibilities.
In the end, I was lucky in that my insurance company was willing to pay for my trip back to the US because of the death of my GG (Great Granny). So Thursday the 14th of April I packed my bags to return to the United States, for a period of 5 days. Friday morning my first host family the Marschalko’s took me to the airport in Budapest. They helped me to the ticket counter, where I received my boarding pass and gate information. The excitement inside of me was building. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. As sad as I felt, I couldn’t help but let my heart soar knowing I was going to see my family members whom I miss greatly. As I boarded the plane I smiled and said to myself “In a few hours I will be in Amsterdam, and from there I will fly to Wisconsin and see people who I love.” The flight was a short 2.5 hours. I de-boarded the plane, went through customs and found my gate, C7. Boarding started an hour earlier than departure, so I had thirty minutes of free time. I hit up one of the food stands with outrageous prices (6 Euro for a sandwich, and 2.5 for a bottle of water the size of a thimble). After dining, I entered through the security, where I was thoroughly questioned about my stay in Amsterdam (40 minutes total) and where I had come from etc etc… Afterwards, I took a seat and popped in my earphones. The flight was scheduled to leave in 1 hour. 10 minutes after I went through security, there was an announcement on the loud speaker, that my flight was cancelled due to a problem with the plane. I sighed. “Awesome” I thought. Things cannot get any worse. What I didn’t know is that Mother Nature was out to get me! Seismic activity during 2006-2009 caused an eruption of the volcano “Eyjafjallajökull.” Before they could schedule another flight out of Amsterdam to those of us who were stranded because of the broken plane, news reports showed that airspace in most of Western Europe was closed due to the plume of volcanic ash spewing thousands of meters into the air. As if my life couldn’t get any crazier. Thus began my 6-day stay in Schiphol Airport and the city of Amsterdam.
I found myself just saying “WOW!” This is an insane situation. Thousands of people, stuck in one giant airport. Everyone was thinking the same thing. “When and how can I get a flight home, and until then, can I get a hotel room?” The news from KLM arrived shortly after that thought dawned on everyone’s minds. The report was that all hotels in Amsterdam were booked, and that no flights would be leaving until tomorrow at the earliest. During this entire situation, in the midst of everyone’s gigantic problems, I myself had a problem. What was I going to do for the next 24 hours?
As I was asking myself this question, I overheard a conversation between two people standing next to me looking at the television. It was a group of two men, who looked like they could have been related. The first man was rather normal. He looked to be mid fortie-something, with his slightly overweight physique and balding head of brown hair. He stared up at the television with this short of frustrated expression and with a tone of almost asinine pomposity “Well, I’m not going to make it home for my wife’s pot-roast.” The guy next to him was taller, and built like a football player. He had dark red hair, which he wore combed back. He was sporting fore arm tattoos and dark sunglasses. His wardrobe consisted of all black, with a black backpack slung over his shoulder. After talking and getting to know these guys, I found out the first guy was named Gordon, and the second guy Mark. Mark and Gordon were originally supposed to be flying on the same plane as me, which had been cancelled. We were all in the same boat, and as we all discussed the problem at hand, we decided to stay together, and the first objective on our list was to contact our loved ones. I hopped on my laptop, using the graciously provided wireless Internet to enter the interwebs. I sent emails to both my parents, and also posted on facebook my situation, so as to maybe attract the attention of my equally internet-friendly sibling, or parents. It worked.
After notifying my parents the next matter of business concerned where I was sleeping. It soon became apparent that hotels might be hard to come by. Gordon decided he wanted to stay in the airport and sleep there. I wasn’t about to settle for the floor unless I had to. We decided to go out into the city to see what we could find the in the hostel market. Mark and I said our quick goodbyes to Gordon and started out of the Schiphol airport. We were greeted with lines of people, all on their cell phones or looking for taxis. We managed to find a BMW-taxi whose driver was of Arabic descent. I asked the nice man to take us to where there are Hostels in Amsterdam. He asked for 30 Euro up front, which Mark paid. After 20 minutes of riding in the leather environment, the man dropped us near what appeared to be a giant church, but ended up being the train station. We thanked the man and paid him the rest of the 50-euro fee he charged. Total rip-off. I suddenly realized it wasn’t going to be easy navigating this city. It was almost nighttime, and the environment was already a little crazy. Everywhere I looked, I saw gift shops, bars, red lights, and Café’s. This was the part where Mark took control of the situation. He asked a man on the street where he could find tourist information. This took us to a giant square with lots of stands and more gift shops. Mark soon discovered that all hostels were full-up and would not have rooms until the following day. This was when we decided to just head back to the airport or “Home Base.”
Mark was the reason I survived this situation and was able to remain calm for nearly the entire time. I felt safe with the giant man accompanying me everywhere I went. He was also a lot of fun to talk to, although I never asked him about things he had done or seen in the Iraq war. He did tell me of a few experiences with crowd like situations.
The first night in the Airport was very similar to the rest of them. We spent some time walking around looking in the different shops that airport Schiphol has to offer (like 100 shops). Our diets consisted of Burger King (typical Americans, I know) or different Middle Eastern food like Falafel or maybe Gyros. Everything was SOOOO expensive in the airport, so we tried to eat in Amsterdam every chance we could.
So of the three times I was Amsterdam during my 5-day stay, I must say my experiences of the nightlife are otherworldly. Mark and I were walking down a narrow street looking for a good place to relax, and maybe have a carbonated beverage. Suddenly I heard a tapping noise, which sounded somewhat like a woodpecker. I whirled around to find the source of this noise. What I saw was young scantily clad lass, who was beckoning me to come to the window. In complete innocence, I walked over and asked her “Yes? Can I help you?” She smiled and asked me same question back. It was at this point Mark grabbed me by the shoulder and informed me of my situation. Yes. There are prostitutes in Amsterdam, and they do try to entice passers-by to come inside their nasty windows. The rest of the night I refrained from talking to girls in red-lighted windows, as well as the blue lighted ones. Another interesting aspect of the evening was the amount of people who asked us if we were interesting in purchasing Cocaine. This part was actually very funny for me, because the manner in which these people talk to you in somewhat hilarious. Most of the time, when walking on the street and a man would walk past us on the street, he would not make eye contact, and ask in a rather nonchalant fashion “YOU BOYS WANNA BUY SUM COKE????” At this point, Mark would usually utter an obscenity under his breath or proclaim to the man “NAW MAN WE’RE GOOD.” I would always laugh, but after the 30th time it became annoying and we avoided these sorts of men like they were the plague. It’s an odd feeling to be pestered into buying drugs from street dealers, not to mention extremely dangerous. But I never felt my life in danger, or that we were going to be mugged. I was very confident that Mark would either A. Kill said mugger/drug dealer, or B. I would outrun the perpetrator.
Every night, seemed like the same. Mark and I constructed our makeshift beds on the floor or on the rows of chairs that served as makeshift beds. After we were ready to sleep, we would ask the KLM attendants when the planes were running again. Every time I talked to one of these ladies in blue, I always felt like they were lying and just saying what I wanted to hear, but I understood their situation and never lost my cool when speaking to them, no matter how frustrated I was.
My fifth day in Amsterdam, I decided enough was enough. I called in the cavalry; or rather the cavalry came to me. I received at email in the morning from Al Kalter saying there was a rotary family that would come to pick me up. There was a phone number, and I called them using my skype account. The family name was “Verdegaal.” They were super nice to me, and treated me like there own child. They had housed exchange students before, and they were happy to help me out. I was ecstatic when they offered to let me shower, and I must have looked like a starving child when they offered me a home-cooked meal.
The next day, I boarded a plane back to Hungary. I learned a lot during my 5 day stay in Amsterdam, and I am for sure going back.
At the end of February, I changed families for the third time. I was then living in a small village outside of the city, called “Alsóberecki.” (Since then I have moved again, but I will write about the Monok family in my next journal) The population is somewhere around 1000 people, most of them middle aged. The culture here is typical for most Hungarian villages. Most people live in their parents’ houses, because apartments and houses are very expensive here. So it is not uncommon for 3-4 generations of a family to live under one roof. A lot of families, including mine have gardens. In spring, they plant everything you can imagine. Working in the garden is hard work, but I love being outside. My new family is great. It’s made up of my host father “Peter”, my host mother “Andrea”, my host sister “Luca” and my youngest host brother “Bill or William.” I find it amusing that nearly this entire family shares names with my family and friends at home. My host Dad is a really interesting and a nice guy. He really likes exercise, which coincides with my interests. Our most recent adventure was a 60km bicycle ride to a nearby city and back. During my first week with the family, Peter took me to participate in his Karate class. Having taken karate for 3 years, and achieving the rank of black belt back in Florida, I figured I knew what was coming. When I arrived the room was filled with mostly adults, and a few teenagers. Every single person in the room looked like they could win any fight. The workout was hard, and by the end I was sweating, and my knuckles bleeding from hitting the bag. That same weekend, there was a Karate competition in my city. The total competitors numbered around 190 men and women from Hungary and Croatia. I helped build the fighting mat early in the morning, and then I watched people of all sizes and genders beat the crap out of each other all day. My favorite was the 70-kilo black belts, full contact, minimal protection (genitals and teeth), and fastest dudes ever.
The weather here is changing rapidly, and annoying enough to make me go crazy. In the beginning of March there was still snow on the ground in parts of Hungary. I kept hoping for warmer weather, and I got it. About a month and a half ago I spent a weekend in Budapest. The objective was to work on a presentation for Rotarians, and future Hungarian exchange students! I took the initiative a few months ago to get everyone thinking about the project, but unfortunately no real worked happened until the two weeks before. I always say, “Procrastination is intentionally adding stress to your life which further encourages you to complete the task.” In some cases, such as this, procrastination proved to be the wrong solution to a growing problem. When it was finally time to stand on stage and show all the effort we put in, it ended up being sort of a rushed, unscripted chaos that we dubbed “Hungarian Jeopardy.” We attempted to recreate the game using some flash-based software we found online, as well as translated questions about the United States. The idea was a great one; the reality is we needed podiums, buzzers, and someone with the personality of Alex Trebek. What we got was 6 people standing on the side of a stage, blabbering the answers in broken Hungarian after making fake buzzer sounds with our mouths. BZZZZZZZZZ! The end result was hilarious, for us anyway, and I am sure we made a good impression of our gathered extended knowledge of the Hungarian language. That was the highlight of that weekend. In between working on the project, playing UNO, or talking about Hungarian life, there wasn’t too much room for anything else. I did however have some disastrous but learning experiences on the public transportation in Budapest.
First off, I had only been to Budapest a few times before, and I had never taken any forms of public transportation in between those times. First, I rode the train from Sátoraljaújhely to Budapest. The total ride was 4 hours, pretty boring, and I finished Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Diary, a novel.” Funny title for a novel, Diary. Any way, I got sidetracked. After the train ride, I headed to the Metro-station, which I had been told would take me to Moszkva tér, where I could take a bus to one of the American exchange students’ house. The metro was fast, and the ticket had to be bought outside the station or else you could not go into the building. 320 Forints, no problem. Atferwards I got on the 128 bus, but I was supposed to go on the 129. So after trying to explain to the driver I was in the wrong place he took me back, for a price of course. That was frustrating enough.
The same weekend, I got on an electrical train that runs around Budapest. I had never been on one of these trains before, so I guess you could say I was mildly enthused by the idea. I stepped onto the train and out of the mud and snow composite. I took a seat on the train, and began to take in my surroundings. I needed to ride the train for 3 stops, but I never made it all the way there…
The ticket checkers got on the after the first stop. These “cops” made an announcement in the middle of the train ride; they asked to see everyone’s tickets. I panicked a little, and spoke entirely English to the guy (mistake). He asked me where I was from, and if I spoke Hungarian. I was panicked a little and answered “America, and yes, a little” in Hungarian. He smirked and informed me that I had to pay the overly convenient on the spot fine. It was 6000 Forints, which is about 30.00 USD. I just had one problem paying the fine, because I didn’t know I had to buy a ticket in the first place. I explained this problem the best I could in Hungarian, and then continued blabbering on in English. The man I was speaking to, told me to get off at the next stop. He grabbed me by the arm before we exited the train. I obliged. I had only 6000 on me exactly, and therefore no money for traveling home, but the guy was nice enough to get me 2000 back. The second man who I had not spoken too informed me where I could find tickets in the future. I thanked both the men, and proceeded to purchase a ticket from the nearby stand as they watched. I was wary of their stares drilling into my back as I stood in line, and eventually purchased my ticket. I turned around, and the men were walking away, presumably to inspect another train. My train rolled up five minutes later. I got on feeling safe that I could withstand any further pestering from ticket checkers. I realize they were doing their job, and that I should have read the signs, but I couldn’t help but notice one thing. I folded under pressure, and resorted to speaking English. I believe now that if I would have just spoken solely Hungarian, I might not have come off as some ignorant or cheap American tourist. It was definitely a lesson learned, and in the future I will always inquire about tickets before boarding public transportation.
All the mistakes I have made have made me really reflect on what kind of person I will be in the future. Coming to Hungary and starting this "new life" was my epiphany that changed the way I feel and act forever. Right now, at this point in my exchange I have a strong feeling, which makes me want to stay here. But at the same time, I know I have responsibilities in Florida, which have to be fulfilled before I do anything else with my life. I know for a fact I will come back to Hungary to meet with all of the people I am leaving behind. I love Hungary, and the USA almost the same, just for different reasons.