April Bethea
2009-10 Outbound to Hungary


Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Mainland HS
Sponsor: Flagler/Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Pécs Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

April's Bio


Who am I?

A seventeen year old going on eighteen years old going on twenty-eight? A senior getting closer to senioritis with every step she takes? A girl who was granted admission to the college of her dreams? A girl who has no idea where to begin describing herself?

All of the above? That’s probably about right.

I suppose I’ll just start from the beginning, more specifically my name. I am April Bethea and as I mentioned before I am about to turn eighteen. I attend Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, but live in Palm Coast. I was recently accepted to Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN and have begun the process of deferring for a year so I can go to Hungary! That’s right good old Magyarorszag.

In college I want to major in International Studies. I want to be a student of the world around me. I’m not content knowing only about the United States of America and I feel that Rotary is giving me an amazing opportunity. Full and total immersion, it doesn’t get any better than that. No candy-coated culture or history.

Now let’s get down to the bare-bones, the nitty-gritty: my family and my history. My parents are divorced. I live with my mother here in Florida, while my father lives in Sin City, Las Vegas, NV (not on the strip of course, he technically lives in North Las Vegas). Both of my parents were members of the Air Force and because of them I’m not able to say that I’ve never left the United States. In fact, because of them I can’t even say I was born in the US. I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and didn’t move to the United States until I was about six. In addition to Wiesbaden, I’ve lived in: Mildenhall, England - Las Vegas, NV – Destin, FL – Leesburg, GA – Cedar Rapids, IA – Ormond Beach, FL and of course, Palm Coast, FL.

I’ve spent most of my life moving around and perhaps for that reason I’ve been jonesing to live somewhere new and exciting. In 2010 that new place will be Saint Paul, but in about eight months it will be Hungary. What’s more new and exciting than that? I’m nervous about leaving the US for a year, but at the same time, I’m beyond excited. That’s a bit of a contradiction, but it’s true.

Maybe it’s time for some adjectives. I wasn’t prepared to spout off such words during my interview, but now I think I am. I’m creative, independent, strong-willed, resilient, funny, nice, sincere, intelligent, and expressive. I could go on … but I won’t. I love to watch movies. Memento and Cinema Paradiso are two of my favorites. I also love to write and read. George Orwell’s essays are amazing. I love to listen to music. I have some favorite bands but mostly I just have a mesh of eclectic songs on my iPod. My favorite song is American Pie by Don McLean.

I would like to thank Rotary for this opportunity. I know that this experience will help me grow as a person and I am prepared and willing to go through the motions and to morph from a (yes, I know this is clichéd) naïve caterpillar into a worldly, sophisticated butterfly. And while I know the journey will be emotional and while I know I’ll miss not only my parents, but my younger brother in New Mexico, my friends, and all my aunts and cousins, I’m prepared to take this giant leap forward.

April's Journals

August 30 Journal

“Although missionary work had already begun under Prince Géza, it was his son Stephen, later to be canonized, who accomplished the actual conversion of his people to Christianity. In return, the Pope sent a royal crown to Hungary and gave its ruler the title of Apostolic King. The Hungarians still cherish Stephen’s memory: it is true that Árpád conquered the land, but King Stephen was the real founder of the state.” ~ From A Brief History of Hungary by Corvina Kiadó

This is why they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. This is why when I arrived in Hungary there were flags everywhere. This is why red, white, and green danced before me as we drove through Budapest that day. This is why the right side of the bridge we crossed from Pest into Buda was teeming with fireworks waiting to be shot off, why planes whizzed over the Danube preparing for the next day’s air race. Because hundreds and hundreds of years ago they canonized St. Stephen.

I caught a glimpse of the fireworks display in Budapest on the news and it was amazing. It lasted thirty minutes there, but the ninety-second highlight reel was all I got to see and it was enough for me to know that it was spectacular. Even the fireworks over the lake in my small town of Kozármisleny seemed more captivating then the ones back home. Maybe I’ve never paid that much attention before or maybe it was my mind secretly wanting to give Hungary a leg up, who knows.

If you read my last journal then you know that I was worried I wouldn’t get my visa in time to leave on the 18th, but I did and I’m here, have been for over a week. Which after months of waiting, trying not to get too excited, trying not to look at my countdown ticker every day, seems weird to say.

My journey across the Atlantic was none too exciting. I didn’t have hordes of people see me off at the airport. Just my mom, who spent the whole time trying not cry in front of me. She almost succeeded. I didn’t run into any other exchange students along the way, it was just me. From Orlando, to Detroit, to Amsterdam, to Budapest, I was by myself, a lone wolf, that girl in the funky blue blazer and because of that, because I have no tales of business card or pin exchanging, I won’t bore you with details of my flights. Especially since all I really did was sleep.

I woke up as we were beginning our descent into Budapest and I mean the real descent. Not when you have twenty-five minutes left and you have to turn off your electronics. The buildings already looked like architecture models when I opened my eyes.

What is Budapest’s airport like? Well this, I cannot tell you. We landed on the tarmac and were shuffled off to baggage claim by shuttle bus. I will tell you that the carts are free, that is, if you’re smart enough to continuously push down on the handle bar. I will also tell you that my bags came in like less than two minutes and that there was no line at “customs.”

My host family was waiting for me on the other side of the baggage claim door and it took me a few seconds to find them amongst the madhouse of people with flowers and signs. When we exited the airport I finally saw another exchange student. We didn’t speak to each other, but I could tell from his blazer that he was from Taiwan.

Before I continue on and tell you about my life in Hungary thus far, I must say something amongst the tales of homesickness that have been rolling in. I have not been homesick once since I’ve been here. I know that one day that tide of homesickness will wash over me and I’m constantly looking out for the storm, but that being said, I have not been homesick once. Maybe I’m abnormal, maybe it’s because had it not been Hungary it would have been Minnesota, maybe because I’ve accepted that this isn’t forever, that it’s just a year, maybe I truly am in the “Honeymoon Stage,” I just wanted to let the future exchange students know, that the rollercoaster might just start off smooth.

The day I arrived we did not go to Lake Balaton as originally planned, I guess I had more luggage than they anticipated. Though I will say that ninety percent of the weight in my second suitcase came from host family gifts. Children’s books are not as light as you’d expect. Instead I got my first taste of Budapest, we drove around the city, mostly the Pest side and my host family pointed out various things to me. We were going to go to Margaret Island, but the bridge had been closed off because of the holiday. Or that’s what I think happened.

As we drove to Kozármisleny, I fell asleep and woke up just as we were coming into town. I love my new home, my cozy room, the huge backyard, the porch from which you can see Pécs, it’s truly great. However, I don’t have the top floor to myself and I have zero secret passageways.

My host family is fantastic. My host mom, Éva, speaks very good English, which is quite helpful, especially since I have no real background in Hungarian. I learn new words everyday, but it’s the grammar that’s really giving me a hard time. Hungarian pronunciation is quite easy for the most part. Each letter has a sound, you look at the word, put the sounds together and presto! You’ve said something in Hungarian. Well, in essence that’s how it is, I still have people repeat words like crazy, but you certainly won’t find a word like phone in Hungarian.

The 20th (St. Stephens’s Day) my host family and I went to a party up the street. There were several little kids, including my host brother, and they all enjoyed playing with ice very much. They would hold the ice in their hands and then run up to you and put a cold hand to your leg. I didn’t know – and still don’t know – the word for cold so I would always act shocked when they did this. This emotion transcends borders.

The food at the party was delicious and around 8:40 my host sister, host parents, and I started walking to the lake in Kozármisleny to watch the fireworks that I’ve previously mentioned, the others drove. In a city like Budapest I’m sure the holiday would have been celebrated in a much different, bigger way, but I’m fine with memories I’ll have from this simple celebration.

The next morning we went to Lake Balaton, where we stayed until Sunday. I enjoyed the lake very much, though I only really went into the water once. My host father, sister, brother, and I would take bike rides around the town their lake house was in and the towns surrounding it. I enjoyed these bike rides very much, though on one of them, my host brother either didn’t want me to ride in front of him or by his father, I’m not sure which. All I know is that I would ride faster than him and try to get on the side of him because I didn’t want to bump into his bike, but instead of letting me he would speed up, swerve to the right, or speed up and swerve to the right. Which was a little frustrating.

Since coming home from the lake, I’ve gone into Pécs fairly often. My host sister would take me into the city and we’d generally meet up with her friends. One day we went to Orfű, a small village with a lake that is very close to here. This was enjoyable. It was my sister and her friends and I really didn’t understand anything, but I still enjoyed seeing something new. Though, the water was freezing and when they went in a second time, I didn’t join them.

On Wednesday, a surprise going away party was held in my host sister’s honor. At this party, I met another exchange student. Marco from Italy, he’s not on exchange with Rotary though, but through AFS. At one point Esme, my host sister’s friend, asked him why he wanted to learn Hungarian. His response was that he didn’t. If he wanted to learn a language he would have gone to Spain or the USA.

I’ve gotten this question twice since I arrived. “Why do you want to learn Hungarian? It’s not a very useful language.” But really, who determines a language’s use? Is Hungarian a widely spoken language? No. Does that mean the people in Hungary should give up Hungarian and start speaking English? No. A language is a part of a country’s culture and while I’m in this country I want to learn Hungarian. While Hungarian may not be widely spoken, it is difficult, one of the hardest languages in the world and if I master it or come close to fluency, isn’t that helpful in the long run? If in the future I’m able to open my mind to Hungarian, why can’t I open it up to French or German? Spanish or Russian? And moreover, do you know how fulfilling it would be to have a conversation in Hungarian, to be able to travel the country and know what people were saying to me? So fulfilling I can’t put it into words. I find use in Hungarian, the world might not, but I do and that’s enough for me.

Hungary is a lot of things. It’s old, it’s new, it’s over a thousand years of history in one small package, it’s clean, it’s dirty, it’s some of the prettiest buildings you will ever see covered in pointless graffiti, but it has won me over with its charm and its exceptionally nice people.

My host sister left today for Pennsylvania and I had my fingers crossed that she’d take the extremely hot weather with her and if the storm that just ended is any indication, she did.

I love it here so far and I’m sure there will be rough times ahead, but no one every said this would be easy.

Now, continuing the pattern, here are a few observations about Hungary:

The doors literally have keys in them, the old fashioned kind that are fairly long, in order to lock the door you turn the key.

When you flush the toilet you have to turn the water off yourself. On the newer toilets you push the flush button and then push the button that says stop a few seconds later. On the ones with the pull, you hold the string down until enough water has come down.

In the center of Pécs the pedestrian crossing sign will tell you not only how long you can walk, but also how long until you can walk.

Pécs, the city that is hosting me, will be one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2010, because of this, the pretty square I expected to see and several other sights have been torn apart for renovation.

At the Árkád in Pécs (the mall) there is an escalator that has no stairs. It’s like a moving sidewalk on an incline.

I live in the Southern Transdanubia region of Hungary and there are lots of hills, lots and lots of hills. You know those sharp curves at home that you come across, maybe not really in Florida, but up North and out West? Well, the drivers here don’t really slow down for those and it’s a little terrifying. Oh and people don’t pay too much attention to the line in the road that creates different lanes.

Unlike the nice yellow school buses that pick you up at home and then drive you straight to school, in order to get to my school I’ll have to ride the bus for ten or fifteen minutes and then walk uphill ten minutes. It’s not the steepest hill in the world, but I’m sure I’ll miss – well driving, but besides that – being dropped off right in front of the school.

Until next time,

Viszlát!

December 9 Journal

Hungarians love pálinka.

You see it everywhere, from family parties to rotary meetings, one thing that’s never missing – pálinka. Last month, I traveled with my host parents and the Rotary Club of Kozármisleny to Romania and can you guess what was passed up and down the aisles of the bus? Pálinka of course.

And when we left, do you know what the Rotary Club of Dej handed out as a parting gift? If you guessed pálinka, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

I suppose it’s like the French and their wine, except for the fact that in order for pálinka to be pálinka the alcohol content must be between 37.5 and 86 percent.

Now, it has come to my attention that I am a delinquent journal writer. A fact that I was very much aware of before it was written to me in email. I’ve thought about writing this journal for a long time and yes, you can readily find me on the internet, however, writing about myself and my life here is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. I write and I erase, write and erase, but I solemnly swear to try and do less of that erasing bit.

As a delinquent journal writer, perhaps starting my journal talking about a type of alcohol isn’t the smartest thing in the world. But I’m supposed to talk about culture right? Well – for those of you who weren’t aware, drinking is a large part of the Hungarian culture.

December is here and while it is of course, the holiday season, my favorite time of the year, for a small group of people (those who probably frequent this site) it’s much, much more that. It’s Rotary Youth Exchange acceptance season, a good and wonderful time. If you happen to be from my district [6970] it’s probably also more than a bit nerve racking, because our interviews are horrible, scary, killer monsters; but don’t get too worked up over that. This advice is from someone who did get worked up over that and you can see how well everything worked out.

So, future outbounds, when the middle of December rolls around and you get that call telling you your shiny new country, if you’re lucky enough to be going to Hungary, I’d recommend you’d start practicing your “köszönöm, nem.” For, you will be offered pálinka and lets just say, Hungarians are proud of their pálinka and when you decline it, they’ll continuously tell you that it’s a special Hungarian drink and made from fruit and so on so forth. Be prepared to say no more than once in a single offering. Be prepared to want hit your head against a wall after hearing being told the same things about pálinka again and again.

When I last wrote I had been here twelve days and now, well, one hundred and twelve. Yeah, that definitely means I’m a delinquent. Time gets away from you, what can I say? So, what have I done these past few months? Let’s see: I’ve started school, been to orientation, harvested grapes, gone to Romania, restarted school, been to Venice, and plenty of other things of course.

My first school is where my YEO works and where the other two exchange students in Pécs still go. I, too, go there multiple times a week for Hungarian lessons, but attending school there I felt a vegetable. A feeling that I’m sure many other exchange students know well.

I now attend Janus Pannonius, a school very conveniently located in the center of Pécs. I suppose, conveniently isn’t exactly the best word currently, considering that the main square is in ruins and getting to school now involves taking really annoying little detours. However, unlike at my old school, while we have a main classroom and head teacher, we change rooms constantly and so, I don’t spend my whole day sitting in the same small, dark classroom. Additionally, at my old school my classmates were beginners in English and while of course, I’m here to learn Hungarian, it’s very nice to actually be utilized in English class. At my old school everything they did in class was from the book, no derivation, and so in the one class I thought I could be at least some help in, I was the same vegetable. At my new school I feel like much more of an asset and my classmates are much bigger assets for me. All I can really say is that I’m much happier with my school situation now then I was in September. Beyond that though, I feel very lucky to have a family who helped me make that switch and who also organized it so I was able to visit two new schools and then decide which was the school for me.

In mid-September we had orientation, which gave me an opportunity to meet all the exchange students and to really see Budapest for the first time. I’ve been two times since then. The last time was by far my favorite. My host dad had a conference during my fall break from school and I was able to just spend the whole day exploring. I walked over the Erzsébet híd [Elizabeth Bridge], up Gellért hill to the Citadella, and to Castle Hill. Budapest is an exceptionally beautiful city – it is by no means perfect, but its faults are part of its charm and there’s no taking its beauty away.

At a fall festival in September, my host mom informed me that we would be going to Romania the first weekend in October with the newly founded Rotary Club of Kozármisleny, to which my host father belongs. I was beyond excited when I found out we were going to Romania. Romania is one of those countries that has always fascinated me and I thoroughly enjoyed the four days I was there. The ride there and back? Not so much, but I’m used to long car rides, more used to them than Hungarians at least. On exchange I’ve come to realize that road trips aren’t a European thing.

I was asked to invite the other two exchange students in my town on the trip. They both accepted the invitation. I suppose I should point out that neither of the two other exchange students in my cities are from America, one is from Brazil and the other Ecuador. Let me just say that I now know what it feels like to sit on a bus for two hours on the border between two countries. You see, while Ricardo from Brazil was able to get over the border no problem, Bernardo from Ecuador had double the problems. First, he was issued a visa that allowed him one and only one entrance to Hungary and second, he needed another visa to get into Romania. In the end he had to wait at the border by himself for another hour, was picked up by the head of Rotary Youth Exchange here, taken to the train station in Szeged, where he got to take a train to Budapest and be picked up by his host family – not exactly a story with a happy ending, but an interesting one I think. I guess the lesson is always check to see what countries you need a visa for and which you don’t?

I had a lot of fun in Romania. We stayed in Dej and visited Cluj-Napoca as well (and Kozármisleny’s sister town for a little while on our way back). While there we were welcomed by the Rotary Club of Dej, who were very hospitable and who knew how to dance.

We toured both Dej and Cluj and visited a salt mine. I can now say, that not only have I been to a salt mine, but I’ve also seen a game of soccer played in one. In case you were wondering, Kozármisleny won.

Every night on our trip there was a Kozármisleny/Dej get-together. Saturday night being the biggest one, the gathering was recorded for local television. Thursday and Saturday these events were enjoyable, quite enjoyable. Friday though? Friday Ricardo and I, as well as two Romanian locals in their twenties whose parents are a part of the Dej Rotary Club, sat at a table and bonded as we waited oh so long for food and listened to the same horrible CD play over and over again. For example, one of the songs main word was “Ah” sang at different octaves and while when all is said and done I had a good time, it was boredom that led to that good time, and I’m sure it’s nothing like the bonding, occasionally singing, members of both clubs had as they shared their pálinka and chatted, or tried to chat, as Hungarian is not Romanian. Though, they probably had a better shot there than other areas as we were in the Transylvanian area of Romania, which was a part of Hungary for hundreds of years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Romania. I had a great time. I was able to see a new country, one that has some serious natural beauty, however, Romania is not as clean as Hungary, it is far from being as clean as Hungary and driving on the road in Romania you’re a witness to poverty, an extreme poverty that I’m not used to seeing.

My host club counselor’s family owns a vineyard in Villány, a town in my county famous for its wine. She invited me to come with them as they harvested grapes and of course, I accepted this opportunity. Her family gathered at their small, but nice vineyard and we had breakfast and lunch in the one-roomed house on the grounds. Tables were pushed together, and covered with an array of different tablecloths, the place felt unbelievably cozy. I helped cut down grapes for a while, but when the three other kids went inside, I joined them and we played a game of Catan, which they assured me was very famous, but which I’d never heard of before.

At the end of October, I took a trip to Venice with a lot of the other exchange students here in Hungary. Venice was a beautiful maze and though I was only there eight hours, I had a great time, I only wish I could have seen more. We did not however, sleep in a hotel on the way to or from Venice, we slept on the bus and while I did actually sleep on the bus, when I got back to my bed, I slept and I slept hard. Two nights on a bus will do that to you I suppose.

Well, this journal is a long time coming and I should probably wrap it up soon because this is becoming a long-winded beast of journal, but before I do, I have a few words for you future outbounds. If you’re in District 6970, I hear you know who you are, so congratulations!

[In case anything I’ve said in the past doesn’t quite exactly add up please note that I expected this journal to be finished on the 29th of November – again, delinquent]

The next few months will go by fast, at times maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they’ll go by fast. In January you’ll have your first orientation and I’m assuming you’ll all know what counties you’re going to and I’m sure many of you, hopefully all of you, will be delighted with where you are going, whether it was a top choice or not. Everyone here asks me why I wanted to come to Hungary and at my first school my classmates wanted to know what my first choice was, because they knew it wasn’t Hungary, but I did want to go to Hungary and I was excited beyond belief when I found out my country.

Other people weren’t quite as excited, but not everyone can go to Japan. I believe with my group of outbounds that was the most popular place that people wanted to go to but weren’t actually going to. And if that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll grow to love Italy or Belgium or whatever country you’re placed in.

The world is a big place my friends, and being able to spend one year immersed in one of the two hundred or so countries there are out there is an unbelievable opportunity. Sometimes I get sad that I’m eighteen and will never have this opportunity again, while others get the opportunity to ‘yo-yo.’ One of the guys in Hungary is a yo-yo, he spent a year on exchange in Brazil, prior to his one here and while to my knowledge RYE Florida doesn’t yo-yo, which as popular as youth exchange is in Florida makes plenty of sense, it still saddens me that I’ll never have the opportunity to do this again with any organization. Cherish your exchange, because it’s a gift. No matter how much work you have to do to go on it or how little, it’s a gift and you should never think about returning it. I did for a few minutes last December and I can assure that would have been a terrible, terrible mistake, one that I could never take back.

As you will be told plenty of times, live where you are. I have moments where I wonder why I didn’t want to go to Belgium, because I had three years of French, I would have had a bit of a leg up there. With Hungarian my legs were flat from the beginning and is my Hungarian anywhere close to perfect? No! I have problems making sentences, but I understand a lot and I learn new things everyday and I try. And if you’re going to a country that speaks Finnish, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Croatian, Hungarian, any language that’s not popular and somewhat easy to find help with in the states, I can assure you’ll have problems. No matter where you go, you’ll have problems, you’ll have beast of a new language to contend with and such beasts aren’t easy to tame, but you’ll make strides. At least, I hope you’ll make strides, because I think language learning is essential.

Anyway, I have moments where I think about French, which I’m somewhat familiar with and for a second my mind starts to drift to some country not so far from here where they say “oui” and “non” instead of “igen” and “nem.” But as I make strides here, I feel good about myself. I feel good learning basics. I feel good with any and all progress and I honestly don’t think I would have felt the same way in a francophone country. With Hungarian I’m starting from scratch and working my way up the totem pole ever so slowly, but I’m moving up, I see from new heights everyday and if you end up with a country you secretly or not so secretly didn’t want or with a language you can’t even begin to wrap your head around, you’ll persevere, you’ll make it through, and it’ll mean so much more to you when you do.

It does to me and so I’ll end this once again thanking Rotary.

Köszönom szepén!