Budapest, Day 7
All foreigners, who have visited Budapest, talk about it with praise, even those who are in the position to make a comparison between the Hungarian capital and the most beautiful and famous cities of foreign lands.
-Lajos Kossuth (1883)
-My substantially less eloquent first reaction.
Even now, on my ninth day in this country and seventh with my host family, I struggle to comprehend the situation in which I find myself. A week and a half ago, I left my home behind, and flew to the opposite edge of the country for my USA-side orientation. I'd love to say that I got a full tour of New York like a certain lucky bastard, but that was not to be. Instead my first New York story will forever be the one where we weren't allowed to leave the airport hotel. Also, we were barred from both the hotel pool and the exercise room. I did not choose to console myself by purchasing "I heart NY" merchandise, tempting though it was.
What mattered more than the activities at the US-side orientation was the people I met there. There are five of us from AFS-USA staying in Hungary for the year. I would say that we represent a complete and deep spectrum of the American Experience but (a) that's really hard for five people and (b) three of us are from Pennsylvania. If you want some other perspectives on this story, I'd suggest you check out a couple of their blogs.
The cross-oceanic flight was surprisingly nice. Free food and free movies meant that the ten hour flight (+2 hours of mucking about on the ground beforehand) went by swiftly. I saw Interstellar, The Hangover (thanks to the German guy sitting next to me), and Kingsmen: The Secret Service (Brennan's fault.) Despite a minor hangup with the German passport check, we then made our connection and landed safely in Budapest. At this point, we and all the other incoming AFS students were shuttled off to a bunch of log cabins some distance away from the city. There we would be for the next two-and-a-half days. Sure, the door handles seemed as though they were about to come out, but we had good food, good showers, and good company. Compared to my orientation across the Atlantic, I found the setting more comfortable and the lessons more useful.
Though there was the one troublesome bit, but it could have been worse. Apparently I made it to my bed before I passed out, and someone found me before dinner was over. I was about halfway through eating when I finished waking up. Having gotten a total of twelve hours of sleep over the preceding three days, I found my state of exhaustion to be quite unusual.
A note on demographics at the orientation. Apparently Hungary is quite popular in Italy and Thailand, because they sent the two largest contingents of students. Honorable mentions to Belgium and Turkey. Notably absent: any students from Africa.
So, four paragraphs into the post named after it, I suppose it's time to actually talk about the city of Budapest. Architecturally, it's a wonder. I mean, I've seen architecture of the caliber typical of Budapest's center before, but never in such sheer quantity. There is an odd sense of harmony that comes with the complete lack of skyscrapers - perhaps augmented by the fact that each building that stands out from the rest is carefully-crafted enough so as not to be an eyesore. As my host father drove me through the city for the first time, I could do little but gawk at the splendor of it as he enumerated each landmark. Truly, Budapest is a sight to behold. It's a shame I'll be doing so much of my travel by subway.
So far, my host family has been good. A little too good sometimes. The two toddlers only speak Hungarian and Incoherent Screaming, but everyone else speaks some level of English, which is a textbook double-edged sword. On one hand, it's easy to communicate. On the other, I have less reason to learn Hungarian. On the third side, I've been getting some good practice in Simple English. Our first night together, we had a nice family dinner. Everyone together, a prayer beforehand, wine (I declined), the whole works. I thought it would be strange for me switching from being home alone half the time to that, but it turns out family dinners don't happen that often here. It was only today that a good time came to hand out my gifts to the family.
Though there are cultures much more different than my native, there are the little things that tell me I'm outside of my native realm. For instance, drivers here are noticeably less cautious around pedestrians than where I'm from. Many times, I've had a car zip straight past me where in the States it would have stopped. I remember thinking that such behavior was more efficient before I came here, but now I find it oddly jarring. I hope that my longstanding practice of almost getting hit by cars is not rudely interrupted. On an equally positive note, I've noticed that cigarette smoking is substantially more popular here than in the states. That explains why how to ask for a cigarette was one of the first skills in the Foreign Service Institute Hungarian course I got. I suppose I should end this paragraph with something snarky and cigarette-shaming, but that just feels overdone.
My school starts Tuesday. Apparently I'll be attending a math-focused program at Berzsenyi Daniel Gimnazium, one of the hardest best schools in Budapest. But before that, I will be going to Lake Balaton for the weekend with another branch of the host family. I'll clarify; it turns out my host aunt is hosting a student of her own: a girl from the Flemish side of Belgium.
Suffice it to say that things are about to get a bit more interesting. Soon, this post will be far in the past. My one non-toddling host sister still in the country will depart on a journey of her own to Italy. A bunch of other stuff will happen too, but I don't know about any of that yet. Go read my next post. Unless you're at a point in the timeline where I haven't written that yet, in which case just hold on until I write the thing.