-My current catchphrase.
Budapest, Day 104
So, it's officially December. Those last three months seem a lot blurrier when I gaze backwards. It's getting colder and darker, yet my determination to wear a maximum of one coat is unwavered. Saturday, we were graced with the season's first snow. In what may be a sign of times to come, it completely failed to stick. Though pretty, it was also far from the most beautiful thing I saw that day. This distinction was claimed by the venerable Parliament building, which AFS went on a tour of. It is rare to see such a tasteful accumulation of shiny gold decorations and stone statues. Keeping in mind a certain axiom regarding relative value, I have seen fit to break my precedent and actually include some pictures:
Speaking of sweet, I somehow managed to get this much candy for 80HUF (~$0.33). It shows that the whole lower food prices thing really does work out, because this is good stuff. That was the highlight of the night before my trip to the Parliament, which I'm going to describe backwards after the picture because apparently sensible chronology is for chumps.
The latter part of my Friday night consisted of a complete failure to go anywhere with any friends, owing in part to the fact that the default plan of "go drinking" doesn't work too well with the token teetotaler. I did have the fortune of finding some breakdancing buskers, however, so it was far from a total loss.The former part, the huge official Hungarian Travel Test, where a pass was required in order to travel outside of a very strict set of AFS guidlines. It was very professionally conducted, especially the part where they, in the name of fairness, did not have the students sign their tests, but instead instituted a code system. One would write down their name and the code of their test sheet on a separate piece of paper, to be opened after the written test was graded. At first, I was concerned by the idea that that anonymity would not be preserved owing to the fact that many of us might be indentified by our schools or other personal information. I needn't have been: the first test question was "Introduce yourself in 8 sentences", and most of us started by stating our names.
I passed the test, which means my temporary return to Székesfehérvár is now imminent. AFS had originally declared that those who didn't pass couldn't show, and that if everyone passed there would be a chapter trip to Vienna. Now, both of those statements have been generously retracted, as all will be attending both. The trip to Székesfehérvár begins Friday, and is slated to be the greatest union of the Hungary AFSers since the very beginning. Maybe all 5 of us from the USA will finally all be in the same place at the same time again. It will also be a chance to meet my host grandparents in Székesfehérvár, who I have not seen since the October break I spent with them. On a less serious note, all the Budapest Chapter students, like every other chapter, have been trying to prepare a dance to present to the other chapters. Despite the group's lack of motivation and ability to agree on song choices, I am confident we will be able to present something mediocre enough to not completely embarass ourselves.
Though I still have a few schedule conflicts to work out, I have no doubt that my holiday season will be memorable. Though I have this sneaking feeling I missed something in this writeup.
If you were one of the people who saw my old website, you may be wondering what the heck happened. If you are one of the fewer who actually tried to access it, you know a bit more. The full story is that something went horribly wrong with the Arvixe server that this website is hosted on, and I didn't practice very good backup management. However, by a bizarre miracle, I did not lose any of the actual article text. Specifically, my grandmother apparently made print copies of everything. I'm not complaining. Anyway, the article proper:
The foundation of family - that's where it all begins for me.
-Faith Hill, who I didn't remember existed until I had to go to BrainyQuotes to find a good frontispiece for this post.
Budapest, Day 86
When I came here, I expected to be dropped into a new family's way of life. That was part of the plan. Getting kicked out a month-and-a-half later wasn't. Maybe I'll tell the full story someday, but not now. Now I'm just going to cite "Philosophical Differences." The family and I had incompatible expectations, and by the time I figured out what had happened the damage had become irreversible. So on the morning of Friday, October 9th, I was told to pack my bags. I was unceremoniously dropped off at the AFS office, and told that I would be staying with a volunteer for the weekend, then shipped off to a temporary family while they looked for a permanent placement.
I remember that night. I remember the guilt, the pain, the anger, and, worst of all, the crushing void that consumed the majority of my senses. On some level, I'd known for weeks what was going to happen, but I wasn't prepared for the reality of it. I remember, for the first time since I met my original host family, stepping out into the night with no idea where I was going to end up. A taxi pulled up, one of the volunteers slipped some instructions to driver, and I was off. The journey was made in numb silence. So let it stand that not once before or since I reached my destination have I been so glad to see that someone ordered pizza.
Staying with András, the former chapter leader, was a breath of fresh air. I had time to decompress and talk about my problems with someone further down a similar road - he had had issues with his original host family in Denmark. Suddenly, I no longer hide for fear that more of my imperfections would be exposed. In what was, in retrospective, fittingly symbolic, he even showed me a sight I'd found suspiciously missing since I came here, a proper marketplace. Open-air stalls, boxes of fresh fruit, the works. Soon enough, though, I moved on to my temporary host family.
It's funny how little discussion of host family changes I remember from my pre-trip orientations. The narrative I managed to pick up on was that it was an emergency measure, not something common. Things changed once I got here. I heard second-hand that about half the exchange students that came into the country ended up changing families. At this writing, I'm the second of three US students to switch families, and there are only five of us. Take that as you will.
Returning to the narrative: my first temporary assignment was with the family of one of the AFS volunteers, Doloresz. The family meaning her mother Zita, and sometimes her mother as well. The father isn't dead or even divored, apparently he just lives in a different part of the city. Spoiler alert: they're also my (hopefully) final family, but no one knew that a month ago. The accomodations aren't quite as luxurious as what I fled, and I've yet to duct tape together a door substitute for my room, yet I'm far more comfortable here than I ever was with my original host family.
Three weeks ago, when I went to my second host family, things were far less certain. Apparently it's standard to have a week break from school in late October here, and Doloresz and Zita hadn't planned for me. So I hopped on a train bound for an entirely different city: Székesfehérvár. There, I would be staying with an elderly couple - the same one who usually hosts the AFS St. Nicolas party. Székesfehervár is no Budapest, but it has a charm and significance of it's own. The old royal seat of Hungary, it now hosts museums, ruins, and at least one very good ice cream shop. While there, I visited the local lake and a cave system, but not before passing back through Budapest to climb a mountain with my classmates. At the same time, I waited tensely as AFS-Budapest pushed the date for finding me a host family further and further back. As my time in Székesfehérvár came to a close, I was presented with a choice. I could return to Zita and Doloresz, or face an uncertain future as AFS continued to attempt to find me a family. My course of action was clear, and only became more so when one of my friends lost his host family.
So here I am. I've settled into a new family, my SAT Subject Tests have come and gone, and I find myself juggling. Every minute I spend writing this blog is a minute I don't spend studying Hungarian, writing college or scholarship essays, resting, or studying for school here. I know there's a reward on this road, but it is one that must be earned. For now, I take time to witness the beauty of autumn. The wind blows up torrents of variegated leaves, clouds rush through the sky like sheep fleeing a wolf that's had it's legs replaced with really slow tank treads, and people keep trying to convince me to start wearing coats. Though none of the local Game of Thrones fans have reminded me of it, winter is coming.
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.
Do you like Game of Thrones?
After I was first introduced to my classmates at Berzsenyi Dániel Gimnázium I knew to expect questions. But I wasn't prepared for the first one that came my way. Sure, I got all the questions about where I was from in the US and why I had come to Hungary, but that first one stood out from the rest. Then again, not two days later, my Hungarian Literature class was discussing they play they were studying (Bánk Bán) my teacher looked at me in and said in English "Do you know Game of Thrones? I'm asking because this is kind of like Game of Thrones." So I was sitting there listening to my teacher making literary comparisons between this 200 year old Hungarian drama and Game of Thrones and I could think is that I really need to read past the first book.
So anyway, Ciao from Hungary!
Budapest, Day 20
I left off the last post right before going to Lake Balaton with my host family, aunt, uncle, and cousins. My group arrived late Saturday night and had all of Sunday at the lake. The cabin itself seemed torn straight out of suburbia, rather than a proper lakeside house, and I don't know if my sleep was affected more by the house's proximity to train tracks or my proximity to the girls' room. However, the lake itself was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting apocalyptic crowds, not "US national park" level crowds. I don't even remember spotting trash floating in the lake. We swam, then rented a "water bicycle" (a sturdy plastic boat with a built-in waterslide and two sets of pedals.) The water was clean and fresh, if not clear, and Hanne and I could stand for quite a ways out (the short people, not so much.) All-in all, it was a relaxing prelude to the events to come.
So, apparently I'm in Berzsenyi Daniel Gymnasium class 11C, the math-focused class. So far, it's been going pretty well. The students seem pretty cool, no one stands out as a total douche, and the school lunches are surprisingly decent. At AFS orientation I was informed that the food, and I quote, "literally tasted like shit." So far, it's been a variety of colored glop that actually tastes pretty good. The low point is the "let's chop up a baby carrot and three peas, chuck them into some vegetable broth, and call it a soup" soup.
The main difference between my class schedule and one from the US is that it is devoting less time to a greater number of things at once. I constantly need to reference the schedule because each day is different. Each individual class gets at most 3 45-minute periods per week. The math focus comes from two separate math classes in parallel - statistics and 3D geometry, plus sciences (Physics and Biology) and Informatics (a computer class - so far we've been learning Excel.) Those also happen to be the classes I have the 2nd through 6th easiest time understanding, not in order. 1st is English class, where my only issue is when I disagree with the textbook. I raised my voice over "literally" being used as a generic intensifier. My teachers' response? "Maybe it's a British use." The resulting argument was as fun as it was completely unwarranted.
Speaking of completely unwarranted, the particularly astute reader may have found my "ciao" incongruent with the situation. After all, "ciao" is an Italian word, not a Hungarian one. That's because I'm apparently studying Italian now, and trying to take it seriously. Because that's a reasonable and sane decision when I'm in the middle of Hungary and supposed to be learning Hungarian. The best part is that day 1 of Italian made more sense to me than Hungarian. Turns out Italian is really similar to Spanish. Internally, I lost it. As far as other understanding goes, I can understand a lot of the classes because they either involve equations or are material I've learned before. Thus far, Informatics has cemented itself as my favorite class, thanks to the hands-on problem solving and the fact that I can have a Google Translate window open. Hungarian Literature and Hungarian History are pretty much lost on me though. Big surprise there.
Speaking of learning Hungarian, I'll take a moment to point out something about the language that strikes me as very strange. See, Hungarian has apparently picked up "Hello" from English. However, since Hungarian's native familiar greeting, szia, is also a goodbye, they use "hello" as a goodbye as well. No, seriously.
I'll finish this post with a short story about how amazing I am at shopping in Hungarian. Earlier today, I attempted to purchase an A4 sketchbook for my art class (which no one seems to care about, just like in the USA.) So I walked into a paper store, and searched for one. I couldn't find one, so I went up to the lady with a B4 sketchbook and tried to ask for "like this, except A4." She looked at me like I was an idiot. I fell back, did another round of the store, and then nearly facepalmed my skull in. Of course she didn't know what a "Bee-Four" or "Ay-Four" sketchbook was. She knew them as "Beh-Negy" and "Ah-Negy." I tried asking again in nearly-cromulent Hungarian, and she explained that the store did not, in fact, carry A4 sketchbooks.
At twilight's end the shadow's crossed. A new world birthed, the elder lost. Yet on the morn, we wake to find that mem'ry left so far behind. To deafened ears we ask, unseen, "which is life, and which the dream?" -Aaron Diaz
Tonight, I partake in one of the many blessings of life. One long denied, and far longer inconceivable. The result of a moment of administrative clarity setting off an inexorable chain of events. Time gallops along, leads me to this moment. Specifically, the moment where I write five sentences about the fre Wi-Fi at SeaTac airport.
My name is Adam. I will spare you the self-descriptive adjectives and buzzwords for now, and let it suffice to say that I am a student. Also, I'm leaving for a year of foreign exchange through AFS. I will be in Hungary three days from now. I'll give you one guess what I'll be writing about for the next year or so.
For those reading near the time of posting, note that this website is still under construction. For those reading in the far future, note that I went live with the website before it was finished, and judge me as you will.