Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Banana Grams, Pizza, and Wine- Fall Break Adventures in Italy

Hello everyone!

Its been quite a hectic past couple of weeks, which is why this blog post is so delayed. I have a lot of updates about my new living and teaching situation, but that will come in a separate post. First things first- Fall Break! Me and 5 of my friends- Hilary, Kate, Becka, Caroline, and Molly, jetted off to Italy on October 26th for 8 days. We had an absolutely perfect vacation. We were able to find tickets for 50 dollars that flew us into Naples. However, we basically just used that to get us into Italy- we only stayed for one night because, as our friend Jenn had described it Naples really is the "armpit of Italy." It was dirty, crowded, and we held onto our belongings for dear life because pick pocketers there are skilled and ruthless. We navigated our way through the city and found our hostel, which was surprisingly really nice. It was located behind this charming old red church and had about 50 vespas parked out front. It was clean, the staff was nice, and most importantly gave us great recommendations on where to get amazing pizza. If we got anything out of Naples, it was GOOD pizza.

The following morning we headed out early for our first "real" destination- Rome! It was my second time traveling here, and while it still wasn't my favorite, I did enjoy it MUCH more the second time around. I knew what to expect, and the group of girls I traveled with this time around was much more ideal. We did all the touristy sites, but it seemed much more relaxed. We casually stumbled upon the Colosseum at night, and looked around the outside on our own, instead of taking a long expensive tour. I enjoyed it so much more. Another interesting aspect of Rome was that I had an errand to run- getting my phone fixed. My iPhone decided to disconnect from WiFi permanently. Since Budapest doesn't have an official Apple Store, the guy at the retail store said, "Take it to Rome! They replace for free!" What he failed to mention was that the Apple store in Rome is actually an hour outside the city center. Kate and I boarded a hot, dirty bus for and traveled forever to a mall in the middle of nowhere. Luckily it wasn't in vain...the Italian man that helped me out understood my situation, and when he heard I came all the way to Hungary to have my problem fixed, he moved me WAY up in his line of appointments and gave me a brand new phone right away. Kate and I grabbed some yummy gelato and boarded the bus back to meet our friends. That same night happened to be our friend Becka's birthday and we treated her to an authentic Italian meal. Our friend Caroline found an adorable restaurant at the end of a brick alley in the middle of a square. We had the most amazing meal of our lives, ending with the most AMAZING tiramisu I have ever tasted. We watched fire dancers perform in the square and had a band of men playing guitars and accordions serenaded Becka with "Happy Birthday."                                                                                                                           
Our Authentic Italian Meal- Happy 23rd, Becka!
 While we had an amazing last night in Rome, we decided we were ready to get to Florence as early as possible the next morning. What we failed to do, however, was look up the train schedule the night before. Our friend discovered the next morning that the cheapest train that would get us to Florence at a decent hour left in exactly half an hour. We were all still in pajamas, had absolutely nothing packed, but somehow thought we could still make it. Long story short we did...but only after a lot of stress, a lot of running and a lot of wondering if our friend Hilary was actually on the train as it pulled away.

When all 6 of us miraculously arrived in Florence safe and sound, we stepped off the train and were immediately mesmerized by the city. It is so quaint, so charming, and everyone is extremely friendly. While Budapest is an amazing city, Hungarians are typically quite pessimistic and smiles from strangers are few and far between. It was nice to get a little bit of that in Florence. On top of all of this, our hostel was amazing! We had our own room, and the hostel had a rooftop bar with a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

View from the rooftop of our hostel at sunset
There was also a POOL and a SAUNA! After a long day of stressing and a long past few days of walking around Rome, we were in heaven. We were so happy to spend the evening wandering and exploring the city with no agenda at all. We wandered through the markets, gawking at all the handmade leather goods, and stumbled upon the Duomo, the famous church in Florence. This place had the most insane, intricate architecture I have ever seen. None of us could stop looking at it, and even laid down on the ground to look up and gaze at it from a new perspective. We all giggled as we were lying down on the cold cement, taking in the moment and fully enjoying the moment we were in.

Admiring the Duomo from the ground :)
That night in Florence we made friends with just about everyone, including a lady at a wine store who showered us with free samples, and two Albanian men selling gelato. When we told them we were from Budapest, they replied with "aaahh, köszönöm!" The first people we had come across who knew a Hungarian word...and they were from Albania. 

For dinner both nights in Florence, we took advantage of "apertivo." Its an Italian thing where you order a cocktail for 8 or 9 euros and then have access to an unlimited buffet of food. Yes please. Our plates were piled high both nights, and we went back for 3rd and 4ths. We were pretty sure it was not supposed to be treated like actual dinner...we also didn't care.  

Our evenings were spent like 80 year old women... Hilary made a last minute decision to pack banana grams in our very limited luggage space. I would say it ended up being our single most valuable possession on our trip. We spent every night drinking wine and/or lemoncello in our hostel and playing endless heated games of banana grams. We even added a new rule: winner had to make a sentence using all of their words. It always ended in laughs. I wouldn't have changed a thing about our old lady nights in Italy. 

True English Teachers- Complete Word Nerds

While we were sad to leave Florence, we were extremely excited about our next destination- Cinque Terre! It is an area along the coast and is made up of 5 little villages. We stayed in Vernazza, one of the smallest, and I honestly don't know when I have ever seen so many colors in my life! The houses are built right into the mountainside and each one is a different color. They have umbrellas in the main square that are vibrant shades of orange and yellow and blue. If you hike up a ways you can see all the colors reflecting off the turquoise water. We couldn't believe how beautiful it was. We stayed in an adorable little house, literally 20 steps from the beach. It had a loft, fresh towels, and big beds. We spent the night exploring the town, enjoying meals filled with the city's signature pesto, and looking up at the stars- something we have not been able to do in quite some time living in a big city.
Beautiful Vernazza!

 On our first full day in Cinque Terre, we got up early to go hiking over to one of the other cities. We went on a beautiful walk above Vernazza, through the mountains, and back down to the beaches of Monterosso. We had some amazing views and saw a lot of people farming and tending to vineyards along the mountainside. Again, we all had to take a moment to pinch ourselves and realize that we weren't dreaming. When we arrived in Monterosso we immediately changed into our swim suits and went swimming in the cold clear water. Since Hungary is essentially land locked, it felt amazing just to be in a body of water. It was so salt that we didn't even have to tread water- we just floated along, talking and laughing. We enjoyed some time in the sun and lying around on the beach before grabbing lunch and heading back to our quaint little house in Vernazza. The next day was spent exploring and doing some more little mini hikes. Kate discovered a great lookout up near a cemetery, and Hilary and I walked up to enjoy the view. I also spent some time writing in my journal and writing some postcards on the rocks near the water. All the cliffs and the smell of salty breezes reminded me of Palos Verdes and, as lucky as I felt to be in the moment, it did make me a little homesick.

Late Friday night we hopped on a 4 HOUR train to Milan to begin our long journey back to Budapest. Since our flight was early on Sunday, we decided not to book a hostel for Saturday night and simply stay out all night in Milan. This plan quickly deteriorated for several reasons: 1) We thought we could store our bags in the train station. It was closed. 2) Milan right outside the train station was sketchy and we had no idea where to find a decent place to go out. 3) Milan is the fashion capitol of the world and we were wearing old wrinkly clothes that had been shoved in vacuum bags for 8 days. Our night in Milan was spent in a Chinese/Italian fusion restaurant and trying not to fall asleep in the sketchy train station for fear of being robbed. Don't worry Mom. I'm alive.

While we were EXAHUSTED from staying up all night- especially since we had gone to bed every night at around 10, we all came back agreeing that it had been a successful and amazing trip. I am so fortunate to have met some amazing friends here who made such great travel companions. Now, the next chapter of my life in Hungary is beginning with a recent move to Budapest and I couldn't be more excited! Ciao for now!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cheers, Cookies, and Cheetahs

Before I get into the explanation of the odd blog post title, I want to start off by saying that I have still not been moved to my new school in Budapest. However, I received word today that my program has found a replacement teacher! So I will finish out next week teaching, the following week will be fall break, and when I return I'll be moved to my new apartment in the hills of Buda! The kindergarten I'll be working at is called "Szőlőszem" which means "grapes" in Hungarian. I've been stalking the heck out of the facebook page and it looks like it's going to be a blast- I'll keep everyone posted.

In the mean time, some updates on my adventures the past two weeks, because there has been a lot of them. First, the bad news- I am currently on hour 48 of being secluded in my bed recovering from a horrible case of pink eye. I went to bed Tuesday night with some mysterious goo coming from my left eye, and when I awoke Wednesday morning, it was swollen shut. We had been told at orientation the sick days for teachers in Hungary are not taken lightly- if you call in, you must go to see a doctor that day and receive a note to miss work. Let me tell you, I was feeling so awful that the thought of getting in a car to go see a doctor sounded less than appealing. When I called my headmaster, however, all I had to say was "eye infection" and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Apparently there has been a pink eye outbreak amongst the teachers at Mátyás. He said there was no need to see a doctor, and that he would have drops and cream delivered to my apartment. Happy Shannen. Veronika, the secretary of the school who has become my good friend, delivered my medication later that day along with a huge chocolate bar and a Hungarian fairy tale book translated into English- the book was even wrapped in pink wrapping paper. 

Anyway, onto other happier news- Oktoberfest! At the end of my last blog entry I was preparing myself for the 12 hour bus ride to Munich for what I figured would be an epic adventure- and that it was. I really didn't know quite what I was getting myself into. When Kate and I went to board our bus, I was panicking because I thought I had accidentally deleted the reservation off my phone. As we went on in our high pitched anxious chatter, we didn't realized we had reached the front of the line. The lady checking people onto the bus just looked at us and said, "Kate and Shannen?" Of course she was able to pick us out as the silly American girls... We were convinced she was playing some sort of game with herself, possibly called "spot the Americans."

The bus stopped every four hours, and we got as much sleep as you possibly can on a bus. We arrived in Munich at 9:00 am Saturday morning. The bus dropped us of at the train station in Munich where Kate and I met up with the rest of our friends. None of knew exactly where we were going, so we decided to just follow the people in dirndls and lederhosens...and it worked. The entrance of Oktoberfest was not exactly what I looked like any other cheesy carnival. As you can tell
from this picture, it was also POURING down rain, making us all the more anxious to get ourselves into a beer tent. If only we had known what a struggle this would be...we were kicked out (quite literally) from one tent because of our backpacks, apparently they weren't allowed, and rejected from another because we didn't have reservations. Finally we managed to get into
Hofbräu, one of the biggest beer tents at the festival.
Again, though, this did not come without a struggle. The way they let people in is, about every 20 minutes of so, they lift up a rope and people stampede their way in. After almost being trampled and buying a pastry for 10 euros in order to bribe our way in, we were settled at a table buying steins of beer from women in dirndls. Note: these steins are MASSIVE and these tiny women carry 4 or 5 on each arm. It made me feel like a weakling. Anyway, after our first stein we all started to adjust to the crazy, crowded atmosphere of Oktoberfest. We made a LOT of new friends- being at Oktoberfest is not like being at a bar, where strangers awkwardly make conversation. Total strangers treat you like best friends, want to take pictures, and constantly clink steins (when I say "clink" I really mean crash- people would cheers so hard that these glasses, each weighing probably 2 pounds, would break.) We spent the afternoon
Our new friend Jorge and I enjoying a beer
drinking more beers than anyone should at 11 am, laughing as our friend Daniel tried his best to stand on a table and chug an entire stein, and eating some delicious German treats.
Beer as big as our heads!

Our first taste of German Pretzels- Yum.

It was all fine and dandy until Kate and I attempted to use the bathroom- instead of being lead to the toilets, we were lead OUT of the tent. I was attacked by a German security guard because I was still in possession of my stein and Kate and I were shoved out of the tent- away from our friends, and left out in the pouring rain. The rest of the day was spent eating sausages, chatting with some random men eating chicken at a restaurant, and finally ending up at a Starbucks drinking pumpkin spice lattes wondering what the heck this day was. It went by in a flash. It was crazy, exhausting, exciting, hilarious and confusing all at the same time. Would I do it again? Absolutely. After an insane 12 hours of Oktoberfesting, we boarded the bus back to Budapest and got in just as the sun was rising over Parliament. A successful way to end the weekend.

School the following week was quite an adventure as well. Like I wrote in my last blog post, I have been working with my older students on ordering at restaurants in English. This week we used the menus they created last week to perform skits where one student was the waiter and the other the customer. I noticed that when a lot of the "customers" got to their dessert order, they chose cookies. Whenever they did, the entire class snickered under their breaths. I was confused, but I just brushed it off. It wasn't until Veronika offered to sit in on a few of my classes that I found out the reason for this. She took me out for coffee after school one day and explained to me that "cookie" has the same pronunciation as the Hungarian word "kuki" which means small penis. Dear God. Flashback to last week, when we were learning dessert words and I asked my eighth graders, "ooo you like cookies? What kind of cookies? Chocolate chip?" Humiliation. No wonder I couldn't get my students to stop laughing- and here I thought I was just really entertaining.

Since I have been burnt out trying to come up with so many lesson ideas, last week I decided to get into something that always excites me- holidays. I have been teaching my first and second graders all about Halloween and its been a blast. On Monday I taught them the song "Looking for Dracula" and they all drew their own vampires. We talked about what vampires look like "the have fangs, they wear capes, etc." I drew a sun on the board, pointed to it and asked a group of my first graders, "do vampires like the sun?" Immediately one of the boys, Misi, who I have barely heard speak a word of English, let alone a full sentence, stood up and said in his most passionate voice, "NO! That vampire HATE your sun!" Well. I guess I got my answer then. I awarded him with a star sticker.

After quite a few hectic teaching days last week, I was excited to escape into the city for the long awaited "Animal Party" a few teachers in our program had been planning.When we were hanging out at our friend Tiffany and Daniel's after the wine fest last month, we realized there were a lot of October Birthdays in our group- what better way to celebrate than with a theme party? I went into the city on Friday and stayed the weekend with Kate.

 We woke up on Saturday morning and wandered around West End mall, where we ended up finding cheetah ears at Claires (yes, they have Claires in Hungary), Cheetah Print leg warmers, and some face paint at a party store. We were ready to go. We made our way out to the suburbs, to our friend Elena's apartment, where we met up with the rest of the zoo. The group included a tiger, a shark, a cat, a lion, a zebra, an elephant, a zeetah (zebra/cheetah), a puppy, a penguin, a fox, a bumblebee and even a MANATEE! Yes, I have found someone who is just as friend Brenna. She wore a manatee sweatshirt and even pinned a piece of    
The weirdest picture I've probably ever take
 cabbage to her hair. We spent the evening catching up, playing flip cup, and eating pretzels and nutella. It was great to spend time with a lot of other teachers and share some of our adventures. The night ended with me, Kate, and our friend Nicole going to get gyros and the three of us snuggling in Kate's tiny little bed.

Daniel the Great White
Wild Cats- Posing with Hilary the Lion

 Anyway, that's about it for now- sending everyone lots of hugs from Hungary. I'll post a new update after my next adventure- a week in Italy for fall break! Naples, Rome, Florence and Milan with 5 amazing girls from CETP. Ciao!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In Limbo


Not a whole lot has happened since my last blog post in terms of transitioning to my new school. I am still here in Kecskemét while my program works on processing the paperwork for my replacement teacher. In the mean time, I'm trying to enjoy each day and work on some creative lessons in these last few days with my students here. This week my little guys (1st and 2nd graders) learned the months of the year through a song sung to the tune of "Michael Finnegan." We've also been reviewing what I've taught them (shapes, colors, days of the week, opposites) and its rewarding to see that they are catching on! Its so hard having them for such a short amount of time because I never really know how much they're retaining. I'm learning that it's all about repetition and routine. We start every morning by singing our days of the week song and going over what day it is today, what day it was yesterday, and what day it will be tomorrow. I think they really like the familiarity and knowing what to expect...and it gets their juices flowing. As for my older kiddos, we have been working on ordering at restaurants. This week they made menus for their own made up restaurants. As an example I made this:

 Again, I got a lot of very creative ideas, including "Cafe Expensive," where everything costs upwards of $1,000, "The Happiest Cafe of the World," where the slogan is "Don't worry, be happy," and "Viktor's Pizzeria," where everything on the menu begins with the name "Viktor." It's so much fun to see these kids take an idea and run with it. 

Last weekend I made my way into Budapest again, where I met up with my friends Kate and Jenn. One of the other English teachers needed a dog sitter so we spent the weekend at her beautiful apartment overlooking the Danube and Parliament and cuddling with her adorable Dachshund dog, Bobbi.

On Saturday the three of us met up with some other friends on our program and went to a real-life, legitimate hamburger joint! One can only take so much paprika chicken before a true American burger fix is needed. From there we spent the day roaming the city and exploring before heading out for a night on the town later that evening. We spent Saturday night at a huge bar that had a rooftop terrace and a porch swing! Kate and I also found a place that sold steins of beer for 225 forints (Basically a dollar). Win. On Sunday we had a lazy day walking around Maragaret Island. It is a beautiful park with a musical fountain, a huge grass area, and running trails. To make things even better it was an absolutely picture perfect crisp fall day.

Jenn and Bobbi enjoying a stroll on Margaret Island

Crossing Margit Híd to the Island

My days in Kecskemét are slow and more lonely compared to my time spent in the city, but I am trying to make the most of the rest of my time here. I've gotten into the groove of Hungarian grocery shopping (the first few times took me about two hours because I was translating everything on my phone). But I'm learning a lot of Hungarian words this way, and most of the cashiers know me as the silly American who only knows the phrase "Nem beszélek magyarul." (I don't speak Hungarian). 

Anyone who knows me knows that I can't cook to save my life. This has been interesting, however, what I lack in cooking skills I make up for in salad preparation. I can make a MEAN salad. Which has been a plus for me considering the veggies and produce here are super fresh. When I say fresh, I mean feathers fly out of the box when I open my eggs. So this is basically what I've been living off of. Its delicious, nutritious, and most importantly, doesn't involve me using my scary gas oven. 

This week I have also taken time to explore some of the outskirts of the city. I went on a quest to find a great place to run, and low and behold I found one! It's a dirt track about a 15 minute walk from my house. It is across from this pretty park and runs around a grassy field. At sunset its gorgeous and I really get into my groove. I've been running distances I've never been able to run before. People play with their dogs off the leash in the grass, so sometimes I'm interrupted by a furry friend, which is always a plus :)

Since I spend a lot of time alone, whenever anyone asks me to do anything I jump on the opportunity. Eszter invited me to the theater to see a Hungarian opera this past Tuesday, and while I knew I wouldn't understand anything, I wanted to go anyway. We had a great time. The singing was great, Eszter did an amazing job stepping in and translating when I got lost in the storyline, and we enjoyed some great espresso during intermission. As a plus, her father Andras has a lot of connections with the city, and I was able to go in and explore the theater backstage before the performance. The whole place is really gold and ornate and fancy. 

Illegally trying on the Costumes Backstage...ssshhh!    

 On top of dealing with the logistics of changing schools these past two weeks, I've also had the headache of dealing with the immigration office. Its been a nightmare trying to process health insurance, salary, and residency issues when in an entirely different language. Luckily in this midst of this craziness, I made a new friend! Her name is Veronika and works in the secretary office at my school. She took me to process all of my documents and tried her best to translate everything that was going on. After this nightmare was finally settled, she and I had coffee and cake together. She knows a LOT about history, and was telling me all about the history of the city, which was great because I have not gotten a lot of that since I've been here. She has also been telling me about Hungarian pop culture, and how even Hungarian rappers throw up the "West Side" sign. Pretty funny. Since there is a bit of a language barrier between us, we have to use my iPhone dictionary a lot. While I think she gets frustrated when she can't remember certain English words, I actually enjoy having to look things up because it helps me expand my Hungarian vocabulary. We get along really great and she had even offered to give me some Hungarian lessons before I leave for Budapest!

That's about all I've got for now...I think I've rambled enough. Now its off to pack for my fun-filled weekend... a blitz trip to Oktoberfest! Beer Steins, Dirndls, Drunk Germans, and Preztels here I come!

Kate + Shannen = <3

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Plot Twist!

Szia, Barátok! Hello, Friends!

Well, it has been a hectic past couple of weeks, which is why I'm slacking on my blog update. But enough of my excuses... after my last post I wandered into the city center (for the first time on my own) and found a lovely spot to sit and lesson plan. It is a place called the Terrace and overlooks the city. I ordered a pina colada and sat ready to tackle the daunting task of organizing my upcoming 24 lessons for the week.

I created a binder with more tabs than I've ever dealt with in my life. I planned a "parts of the body" for my 1st and 2nd graders, a school supplies lesson for my 3rd-5th graders, and a "design your own monster" for my 6th-8th graders. They had to draw a monster from their imagination and present it to the class, describing their monster's physical appearance, what it liked to eat, where it lived, and what super powers it had. I got some VERY creative responses, including "it has toxic spikes and shoots fireballs" and my personal favorite, "it lives in the school and eats homework." 

My name is really really hard for Hungarians to pronounce. I've gotten everything from "Shay-non" to "Shin-in." So when my 1st and 2nd graders started calling me "Shannenani," I thought it was just another name confusion. Come to find out "ani" is a suffix tacked on to a name that means "auntie." Actually the most adorable thing ever. I love their little chorus of voices saying "Shannenani!" when I walk into the room. For their lesson last week, they each drew a different body part, and then we cut them all out and put them together to make one person. This is how my 1st graders' creation turned out... they named it "Shannenani." 

That weekend I made plans to head back into Budapest for a wine festival that was taking place at Buda Castle. A lot of the CETP teachers were meeting up to enjoy some good wine, good company, and a get together at our friend's flat afterwards. I met up with my friend Jen at Starbucks, where I was able to get my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season! Hurray! From there we grabbed some lunch and made our way across the bridge all the way up to Buda Castle. It was quite a trek, and I was definitely huffing and puffing. When we reached the top the entire place was lined with tents and booths with different wine vendors. Although it was cold and rainy, we had a great time sipping on all the amazing varieties of wine and catching each other up on our first teaching adventures. Plus, we got these handy dandy wine holder gadgets! 

After the wine fest we went into the history museum. Unfortunately we walked in 10 minutes before it closed, so we didn't see much. So we wandered the castle grounds and saw some pretty breathtaking views. We explored fisherman's bastion, which has yet another amazing view (this city is full of them) of the Parliament Building and the Danube. From there we made our way to our friends Tiffany and Daniel's apartment, who graciously offered to host everyone for the evening. We stopped at the store to get snacks, where Jen convinced me to buy "Honey Ham Chips." How she talked me into it I'm not sure, but these things were DISGUSTING and literally tasted like crunchy slabs of meat. Gross. At Tiffany and Daniel's we all sat in the living room sipping beer, eating popcorn and enjoying each others company. It was great.

The following day, Jen and I went to yet another festival, this time a cow festival, where we saw a bunch of Hungarian longhorn cattle; alive, dead, and inflatable. 

We had fun wandering and exploring both the festival and Hero's Square, which was right next to the
festival. Jen (who has already been in Budapest for a year) gave me some tidbits of history and showed me around. After a little while we met up with our friend Kate for lunch. I hadn't seen her since orientation, so it was great to catch up. After a nice long afternoon I caught the second to last train back to Kecskemet to begin week 3 of teaching.

...And what a challenging 3rd week it was. I'm not going to lie, I felt rather overwhelmed. Suddenly the reality of managing close to 400 students was starting to kick in, and I was feeling like I didn't have the experience to take on the position and be the kind of resource these children need. I only see each group of students once a week for 45 minutes, and I don't have time to even learn their names. As much as I love my colleagues, and as much as it broke my heart to think about leaving my students, I had to face the reality that I am just not the right fit for this school. I called the CETP director, Hajni, who was more than understanding about my situation. I am so beyond lucky to have this program for support. It looks like I will be moving to Budapest to teach...Kindergarten! What a change, but I am truly excited to take on this new adventure. As DIFFICULT as this decision has been, I am lucky to have not only the support of Hajni and Mary from CETP, but also my colleagues in Kecskemet. They took me out for cake and coffee, where I opened up to them about my feelings. They were so understanding, and I look forward to visiting them even when I am back in Budapest. I am a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason" and I am so fortunate to have met the people and formed the connections that I have here. 

I will be in Kecskemet for two more weeks, enough time for the new teacher to get settled and for me to get prepared to move out of my apartment. I know this new position will present it's own set of challenges, but I truly feel that it will be a better fit for me, and will help me grow and learn as an educator. Although my new students will be much younger than I am used to working with, I will be be teaching a smaller group of them alongside bilingual Hungarian colleagues. My students in Kecskemet need a teacher who has some experience under their belt who can offer them the tools for success that comes with it. I wish I could be that person, but me being fresh out of college, I am not. Someday I hope I can be, and I know that this position in Budapest is a stepping stone toward that goal. 

I will keep everyone posted in these next upcoming weeks... Until then, thanks for tuning into my adventures. Despite the bumps in the road I've encountered, I fall more and more in love with this country everyday. And, more importantly, I'm learning more about myself everyday that I am here experiencing these new things. 

Csókolom! Kisses to all!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kecskemét, Come at Me!

Whew! So much to tell! This past week and a half has been a complete whirlwind. On the last day of our orientation in Budapest I was picked up by the headmaster of my school. I said goodbye to all of the friends I had met over the previous 5 days and driven out to the great unknown- the city that I am going to call home for the next 10 months. Although Kecskemét isn't very far from Budapest- about an hour by car or train, I could not have felt more isolated- and quite honestly- more terrified. All the confidence and excitement I had worked on building in preparation for this exact moment quickly disappeared as we inched further and further away from the capital city. Don't get me wrong- the headmaster, whose name is Laci- was very nice. He made plenty of friendly conversation, answered all of my questions, and kept assuring me that I would have an amazing next few months. However, I don't think anything at that point was going to stop my mind from racing or my nerves from bouncing around like crazy. As we pulled up in front of a huge, old building that would temporarily be my home until my apartment was ready to be moved into, my anxiety went through the roof. This place was apparently housing for college students- so it had around 35 bedrooms and two levels. However, since the school year hadn't started, it meant that this place was completely vacant, and that I was going to be staying in it alone. Somehow I managed to put my fears aside, go with the flow, and the next 3 days came and went. Laci took me grocery shopping and introduced me to his colleague's daughter Eszter, who is 17. She is wonderfully sweet, and her favorite TV shows are Friends and Gilmore Girls. Needless to say, she and I got along splendidly. She took me on a tour of the City Center, which is AMAZING! The buildings are all colorful, the people are bustling with energy, and there are plenty of cafes to sit and enjoy coffee or lemonade:
Town Hall in the City Center

The "Cifrapalota" or "Ornamented Palace"

On top of the Terrace overlooking the City

In the days before school started I was invited over to three families' homes for some amazing Hungarian cooking. Everyone has been so welcoming and kind. Eszter's family made me some delicious desserts and served me Tokaji, a traditional Hungarian sweet wine, while we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls in Hungarian. I felt like I was home away from home.

Palanscinta! A Hungarian Pancake Dessert

I am writing this post all settled into my new apartment, which is beautiful and amazing. I have a huge bedroom, a nice kitchen, a living room, and even a place to do my lesson planning, which is filled with materials left over from previous teachers. Heaven. I've attached a couple pictures of my bedroom:

My Big Old Bed with Manatee 

My photo heart collage I created

View from my Bedroom Window

On the day before school started, my school had their Opening Ceremony to kick off the start of the new year. All of the staff, children, and their parents attend, putting the number of guests at over 1,000. At some point during this ceremony I was supposed to be introduced to all these people. However, I was not exactly told when. So, not understanding a word of the head master's speech, I somehow had to figure out when he was introducing the new teachers and navigate through the sea of people when my name was called. Luckily I figured it out- but it did cause some panic. During the ceremony I also got to see students perform amazingly well-rehearsed, perfectly choreographed traditional Hungarian dances. It was probably in the top 10 most adorable things I've ever seen in my life.

I am also happy to report that I have survived my first week of teaching unharmed. Also, I need to update the description of this blog because SURPRISE! I'm not teaching 2nd and 3rd grade English- more like 1st through 8th! This week has been a hectic time of planning, getting my bearings, and figuring out how the heck I am supposed to manage 24 lessons a week at such varied levels. I'm trying to come to grips with teaching 1st graders, who are little balls of energy. The only phrase they know in English is "My name is..." Me not knowing any Hungarian, they think that by putting "My name is..." in front of any Hungarian word, I will be able to understand them. So I get a lot of, "My name is mosdó?" Yes, you may go to the toilet. No, your name is not toilet. A perk of teaching the 1st grade is that I get a group hug at the end of every lesson. Although this week has been a mess of navigating my schedule (written all in Hungarian), learning to pronounce my students' names, which is often followed by a chorus of giggles, and trying to track down the naplós, or registry books, which I have to fill out for every lesson, it's been an overall truly rewarding past 5 days. How can I not smile when I hear a group of second graders walking to the playground holding hands, singing the days of the week song I just taught them? How can I not melt when my 8th grade students fill out their acrostic poems with adjectives like "Polite" "Lovable" and "Romantic?" As crazy as everything is, these small moments make it all worth it... for now anyway. It's only my first week after all! :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Üdvözöljük Magyarországon!

Hello everyone!

My touch down in Budapest was smooth and successful. Besides being sent to the wrong gate twice and having a SCREAMING toddler on my flight from Montreal to Frankfurt, my travels have been great. At the airport I was greeted by one of the program directors Hajni (pronouced Hoy-nee) who introduced herself as our "Hungarian Mother." From there we took an airport shuttle to the nicest, trendiest hostel I have ever seen. Our program rented it out exclusively for our program orientation, and it feels just like being at summer camp! Our room overlooks a cute little square with cool architecture and a small cafe:

After a long nap we headed out for our welcome dinner along the Danube River, where I got to know some of the other teachers. Most of us are in our early 20s, just graduating, while others have just picked up and left their real world job to come teach. So cool! Dinner consisted of some rather unusual dishes including Paprika chicken (Hungary is famous for their paprika), calves feet, and goose liver. (I passed on the latter two items).:

 After dinner a few girls invited me to go on a night cruise on the Danube River. Despite my severe jet lag I couldn't pass it up. Thank goodness I didn't because it was one of the prettiest sights I have EVER seen! The bridge and parliament all lit up at night is a view I could stare at forever:

Orientation has been interesting and helpful, but also rather exhausting. As you can tell from the title of this blog post, Hungarian is a DIFFICULT language. If Brianna hadn't learned it so well I would be saying that it is downright impossible for Americans to pick up on. This blog post reads "Welcome to Hungary"- "Magyar" is Hungarian for Hungary, and "ország" is country. Confusion. Anyway, the second day of Hungarian lessons went way better than the first, and I actually learned how to say some practical phrases. However,  still point to things and kind of whimper nervously when I actually interact with the locals. I hope this changes...

Our schedule for orientation consists of Hungarian history in the morning at 10 am, a lunch break from 12-1:30, Hungarian language from 1:30-3:00, Teaching Methodology from 3:00-4:00, and Hungarian Culture vs. American Culture from 5:00-6:00. Fun fact about Hungarians: they are pessimists. They always think the worst so that they can be happy when anything better is the outcome. When asked where they see themselves in 10 years, a typical Hungarian will answer "I don't know, I may be dead." It will definitely be an interesting adjustment to say the least!

I am having a lot of fun getting to know the other teachers. Last night we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop terrace of our hostel and dancing to "One Direction." We spent the night out on the town going to several fun bars and clubs. One place was an old apartment complex that they converted into a bar. There were different rooms and even a bathtub that was made into a couch.

We have two more days left of orientation before we all separate into our cities and I head out about an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Budapest to Kecskemet. I will be in touch when I move into my apartment and set up my  wi fi! I miss everyone dearly!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Forints and Flashcards- Ready, Set, Go!

It is hard to believe that I'm sitting here on the couch, snuggling with my dogs, watching TLC with Melissa, and in just a few hours I will be boarding a plane to Montreal, Canada- my first of two stops before my final destination in Budapest. As hard as the goodbyes have been and will be, I am beyond excited to begin this next chapter of my life and my first step into the "real" world- life beyond college. 

I feel so incredibly lucky to have such a strong support system. My family and friends have been with me every step of the way, encouraging me and constantly being there for my emotional ups and downs. Of course I have to say a special thank you to Brianna, who has armed me with a killer set of Hungarian flashcards, gently corrected my butchering of the language, patiently explained to me the dollar to forint conversion, and labeled every one of our kitchen appliances so that I could at least master the word "microwave"- mikrohullámú sütő! Her passion for this country and its culture has made me all the more excited to delve in and discover all it has to offer. I am beyond stoked to be sharing this experience with her. 

While flying doesn't bother me at all, I am looking forward to getting through the long hours of sitting on the plane and touching down in Budapest. The woman who runs the Central European Teaching Program, Mary Rose, will be waiting for me at the airport with a homemade sign. As nervous as I am to be in an entirely new country where I don't know the language, I feel fully prepared having the CETP staff by my side. Every single one of them has helped me through the confusing process of preparing to live and work in a foreign country and patiently answered every one of my frantic questions. 

When I touch down in Hungary, I will temporarily set up camp in a Budapest Hostel with some of the other CETP teachers for a week long orientation. Items on the agenda include Hungarian Language classes, an introduction to Hungarian Culture, a few teaching courses, and of course some delicious Hungarian food! I will keep everyone posted as soon as I get settled. In the mean time- I'm off to get some sleep.