Holidays in Hungary:
It has been a wonderful experience to spend Christmas in a new country, community and culture. While I certainly missed my family and friends back home at times, the incredible hospitality of Hungarians has made me feel right at home here. One of my favorite days of my entire year so far was Saint Miklós day. Traditionally in Hungary Santa Claus visits on the 6th of December, as on Christmas morning the baby Jesus delivers the presents. We celebrated in the children’s home in Görögszállás this day by having a party for the families, along with a visit from Santa. It was very exciting for me, but the kids were maybe too young and were quite frightened by the new stranger. However their moods improved quickly when they discovered the sweets that Santa had brought them!
During Christmas time I was welcomed into a few different homes, and was able to experience a fantastic Hungarian Christmas! On Christmas Eve I went to my mentor’s daughters house and spent the day with her family. She has four children whom I see every weekend at church and are always very excited to see me and to teach me new Hungarian words. In the morning we put up the Christmas tree, which I was told is a tradition to do on the 24th, which was new for me as at home ours is often up long before then. The rest of the day was spent eating, playing with the new toys and games that the children had gotten, and playing outside in the fresh snow that had fallen overnight. It was a very memorable day, and I am continuously overwhelmed by the generosity of this family.
On Christmas day, I was invited to have lunch with another Hungarian family in Nyírtelek, in-between the morning and the evening church services. I have connected with this family as the mother and her son both attend the English class that I teach once a week at the church. Despite the language restrictions between us, we had a truly wonderful time chatting in our broken Hungarian/English! Aside from cooking me a delicious Christmas lunch, the family also gave me many gifts, chocolates, and cakes to take home with me. The mother even made sure to call her sister who now lives in America, so that I could speak with someone in English on Christmas! I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the kindness that I am shown here, and I am so grateful for the relationships that I have built thus far. Spending the holidays in my community was a wonderful experience and I really did feel right at home.
Life in Nyírtelek (and Görögszállás):
My site placement landed me in the small town of Nyírtelek. I am in the Northeast of Hungary in a flat, agriculturally based region. I live in a small room in the upstairs of the local Lutheran Church (pictured), with my mentor Misi and his wife, along with two young Hungarians living as my neighbors in the parsonage next door. My days are framed around commuting 8km with my colleagues Virág and Tamás via bicycle or bus, depending on weather, to the predominantly Roma community of Görögszállás. I work here in the children’s home(also pictured) that the church sponsors. My afternoons and nights often become a lot less structured, as activities vary from teaching English to mixed abilities, attending community programs, attending events with my mentor, going to Hungarian bible study, or simply playing ping-pong in the church basement.
The church in Nyírtelek
In the home, we provide a space for mothers in the community to bring their young children during the day so that they can develop important social skills and habits before they reach an age where they can enter the school system. It is a fantastic program that is now seeing the success of some of the earlier graduates that are now striving in the local schools. As you can imagine, it is wonderfully entertaining to work with kids of this age, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t look forward to my work there. What’s not to love about snack time and playing with toddler sized Legos all day?
The children’s house
Antigypsyism in Ostrava, Czech Republic:
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an international youth conference about antigypsyism. The conference was attended by close to 50 youth representing 6 different countries, with a shared interest in the issue of antigypsyism in not only the Czech Republic, but also all of Europe. It was an enriching week, as we learned about and attended workshops about various topics related to Roma discrimination. Check out the Putren Le Jakha (Open Your Eyes) Facebook page for more information, and some photos from the week!
In the conference I spent a couple of days in a workshop about community empowerment. Our group was lead by Miroslav, a knowledgeable and inspirational local NGO worker. This workshop ended up being very relevant to my year here in Hungary. Miroslav strongly reinforced for me the accompaniment modal that the YAGM program stresses. He highlighted the importance of building positive and lasting relationships with the community in which you would like to see change. Through these relationships, leadership can be inspired from within the community, which in turn will generate more permanent change. I think about this often in life here, and it helps me to see the bigger picture of this program. Even though day to day I rarely see palpable evidence that I am making a difference through being here, I know that the relationships that I build will last beyond my time here, and they will continue to strengthen both myself, and these communities beyond this year.
I have now been living in Nyírtelek for nearly four weeks now, and figured it’s about time for an update! My time here has flown by, and has presented me with a whirlwind of experiences to process. I live in a cozy room in the upstairs of the Lutheran church in Nyírtelek, and share much of the building with the two young Hungarian volunteers, and my mentor and his wife who all live in the attached parsonage. I commute to work in the children’s home in the nearby village of Görögszállás every morning, either via an 8km bike ride, or a half hour bus trip. The days are made fun, exciting, and rewarding by the energetic children that come to play in the home every morning. I’ll write more in depth about the home in a later post, but for now I want to share about the soccer tournament that I was invited to play in last weekend…
It turns out developing friendships without a shared language can be difficult! While this was an anticipated challenge, it means that I get rather excited when I am invited to any sort of non work related event. I get especially excited when that invitation involves playing soccer… mostly because it requires limited linguistic communication! So when someone I had met in Görögszállás invited me to play on their team in an upcoming five aside tournament, I naturally accepted without hesitation.
The tournament was wonderfully disorganized, in some ways reminded me of a certain Latino league back home. There were 16 teams, 1 field, and 1 ref. With almost 30 games of pool play on the only field, and an 8pm start time, it was clear to me early on that it would be a long night. It was a very festive atmosphere, with the sidelines lined all night by both those awaiting their next game, along with some locals who showed up simply to enjoy the show. While our ragtag team was quite crap… we managed to provide some entertainment for the crowd, participating in the highest scoring game of the night. We suffered a narrow 5-4 loss to a team made up of what I would guess were 14 year olds. What they lacked in physicality, they made up for with skill and heart. The tournament went late into the night, and regrettably, exhaustion got the best of me and I biked home around 1 AM having lost all three of our pool play games. The way things were going, I’m sure that the coveted title of 2016 fall five aside champions of Nyírtelek was not given out until after 2 in the morning!
Despite our lackluster on field performance, it was my experiences off the field that will stick with me. Even though I was unable to communicate with the majority of the people there, everyone was very willing to speak with me in the few words of English that they knew, and were patient as I struggled through my short selection of Hungarian phrases. But through watching, and playing soccer together, we were able to enjoy the evening regardless. It was another reminder that through a shared passion such as soccer, people from different cultures, countries, and languages can be brought together. Some things simply do not require communication in the way that we traditionally view it, and stepping back and enjoying those moments has been one of my favorite aspects of the beginning stages of my year. I look forward to sharing more of these moments with my community in the coming months.
As for now, I am writing from Budapest, and will be departing for Ostrava, Czech Republic early tomorrow morning for an international youth conference on Antigypsyism. I will report back on that event in my next post.
Szia next time!
I have been in Hungary for nearly three weeks now, and there is simply too much to write about! The past four weeks of my life have been very orientation focused, which has been exciting, exhausting, and enriching. After a busy eight day orientation in Chicago, me and the rest of the now closely acquainted YAGMs dispersed around the world. I found myself in the lovely resort town of Révfülöp, on the shore of Lake Balaton. Révfülöp has been a wonderful, and comfortable place to familiarize myself with Hungary, and to build and strengthen relationships with the six other Central Europe volunteers and with our lovely country coordinators Rachel and Zach. During our time in Révfülöp we have taken an intensive two week Hungarian course, and are now feeling ready to tackle any obstacle having successfully ordered pancakes (palachintak!) from a local shop in our new language. What more could we need?
Vinyard overlooking lake Balaton
Two weekends ago we had the opportunity to visit the small village of Sárszentlőrinc (pronounced something like Shar-saint-lawrence…). The town has a population under 1000, and a fairly large percentage of the community are Roma. We spent two days with kind and hospitable people of Sárszentlőrinc, sharing meals, music, stories and much more. Most of the weekends communication was done through translators, but we were blown away by the patience shown towards us, and we even felt comfortable enough to struggle through introducing our selves after only a week of Hungarian lessons.
One particular moment sticks out to me from the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, we took some time to exchange songs with the community, with us singing in English (Angolul) and them in Hungarian (Magyarul). We had a great time struggling through unfamiliar music in an unfamiliar language. What struck me however, was the participation, interest, and engagement shown by the Roma and non Roma people of Sárszentlőrinc. For a town of under 1000, there was an incredible turnout for this event, which truly made us feel welcomed and appreciated in a way that didn’t require a common language. It gave me a lot more confidence and excitement for moving on to my site placement. If I am shown even a fraction of this hospitality, it is going to be easy to feel like I am a part of my new community.
Our time in Hungary so far has truly been blessed with beautiful weather, hospitality, people, and settings. After a busy extended weekend in Budapest, me and my fellow YAGMs are ready to disperse throughout the country. I am very excited to be able to call this country home for a year, and am now eagerly anticipating traveling to my placement site in Nyirtelek tomorrow!
View from St. Stephen’s Basilica
Szia next time!