Monday, October 12, 2009

The End

I always hated "endless" blogs - you know, you find a cool blog, read through all the archives, then notice that the most recent post was several months ago. Then the uncertainty: will the writer post again? Are they on a break, or gone for good?

I'm not deluded enough to believe this blog has followers who are so passionate, but in any case here it is: the end. I'm calling it quits officially.

What to end with? A simple reflection, I suppose: I started this blog, the Hungarian Experiment, four years ago when I first arrived in Hungary. I'm four years older, four years more experienced in teaching, four years more fluent in Hungarian, and with four years more knowledge about Hungary. None of these things will cease to grow or expand; I'm not going anywhere. But the experimental stage of living in Hungary is over for me. So I'm calling the experiment off, and I'm calling it a success. Thanks for reading.

Edited in April, 2013 to add: my current Hungarian adventures are now part of a new blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


So, summer drags on. Not that it's a drag at all; I'm sincerely enjoying every single moment of doing nothing, it just doesn't make for very good blogging.

Here's what has happened so far:

- School finished. There was érettségi. I've managed to almost successfully forget most of it, and that's the way I want to keep it.

- Many people (and by people I mean people of the American, CEPT-teachers variety) went home. Some to visit, some for good. Depression was mitigated by the loads of books and food they left. Mmmm, English books...

- so for about a week and a half, I read a lot. Like, one book a day. Until I had finished off all the new English books. Even the romance novels. (By the way, girls who were at Hevesi Buli - I finished Brigi's weird vampire-alien book and it was... surprisingly tolerable. A minimum of sappyness, an overload of historical details, characters so stereotypical it was as good as parody, and an almost-believable plot. I'll pass it on if anyone else is interested)

- I spent a lot of time - way too much, really - working on my new Residence Permit. I still don't have it. And the old one expired a week ago. Which means I'm stuck in Hungary until the new one arrives, whenever that may be.

- We traveled to Mátra with the family: Tomi, Atti, and Gabi, and respective girlfriends myself, Andi, and Viola. We stayed in a fantastic pension, barbeque'd, walked in the forest, got lost in the forest, etc. The boys all brought their guitars and, ahem, "jammed." I brought a book, Viola played on her mobile phone, Andi looked bored and sighed a lot. Yay, family vacation.

- And, like every summer, we've been out several times at the garden cooking. This time it was gulyás:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Closing Ceremony

Well, I was wrong. Our school closing ceremony wasn't one hour of standing around all dressed up listening to boring speeches. It was only 35 minutes!

It followed the same format as every single other ceremony: the Himnusz, a poem, speeches, singing, the second Himnusz (I don't know what it's actually called, it's just some other important song at the end of every ceremony). Today's poem was something by Juhász Gyula containing a lot of "oh, na"s in it, read by a girl with the most unenthusiastic voice. The speech, thankfully just one, was delivered by the principal. It was long. Twenty minutes. Singing followed; this was relatively interesting, but also long. Did I mention that we were all standing? The girls mostly in heels, and the boys many in suits.

Meanwhile the kids fidgeted and chatted, and the teachers fidgeted and chatted and hissed at the kids to be quiet and stand still. We had all gotten flowers, and one teacher used his to whack kids on the shoulder until it broke. As usual, several girls fainted or got dizzy, and were laid out on benches and brought water. Two girls in front of me taught a third how to play thumb wars until they were shoulder-swatted. Clouds moved over the sun, cardigans were put on; clouds moved away, cardigans were removed and sunglasses came out.

Eventually it ended. The students went to their classrooms to collect their report cards, then go home - they're free for the summer. The teachers picked up their things from the teachers room and left with cheerful goodbyes. Seven-thirty Monday morning, we'll all be back for the oral érettségi exams.

The magic of pipes

A weird phenomenon I've noticed in Hungarian flats (possibly universal; I've never lived in a flat in another country): the bathroom pipes' ability to transmit sound. It makes using the toilet an entertaining experience - you can eavesdrop on conversations in other flats, converse with your neighbors, or listen to what's happening on the street outside. All with crystal clear sound quality!

I mention this because a few minutes ago a rather odd noise started. From where I'm sitting at my desk, it's a not-so-dull roar; when I went into the bathroom to investigate, I was unable to decide which of the following activities my upstairs neighbor was currently engaged in:

- mowing the lawn inside his flat
- drilling through blocks of concrete with a drill bit the size of my arm
- using some combination of vacuum and megaphone
- tuning up his tractor
- using a rock tumbler (remember those??) the size of a small car

Oh well, still less annoying than techno neighbor who used to live there.

Sports Day

Yesterday was our school's Sports Day. Before I get into details, please pause to allow a brief rant: I don't know who the genius was who decided how to fill our last week of school, but... let's just say, they screwed up. Not a little, a lot. Wednesday was our last day of classes. Thursday was sports day - all the students were required to be there, attendance was taken; several key teachers were missing from the day, however. And today we have out closing ceremony. At 2:00. With nothing before nor after it. So basically, we all have to get all dressed up for one pointless hour (hopefully not more) of boring speeches and farewells. Especially fantastic for the students who don't live in Szolnok. Great plan, really. End rant.

Anyway, sports day was yesterday. It was held out at Millér, a szabadidõpark (~free time park) outside of Szolnok. In groups we walked/ran/biked out. Several lucky people also went by car. It took them 5 minutes. Walking, it took us 45. When we arrived, I made a point of showing myself to the gym teachers. (So, a bit of backstory: the whole event was coordinated by the P.E. department. Originally, I had been planning on skipping the whole thing too, but earlier this week one of them burst into the teachers room and starting ranting about how none of the other teachers were taking sports day seriously, they might as well cancel the whole thing, why is it that one department can never support the other, blah blah blah. At the time there were only three other teachers in the room, and her eyes raked over us all, effectively wilting my ambitions to skip. I did have a couple nasty thoughts about how, when the English department gave it's series of six open lessons, I hadn't seen any of the gym teachers there, but... whatever.)

After establishing my presence, I went to sit with 9.c. Like each class, they were building up a fire and preparing to cook. I helped a bit peeling potatoes, but mostly just sat around, nibbled, chatted in English and Hungarian and Hunglish, tried to take pictures (no batteries), and didn't do any sports at all. Students were coming and going, running off to participate in various competitions, borrowing knives and salt, trying to sample each other's food, sneaking off to go smoke, chatting, laughing, and having a good time. In the end, I'm glad I didn't skip (still bitter about the departments helping departments thing, though).

I left a bit early from the park to come back into town and go, again, to the Immigration Office. Long story short, I still don't have the right tax papers, and next week I will be making a trip to the wonderful APEH - basically the Hungarian IRS. So, yeah... more on that later.

Friday, June 05, 2009

More Surreal End of Days

The hazy, lazy, end of the school year continues. My week was like this:

Monday, no school due to Pünkösd (Pentecost). Also, nothing was open, so we drove two towns over to a restaurant for lunch.

Tuesday, no real classes but the school was open for the seniors to come in and view the results of their written school-leaving exams. I helped my contact teacher Ili show the English tests to her class. In the afternoon, I met Tomi and we went to get me check-uped - the first time I've been to a real doctor in Hungary. Interesting experience - everything about it confirmed my previous suspicions about the Hungarian health care system: it's easy, it's cheap, it's (outside of Pest) monolingual, and it's top-notch. Also, it's old-fashioned (she told me I needed to wear slippers to keep my feet warm, even in the summer), and like everything in small-town Hungary it's privacy-less (she knew that I live in a ground-floor flat because she's friends with my landlady).

Wednesday was the only regular day of the week. Other than walking into my first lesson to find the students standing around in a completely furniture-free classroom, everything was normal.

Thursday was stressy. The whole day I spent alternating between rushing and waiting, rushing and waiting. I went into the school early to finish writing a test, all the computers were full so I waited, got the computer which wasn't compatible with my pen drive, waited some more, tried to write the test as quickly as I could, and all the while Rózsa was trying to tell me about the trip to England plans and Petra and I were trying to put together a program for an after-school program (which I ended up not being able to attend anyway). In between classes I was running, photocopying, answering endless student questions. Classes themselves were an enforced standstill - the students were taking the test, so all I could do was sit silently.

After school I ran home, ate, and ran over to my favorite place in the whole county, the Bevándorlási Hivatal (Immigration Office). There were four people in front of me; I waited in line for almost two hours. Finally I got into the office, waited some more, and turned in all the paperwork to extend my Tartózkodási Engedély (residence permit). Well, almost all the paperwork - of course, I was missing one paper. So I have to go again next week. Grrr. On the other hand, the guy working in the office was wonderfully helpful, and also gave me a bunch more information about getting my Letelepedési Engedély (permanent residence / settlement permit, that magic document that will allow me to do this mass of paperwork only once every five years). So that'll be a project for the summer...

Finally, today, Friday. Normally I would have a very simple day: 4th period with the adorable and wonderful 11.D, and 6th lesson with the slightly-less-adorable but still tolerable 11.C. What actually happened today: I went in for the 2nd lesson to observe a class. In the 3rd lesson I had to substitute another teacher. In the 4th lesson I was free because the 11.D are on a class trip (miraculously, I had known this beforehand). In the 5th lesson I observed another class. And after the 5th, the rest of the lessons had been cancelled for a special program. This I had NOT known in advance, and I was planning to give the 11.C their end-of-the-year test. So it all fell though. But at least I'm at home now, and looking forward to a very calm weekend. I need to save up my strength for next week.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New favorite English word

If I played Scrabble, I would be in heaven right now. I just discovered what "Jászság" is in English: Jazygia.

I have no idea how it's pronounced... which is a good thing, or else I'd go around shamelessly dropping it into conversation.

More info about Jazygia, which even Wikipedia refers to by it's Hungarian name, can be found here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Year-End Review

One of the things I love (and hate) about the end of the year is how unsubstantial it feels. I mean, since the seniors have left, I only have thirteen lessons a week. Of those, many will be canceled because of class trips and other events. Next week is our last full week of classes - both weeks in June actually contain 3 teaching days each. Because of the ongoing school-leaving exams, classrooms are always changing, which adds to the loose feeling. Of course, I enjoy the free time, and freedom, but it's a weird time - like I'm in limbo between school and summer. I think the students feel it too, and they've all started their slide into summer - this, combined with my lethargy, makes teaching the last few weeks a struggle for me.

It happened today that I had my second-to-last class with the 11.d. They're one of my "meh" classes - I only see them once a week, and up til today they didn't make too much of an impression. I certainly enjoy class with them, but... you know the type. They're not good, nor bad; English mediocre; sometimes studious, sometimes lazy; they did make me laugh pretty frequently, but generally I can say I never really paid them too much attention.

And after today I feel a bit guilty about this, because it turns out they've been paying attention all year! As part of the year-end review, I asked them what they remembered doing this year. They remembered everything - even things I'd forgotten. Not only did they remember the topics ("we talked about personality"), they remembered the content (i.e. the vocabulary we learned)! They were enthusiastic about reviewing - I had them work in groups* and each group wrote a mini-test about one of the topics, then quizzed each other. Best of all for my teachers heart, they gave me some feedback about the year. Okay, maybe it wasn't 100% honest feedback, because most of them said they liked everything we did, but the braver students volunteered a couple things they hated. Along with logical, precise reasons why they hated them.

So it was a happy surprise for me to discover, now at the very end of the year, that I really like this class (I'll have them again next year). And I guess it's a good lesson for me, at the end of the year, to remember that I should spend less time worrying and complaining about bad classes and more time enjoying the good ones.

* One group was cooperating less well than the others, and I almost died laughing when the girl turned to me, reached down into the depths of her English memory, and dramatically announced, "Emily! I can not work with them. The ghost... of cooperation... HAS DIED!"

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Tara's pictures of Ópusztaszer made me jealous, and finally prodded me into making a post out of mine.

So a couple of weeks (er, months) ago on a nice sunny Saturday, Tomi and I decided to take a mini roadtrip to Ópusztaszer. It began, as every Hungarian trip must, with the Making of the Sandwiches:

Followed about an hour later by the Eating of the Sandwiches. We stopped at a little turn-off and ate, frolicked in the fields, avoided the many dead animals nearby...

We took an unplanned tour of Csongrád, which was beautiful. I want to go back there sometime when I'm free to take pictures, instead of trying to read a map while speeding down a labyrinth of narrow one-way streets. Anyway, with no major mishaps we arrived:

Tomi took over the camera, and was very thorough in his photography. We now have an entire collection of pictures of wax Hungarian kings. Here's Béla the Fourth and his daughter Saint Margit:
One of the few pictures taken by me. Someday in my grown-up house, I'm going to have a corner cabinet like this one:
After exploring all that the Rotunda had to offer, we continued through the yurts*. They were filled with wood-related things which were utterly fascinating for Tomi and totally boring for me, so I sat a lot while he read everything. And took pictures of everything:

I also asked him to take this picture. It's populations of Hungarians over the world:

Finally we reached the village open-air museum. By this point we were getting hungry and tired - him from all that shutter-pushing and me from all that sitting, I guess. So we didn't actually go into any of the buildings...

Except for the mill, of course:

After the mill we had lunch, bought a couple postcards and such, and headed home. As I was looking at the map just now, I realized that we left out a lot of things - more than I originally thought. I think a second trip might be in order...

* I can't even tell you how much distress this word caused me - I couldn't remember if it was yurt or jurt or yert in English, so of course I wanted to look it up in the dictionary. I don't have an English dictionary at home. So I checked the Hungarian->English at the sztaki dictionary - nothing. I dug out my paper dictionary, and horror of horrors, it wasn't in it! Nor in any of the other Hungarian-English dictionaries I have. What the heck's up with that?

Kánikula conversation

One of my favorite words in Hungarian is kánikula. It means heatwave, so I like it for both the meaning and the sound, which is not very Hungarian.

A couple days ago I was talking with my contact teacher about the decidedly non-kánikula weather (despite the promises of the weather service, it was only medium-warm and pouring buckets) and I mentioned the word. My apparently odd pronunciation of the word made her smile and say, "каникулы." I looked puzzled and she explained, "In Russian we have the word kanikuly. It means the summer holidays."

I mulled over this bit of information for a while, then asked if one was derived from the other.

"Yes. Well, no. They both come from Latin. You know, 'canis,' it means dog."

"Ah ha!" You could probably see my lightbulb. "In English we say the dog days of summer."

"Because the dogs are, what do you call it, panting?"

"Erm, yeah."

Although I've since remembered that that's not true, it has nothing to do with dogs panting, but... that'll be a conversation for another day.

Wikipedia has quite an interesting, if somewhat questionable, article about Dog Days here. I especially love the uncited statistics like "The term "dog days of summer" also derives from the fact that in America 44% of all hot dogs are sold in the summer time." Hm...