Monday, November 28, 2005


To continue directly from the end of the previous entry: there was a massive feast. And yes, booze. Way too much. That, combined with an excessive amount of lying around, has effectively atrophied my muscles. Walking up and down, up and down the stairs at school today felt as if I were being beaten. It was a wise man who first proclaimed, alcohol is poison.

Pain aside: an excellent weekend all around. Friday afternoon, Gaines arrived. We did some shopping and catching up (not having seen each other for a whole... 3 weeks? But really, reading blog stories just isn’t as good as having them told in person.) Friday evening, Anita (from Oxford) invited us, Chad, Juli, Támas & Dóri to her house for dinner. Her husband Jacek (who is in my class at Oxford) not only made us a fantastic meal, he also kept the wine, beer, and goldwasser flowing.

Saturday morning, Gaines and I actually made it to our 7.52 train. Chadwick did not, and caught a later one.

...continued the following day (now Tuesday morning):
all right, I admit defeat. Although a typical entry on this blog inevitably falls short of perfection, in this case, it’s just hopeless. Two days of mulling and several false starts have given me no insight as to how to properly record the events of the weekend. Maybe in a week or several I will try again. Until then, I refer you to the storytelling abilities of Jeremy, the elegant prose of Gaines, and the pictures and text of Yerik. Sorry if this is a cop out, but I am a fundamentally lazy person (as home-friends plus my fellow Poorgirl can attest to), and I won't attempt something when three other people have already done it, and done it so spectacularly.

Lazy Girl out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Although maybe it’s a bit cliché, today I can earnestly say that there are several things I am purely and singularly thankful for. In no particular order (except for the first, which is more important than the rest combined), they are:

1) Hot Water! Yes, indeed. After, wait let me count.... after 40 days (and 40 nights, how convenient), hot water has been restored to my humble flat. Oh, the joy of doing dishes. Oh, the wonder of washing my hands with burning hot water. Oh, the exquisiteness of a warm or hot shower - and the ability to choose! It’s beyond description

2) Oxford School. I know I’ve gloated about this before, so I’ll keep it short. I love them. They’re great. Thank you. That’s it.

3) Juli (from Oxford), who has become my new Hungarian teacher. In addition to being generally an awesome person, I discovered today that she is also an amazing teacher. Very patient, which is probably my number-one requirement. She actually told me that when we were “conversing,” I didn’t make a single grammar mistake. I don’t believe her for a second, but it was kind anyway.

4) Art Supplies! (Like hot water, this also deserves an exclamation point) With the help of Item Number 3 (Juli), today I discovered a little art store on Szapáry út. We went in looking for Item Number 5 (see below), and I discovered a whole wonderful world, one I had almost forgotten, of fabric, papers, floss, beads of any shape and form. And paint for Laura.

5) Rubber Cement. Rachael, I think you might be the only one to understand my appreciation for such a mundane item. But I didn’t have it before, and you can imagine my distress at having only glue to work with. Thankful, indeed.

6) Attempts at Baking. I say attempts, because the second batch is yet cooking. And I haven’t tasted anything. It looks a bit sketchy. But smells delicious. And, in the end, I’m thankful that I could successfully cook anything without a recipe, without certain ingredients, without a real oven, and without pans.

7) The traditionals: Family, Friends, and Health. Stop me before I descend into sheer, tearful corniness. But what can I say? Family: it isn’t my first holiday away from home, but I miss you and I love you (in my book, even hot water comes a distant second to you). Friends: the new ones I’ve found here, the old ones I’ve re-found, so to speak, and the home-friends who are kind enough to keep in touch, even though I bore them with the same stories over and over (for you, hot water can be moved back to third place). Last but not least, health, which I am especially thankful for due to my recent recovery (recent being within the last few hours) of a quick-but-killer 48-hour cold.

On that note, now that I’m healthy again, I am ready to go to Nyíregyháza and make myself sick stuffing my face with various goodies. And booze, god willing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Snow, Glorious Snow!!!

First snowfall of the season (not counting the sparse flakes on Saturday morning)! As much as I enjoyed the snowball fight with my students, their complete inability to concentrate, the choice English words written in the playground snow, and the discovery that my sneakers have no traction, I’m tied for my two all-time favorite snow-related sights today:

1 - the look on the face of one of my brattiest 7th-graders when my snowball nailed him square in the chest.

2 - the 3rd-grader who had made an 8-inch snowman and was carrying it around like a baby.

No, who am I kidding? I’m much more spiteful than I am sentimental; number 1 wins hands down.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Being a Real Teacher

I will say right now that most of the time, I don’t take my job at Kassai seriously. I’m trying to change that (one of my “November goals,” if you remember). This past week, I can say with some pride, was a success. And this, despite the fact that in several other ways, it was a disaster. It started on Wednesday, when my 8a wasn’t in their classroom. Having played “let’s make Emily look for us” with them once before, I searched the school for them until eventually, someone told me that they really weren’t anywhere, but had gone to an open house at one of the high schools. I savored a free hour. I should have known it would haunt me - the following day they decided to meet during my normally-free second hour. Which no one told me about until the school’s handyman showed up at my door and announced that I had a class. Yes, right now.

The remainder of my misadventures were due to the fact that the three regular English teachers all absconded on Thursday and Friday to attend teacher training in Nyíregyháza. So what happened to their classes? Like some terrible game of musical chairs, the students were just funneled into whichever class had empty desks. Regardless of subject or level. I ended up with classes of 33 8th graders, 35 5th graders, 20-some 7th graders, and 28 6th graders. Next time, I’m going to insist that I need English training as well.

In any case, in the spirit of being a real teacher, here are some of the activities that I successfully pulled off this week. Some are more time-fillers than they are educational, but they served their purpose well.

Activity: Following Orders

This comes from Penguin English Photocopiables: Pair Work, although I altered it a bit. When I did it, I did all the steps on the board to show the kids what I meant.

1) Have your students draw two grids (A and B), each 5 squares by 5 squares. Try to stress that they shouldn’t draw little tiny squares.

2) Have them write the number 1 in the center square of both grids. After that, they shouldn’t do anything else with grid B; set it aside for later. They should fill in grid A by drawing or writing something in each square. Things to draw could be: a heart, a circle, a tree, a house, your face, a dog, a cat, a bike, a car, etc. Things to write could be: your name, my name, your favorite color, your age, how many people are in this room, a word starting with “m,” your favorite subject, etc.

3) Have the students work in pairs. The goal is to have their partner fill in their grid B with what the other has in their grid A. You can put the following sentences on the board to help them: Start at the square with the one. Start at the square with the face. Go one square up / down. Go two squares left / right. Draw a cow. Write my name.

Variations and other things to consider: you can vary the things to draw/things to write. In some classes, you might want to control this part more (in my 6th grade, I heard one student say, “Go right two squares and draw an Arab terrorist.” When I asked to see his paper, sure enough, this was one of his drawings).

My fifth graders were terribly confused by “go right one square and write ...” So I tried using north, south, east and west instead. This went over better.

With the younger classes (and the ones I didn’t trust to work by themselves), I had them draw one empty grid, and I had one student give the “orders” to the entire class.

I did this activity with several classes, including 5th, 6th, and 7th graders, and they all seemed to enjoy it. I even did it with a combined group of 28 of my worst-behaved 6th graders, and since it managed to hold their attention for 40 minutes, this game has earned a special place in my heart.

Activity: Making Similes

Copied from Penguin English Photocopiables: Top Class Activities. But even without the book, all you have to do as prep is make up two lists of words that the students know. The words should be mostly nouns, but some can be verb phrases.

Write on the board “A is like B because....” and some examples. The one from the book was, “Love is like learning English because both are easy at first.” I don’t think I have to explain too much more; have the students make up, orally or in writing, similes using the words you provide. Some of my favorites, for either their insight, humor, lack of understanding, or all of the above:

A war is like a thief because it is stealing lives.
A fashion like sex because it always change each other.
A friend is like a toilet because you need it.
A woman is like a dog because it always loves you.
The kiss is like the strawberry cause they are both red and sweet. (This one is funny to me and probably me alone, because my normal description of strawberries is not “red and sweet,” but usually “red and toxic.”)
A man is like a zoo, because he is crazy like an elephant.
Just wrong:
Teenagers like pizza because it is delicious.

Activity: Conversation on a train

Again stolen from Top Class Activities. Depending on the level and creativity of the students, you might want to give them a handout. Or you might just go to it. The idea is this: working in groups of 2-4 students, pretend you are traveling on a days-long train ride. You have been on the train several hours and no one has spoken yet. Decide who you are, your background, and why you are traveling. Then make up a conversation with the other people in your train compartment.

The book offers the following characters as possibilities: a woman with a child, a travelling [sic] student, an English teacher, an electrician, a film director, a spy (my students latched on this one), a photographer, a Chinese, Russian, or French person, a prisoner on the run, a soldier going home, someone who is slightly deaf, etc.

I did this with a double class of 7th graders. Since it was mostly boys, the majority of the stories involved a compartment of three spies, with lots of yelling, shooting, and poisoning each other. One kid managed to bust out some Russian-accent English (courtesy of Bond movies, he told me later). Anther story featured a souvenir Kalashnykov. On the lighter side, one group of girls put together a four-act show (the signal for the act change was for them to chant in unison, “Two years later”) with a rather complex story line involving a spy who pickpockets two innocent students on a train, only to be recognized by them two years later on the street, and then dragged through a years-long court battle, ending up in jail while the two students did a celebratory dance.

My own celebratory dance came later Friday night, when I was done with Kassai, done with Oxford, and safely back in my own hallway.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lots of hot air, but still no hot water

Twenty-five days. This is how long my flat has been without hot water. I’m not a person easily moved to profanity, but this is fucking ridiculous.

In summary (because despite what you might believe, I do have better things to do with my time than post whiney entries), the week before break, my hot water stopped working. No big problem. I was at Gaines’ the weekend, then in Transylvania. I kinda hoped it might fix itself. I should be so lucky.

I came back from break. Laura and I put up with no hot water while we were here. I took a long, hot shower at her place, and came home to my now-routine of icy, 60-second showers.

On the first Monday back at school, I told Kati, who sent Páli, the school’s handyman, to take a look. He decided that an actual gas mechanic should look at it, and we scheduled him for Thursday. But whatever fiddling Páli had done had temporarily fixed the problem, lulling me into believing the problem was gone and, stupidly, canceling the appointment. Great, I got in one hot shower and one load of dishes before the water went out again.

Although I gripe a lot here in the anonymity of cyberspace, in real life I hate being a complainer. It’s one of the worst things to label a person. So 4 of the hot-water-less days are directly my fault: I waited until today to pester Kati again. She promised to send Páli and the gas man again. They came. They fiddled. They tested the water. They gave me a Look, gave each other a Look, and pronounced everything “minden rendben.” (Everything in order.) They left. I tried the water in the kitchen: lukewarm, then just cold. In the bathroom: lukewarm, then cold. Why, oh why, didn’t I think to try the water in the kitchen before they left?

So I’m back to square one, no hot water. I can manage a lukewarm shower if I keep it under 30 seconds. Lucky me. Twenty-five days and counting. At this point, to end on a hopeful note, I’d like to open the comments for a poll: How Many Days Will Emily Survive Without Hot Water? My own estimate is 32.

Actually, not true, I have something better to end with. My new logo, stolen from an under-the-breath comment by one of my “good class” eighth-graders:

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Let’s go, Olaj, let’s go!

After spending most of the day listening to NPR and recovering from squash, this evening I went with Chad, Juli, Tamás and Dóri to watch our very own basketball team Szolnoki Olaj take on their evil arch-rival, Albacomp of Székesfehérvár. It was incredible. My only undamaged-by-squash body parts remaining, namely palms, throat, and eardrums, have now been battered down by screaming and clapping madly as Szolnok recovered in the final quarter from being 11 points down to win the game.

Having only Beloit to compare with (and Beloit not being what you would call an athletics-oriented school), I am amazed and enthralled by how sporting events here are as much about the crowd as they are about the game. They yell, they scream, they chant (including some things that were so vulgar, Tamás wouldn’t translate them for me. If you know Tamás, you know how serious this is). They blew whistles and noise-makers. They hissed and boo-ed the other team’s every move. They clapped, they stomped, the jumped up and down. They threw things onto the court. They taunted Albacomp’s fans (who were in their own section, behind a net and protected by police). There was no beer sold at this game because they were afraid of rioting. I think if Olaj hadn’t made their spectacular recovery, there might have been violence.

Overall, it was the most fun I’ve ever paid 1000 Ft ($5) for.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Further benefits of Oxford

1) They know everyone. Seriously, between Juli, Anita, and Tamás, I bet they either know everyone of note in Szolnok. For example, last night Juli, Chad and I were having a nutritious dinner at Pizza Pronto, and Juli pointed out that two of out fellow diners were the American and Brazilian members of Szolnok’s basketball team, Szolnoki Olaj (Szolnok Oil; don’t ask me). Chad, being the fearless person he is, immediately moved to their table and introduced himself. And me. And Juli.

2) Free Polish snacks, courtesy of Anita’s husband Jacek, who works for some sort of Polish company which, as far as I can tell, exists for the sole purpose of giving Jacek bags and bags of snacks and candy, which he turns over to Oxford. In theory, these snacks are for the students, but since they exist in the hidden recesses of the kitchen cabinets, they mainly just feed Chad and myself.

3) Squash. Not the snacky kind, the exercise-y kind. I went this afternoon with Juli, Chad, and Dóri (Tamás’ wife) for my first-ever attempt at what I assumed would be a strenuous, dangerous, rule-bound game. Nope. At least, not the way Juli and Dóri play. For those of you unfamiliar with the game (as I was 12 hours ago. Now, after one game, I’m an expert), a squash court is an enclosed room, Chad said like a racquetball court. I wouldn’t know. There are lines on the walls and floor (we mostly ignored them). Two people take turns whacking the ball against the far wall. Hm, that’s about it. I’m sure there’s some sort of scoring involved, but we didn’t bother. The only place where it gets complex is the running around while trying to hit the ball, but avoiding hitting the other person, the wall, or anything else. It was great. Despite having damaged myself slightly, I’m going again on Monday.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Life After Break (or, Pushing the Karma Envelope)

I admit, I thought the first week back after break would be hellish; in reality, this week has been a pleasant surprise. Nothing like diving back in: back to normal classes at Kassai, private lessons, and the new adventure of teaching at Oxford (a private language school, which as far as I can tell has only a tenuous connection at best to the well-known Oxford). I think Oxford might be the best thing that’s happened to me in Szolnok; here’s the deal: they’re paying me 5000 Ft ($25) for a ninety-minute lesson. I’m teaching two lessons a week, which amounts to the fortune of an extra $200 a month (in comparison, I make about $520 a month at Kassai, teaching 19 lessons a week). And what do they expect of me in return? To do some photocopying, follow the lesson plans that Juli makes for me (which are amazing), and teach classes of adults (my “big” class has 9 students). And, just in case you’re not turning green yet, the teachers / directors Juli, Anita, and Tamás are three of the kindest, funniest, smartest people I have met here. How did I get so lucky? God alone knows. I’m going to stop bragging now before I bring 515 years of bad Hungarian karma down on my head.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Poor Girls' Vacation

So Laura and I spent the remainder of vacation hanging out, here in Szolnok and then in her lovely village (or, “willage”) of Hernadnémeti. The major event of our week was Thursday night: MTV’s European Music Awards. We watched MTV in the days leading up to it. We voted for our favorites. We persuaded Mariah (but not Janos) to jump on a train on the spur of the moment to join us. We braved Cora to purchase snacks and jug wine (oh, sweet college memories). We ate, we drank, we danced like fools (okay, Laura and I danced, while Mariah laughed at us). We SMS-ed with Jenna, who was watching the awards simultaneously at home in Nyíregyháza, and Janos, who I suspect had little to no interest in the awards, but was a good enough sport to not turn off his phone and ignore us. Oh, lucky the people who left the country and didn’t get our drunken (or sober) SMSes this week.

Friday, the three of us packed up and headed first to Nyíregyháza to pick up Jenna, then onto a train which dropped her and Mariah at Tokaj and Laura and I at Hernadnémeti. I like her town. Well, village. But a nice place. We watched TV, DVDs, had a walk around town, visited all three grocery stores, and worked on lessons plans. I’m jealous of both her apartment and her organizational and teaching skills. If I were a better teacher (as I should have made it one of my “November Goals” to be), I would be doing lessons plans now. Instead, I’m workin’ on the jug wine.

But seriously, silly as they are, these are my goals for November.
- Home repairs and interior decoration. Especially if I have to live here two years, I want a place that I like.
- Getting a library card. If Chad can do it, so can I.
- Learning to make onion rings. Really, this would make me quite happy.
- Finding collage materials. And fabric.
- Getting an International Driver’s License.
- And being a better teacher in general. More planning. Better discipline. Seriously, I survived college; how can this be that much more difficult?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Clarity, continuation, and conclusion (still Transylvania)

First, some clarity: the plan of exactly what we did and where we went, including map This may or may not be correct; I just took the text from Hajni’s proposed itinerary and modified it to what we did. Or, as best I remember what we did.

1. day: October 26 (Wednesday)
-Budapest and Nyiregyhaza
-Vállaj - border cross
-Nagykáróly - money exchange and lunch
-Kalotaszentkiraly (Sincraiu) – evening program with the villagers, staying with Hungarian families

2. day: October 27 (Thursday)
-Banffyhunyad (Huedin) – the protestant church from the 13th century, “The role of the church in the life of the Hungarian minority” (the minister)
-Korosfo - shopping stop!
-Kolozsvar (Cluj Napoca) – sightseeing, - “The problems of the Hungarian minority and the minority policy in Romania after 1989” (Istvan Horvath, professor of the Sociology Department of the Babes-Bolyai University)
-Torda Canyon - a “short hike”
-Torocko (Rimetea) – the medieval village is part of the world heritage protected by UNESCO, we will stay with Hungarian families

3. day: October 28 (Friday)
-Marosvasarhely (Tirgu Mures) – sightseeing
-Korond (Corund) – the most famous pottery makers live in this village (you can buy pottery if you want), meeting with the most famous artist of the village who will show us around in his workshop
-Zetelaka (little village) near Szekelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Seciuesc) – staying with Hungarian families

4. day: October 29 (Saturday)
-Csikszereda (Miercurea-Ciuc) – short sightseeing
-Gyimes - folk music and dancing program
-that night - no idea where we stayed.

5. day: October 30 (Sunday)
-Gyilkos to (Lacu Rosu) – the “Killer” lake
-Bekas szoros (Frags’ canyon) – 1 hour walking tour in the canyon
-Segesvar (Shigisvara)- sightseeing (and the saxon minority)
-Gernyeszeg – hotel

6. day: October 31 (Monday)
driving and more driving. Really, that’s all.

Next, continuation. As you can see on the plan, on the second-to-last day, which is where I think I left off, we went to the Killer Lake, which was slightly cooler this time, as it wasn’t covered with ice and snow, then the Frag’s Canyon, which was amazing, although sunless and cold. Laura, Mariah and I “linked” (arms, get your mind out of the gutter) and stayed huddled together. After the canyon, we went to collect our two sickies, then onward to Segesvár (birthplace of Dracula). We spent the evening at a hotel in Gernyeszeg. After dinner (and to some extent, during), we started dancing, which eventually turned into a full-fledged dance party in the lobby of the hotel.

The last day was mainly driving, bathroom stop, driving, Körösfö again, driving, gas station, driving, border, driving, driving, and yet get the picture. We watched a lot of movies. People got off the bus in Nyírégyháza, Tiszaújváros, and some other random town (Jeremy and Chad had a Plan. I don’t know what). Laura and I ended up staying at the Kollégium again, with Hajni and Rosemary. They chose a quiet (and warm) evening at home, while Laura and I braved the cold to meet Janos for drinks. An excellent evening, although freezing. And again, we got home at 2 in the morning and got only a few hours of sleep. Then, an adventure in the train station, which involved the concurrence of a national holiday, the time change (daylight savings) and no preplanning on our part. And, of course, not speaking Hungarian. Anyway, there was a long wait, then a longer ride on a slow train. But finally, Laura and I arrived back in Szolnok and have spent the afternoon watching MTV. So what time is is now? after 5. How long did it take me to write these few paragraphs? Way too long for such drivel.