Friday, May 26, 2006

The Great England Experiment (Take Two)

My History: one previous trip to London for two days, two years ago. It was interesting, but too short and too expensive for us to see and do much.

The General Plan, this time around: an 8-day field trip to England with 38 Kassai students (5th through 8th grades), the four other English teachers, myself, one guide (Anna), and two bus drivers. And one really big bus.

The Details:
Day 1 - leave Szolnok at 3 am. Drive all day. Sleep in Belgium in a cheap hotel.
Day 2 - cross the Channel (by Chunnel). Arrive in London. Walk around the city, go up the London Eye, and visit the British Museum. Meet out host families.
Day 3 - excursions to Shakespeareville, aka Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick Castle.
Day 4 - excursions to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Hampton Court.
Day 5 - visit London Tower, Westminster Abbey, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Day 6 - bid farewell to host families. Visit Leeds Castle and Canterbury before hopping on the ferry to France. Sleeping in another cheap hotel.
Day 7 - Disneyland Europe, all day. In the evening, back on the bus. And driving all night.
Day 8 - another day of driving. Arrived back to Szolnok about 3:30.

Things I Learned:
- that Kati, my awesomely fierce contact teacher, is still awesomely fierce at 3am. And during the whole vacation.
- that 38 kids, 5 adults, 1 guide, and 2 bus drivers actually can pile off the bus, use a crowded bathroom, goof around, buy snacks, take photos, and be back on the road in the allotted 20 minutes.
- that despite being surrounded by one of the world’s richest histories, in a country filled with castles and museums and gardens, kids will inevitably head straight for the Labyrinth, the Ghost Tower, or the mummy exhibit.
- that I’ve become used to being in Hungary. So much so that I try to speak Hungarian to shopkeepers and people on the street, and that I imagine I hear people speaking it all around me in London. I wonder if the same thing will happen in America, and if so, for how long?
- that the word “hypermarket” isn’t some sort of weird Hunglish - it’s British. It’s a real word, who knew?
- that if you take loud, obnoxious students out of the classroom, away from their friends and partners-in-crime, they’re just kids. Cute, funny, insecure, normal teenage kids.

The Family Stay:
In theory, this sounded like the coolest part of the trip: in groups of two, three, or four, the students spend nights living with English families. They eat breakfast and dinner together, and the families give them a packed lunch for the day. Having only our family stays in Romania to compare, I expected the best.
In reality, this might have been the worst part for many of the kids. The 2 Edits and I lucked out and stayed with a wonderful woman named Sandra who stuffed us full of food, gave us two plush rooms to stay in, and sent us off every day with lunch bags bigger than my head. Unfortunately, no one else’s experience was similar. There were problems with all aspects of the stay: the rooms were small or unclean; the food was terrible or scant; they didn’t get a lunch bag; they didn’t get anything to drink; they didn’t understand each other; the families were unfriendly. There were also problems getting between the bus and the houses, because after the first day the students were expected to walk alone to and from our drop-off point to their families’ houses. Yikes - some of them are in 5th grade! If I had a child that old, I wouldn’t let them walk a mile though London traffic alone.
Long story short, the family stays were less than perfect. I hope the kids got something out of them.

The Hungarian and the English:
Overall, I think I spoke and heard more Hungarian than English the whole week. I’m not sure how much English any of the kids actually spoke outside their families, although it was gratifying to hear a few of them mumbling English phrases to themselves to practice, or having stilted conversations with each other.
Some of the students decided to spend the week teaching me Hungarian. Walking around castle after castle, we played endless rounds of “Tree?” “Fa.” “Yes. Bird?” “Madár.” “Good. Castle?” “Kastély.” “Good. Um... grass?” “Fü.” “Yes! Oh, you is very clever. Camera?” “Um... fény-something-gép?” And then giggling. They also tried to explain some grammar, but that stopped when they got to '-ban, -ben' and the concept of vowel harmony.

The Conclusion:
As I was talking to Jeremy yesterday afternoon, he asked me, “So, was it worth it?” For a second, I didn’t know what he meant, because I had completely forgotten about all the griping I did about the expensive. So, yeah, I guess it was worth it.
Money aside: I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I hope I can.
I’ve got a couple more stories, which I’ll post if I have time. I’ll be kinda busy, you know, between the Oxford party tonight, the Beer Festival this weekend, and my next vacation starting next Wednesday. Oh, I love my life right now.

1 comment:

Gaines said...

Welcome back to Hungary! Call me and lets talk about beer!