Monday, November 12, 2007

11.C takes a quiz

With my 11.C classes, I’m currently working, very slowly, through basic America history and culture. Their assignment over the break was to read a measly 5 pages about schools, society, and culture in Colonial America. The five pages contained some pretty advanced vocabulary though, and so I specifically told them, “Make sure you look up all the words you don’t understand, because we’re going to have a vocabulary quiz next lesson.

No one listened, save one or two girls. Feeling pretty sulky and uninspired, I gave them 35 minutes to look up and study the words, and gave the quiz at the end of class (the 10 words I picked for the quiz were: frontier, deter, be obliged to, thrive, tuition, endeavor, bequeath, vigorous, diffusion, and charter). Although many of them bombed it, they did manage to come up with some entertaining mistakes:

- Everyone was tuited about the schools.
- You can always deter words.
- Towns are obliged to countries.
- Thriving is really dangerous.
- If you’re lost in a town abroad, you can get a tuition from someone in the street.
- Endeavors were in the past, in America history it was present.
- We learned something about diffusion last year from chemistry.
- I have thriven by my sister.
- I put the bequeath under my door, not to move.

and my favorites:
- Endeavors invaded the country.
- Bequeath sounds like french baguette.
- When Soma entered the room he said vigorous.

Nice try, guys.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Open Day

Today was a non-teaching day for me. Because of last week’s holiday, and my illness the week before, it’s now been a month since I’ve seen some of my Wednesday classes, including my Most-Hated Class (I won’t say which class it is, but you’d know if you looked in my gradebook - it’s the class on whose page Tomi drew a picture for me. He asked if he could draw something and my answer was “Sure, but draw it on this page, because whenever I see the list of their names I need something beautiful to keep me sane”).

The reason behind the non-teaching day was that today Varga had their Open Day, where current 8th graders come and check out the school to see if they might apply (unlike America, all high schools in Hungary are by application). God forbid the prospies might see an actual normal school day, so today the school made up a special one-day schedule, which showcased the best teachers teaching special fun and interesting lessons to the best students. In this whole best-foot-forward frenzy, I was not asked to teach a lesson. Cool.

I used my free day for, what else, being lazy at home and getting nothing done as usual. But, being the good pedagogue that I am, I managed to find some time in my busy nothingness to catch up with my favorite three teaching blogs, listed here in order of discovery: A Teacher's Education, California Teacher Guy, and Ms. Issippi. The latter I just found recently, and spent a good several hours going through her archives. Teaching first grade in rural Mississippi sounds remarkably similar to teaching older children in Hungary; besides, her stories inspire me to be a better teacher. I wish she would start posting again....

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hat nap amerikában

So it’s Friday, and in less than 12 hours I’ll be boarding a plane, which will take me to a plane which will take me to another plane, which will take me back to Hungary. After six days back here, these are the things I still haven’t gotten comfortable with:

- Being the thinnest person in the room/store/area. Really, it was flattering at first, but it’s becoming disturbing.

- Waking up at 6 or 4 or 2 am, to a pitch black sky, and feeling as refreshed as if I slept til noon.

- Commercials on TV. It’s the same as the fat people everywhere: I don’t see them in Hungary, and they both fascinate and disgust me.

- Is it just my house, or are light-switches and doorknobs much lower in America?

- I never, ever, EVER thought I’d say or even think this but... I miss house slippers. Even in my parent’s fully-carpeted house, I miss my flip-flops and slip-ons.

- Dial-up internet. Seriously, in this day and age.... how can anyone live like this???

- People always smiling at you and asking how you are. It’s creepy. And on the other hand, if I’m in a store and ask something like “Excuse me, can you please tell me where....” they look at me like I’m being sickeningly polite. Have I lost my scale of American manners?

- The crappy radio stations here.

- My family. That’s a whole ’nother post, I guess.

- Everything being in extremes. There’s too much or too little of everything: too many people, too many cars, too much open space, too much consumerism, too much stress, too many things to do, too many people to see, too many things I want. And on the other hand, I have too little time, too little money, and too little patience to deal with it all. And I have no place anymore. In the end, I guess what I find the most upsetting is the lack of control I have on my own life here. Everyone told me it was foolish to come back for just a week, and they were all right, although maybe not in the way they thought: a week here was just enough to upset my life in Szolnok, without giving me any of the benefits of being here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Twenty-four hours

That’s how long it took, from when we left Szolnok at 3am Saturday morning, to when I arrived at Minneapolis-St Paul Airport at 9pm Saturday night. Random thoughts from along the way:

Friday noon: I just now started packing. What can I bring? I can’t get over the feeling that this is like so many weekend trips, that I’ll just going a couple hours, a couple hundred kilometers away, and I’ll be back on Monday to my normal life.
This is the first time I’ve ever been scared to fly. I mean, scared to die in some horrible accident. Is my life really so great now that I’m scared to lose it? Apparently.

Friday afternoon: Everything in me is pulling me against this trip. I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to be in Minnesota. I don’t want to see my parents. I’m trying like hell, but so far there’s not a single real thing that I’m looking forward other than coming back to Szolnok. The closest thing I’ve got is that it’ll be fun to shop for gifts for people.

Friday evening: Is it strange that in the school today, almost everyone who wished me a good trip ended their wishes with “and come back!”? I’d like the know the story behind that. I mean really, what the hell, who didn’t come back??

Saturday morning, way too early: Standing in the first of many lines, the Budapest customs. I stand in the wrong line for ten minutes before moving to the non-EU passports line. The woman behind me is going crazy with the wait, and repeats “Hát, az hihetetlen” dozens of times, accompanied by repeated trips to the front of the line to harass the poor customs workers.

Saturday, Frankfurt: I’m sitting in a lounge, waiting the three hours until my next flight will be shown on the monitors. There are two flights listed back to Budapest. I wonder how easy it would be to change my ticket. I wonder what would happen to my checked luggage.

Saturday, several hours later but still in Frankfurt: Jebus, I’d forgotten how much security you have to go through on America-bound flights. After being patted down, none too gently, by a surly security guard, at the gate I am questioned within an inch of my life by the American Airlines security. They ask me all the normal questions (who packed your bags, have you accepted any gifts, what electronics are you carrying) plus some bordering on too-personal: where did you spend last night, who was with you, who drove you to the airport and how well do you know him, what nationality... etc. The man questioning me sweetly keeps apologizing for being so personal, but also tells me how it’s happened several times that bombs have been found on board. Gee, how reassuring. All I can think is that after all this trouble, I’m going to be DOUBLE-pissed if this plane goes down.

Still Saturday, and again several hours later, now in Chicago: how is this possible: I’ve gone through security three times, for two international flights, including the American Airlines Super-Security. But boarding a one-hour domestic flight from Chicago to MSP is where they finally confiscate my water bottle, and the first time I’m asked to remove my shoes. The man asking me to take them off uses a voice like, “duh, haven’t you ever flown before?” and I want to snap back with “Look, idiot, I’ve flown farther today that you’ll ever travel in your sad state-bound life, and what the hell makes you think anyone would choose to target this poor excuse for a puddle-jump flight? Get over yourself, you self-important bastard.” Perhaps I’m starting to get a bit testy with jet-lag.
PS - sitting in the waiting room for the Chicago-MSP flight, I am so the skinniest person there. Seriously, I look like a model next to these people. Ha ha ha, sweet.

Yet still Saturday (almost over), finally in Minneapolis/St. Paul: I arrive on time. I recognize my family (good thing Sam’s a head taller than everyone else). We drive home and already I’m slipping back into Minnesota. Still not sure about this. We’ll see.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The kids aren't alright

I can think of several stories which would fit that title, but... here’s today’s:

This morning, Varga had it’s October 23rd Commemoration. Because there’s no room in the school big enough for everyone, they held it Szolnok’s Cultural Center. At the end of the ceremony, the announcer concluded with, “So, it’s about 9 o’clock now. At 10 o’clock classes will begin; everyone please collect your coats and bags and meet your class teacher in the lobby to walk back to the school together.”

Which I thought was a bit dumb - these are high schoolers, after all, they don’t need their class teachers to chaperone them back to the school, four blocks away. Most teachers just let their kids go.

Problem: the unsupervised students had one hour to walk four blocks. Solution: they popped into a couple bars on the way. My first two periods were hilarious: students still dressed to the nines, slightly cross-eyed, and reeking of booze.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October Update

So for once, I have a legit reason for my lack of posting (not that it really matters, since all 6 people who read this blog see me on a regular basis anyway), that reason being that I’ve been hella busy. In addition to my 20-plus-one hours a week at Varga (the high school) and 4 at Kassai (the primary school), there’s also the 4 hours a week at the college. Plus private lessons. Plus, starting this week, I’ll be taking Hungarian lessons again (after a little spat about my Hungarian skills/lack thereof, I hotheadedly decided to take the Magyar mint idegen nyelv exam to prove him wrong. Yikes).

Plus, about mid-last-week when I was floundering a bit, I decided that it would make my life infinitely easier if I made out a complete set of lesson plans for the entire semester, until January. No doubt it will make things easier... once they’re finished. Right now, it’s just a lot of work.

But by all means don’t think that I’m complaining. I like keeping busy; it keeps me sane, which will be more and more important as the winter pushes down. Plus, I don’t have time to get sick of one group before it’s time to go teach another.

Anyway, right now I’ve got a free másfél óra until classes, and instead of spending it relaxing.... 9th grade lesson plans!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

20 years away

Conversation overheard today between two of my adorable 5th graders. Imagine it in Hungarian, of course:

Ádám: Do you know German?
Balint: What? This is Enlgish class, stupid.
Ádám: No, but do you know German?
Balint: Um, no, why?
Ádám: You know, you have to speak German to get into high school.
Balint: What?
Ádám: You have to speak two languages.
Balint: Ádám, who cares? That’s like 20 years away.
Ádám: You mean 5 years.*
Balint: Whatever, what color are your eyes?**

*Actually, it’s like 3 and a half years.
** What he readlly said, in wonderful Hunglish, was “Mindegy, milyen az eyes-ed?”

Monday, October 01, 2007

How I got into college...

So starting tonight, I’ll be teaching at the Szolnoki Fõiskola (Szolnok College). It seems like it’ll be a good job - teaching 12 pre-intermediate students twice a week, 90 minutes each lesson. And for this endeavor, 3 hours of extra work a week, I’ll be making 60% of what I make at my full time job.

I have to share the way I got the job, because it was very typical of how things work in Hungary: at my part time job at Kassai Primary, the other American teacher is a guy named Oscar. His main job is at the Waldorf School in Szolnok (I think). Another teacher there is a German (possibly French? Dutch???) guy named Stefan, who has some as-yet-undiscovered-by-me connection to the college. So Stefan recruited Oscar to teach there, Oscar took the advanced group and passed the pre-int on to me, et viola, here I am about to embark on another teaching adventure.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Me too

In the past two years, I’ve had the following conversation with 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders:

(the five-minute warning bell rings, the student jumps up)
Me: Sit down, there’s five minutes more.
Student: But we’re finished.
Me: No. Five more minutes.
Student: But... but... lunch! We’re hungry.
Me: Too bad. Me too.

Today I had the same conversation with a 13th grader. The only difference was that he used the word “starving” instead. It's nice that some things aren't grade-dependant.

p.s. - and after having this conversation god-knows-how-many times, typing it now was the first time I realized that I should be saying “So am I,” not “Me too.” Oops. Yay, English teaching.

The new school: Varga Katalin Gymnasium

Since Blogger won't let me make the title a link, here's the link for the official webpage of my new school, Varga. Sweet, clean, beautiful, wonderful, well-organized Varga, filled with kind helpful teachers, smiling staff, efficient administration, and okos rendes diákok.

So yes, I’m woozy in love with the new school. I’m not even minding the extra work that goes with such a nice position, i.e. making complete yearly syllabi and multiple lesson plans weekly. Oh Varga, my sweet muse, inspiring me beyond the lazy, half-assed teacher I was at Kassai. Plus, those damn clever kids would tear me apart if I didn’t march in well-prepared.

So this is what I’m teaching, broken down as simply as I can: in 9th and 10th grades, two classes of each, I’m teaching just conversation. There’s a couple things I should do from their books, but mostly I’m on my own to plan things. I haven’t met the 10th graders yet, but the 9th graders are quickly becoming some of my favorites. In 11th and 12th grade, also two classes of each, I’m teaching American Civilization concurrently with their other teacher who’s teaching them British Civilisation. That’s the hardest, because the 12th graders are taking an exam at the end of the year, so they have to know the topics well. And I feel like it’s on me if they pass or not. The 11th graders have already proven a little bratty, but the 12th seems more serious.

I also have 5 other classes, scattered in the 11th to 13th grades, where I’m teaching conversation with the aim of preparing for the érettségi (school-leaving exam). I like this classes, not only because I see them once a week and they’re easiest to plan for, but also because the students seem, well, they just seem like good kids. The 13th graders are an especially fun group, lessons I actually look forward to.

And, of course, I’m teaching my four lessons a week at Kassai, my old school; two 6th grade classes on Tuesday morning and two 5th grade classes on Thursday mornings. The classes are huge, not fewer than 20 students, and they expect me to do ONLY conversation - my ex-contact teacher Kati actually told me “don’t let them write.” Two words for that: as if. Oh well, my Varga muse, meaning my inspiration to plan things and do well by the students, is luckily strong enough to carry over to Kassai, so I guess as long as I plan super well, I might be able to teach them a thing or two.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

MSN: providing hours of lingustic amusement

I wrote an entry explaining the whole long backstory of the following conversation, but since I’m really posting it for the sake of the awesome code-switching and Hunglish grammar, here’s all you need: Andika is a former Kassai student (6th grade), Toth Kata is my wonderfully fear-inducing ex-contact teacher, and Oscar is an American guy, married to a szolnoki and living here. And I’m Emily:

Andika says: toth katalin is say we how Oscar fog tanítani
Emily says: igen?
Andika says: je
Andika says: but
Andika says: not biztos
Emily says: akkor most nincsen angol-tarsalgas ora?
Andika says: még nincs
Andika says: but lesz
Emily says: mikor?
Andika says: just no kötelezö
Emily says: ok, latom
Andika says: nemtudom
Andika says: ilyen jól tudsz magyarul
Emily says: nem
Andika says: hihi

Love it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


That’s it, a boring one-word title and one all-encompassing entry to sum up my activities of the past few months. But every day that I procrastinate blogging again, I get more and more anxious about it, so I’d rather do this half-assed catch-up now and get back on track.

In June, I worked. I mean, in addition to official work the first half of the month, I also worked a week of summer camp (see below); the remaining week was spent packing, moving, and unpacking.

In July, I lazed. The month wasn’t really good for anything else; it was just too hot. My life fell in a wonderfully predictable pattern, a typical day looked something like this: wake up already hot; drink a coffee and take a cold shower; walk around with Petra and shop; meet up with Rita, drink a beer and play cards in the hottest part of midday; go to the Holt Tisza or Tiszapuspoki beach with the girls or Gábor; watch tvlinks, chat, and drink ice water in front of my fan; finally eat something around sunset when it got a few degrees cooler. Evenings I either went out with Tomi or hung out in Petra’s garden with her and Csomanok. It was the best part of summer. I also went to Transylvania and Balaton for a few days each.

In August, I wasn’t at home. First I was in Szombathely for another week of summer camp. Then at Sziget, which was awesome until the last night when I lost my mind, temporarily, and my phone, permanently. We spent a few days recovering in Pest, sleeping in Jeremy’s hallway/loft and mooching his food. August 20th we watched the fireworks from Margit híd - this year they were both spectacular and death-free. The day after, the new generation of CETP teachers started arriving, and Caley and I spent the week orientation-ing them, not that they needed much help; this seems like a pretty levelheaded, intelligent, independent and fun group.

Anyway, after almost a month of travel, I was beyond-words glad at being home in Szolnok. But my working-lazing-traveling summer isn’t quite yet over; I’ve been working in Varga, finishing up paperwork, attending teachers’ meetings, and working on a syllabus for each class. I’ve been traveling, so to speak, back and forth between my current flat and the house across the courtyard, into which I’m in the process of moving (more on that later). And of course I’m lazing, making the most of the last few days and hours before another school year begins.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Summer Camp

I may (or may not) have mentioned that my summer plans included working in a summer English camp. The plan was this: ten weeks of work, each week (Mon-Fri) in a different city in Hungary. Primary-school aged kids come every day from 8 to 4, and I and a Hungarian teacher (Kata) play games, do projects, and hopefully teach them some English.

The first week was last week in Szeged, and it was great. There were 14 kids ages 8 to 14, and with one or two exceptions they were smart, funny, motivated, and well-behaved. On the last day we put on a play which the students had made up themselves (but which Kata and I had written). I’m including the play below, because I think it’s pretty hilarious.

Unfortunately, not enough students signed up for all the camps, so other than the week in Szeged there’ll only be one other week, in Szombathely in August. It’s really too bad, because (in addition to being both fun and money for me) the camps seem really well-run, both entertaining and educational. Anyway, doing my bit of promotion, here’s the website for Applecross English Camps.

And here’s the play, Attack at the Disco. I take no responsibility for characters or plot; they were all from the minds of the students:

Narrator - Dear Viewers, today we will tell the story of a terrible attack on the earth. It is a story of how evil UFOs and dwarves tried to take over the world, and how they were stopped by the Great Yoda.

Other Narrator - There is a lack of water on Earth. People are always thirsty and there is no food

Everybody - I’m thirsty, I’m hungry!

Other Narrator - UFOs decided to take over and use the Earth as a storage place.

Little UFO - Let’s get the Earth. People are very weak there.

Big UFO - We need some help! We have to make sure we can occupy the planet. I suggest to talk to the dwarves.

Little UFO - Ok! Let’s go!

Big UFO - Will you help up occupy your planet? You won’t regret it!

Dirty (okay, so I don’t know the Seven Dwarves in English. The boys said they wanted to be Hapsi and Kuka. I knew that Hapsi was Sneezy, and just guessed that Kuka was Dirty. Anyway, it should have been Dopey, oh well) - Sneezy, if we help the aliens we could become kings on Earth. We said we won’t regret it. What do you think?

Sneezy - I actually always wanted a career!

Dirty - Do you have an idea? How could we make sure? What should we do to help them.

Sneezy - On Saturday night everybody goes to the disco. The aliens can take over the Earth there.

Dirty - It is a pleasure to work with you.

Both UFOs - Thank you.

Narrator - At the same time people don’t know anything about the aliens’ plan. They are too busy preparing for a Saturday night out. The famous sisters are just about to go to their fashion designer to have a dress made for Saturday. They always take their cat with them.

Famous Sisters (played by two small girls who always spoke in unison) - I would like a new dress.

Cat - Dresses really suit you.

Fashion Designer - I will make you the best dresses like the Paris designers make.

Famous Sisters - I would like the best make-up ever for tonight.

Cat - I am sure you will be really funky.

Fashion Designer - Please let me do my job!

Famous Sisters - Thank you. You did a great job!

Cat - I will go to the disco with you!

Famous Sisters - Yes, please!

Narrator - While the sisters and their cat and Sara the fashion designer got ready for the big night out, the aliens worked on their terrible plan!

Both Dwarves - These people don’t know what is going to happen. And we will be kings at the end!

Big UFO - Our plan must work

(evil laughter)

Narrator - In the disco, the Fashion Hip-Hop Dancers (three girls who wanted to include a dance routine in the play. Sure, why not?) have already arrived.

Wanda - What a great disco! How did you find it?

Niki - Don’t you remember, we danced here last year in a competition.

Blanka - Oh yes, I remember - we took third place in that competition.

Niki - It was very good.

Wanda - Good?! You think 3rd place is good? No, we must be first.

Blanka - Okay, then let’s practice our dance.

(they perform their dance)

Niki - I think our dancing is getting better. Shall we practice more?

Blanka - No, let’s not, it’s too hot and I’m very tired.

Wanda - Hey, look! Isn’t that those famous sisters with the fashion designer and their cat?

Niki - Yes, it is! Let’s go talk to them.

Famous Sisters and Fashion Designer - Oh, Fashion Hip-Hop Dancers, can we have your autograms?

Niki, Wanda, Blanka - Yes, here you are.

Cat - Meow, me too!

Wanda - Come on, let’s all dance.

Narrator - So everyone danced together happily. They didn’t know that the aliens were about to take over the earth...

Dwarves and UFOs - Rrrarrr!

Girls - (screaming) Help! No!

Dwarves and UFOs - We are here to take over the Earth. You will all die!

(they all fight)

Yoda (played by the most adorable little boy) - STOP! Why are you fighting?

Girls - We want water!

Dwarves - We want money!

UFOs - We want the earth!

Yoda - (to girls) I give you water. (to dwarves) I give you money. (to UFOs) I will kill you. Happy?

Everybody - Yes!!!

Yoda - Okay, let’s dance!!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Indroduction to Varga

After blowing my first appointment at Varga on Tuesday, due to a way-too-long bus ride, we resceduled for Thursday and I made damn sure to be on time. After all, first impressions are everything.

And I can only hope that that's true, because if so the following year teaching at Varga Katalin Gymnasium (their website, unfortch not in English) is going to be heavenly.

I walked into the school, some minutes early, and up to the teachers' room. I stumbled hesitantly into the next office down, which was labled Igazgato / Headmaster. Oh bliss to be somewhere TRUELY bilingual. Although the secreteries in the front office didn't speak English, they knew who I was and directed me to Laci, the principal. What followed was a meeting with him and my contact teacher Marianna, which turned out to be the most efficient and well-planned meeting I've ever attended in Hungary. We went over paperwork and numbers and details, and chatted. After, Marianna and I sat in the teachers' room and she explained everything about what classes I'll be teaching, which books they'll use, what my goals will be for each group; she even gave me a packet she'd made up with several pages describing the school, how it works, procedures for grading and discipline... pure well-organized bliss. I didn't know schools in Hungary were capable of planning ahead more than a few days.

We finished by making plans to meet again Friday morning, finish up paperwork, and go to the Immigration Office. That, of course, is a whole seperate story.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Good-bye, but wait, Hello

Today was graduation for the 8th graders at Kassai. Not much to say - they paraded in, there were long, boring speeches and flowers and balloons, I had to wear heels, and in an hour it was all over. In the teachers room my contact teacher cornered me (heels = can’t run fast) and we had the following conversation:

Kati: Oh, it’s over.
Me: Yup.
Kati (in that tone I know so well): Emily, I wanted to tell you, we didn’t say good-bye to you.
Me (slightly touched that she cared): Oh, um...
Kati: I mean, we didn’t say good-bye to you because we will see you again.
Me (for a split second, I actually considered they might be inviting me to a farewell dinner or something): Really?
Kati: Yes, we will see you next year.
Me: Oh, of course, I’ll visit-
Kati: No, you will teach here.
Me: Whathuh?
Kati: Yes, Éva (our principal) talked to Laci (new school’s principal) and he says he cannot find enough hours for you*, so you can teach some classes here too. Fifth and sixth grade conversation.
Me: (slack-jawed amazement)
Kati: Okay, I must go.

So, apparently I’ll be teaching some classes at Kassai next year. I’m sure glad they consulted me about it - although sarcasm aside, I should probably be amazed that they’re coordinating it now and not September 1st.

But why would I teach the 5th and 6th graders? Why not the upper classes, who are preparing for English exams to get into good high schools and beyond? Instead, I’ll get in 6th grade this years 5th, one of my most terrible classes, and in 5th grade this years 4th, with whom I’ve had no contact. Sigh. I was so ready to leave Kassai on a good note - instead I’ll be not leaving on this bad one.

*which I later learned isn’t true, I could have had enough hours at Varga. Kassai just shanghaied me.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Goodbye Hello

Someday when I write my book about Hungary, I’m going to call it Goodbye Hello. Just so you know.

So a group of Americans (and a Spaniard, some Hungarians, etc) converged on Szolnok for one last weekend. In some ways it was similar to many other weekends; I could cut and paste what we did from any number of other entries: we lazed around, we drank, we ate lots of food, we wandered around aimlessly, we lay in the sunshine, we played in the water, we slept in piles, we made ATCs (rather, Sara and Bridge and I made them until the boys got fed up with us), we sat in bars, and outside of bars, and we talked.

But it was in the chatting where there was a clear difference to this weekend. Instead of talking about teaching, we talked about home. Instead of planning future weekends, we talked about summer jobs and grad school and flight prices. Instead of comparing lesson plans, we talked about American restaurants and stores.

In the end, it wasn’t a real goodbye anyway; almost everyone who was here I’ll see again, next week or in the summer. Still, it’s such an odd feeling for me now to look around a table and see both the past and the future: one year ago, I was sitting in a restaurant saying goodbye to a group of departing Americans. One year from now, I’ll be in the exact same place, sitting at another table with another group of departing Americans. It’s an unfriendly feeling that they’ll always come and go while I remain a static point.

Anyway, onward to new adventures, namely: moving. How the hell I accumulated so much junk (and heavy junk, lots of books) in less than two years is beyond me. How I’m going to pack it up and move it to the new flat.... sigh.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


The strangest thing happened to me Sunday morning in a bathroom in Balatonfüred. I was sitting there at about 8am, surrounded by a hostel-full of slumbering Americans (and Brits and Aussies, etc). And it suddenly hit me how at peace I was. Everything in my life has just come together:

- although Kassai (my current school) finally let me go officially, within an hour I was offered a position next year at Varga (the super-nice, way prestigious gymnasium). So next year, if all goes to plan, I’ll have a cushy job teaching near-fluent teenagers, full pay, and free flat.

- having finally kicked my two-month stomach flu, I’m completely healthy. Maybe better than I’ve ever been. I’m just glowing with good health.

- for once, I’m completely at peace with all relatives, friends, boyfriends, and colleagues. No drama, no fights, just harmony. Too bad all but one of the Americans are abandoning me.... sniffle.

- I got a bike (inherited from one of those sniffle-inducing leaving Americans)! I’m still way too scared to actually use it on the streets, but... someday.

- Hungarian lessons are going well. I might actually be learning something. In any case, at least I’m thinking about it every day.

- the Balaton weekend was good - much better than I would have thought, given that hanging out with large groups of foreigners in a strange place is my personal idea of hell. There was a minimum of drama and a maximum of hanging around drinking and enjoying the sunshine.

- thanks to Bridget’s curiosity, I’ve gotten back into making ATCs, and having a creative outlet again has made me so much happier and more productive feeling.

- as much as I love my school, I’m accepting moving on. I feel bad about leaving my students because, next year, they likely won’t have a native speaker, but I’ve already got plans to offer them cheap private lessons or some sort of English club.

- not to mention, the majority of the kids are gratifyingly disappointed with my leaving. Today, one class stayed 10 minutes extra just to hang out.

Anyway, that’s it... coming up roses. And in the future, look for more frequent updates, since I’m about to embark on a whole new teaching adventure, both over the summer and in the fall, AND on a whole new adventure in my personal life...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

True or fasza

So we spent the weekend in Szarvas, that’s all I’ll tell you. Guess which of the following are true (check out Bridget's blog for clues). Answers / explanations to follow in a couple days:

- we spent the weekend (or a chunk of it) in a cottage on the river, complete with dock and rowboat
- we invented palingria (palinka + sangria) and enjoyed quite a bit of it
- we read about heavy-petting in a Hungarian magazine for children
- we all got very, very trashed/ stoned/ inebriated/ intoxicated/ smashed / soaked
- we rowed on the river at all hours of the night and day
- we reenacted several scenes from Moby Dick (I was Moby)
- we used the rowboat to sneak into the Szarvasi Arboretum
- we spelled out GHP (Great Hungarian Plain) with our bodies
- we went “fishing,” meaning we dumped bread crumbs in the water and watched the fish flock to them (can fish flock??)
- we saw a meter-long, inch-thick green snake sunning itself near our rowboat
- I went 72 hours without listening to my MP3
- we all managed to get to and away from Szarvas with no train/bus-related problems

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The best part of teaching is the weekend

Oh, Sunday mornings. This has been my day so far:

- got up. Actually: woke up, rolled over, watched SpongeBob for half an hour, then got up

- got “dressed” (pajama bottoms and oversized sweater)

- drank two coffees

- started but not finished my Hungarian homework (writing a page about my family)

- started but not finished my other Hungarian homework (memorizing the complete forms of the 7 most important verbs)

- started but not finished updating my resume

- started but not finished creating some ATCs

- pestered various people unlucky enough to have MSN Messenger (; I’m usually on and frequently bored)

- gave two whole seconds of thought to my school’s upcoming Project Week, and the “tasks” I’m supposed to be planning. Well, maybe slightly more than 2 seconds. About 2 seconds, plus however long it took to write this sentence

- ate lunch (cold pizza leftovers) and cracked a beer

- dwelled on and enjoyed being in my PJs and doing nothing

- wrote this

Friday, April 27, 2007


This week, I looked at my calendar and realized that I only have 6 more weeks of teaching, and only 3 of them full weeks. This happy realization prompted me into a fit of lesson planning, wherein I managed to plan almost all my lessons for the rest of the year. It goes without saying that I was pretty proud of myself and my work.

This morning when I opened up the plans, they were ruined. I don’t know why, but both files, a spreadsheet and a text, reverted themselves back to very, very early versions. All my work is gone.

And the worst part is, I don’t understand why. I saved both files as I was working on them, frequently. So what’s my motivation for recreating my work if there’s a possibility of losing it again?

I’m not a happy person. The only thing keeping me going right now is... well, coffee. And the ever-so-slight hope of being able to enjoy the upcoming 4-day weekend.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Two happy stories

After reading Kat’s most recent post, it occurred to me that for some strange reason beyond my comprehension, the last few weeks of teaching have been... strangely normal. It’s almost like (dare I even think it???) I’ve finally gotten some control over the kids. And (surely I won’t finish this sentence without the finger of god reaching down and crushing me) not only that they’re under control but.... actually.... learning.


I don’t know what caused this and I doubt it’ll last, but while it does I’ll celebrate, and pass the love on by sharing two good student stories.

Story one, Robin: A bunch of the students have my msn address, and message me whenever I’m online. Emily how are you? Emily what’s your favorite color? Emily what are you doing? Emily do my homework for me. Emily Emily Emily hi hi hi. The same things every time.

A bunch of 8th graders just added me as a friend recently, so when someone unknown started messaging me the other night, I assumed it was one of them. I didn’t recognize his picture, but his English was pretty good. He asked thoughtful, well-written questions, albeit slowly, and gave full answers to my questions. We talked about me living in Hungary, how he would like to live abroad, how difficult living away from family is, how learning a foreign language is hard but fun, etc. Finally my curiosity won out and I had to know who I was talking to. How old are you? 12. Where do you go to school? Kassai, my class the 5b. My blood went cold. 5b is the terror class, the class that prompts meeting after meeting where all the teachers ponder desperately what is to be done with this group of ignorant, disobedient monsters. And then I asked his name: Robin. The leader of the monsters, or so I’ve only heard - he’s in the lowest level English class, which I don’t teach.

We continued chatting, and I continued to be amazed at this boy, who I’ve never met but have heard horror story after horror story about. Amazed that these stories could be true about a boy who I had mistaken for one of my polite, well-spoken upperclassmen.

Story two, Dávid: I’m always thrilled when the students use English when I’m not forcing them to. I overheard this jewel as I was leaving a first-period class (after which there is only a five-minute break; they're always worried about being late)

Imi: Dávid, várjal csak (wait up)!
Dávid: No, Imi! I no lating because you!

It made my day.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Working for the weekend, again

Q: What’s worse than getting up at 6:30 AM to go teach on a weekend?

A: Spending a sleepless night tossing and turning, half sick, heartsick, stressing and worrying about every possible conceivable thing, falling asleep for a few minutes of twitchy nightmarish dozing, and being woken by a text message at 6:14. Oh, what a glorious day it’s going to be.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Two unrelated stories

I was going to post these two things separately, but I realized that they go together somehow. Or, I’m just too lazy to push the publish button twice.

Story One: For some time, I’ve known that the Szolnoki Fõiskola has an English club which meets weekly. I’ve been meaning to go, but like my ever-present good intentions of making lessons plans, cleaning my flat, getting my life in order.... somehow I just never went.

This week, I finally coaxed Petra into going with me (I’m too much of a coward to go alone). Then she backed out, but after a couple of hours of debating with myself, I decided to go anyway. I checked and re-checked their website to find what time and where. Then I overslept (or over-napped) and woke up with 10 minutes to get fixed up and run over through a windstorm and under a heavy, cloudy sky. And for all my stressing, what did I get when I arrived? A sign on the locked door, announcing a postponement until next week.

Story Two: I mentioned above how somehow, my lesson plans are never finished? Well, on Thursday afternoon when I should have been making them, I was instead watching episode after episode of Spongebob and dozing like a cat in the afternoon sunlight. At one point as I rolled over and stretched, it occurred to my sleep-fuzzed brain how awesome it would be if I had a Spongebob pillow.

Fast-forward a couple hours, and what do John and Donna bring me? A Spongebob bag, into which I promptly stuffed a pillow form.

The moral of these two stories (to be taken with a large grain of salt, of course)? That English-speaking Hungarians let you down, but Americans will always come through for you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Break in Cyprus

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That being true, and I being extremely lazy, I present to you Cyprus through pictures, with limited captions, and links to more info courtesy of Wikipedia:

No trip should begin without a beer at the Szolnok train station. Followed by a beer on the train, a beer at Kobanya-Kispest, a beer outside the airport, a beer inside the airport...

Donna and I at our villa's dining table, planning out our first day.

The villa was well-equipped with a full kitchen, comfy couches, coffee-maker, flat-screen tvs, etc etc etc.

And a pool table. We played several times, for various stakes....

... which included the loser taking a dive into our slightly-above-freezing pool.

The market in Nicosia, very similar to the market in Szolnok except for that watch tower.

Walking down the street in Nicosia (the last divided capital in the world, according to Lonely Planet) we suddenly came to one of the streets blocked off by a wall of barrels.

Donna and Attila in Lefkora, a tiny village which is famous for it's lace and silver.

Myself and Attila in Lefkora.

The Roman ruins at Kourion.

More of the ruins.

A typical road in the Troodos Mountains. I successfully navigated our way in and out of the mountains, driving an unfamilar right-hand-drive car on the left side of the road. (Just in case there's a single person left on earth I haven't mentioned it to yet... I was the only driver in our group who managed to avoid hitting anything. John and Attis both whacked the passenger side mirror, while Donna wisely refrained from driving.)

The mountains. I wish I had better pictures of the tiny villages and narrow roads through them.

At the top of the mountains, we abandoned the car and took a horse-back ride through the woods.

The last shot, a sad picture: me leaving our villa complex at 1 AM to go catch the plane home.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two Conversations

I’m working on updates, namely on stories from Spring Break: Cyprus, and I promise to get that up as soon as I get the accompanying pictures. In the meantime, two conversations that happened my first day back after break:

One: my plane-bus-train combination was running late. I would arrive in Szolnok at 9:45, giving me about 20 minutes to sprint across town, dump my luggage, and run to the school. So I lazed out and smsed my contact teacher that I wouldn’t make it.
About 10, having gotten no response, I called her:

Me: Hello, Kati?
Kati (sounding just thrilled to hear from me): Yes, Emily. Hello?
Me: Did you get my sms?
Kati: Your sms?
Me: Um, yes, I sent you a message?
Kati: Oh, yes, I saw that you sent me something a few hours ago, but I didn’t read it (I almost banged my head against the wall) because I didn’t know if it was important or not (I actually banged my hand against the wall.) Why, was it important?
Me (deep breath): Um, yeah, kind of. My train is late, so I don’t think I’ll make my class this hour. At 10.
Kati: You will come late? We will start the class and you come later?
Me: Well, I could do that. Just, I don’t have any idea when I’ll be there.
Kati: So you will be late?
Me: Um, right. I don’t know how late.
Kati: Hm.
Me: Maybe it’s better to just cancel the class?
Kati: You have classes later?
Me: Yes, at 1 o’clock. I’ll be there for that one.
Kati: Okay, bye.
Me. Bye- wait, what?

So I didn’t go to class, and didn’t get in trouble for not going, so she must have covered it somehow. Seriously, who on earth gets an sms and doesn’t read it??

Second conversation, with a brilliantly perceptive little 6th grader:
Balázs (very politely, as always): Emily, help?
Me: Yes, what is it?
Balázs: Hogy van angolul shblahblah?
Me, confidently: Dragon.
Balázs (after thinking for half a beat): No, nem ‘sárkány,’ hanem ‘sátán.’
Me: Oh, Satan! Sorry.
Balázs: No problem, Emily.

The fact that I have students who can switch quickly enough between English and Hungarian to recognize my own mistranslation is amazing to me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My mom always complains that I don’t email or call enough. I’ve been particularly bad the last few weeks - probably the same lethargy that makes blogging such a chore. But it seemed like there was just nothing interesting, worth writing about.

I realized last night that that’s not true; I was just in a rut. A deep, safe comfortable little rut where I thought everything would be the same in the future as it is now. Until last night when I learned, via Hajni, that my school won’t be rehiring me next year. They say they don’t have enough money for it.

The twelve remaining weeks of school used to seem so long - at least now they’ll fly by. Every second that ticks off shoves me one second closer to the time when I’ll be jobless, homeless, prospectless.

How am I supposed to go in and teach like this isn’t weighing on my mind like a ton of bricks? What can I do? Do I want to fight for my job at Kassai? What would I sacrifice to keep this job? The free flat, the shorter hours? Would I go over CETP’s head and contract directly with the school? Could I get the Varga position? Ken might leave anyway; if he doesn’t would I be desperate enough to push him out? Could I get the position in Újszász? Do they only hire couples? But maybe that would be a worse place to be in, so close to Szolnok but not actually in it - would be better to move to a whole new city? Is it possible to stay in Szolnok and support myself by private teaching? Can I do it, and do I want to? How would that affect my future with CETP? What the hell am I going to do over the summer, homeless and incomeless? Why am I so attached to Szolnok? What do I really have here? Nothing I can be sure of, nothing secure, so why is the thought of leaving so terrifying?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Another story from the Porn Kids class

At a loss of what to do with the 8th Grade Monsters (aka the Porn Kids) last week, I decided to make them write circulating stories (i.e. each student writes a few lines of the story before passing it on). This was one of the stories they handed in, written by four boys and one girl (guess which part the girl wrote):

Yesterday when I met my girlfriend (illegible, three words). We went to my bedroom and started to take off clothes. We started (?)ly but later we were (?)er and (?)er. / When the girl and a boy stat the fuch (sic), before they play the frontgame. They go to bed, and they / made a children. They were lived in a flat in London and they have f***ed every day. When they get bored they called some more people do in groupper. / And they had more than 50 friend. When they did it together the neighbors called to the police. And they had to go to the police and they f***ed (illegible, two words). / She very likes animals. Her favourite food is the pizza.

I’m going to refer to this story the next time someone asks me why I started calling this group the Porn Kids. At least they’re creative.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Just when I thought it couldn’t get more unfair...

- What’s worse than being simply awake at 6 am on a Saturday morning?
- Being fully awake and upright, fully dressed and caffeinated at 6 am on a Saturday morning.

- What’s worse than being fully awake and upright and dressed and caffeinated at 6 am on a Saturday morning?
- Being awake, upright, dressed and caffeinated at 6 am on a Saturday morning the the purpose of going to work (see Sara’s blog for her rant about why we have to work on a Saturday).

- What’s even worse than being grudgingly awake and alert for the purpose of working on a Saturday morning (at 6 am, have I stressed that enough?)?
- Being with someone who is willingly and cheerfully awake, upright, dressed, and caffeinated at 6 am on a Saturday morning for the purpose of leaving on a week-long vacation. Grrrr.

After wallowing in the general unfairness of life for a good minute and a half, I went to work, played games, and generally enjoyed seeing the kids in a different light. And kept my mind on things to come: a Saturday in Szarvas, a weekend in Wien, a spring break in Cyprus.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Women's Day part 2

I must admit, I was ever so slightly put out yesterday at my lack of Women’s Day loot. I mean, only two flowers?? Today, I got two more presents, and what they lacked in quality, quantity or timeliness, they totally made up for in presentation.

Situation one - I go to my first class of the day, 5th grade. I notice out of the corner of my eye that one of the little boys is carrying a flower. When I turn around after putting down my things, the flower is sitting on the desk and the boy is studiously ignoring me (he is NOT a shy child, which makes it funny). The girls in the back of the class start teasing him, “Martin, what are you doing? Don’t you have something to say? Don’t you want your puszi (the double cheek kiss)?” Martin avoids eye contact with me and the girls wish me “Happy Women Day” on his behalf.

Situation two - in the teacher’s room before school. I’m getting some papers together when a bottle of wine appears on my desk in front of me. “Here you go,” says my contact teacher cheerfully (she is NOT a happy person, which makes this one funny). “I thought of chocolate, but - eh.” She smiling widely, which is so strange that it creeps me out a little. “This is more useful, you can drink it with your friends.” And damn if she wasn’t right; I’d prefer wine over chocolate any day. Sharing with my friends, however...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women's Day

Today marks the third year I’ve been in Hungary on Women’s Day, and the third year that it caught me completely by surprise. The first year, my semester abroad, I was at my roommate Anna’s house for the weekend. Her father gave us flowers and little candies, but between my nonexistent Hungarian, his nonexistent English, and Anna’s limited English, I didn’t really comprehend the reason why.

My second year, my students showered me with flowers and candy, and once again I got through half the day without having a clue why. Eventually some kind English-speaker clued me in.

This year I did slightly better. When I walked into the flower-filled teachers’ room this morning, I knew immediately that it had to be either Women’s Day or Teachers’ Day, and that was soon straightened out.

I got fewer flowers this year. The best present I was a little conversation with one my 6th grade girls. Imagine her speaking Hungarian, me answering in English:

Kinga: And next year, what will you do?
Me: I don’t know.
Kinga: Okay, fine, but will you be here?
Me, more forcefully: I don’t know.
Kinga: Oh, please stay! Otherwise who knows what kind of stupid new person we’d get.

Even thought it’s not really a stunning endorsement, it was still heartwarming.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Az üzenet az üzenet (the message is the message)

“Don’t worry, there are many hours in the day.”
“Yeah, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to waste them all.”

My waste de jour: Two-Tailed Dog Party

(click on the British flag for a language similar to ours)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mr Boozer

Today I was paging through one of the books my school uses to prepare 8th graders for high school entrance exams, and I found the dialogue below. It’s funny because somehow, in a book full of grammatical errors and obviously-non-native-English, they managed to make a pun with the names, and a good one at that:

- Mr Boozer! I am afraid things can’t go on like this any longer.
- Why, Mr Totaller, what’s the matter?
- First of all you keep coming late for work and you are always leaving before the end of your working time.
- But, Mr Totaller, I only leave when I have finished my work for the day.
- That’s simply not true, Mr Boozer. More often than not you leave your work unfinished. And the other day you turned up at work completely drunk. Can you explain that to me, Mr Boozer?
- I am sorry, Mr Totaller, I was just a little bit tipsy. It was my birthday, you know.
- Well, Mr Boozer, if there is one more occasion when you turn up drunk for work, I won’t hesitate to dismiss you.

And as I was typing this up, Laura composed me a poem on drunkenness, which she graciously said I could include here:

Inebriated Under the influence Smashed intoxicated
Under the moonlight
Bars unknown, distances stumbled
A night not remembered
Wake up who knows where
The weekend

Monday, February 19, 2007

Elkúrtuk. Nem kicsit, nagyon

The original title of this post was “Better late than never,” but I don’t really believe that. Anyway, because it’s just as funny now as it was four months ago, I finally tracked down the text of Hungarian Prime Minister Feri G’s infamous “we fucked up” speech. You can read excerpts here in English or the entire thing here in Hungarian.

For those of you lazier than I, the two most important lines:

"Nincsen sok választás. Azért nincsen, mert elkúrtuk. Nem kicsit, nagyon. Európában ilyen böszmeséget még ország nem csinált, mint amit mi csináltunk." (There isn’t much choice. There isn’t, because we fucked up. Not a little, a lot. No other country in Europe has fucked up like we have.)

"Majdnem beledöglöttem, hogy másfél évig úgy kellett tenni, mint hogyha kormányoztunk volna. E helyett hazudtunk reggel, éjjel, meg este." (I almost died because for a year and a half we had to pretend that we were actually governing. Instead, we lied morning, noon, and night.)

Nevetséges. Nem kicsit, nagyon!


What did we do this weekend? Again, it involved three different cities, transportation adventures, the eternal kaja-pia-nõk trifecta, and various injuries. Like like weekend, I think it’s best summed up in picture form.

Ouch. These weekends will kill one of us by the end of the year, mark my words.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When I grow up...

This week I finished a unit on jobs with a quiz. One of the questions to the 8th graders asked what job they’d like when they grew up. I love free-answer questions because there’s always surprises. Here’s my favorites (with original spelling and punctuation):

From the always-perfectly-coifed-and-dressed playboy of Kassai Primary: I dont know exactly but I want to get a lot of cash. I don’t want to do anything phsyhical work because it’s hard and I don’t get enough money. Maybe I’ll be a computer repairer becuse my father to do it and I like it. It’s interesting

From a student whose highest ambition I always assumed was making it to high school: I want to be a teacher, because I’d like to give bad marks. I think it is very funny. :-) To be teacher (is very) isn’t very easy, but I want that. My students will love me. :-)

ps. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a lot of things. I never, ever, ever, voiced the desire to be a teacher. And yet, here I am...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man

I walked into one the classrooms today and found, inscribed on the board in a child’s painfully careful cursive, in faint green marker:

Run, run, as fast as you can.

I don’t know how they learned this line. I can’t believe they’re studying the poem, so maybe it was just a secret message for me. Anyway, the randomness of it made my longest day go a little faster.

Can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man

I walked into one the classrooms today and found, inscribed on the board in a child’s painfully careful cursive, in faint green marker:

Run, run, as fast as you can.

I don’t know how they learned this line. I can’t believe they’re studying the poem, so maybe it was just a secret message for me. Anyway, the randomness of it made my longest day go a little faster.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Worth a thousand words

Instead of actually trying to sum up the entire weekend, I’m reducing it to three pictures, and three things I took away.

This is the castle in Gyula. I didn’t actually make it into the castle itself, but a couple of us braver ones made it into those pits you can see in the outermost wall. Since they were about 2 meters deep, what I took away was several strained muscles from trying to climb out again.

This is a crappy map of Gyula. We thought we could walk to Romania (read more about that disaster on Arlo’s blog). But at some point we got close enough for my SuperCell to pick up the Romania network and send me the welcome message.

This is a street sign. From Vasút utca, in Mezõberény. Not really sure where that is, but we must have been there, because I’ve got the sign.

For a much more interesting story, continue reading the Cepters Saga over at Laura’s blog.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Push it

Chad used to tell the following story (hopefully he’ll forgive me for butchering it here): he was sitting in a restaurant with a colleague. On the table were various dishes and glassware. In the middle of a conversation, the colleague interrupted with a two-word command: “Push it.”

“What?” asked Chad. “Just push it,” the colleague repeated, this time throwing a sideways glance towards a water glass near the edge of the table. “Push it.” So he did. The glass fell, shattered, made a racket and a mess.

Why did he do it? More importantly, what made her think if it? What is it in any of us that makes us look at something - or someone - on the edge and instead of thinking “I’d better move that/him/her back,” we think, “all it would take is one small push...”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Random bits of Hungarian

Although the new Americans have been doing a fantastic job of distracting me from my ambitions of learning Hungarian, I have been being sucked into this language recently in spite of myself. Two recent conversations (you have to imagine them in Hungarian; for authenticity I’ve tried to render my mistakes into English):

1) On my two-minute walk to school, I was stopped in the middle of the street by a sweet-looking elderly lady:

Néni, extremely politely:
Excuse young lady, I don’t live in this neighborhood myself but do you happen to know if there’s a paper store somewhere near here?
Self: Yes, a paper store (in the three seconds it took me to get this out, I contemplated the option of making some excuse and walking away, or breaking out my classic “Sorry, I don’t speak Hungarian,” but in the end I decided to be a good citizen, because after all I can’t avoid it forever. In three seconds, people - I think well under pressure). Yes, is a paper store just there, over there. I don’t know that, how they are calling the, um, the street, but it’s just there, the yellow building behind.
Néni, smiling widely: Oh, you’re not Hungarian! How adorable, how wonderful! Thank you anyway.
Self: No no, but, no I’m not Hungarian, but the shop is there surely, just over there-
Néni: Don’t worry, I know where there’s another one, I just go there. Thank you again, goodbye.
Self: Goodbye, thank you.

2) I’m sitting at home mushing my brain watching episode after episode of Arrested Development. The brain-mushage was probably why I broke my rule of never answering my doorbell unless I’m expecting someone

me, on the intercom: Hello?
Postman, extremely politely: Kezét csókolom! I’m terrible sorry to bother you, but it’s the postman.
me: (I buzzed him in and opened the door. He, after taking one look at me, immediately dropped all formality)
Postman: Hey, hi (szia)! I’ve got a special delivery for Mrs. György S. It’s a money order, that’s always a good thing, huh? Just sign for it here, okay.
me, puzzled that I would be mistaken for Mrs. Anyone: Um, good. That’s, great that’s. But, but I’m not Angelika.
Postman, also puzzled (at least he didn’t say, “you’re not Hungarian, how adorable”): Oh, Mrs. S is Angelika? You mean she’s not here right now?
me: No, she doesn’t live here. She’s just the um, the um...
Postman, quite intuitively: The landlady?
me, pleased at his guesswork: Yes! That’s it!
Postman: No prob. I’ll just write a delivery slip, and you pass it on, ’kay?
me: Okay.
Postman: Here you go, bye.
me: Bye, thanks.

Like I said... despite my best efforts, I am being sucked into this language. I kinda like it...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

“...yet with one swing she knocked them all down”

Forget me writing about new teachers’ orientation. Just read Laura’s saga here.

Lost and found

Instead of writing the promised account of orientation, I’ve become distracted by the Find of the Day website. In that spirit, here’s a note I confiscated from a class of 7th graders last year (this is the group who are now the 8th Grade Monsters, aka the Porn Kids):

A rough translation, as best I can render in English (with some help from Juli):

girl: Well, on Saturday and also on Sunday too I’m going camping, on Sunday I’ll get home about 9 or 10, so I’ll already be tired, but I’ll go on Monday. Okay?
boy: OKAY. But come anyway Monday I can’t go out partying.
girl: I’m going camping! Anyway what are we doing on Monday?
boy: I dunno. but I can’t make it til summer without a party. On Sunday pleez let’s go to TEQUILA (sketchy bar, popular with the underagers) PLEEZ!!
girl: But I’m going CAMPING
boy: but in the evening

I wish I knew how the situation might have played out if I hadn’t grabbed the note. Was camping fun? Did they meet? On Monday or Sunday? Was there a party?? If not, did he make it til summer???

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Somebody likes me...

Or else I’ve done something good, karma-wise.

Sorry for the lack of posts (and yes, that’s a Bart Simpson apology; I’m not sorry at all), but I have a good excuse, having spend the last week in Budapest. Laura and I helped again with the CETP orientation of the new teachers. More about that later. Back to the title of the post:

Who are the Amcsik I miss the most from last year? Gaines and Chad and Jeremy. What are the new teachers like? Chill like Chad, fun like Gaines, hilarious like Jeremy. Basically, awesome like us, and they fit into our group like they’ve been here all along. Laura said it best when she looked around the table and said, “Wait, which of you are newbies?”

Spring semester is going to be good.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


I think from spending time with Laura at x-mas and again last weekend, I’ve picked up her use of the all-purpose Hungarian exclamation, “na!” It’s like “tessék,” you can use it to mean many things - well, so, okay, hm...

The other day I used it in front of a Hungarian friend. Her reaction? She looked surprised and exclaimed excitedly and proudly, “Emily! That’s actually a real Hungarian word!”

Yes, after 15 months I’ve now mastered the use of pointless two-letter exclamations. Congrats to me, I’m a genius.

Na, anyway: beginning next week, my main English-speaking companion in Szolnok is leaving on a three week holiday. So what better time to throw myself learning this wicked language? I’m calling it ‘the Three-Week Spree’, or rather I should call it ‘a Három Hét Muri’. Goals include:

* finding a teacher
* finding conversation-mates
* learning vocabulary daily
* watching less MTV and more Hungarian tv
* writing in Hungarian daily
* memorizing grammar and verb conjugations
* finally getting my letters and numbers down (after all, even my 5th grade students can do this is English, and hopefully I’m slightly smarter than they are...)

ps. note the time stamp. Yes, I am up this early on a Sunday morning, and yes, I have been up for over an hour now. Yuck.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Good things come in small packages

Of course, this isn’t true in all areas of life...

But still, today I got two small envelopes which contained a total of almost 12,000 forint ($60). One was a belated x-mas present (much love to relatives who give me holiday money in forints). The other came from my school - normally, I would suspect that them giving me money is a sign of some impending disaster, but since many of the teachers got the same envelope, I think it’ll be okay.

The receipt that came with the cash states I’m being paid for “kiemelt munkavérgzésért járó keresetkiegészítés,” which Juli kindly translated as “bonus salary for extra or outstanding work.” I’m not sure if this is outstanding-like-excellent or outstanding-like-not-yet-paid. But I’m going to believe the former.

GHE2, version 2.0

Following in the footsteps (rather, reluctantly dragging myself down the path so far behind that the footsteps have nearly been obliterated by time) of Kat, Laura, and others, I’ve upgraded to the new blogger. And got rid of that old template (so 2005!)

I chose this template for the nifty colors, without noticing it’s quirks of capitalization (using capital letters, not the economic thing). This may or may not drive me crazy.

I updated my links (got rid of the link to myself), and everything seems to be in order. Except... look at my profile and see if you notice anything off. I don’t know how it happened, but according to blogger I was born in 1756. Awesome.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Monster 8th grade takes a test

Looking for sometime to do with the 8th grade Monsters this week, I hit on the idea of giving them an end-of-the-semester test. I was in a dark mood yesterday afternoon, but the idea of preparing a test which I knew they were doomed to struggle with cheered me up immensely.

Still, I didn’t want to set them up for complete failure. So this is what I did: I looked back on the various worksheets and activities we’ve done this year, and selected 5 which summed up the basic grammar points they’ve learned so far (passive voice, reported speech, and relative pronouns, mostly). I added a listening section and two speaking sections as well. After all, I am supposed to be teaching them conversational English.

But let me reiterate what I thought was an important point: 5 of the 8 sections (and 55 of 100 points) were exercises that we had already done. Somewhere, jammed in their bottomless backpacks, they have these very exercises which I so carefully corrected, graded, and gave back.

That being said. The test grades, out of 100 total points, were as follows: 42, 90, 73, 76, 65, 81, 51, 79, 83, 58, and 81.

You can see the range. The problem is: the good grades mostly belong to the calm, normal students, who will, when I hand back the tests, take it with a smile and thank me politely. The low and failing grades belong to the troublemakers, the kids twice as big as me, the ones who are capable of harming me. At least two have been in scuffles with teachers before.

Tomorrow should be interesting.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kicsi a világ (it's a small world.... after all)

És ha kisci a világ, akkor micsoda kisfalu Szolnok.

As Sara was leaving Sunday morning, I asked casually if she had anything: wallet, keys, cell phone? No, cell phone was missing. She and Laura and I tore my flat apart looking for it, to no avail. Eventually we gave up and she hopped on a train without it.

Fast forward 6 hours, I’m in a cafe when my contact teacher calls me (I really need to stop answering “Unknown” numbers, it always gets me in trouble) and demands that I return to the restaurant to pick up “the Gyöngyös girl”’s phone. She was very vague about how she had heard that the restaurant was in possession of Sara’s phone, so I had to wait until Monday to piece together the details of a truly bizarre sequence of coincidences:

The waitress found the phone and called the numbers in the phone book. After getting hold of several English-speakers, she dialed the first Hungarian name she found. Which happened to be Péter, a loose acquaintance Sara hadn’t talked to for weeks. Péter called his mother, who teaches at Sara’s school in Gyöngyös (still with me? Here comes the leap). Mother/teacher (I don’t have her name) called Edit, who is an English teacher at my school in Szolnok but who used to teach in Gyöngyös. Edit called Kati, my contact teacher, who called me as I already mentioned, and I hastened to the restaurant to liberate the troublesome phone, dragging Petra along in case I needed help.

The funny thing is, Sara, Laura and I walked past the restaurant on our way to the train station, and had we thought it’d been there could easily have asked for it. Instead, it took 7 people to get the phone from Sara to me... and god only knows how many it’ll take to get it back to her.

ps. And during the several hours it took me to finish writing this, I heard from Laura that her phone was stolen today by gypsies! My phone’s not leaving my sight until this crisis is over.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Good things always happen to me, part II

(you can read part one directly below)

So let’s review: I was in trouble because of the cat; they wanted to make me pay for my own flat; I got reprimanded, yet again, for not doing enough speaking activities with the students; and Éva, the school director, wants to come watch one of my lessons. One of my chaotic 5th grade lessons, at 7:30 Friday morning.

And let me explain why this is so worrisome. I can’t speculate why she suddenly decided to observe a class. Last year they mentioned observation once or twice, but in actuality I’ve been teaching for 14 months and have had exactly one observer, who wasn’t even from my school. But it occurred to me (thankfully, after the lesson was over) that sometime in the very near future, I need to formally announce my plans to stay and teach a third year. Despite whatever nonsense I may have had in my head at the beginning of the year (plans of moving away and all that junk), I now realize that my plans for the next few years involve Szolnok. This is my home, no one can make me leave... However, Kassai does have the power to not rehire me, which would be an inconvenience.

So I planned a game to do with my students (the Questions Game, which you can read here if you’re that interested). I couldn’t remember if I’d done it with them before or not, but in the end I decided they could handle it.

I got to school a few minutes early. At 7:30, the bell rang and there was no sign of Éva. I thought I was saved. My contact teacher Kati told me how lucky I was. I shrugged (inside, jumping up and down with glee) and said “Maybe she’ll come later.” “Probably,” Kati agreed. “But no problem, I’ll come watch.”

Great, I thought. The one person scarier than Éva is Kati. The students won’t say a word the whole class.

Long story short: Kati came. Two minutes later, Éva came too. Kati stayed anyway. They sat in the back and whispered to each other and occasionally yelled at the students. The students were like mice. I was overly bouncy to compensate. The classrooms had zero energy.

But 40 minutes is a long time, and eventually the kids loosened up. I calmed down. The game was a bit stilted but still fun. We finished a couple minutes early and did a game of hangman which could have been the model for all other games (they raised their hands, talked one at a time, etc). When the bell rang, Éva and Kati left smiling, thanking me on the way out. When I made it back to the classroom, Kati was in the middle of telling the other teachers about the lesson, and it seemed like a good review. She mentioned that Éva wants to come see an 8th grade class next week (specifically, she wants to come see the Porn Kids, aka the 8th grade Monsters, aka my absolute worst class of all time, in every way), but there’s half a chance that she was joking.

So, WHEW! Picture me wiping my brow dramatically. That’s over. I repeat Laura’s manta: Good things always happen to me (although I’m not Laura, and no matter how many times I repeat it or how good things seem, I’m still going to expect something to go wrong).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Good things always happen to me

I’m stealing Laura’s motto as my title, because it’s strangely appropriate. I say strangely because I am not in any way an optimist; I definitely more of a “if something good is happening, the other shoe is about to crash down” type.

And this week I was due for a crash. Between the new library card on Tuesday and the upcoming basketball game this weekend, I knew something bad had to happen.

Sure enough, on Wednesday it did. I finally got around to complaining about the broken washing machine (side note: it’s been broken since last year, and I don’t mean last calendar year, I mean last school year). In the back of my head, I vaguely remembered there was some reason I was avoiding this confrontation, but couldn’t put my finger on why. Only later I remembered that it was because every single time someone from the school comes to my flat, it results in bad things for me.

So the handymen came. They took away the washer. And then they promptly ran to Luca (the school’s banker, and a friend of my landlady) and reported me for having a cat (side rant: which everyone else in the school already knew, seeing as how I’ve been putting up signs to try to get rid of it). Luca came and yelled at at contact teacher how cats were NOT allowed, how it would scratch the furniture and pee on the floor and blah blah blah. The most dangerous threat was that the school pays for ME to live in the flat, not others, and if I wanted to keep pets then maybe I should pay for my own place. Yikes.

And then... yes, there’s more. Thursday, the flat/cat situation calmed down (apparently when they returned my washer (fixed!!) they looked around and reported that the cat was NOT, in fact, destroying anything). Thursday afternoon my contact teacher announced, out of the blue, that the director Éva would be visiting one of my classes Friday morning.

My first reaction was, Oh crap. Why? Why now? Why this week, when the activity I had planned for the 5th grade was both second-rate and chaotic? What was the point of her visit anyway?

... to be continued

Library = Love, Books = Happiness

I always say that one of the things I miss most is going to the library (the other thing at the top of the list would be my car, and driving). So I’m not sure why the idea of getting a library card here never occurred to me before last week. And it wasn’t really my idea - I had met my friend Petra at the library cafe (which was actually the first time I’d ever been in any part of the library) and she brought it up.

We went back a few days later, armed with my passport and other necessary paperwork. With minor hassle, I got my card and we headed upstairs to where Petra thought she remembered seeing English books. She led me... to a shelf and a half of dictionaries. I looked at her. She scrunched her brow worriedly and said there must be more elsewhere. I nodded hopefully, and followed her upstairs to the information desk.

While we waited, she continued to look worried and promised that if they didn’t have English books, she would demand a refund. I brushed it off, saying that I would just have to learn Hungarian faster. She showed me how to use the catalog, and while she looked up some things for herself I wandered around and discovered:

1) a massive stack of English National Geographics, which alone was enough to make the library card worth it for me

2) an entire corner devoted to English-teaching materials, many of them brand new

3) the illusive English section: six shelves of dusty, B-quality literature, most of the books twice as old as me. I wanted to wrap my arms around the shelves and cry with joy.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I just got back from my second spinning session, sat down in front of the computer cross-legged like always, and just about snapped my leg off.

Gaines wrote frequently about the hell which is spinning on her blog.

Seeing as how I’m one of few people who didn’t make any fitness-based New Year’s Resolutions, I don’t really understand how I’ve gotten sucked into this “sport.” Need for human interaction, I guess.

And why did I only notice today that I have a link to my own blog in the links at right? Brilliant, Emily. (I did remove it eventually)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First day of 2007? Not so sucky

I figured that the first day back at school after a long break would be, shall we say, slightly stressful, and I wasn’t let down on that expectation. But two awesome things happened:

First, I gave my 8th grade monsters a worksheet, which prompted a fit of complaining wherein they came up with a hilariously creative metaphor of me being Hitler come again, complete with concentration camps where I made them break their fingers writing 10,000 sentences daily, and devised ingenious punishments for each mistake made (“No, in present perfect! Two mistakes, I beat you four hours! Five mistakes, I shoot you!”). Although I know I should be insulted, I could only laugh myself to tears, raise my hands to god and chant, “Oh, if only!”

Second, my 6th graders had such fun with an activity (making up their own board games and playing them) that both they and I completely lost track of time and actually went overtime. A-maz-ing.

Third, non-school related, but something I realized in the, oh, six hours it took me to finish this post: new year equals new shows on tv. And in my tv-based life, this is huge.

New Year's on Oktogon*

Very, very briefly, let me sum up my New Year’s Eve (entire New Year’s Eve day, more accurately):

At dawn, I walked through an empty Oktogon on my way home, still a bit stumbly and not yet concerned about my impending hangover, not to mention the inevitable third-degree for coming home at dawn.

At dusk, I walked through Oktogon which was busy with people preparing for the celebrations, completely sobered up but still pranging out like never before from the idea of what I was walking into.

At midnight, I stood on the corner of Oktogon with hundreds of strangers (and four friends) and screamed, waved, sang, drank champagne, watched fireworks, danced with strangers, laughed hysterically, kissed each other, wished “Happy New Year” in multiple languages, and generally had a wild but comparatively chill time.

Updates on what I was up to over break to come later, once I’ve had some time to mull them over.

*since I write this blog mostly for people in Hungary or with Hungarian connections, I forgot to mention that Oktogon is a big crossroads on the Pest side of Budapest.