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.