Snoel Abroad

Sara is abroad again and this time it is in Hungary! I am here in Hungary (in the small town of Gyöngyös) teaching English at a primary school through CETP- the Central European Teaching Program- Follow along with my crazy adventures in teaching and traveling. Szia!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This past weekend I headed south to visit Becky in her pretty little town of Szarvas. After my my late arrival (due to the fact that it was over 4 hours by bus!) we enjoyed a fabulous diner of homemade pizzas and salad and a nice bottle of Egri Bikavar wine and caught up on the last month of stories and adventures in Hungary- a great time and well worth the travel time!

The next morning we got up and caught a morning bus to the town of Gyula- a great little town that looks almost out of place in Hungary due to heavy German influence- that sits just 6km from Hungary's southern border with Romania. Becky had taken a weekend trip here the past weekend and was excited to get back to what she calls her "new weekend retreat." We started with the famous sucresa- pastry shop- that is one of the oldest in Hungary and serves an incredible assortment of coffee, cakes and chocolates in a gorgeous, old world parlour complete with chandeliers.

After our breakfast (of cakes and chocolates- maybe the Hungarians are on to something with the dessert as a meal thing...) he walked over to Gyula Castle- the crown jewel of the city. The Castle is the only remaining brick castle in Central Europe and has been recently restored with a museum inside depicting life in Hungary in the Middle Ages including discussion of the many battles fought here against the Turks and Austrians and both of their subsequent control of the region.

Sadly, all of the hostels in town were booked up for the night so the two of us took the bus back to Szarvas and prepared for a very early wake-up on Sunday morning. The early wake-up was to catch the first bus back to Gyula so that we could be back at the castle by early morning for the baths. The baths in Hungary are quite an experience- There are generally multiple pools of varying degrees of water from rather cold to nearly boiling and Hungarians- usually the oldest, fatest and hairiest of the country- sit and soak for hours moving from pool to pool. The entire process of getting into the baths is an experience in itself that, when you finally make it through, you really do need the relaxation of a few hours soaking in hot mineral water!

There are various rules and processes that no one tells you that you need to do but they sure as hell tell you when you aren't doing them!

First you buy your ticket and are than separated into the male and female locker rooms where you are meant to take a massive square hanger into a booth and change into your suit and put all of your things on the hanger. Then you must find an open locker and put your things in it and than ask the attendant to lock it for you. Seems easy enough. Except- you get yelled at if you try to get a locker before changing, yelled at if you put your stuff in the wrong locker- they won't tell you which to use, you just have to know somehow which she wants you to take. You also must shower before entering the pools- this was easy enough to figure out- we got that much- which is why it was particularly unnerving to have 3 or 4 old women in small bathing suits yelling shower at us in English, Hungarian and German (I'm sure there was some Russian as well or maybe she was just telling me something else in Hungarian- I never know) But we made it in and it was excellent! (You'll have to ask Becky about the added aggravation of having to rent a bathing suit- especially when you you are a six foot tall female!)

That afternoon, on our way back to our own cities, Becky and I stopped off in Bekescsaba for the national Sausage Festival (because when you happen to be in the same town as Hungary's largest Sausage Festival how can you NOT go?!) It was a mad house! I don't think I have seen crowds like that in Hungary before now- thousands of people jamming the streets buying crafts and candy and fair food and, of course, wine and SAUSAGE! SO MUCH SAUSAGE! apparently the thing to do there is to buy a 5 foot long sausage and carry it around the festival and then home with you on the bus. Quite an experience- and yes, I did eat some sausage, and yes, it was quite tasty. A great weekend and nice tease for the coming fall break (1 week off) I'm taking an extra 2 days and leaving later this afternoon for Budapest where 12 other CETP teachers and I will be heading to Transylvania (the western part of Romania that was once Hungary) for what should be a fantastic week! I'm very excited!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Adventures in the school lunchroom...1

The jelly doughnuts for lunch was one thing, but the second strange lunch in a week calls for a blog entry devoted entirely to the school-lunch experience.

So what could we be served that would stand with jelly doughnuts as the odd and unexpected lunch of the week? What could match the jelly doughnuts in carbs, fat and lack of nutritional value?
Pasta. Thick pasta topped with cold shredded cheese and sour cream. Not a dollop of sour cream for garnish, I'm talkin' like half a cup of sour cream. The cheap/lazy man's Alfredo sauce maybe? only cold and not mixed? Who knows but it followed a cream of potato soup with ham (the ham being the only thing on the tray that wasn't white).

Now, let me back up and explain the entire process of lunch here at Arány János Primary School. First, we get a menu every week with the days of the week and two main course choices for each day and then we choose which one we want (this is always one week ahead). The other English teachers help me but most of the menu doesn't translate and comes down to "meat with sauce and rice or a different meat with sauce and noodles" so I don't usually know what is coming even if I could remember back to what I read when we are served it a week later.

Next comes the part of actually going to get lunch. Lunch is served from 11:30 to 1:30 and I think the students are somehow staggered into this schedule but it is somewhat unclear, people seem to go when they want. You grab your tray (usually wet) your fork, knife and spoon (always wet) and a piece of bread (which you hope doesn't soak up all of the tray water before you get your plate.) Next you get to the little window. LITTLE window. They have the kitchen built low so that the window and the eye-level of the servers is the same as the students' (who are 8-13 years old) which means that I have to crouch down to see into it and hand the lady my ticket, hold my breath, and wait to see what comes out.

There is usually a long line of students waiting for lunch and teachers are supposed to, expected to, cut to the front. I still feel weird about this but after getting yelled at by everyone when I waited behind even 3 students in line instead of going to the front I have learned just to push my way in and grab a tray or go when I know that there aren't many students so there won't be a line I have to jump. Teachers also have special rules when it comes to getting your food. The servers always line up the bowls of soup and plates of meat-sauce-starch on the counter in the window and you take one. Except for teachers. Teachers must wait for a fresh, fuller bowl to be poured and a fresh larger plate to be made. At first I tried taking the kids portions (which with both courses could still feed two people) but no, not ok- I must be served my bigger "teacher's portion" even if I never finish it.

I like the lunchroom though, It is a great place to see how the students interact with each other, what the classroom dynamics are that don't show themselves in class. For example who knew that Anikő from 7b and Marcí from 7a were a couple? apparently this month they are. And quiet Diana from 8a is actually joined at the hip with the won't-shut-her-mouth Ms. Popular Petra in 8b.

All for now, it's lunchtime...soup perhaps? and meat? with sauce and mushy rice? or maybe chocolate cake? You never know.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

fall is here

Fall is here in Gyöngyös! The weather is starting to get chilly (still nothing compared to a Michigan or even a Colorado winter) but cold enough that the school maintenance man came and turned on my heat yesterday- it is very nice and cozy in there now!

Another sign of fall, the leaves are changing all over the town and along the hills- beautiful! On Friday Péter, my fellow teacher's son who I am helping with his English, took me up into the hills above Gyöngyös. He showed me some of the small hiking trails around Matrafured (the first of many small villages on the way into the Matra hills) We walked up to an old tower and had a stunning view of the surrounding hills, the changing colors of the trees and the vineyards bellow. We also walked along the stream and he showed me where he and his friends like to go and hang out among the big rocks where you can look out over Gyöngyös and up at Kékes, Hungary's highest point. We saw some picnic grounds where people were gathered to cook giant couldrons of goulash over campfires and I tried to explain why, in America, we put rediculous and seemingly obvious warnings on everything. For example: why McDonalds' coffee cups now say 'Warning, contents may be hot' and why children's superhero costumes come with a disclaimer that 'this cape does not enable the wearer to fly.'
Back in town we stopped by Péter's house to drop off the car and his mother (one of the geography and PE teachers at my school) insisted that we stay and chat for a bit and have some Palinka- the traditional Hungarian plum brandy- wicked stuff, especially when homemade and from Transylvania as this stuff was! I guess it is just a taste of what I will have when I go there myself next week.
All in all a good afternoon and evening of hills and hikes as well as stumbled conversation in English, German and Hungarian.

On Sunday morning I got up early to meet one of my students, Vera, and her mother at the school where they picked me up and took me to the nearby village of Gyöngyöspata where Vera, and many of my students, live. I had breakfast with Vera and her family- two older brothers and one older sister- all who speak English fairly well and one brother who, thanks to two years spent in London, is fluent. After breakfast we walked around the village and they took me to the small village church which was built in the 15th century and, though it has had some fire damage over the years, is a beautiful Gothic church with many frescoes on the interior walls which were revealed after a restoration only about 20 years ago.
We also walked up the hills, around the vineyards and past some small wine cellars. As we were walking past one cellar (basically a small door in the side of the hill) an old man walked by. It turned out that he owned the cellar and opened it up for us, we crawled down a steep ladder into a small, damp space inside the hill lined on each side with big barrels. 'point to one' he said, so I did and he took the stopper out of the top, stuck in a tube and poured out a glass of the wine for each of us to try- it was great. Next we went back up to the main level of the cellar where he showed us how he turns a big crank in another larger barrel to press the grapes and we tasted this as well- fresh pressed juice before fermentation- most in Hungarian- good but too sweet for me to even finish the glass!
Back at Vera's house we had a big lunch of stuffed peppers and dessert of apple pie (from an American recipe that the last American teacher gave them and apples from their trees) excellent! If Vera wasn't already one of the best in her class I would have to give her major bonus points for the pie!

Friday, October 13, 2006

random occurrences on a Thursday

1) I have lunch everyday at the school canteen. I was beggining to get quite used to what to expect: soup- usually a chicken-like broth with a few vegitables and sometimes meat and sometimes some noodles or potatoes and then a main dish consisting of unknown meat + unknown sauce + startch (rice, potatoes or pasta- usually all cooked to the same muchy consistancy) every so often this main meal is a stew, a thick bean or lentil soup- this does not, however, mean that there is not still the first soup so we have soup followed by soup.
Yesterday however I was thrown a curveball. We had the usual soup with potatoes and then, the main meal was jelly doughnuts. yes, jelly doughnuts. I don't get it either. When I mentioned how odd I found it to have jelly doughnuts as a maian meal, for lunch done the less, the other teachers were equally surprised to hear that we eat doughnuts only for breakfast and never as a main course. So there you go- doughnuts as a cultural difference.

2) The teachers at my school have all been wondeful and very nice. Yesterday (the random Thursday) one invited me to her house after belly dancing for a beer and to give me some covers for the armchairs in my apartment- very nice of her. It is so nice of her that how do I say no? I don't, and now I know what it would be like if instead of furniture I had albino Wookies to sit on, they are...lovely.

3) But none of this mattered because as I sat on my albino Wookie armchairs and tried to digest my lunch of jelly doughnuts I smiled in a state of happiness that can be brought on by only one thing. World news in English! Yes, after much work from Jonny (my contact teacher's husband) and alot of random button-pushing, I now have CNN in my apartment, and BBC. Apparently it was there all along but in a strange between-channels world that we had to find and then manually program into the TV.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Taylor's questions: Round two.....(because she's always got 'em)

first of all I would like to amend on of my answers to the previous round of questions. What do I do after class? My last answer made things seem much more boring then they actually are and this week I managed to have something scheduled for every single day of the week after school! On Monday there was a teachers' meeting. OK, so still not getting to exciting and eventful but it was something, mostly I just sat there and listened to them all talk and argue for 2 hours while I did my best to piece things together from the words I could catch (which mostly consists of numbers so, as you can imagine, I didn't get much information) but the other English teachers translated later on for me- a bunch of administrative bullshit- that may have been her exact words. At this meeting we also graded class 5. Yes, we, as a group graded them. I'm pretty sure that it was only their behavior grade but we (the teachers who have that class) all sat in a circle and read off the students' names and then two number "Kovács, Máté 4, 5" and then everyone either agrees or says "no, 4, 4" and it continues like this- very unscientific- just shouting and agreeing on the kids grade. Occasionally, because this is class 5's first year at this school) they call out the name "Dér, Cintía...does anybody know who she is?" and everybody laughs.
On Tuesday there was an English speaking and pronunciation competition at the school that I helped judge. The students (just a select few from each class) had to read- or preferably memorize- a short story or part of a story in English and then we judged their pronunciation, fluency and presentation. The winners will go on to a larger competition later this month at one of the high schools in town. I think I heard a shortened version of the story "Stone Soup" about 25 times that afternoon!
On Wednesday, yesterday, Ilí, my contact teacher and the head of the English Department at my school invited me to her house. She lives on the far south east end of down in a big beautiful house with a nice big yard. We had dinner and drank some kind of Slovakian brandy and talked and had a wonderful time.
Today- Thursday- I have Belly dancing and then it will be Friday (the 13th! which was the basis of most of my lessons this week- superstitions and things that are good luck and bad luck in the US and in Hungary) and then the weekend!

So, on to Taylor's questions...
1. So far, in your descriptions, people, although they don't speak a lot of English, seem nice. How are you recieved as an American? Any anti-American sentiment?
I was just discussing this with Peter, a son of one of the teachers here (my age), who I am helping with his English. In all of the countries I have traveled I have noticed some level of anti-American sentiment. In some countries it is higher then in others. France for example- in Paris I always had much better luck with broken German then with English. But so far, here in Hungary, my experiences have been very positive. Peter and I were discussing how some people are better able to separate a country's politics from a country's people and this separation is what is key in the acceptance of Americans abroad- you can hate American politics and still like American people. Hungarians, he said, are better at this separation at this moment in time because of the bad political situation they are in (daily protests at the Parliament building demanding that the Prime Minister leave his position), because of this they are more aware of the separation between a country's leaders and politics and the people and can more readily see Americans as people separate from the politics, policies and leadership of their country.

2. What do people think about the deal with the prime minister? Do people talk a lot about politics, or is it something they don't address in public that much?
For this I will say see question 1. But more importantly, see that in question one I have only referred to Peter's views in the conversations I have had with him. This is because people, at least the teachers at my school, do not talk much about it. I can tell that it is in their thoughts daily and that some are angry with the Prime Minister (most of the people) and others with the protesters. But it is in one line mentions to each other and rarely long in depth discussions. Clearly the people are angry and hear this all of the time "the situation in Hungary is very serious" and that they are worried about their membership in the EU but still, it is not talked about in public and I have been told, flat out, that I am not to bring up the situation with the Prime Minister or anything relating to politics in the classroom, as far as the students are to be concerned, everything is fine and nothing is happening.- whether or not that is actually true- or if a few actually have strong opinons on the subject I don't get to know.

3. The year I went to France was the first official year that French kids took part in trick-or-treating. Part of the globalization of Halloween. Do they have Halloween in Hungary? If so, is it just a commercial, Americanized version of it?
This will probably better answered in the next week or so as we get closer to Halloween and I do a lesson on American Halloween traditions. However, so far, I know that there is at least something because I have seen a few Halloween like decorations (pumpkins and such) in some store windows. But Trick-or-Treating...I doubt it.
4. Can you drink tap water?
Yes. And I do so often. In the teachers' room I keep a mug in my drawer that I refill from the sink through out the day. I don't get as many strage stares when I do this as I did when I was in Germany but there certainly isn't anyone else doing it! More because they don't drink much (still) water here in general then because there is anything wrong with it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

the little things...

some times it is the little things that make my day here...

1) Everyday on my walk to (and from) school I walk by a house with a dog. This dog may be the fattest Dalmatian I have ever seen! Maybe he is mixed with a lab or something but either way this guy literally looks like a barrel with legs. For those of you at the museum I have named him Walter- after Walter the Farting Dog- because, though he doesn't seem to have a farting problem that I know of, he looks just like the dog in the book and the accompanying toy- very round with legs sticking straight out to the sides, his tongue always hanging out and his eyes slightly wonky- but with spots. Anyway... everyday he is sitting in the same heap on his front step, happily watching the people go by and I was beginning to think that he was too fat to even move. Until yesterday. Yesterday I actually saw Walter out walking with his little old lady owner, much more of a waddle then walk, and his owner equally rotund. Seeing him move put a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon. I think that if I ever see him run- if it is in fact physically possible- I don't know how I'll contain myself!

2) Today in class I thoroughly confused one of my students. I don't think I have ever seen a child make a face of more panic and confusion- poor little Martin! But it wasn't his fault, Martin happens to look EXACTLY like my friend Wayne. I noticed this the first day and can hardly look at him without thinking about it. Today I finally slipped and called him Wayne. Not a big deal, generally, to be called the wrong name- I mix these kids up all the time. The utter confusion came because, to Martin, who is learning English, and quite good, and who was expecting a question- such as Who? What? Where? When? or Why?- Wayne sounds just like a new question word that he didn't know. "Wayne? I don't know... The ferry leaves at 10:15 and goes to Dover.....?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Taylor's questions

a few weeks ago Taylor sent me a whole list of questions (the kind only Tay would think to ask) and after I sent answered them all and sent them back she suggested that I post it all here- so here they are:

what do you think of the town of Gyongyos itself?
I like it. It is small- small by our standards (30,000) big here. But small in that there isn't really heaps to do but there is a nice main square/ street where people are always hanging around- walking, sitting on the benches, kids are riding their biks. It's big enough to have a TESCO (the British version of super Target) which is conveniant. The location is nice too- only an hour from Budapest (although I have yet to actually take advantage of that!) but it is also right at the base of the Matra hills which contain Kékes- Hungary's highest point. There are lots of very small villages/ resorts up the hills that are very accesible from town so I have the advantage of being close to these nice things but in the large city which is also nice.
Do you have particular stores you like?
Stores..not so much- I havn't really shopped that much, Kelly (the Brit) and I went shopping a bit last weekend but there isn't anything particularly remarkable. Most of my shopping experience is in food shopping. There is a Spar- a nice- larger (but still small) supermarket near me that I go to about once a week for the majority of things but other then that I try to buy things at the small shops that are near (across the street and around the corner) from my apartment. there is also a small fruit and vegitable market near my house- I try to go there as often as I can but the hours are mostly in the mornings when I am at school and I also tend to get a little nervous here because unlike other store where I can just pick what I want, hand it to the check-out girl and then pay the ammount on the screen, in the market I have to ask for what I want, and how much I want, and then understand when they tell me how much it costs- but I'm getting better and it is good practise.

parts of town you like to walk a bit more slowly through?
around my apartement building (the area is called the "80's" because there are 80 apartments in one area) there are alot of small apartemnt buildings scattered among parks with big trees, there are alot of benches everywhere and a few little parts with playgrounds- I like to walk through here alot and enjoy the trees and the kids playing, and people walking their dogs. I also like to walk down the main square- it is a pedestrian street made of cobblestones and lined with shops and restaurants and big old buildings, fountains and churches.

Have you found a favorite coffeehouse?
A coffeehouse- no. Coffeehouses are not big here but there are ice cream/ cake shops everywhere and there is one along the main square that my British friends and I like to go to- sit outside on the main square and watch the people. The people there are very nice and one girl speaks very good English and the others like to help us and we always get into laughing fits trying to explain flavors- using what they know in English (like apple pie) plus what we know in Hungarian (strawberry) and when that doesn't work we taste it and try to figure it out (like Chestnut and Cinnaminn.)
My St Marks however is my balcony. I have a very small balcony, big enough for maybe two people. I have a chair out there and a potted plant and two shelves that I hung on the side- just big enough for my book or a notebook and a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine. I can sit here and look at the big oak and chestnut trees and into the apartment accross the way where there is a young couple with a daughter who is about 3. I can see them playing and hanging up their laundry. The window faces south so I can't get a sunrise or sunset but i have a great view of the Big Dipper if I go out at just the right time.

You say a lot of days, you're out of class by noon. What do you do the rest of the time?
I stay at school a while longer usually- I use the internet- it's the only place where I have a connection. I also eat lunch here at school- I get it for free and it is the main meal of the day so it is quite substantial- soup plus a hot main course- meat and rice or pasta- something like this. It isn't great but it is something and free. So I don't go home right away- but when I do I walk around for a while- run errands- everything takes more time to get done here. When I do get home I have lesson planning to do and sometimes papers to grade. I watch TV and read (though I'm running out if English books!) I do laundry and clean and cook- all take longer then you would expect. But mostly I fill the time because I go to bed early- I try to stay up to watch the 9:00 movie (the cartoon network turns into TCM and plays old movies in English) but I usually don't stay up that late- sometimes I go out with the Brits as well- for drinks or dinner or ice cream.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Belly Dancing

Another plus to being abroad and in a situation where you know no one and you have loads of free time is that you are suddenly open to everything and not the least bit picky.

A few weeks ago some of the teachers at my school asked if I'd like to take a belly dancing class with them. Had I been at home in the states I probably would have said no but here, where I have nothing to do and know very few people I figure- why not, this is not the time to be picky about activities and invitations! So I agreed.

Yesterday was our first class. The class was organized by one of the other English teachers at my school, it is her friend that teaches. I also brought along Kelly- The Brit. There were about 5 other teachers from my school there and about 4 other women I didn't know, the teachers ranged from the young (relatively) English teacher to the 40 something secretary who showed up in a full tweed suit (she changed out of it). It was a lot of fun!

We started with some good stretching and warm up exercises that were a lot like yoga and then moved on to 3 basic moves to music that mostly involved hip isolation- So here's to not being picky!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

living and cooking alone

In the past weeks I've been discovering the perks and the problems of living alone. One of them is cooking. Lately I have been trying to cook more- a perk of cooking only for yourself is that you can try new things and then mess them up and no one will have to suffer through eating it but you. Another perk is the leftovers- there are always leftovers which means that I never have to cook everyday plus I only ever cook and eat what I want- no compromises.

I have also discovered some problems. Onions. I like onions, I like cooking with onions but I can't cut an onion without my eyes having an attack and dumping gallons and gallons of water onto my face and whatever I'm cooking. In the past I have always had somebody else cut my onions for me- but here I'm forced to do it myself. This usually means that it takes a half hour because I have to stick my face out the window for air every 2 seconds or I risk slicing off my fingers because I'm trying to chop while blind from burning, watering eyes.

I'll keep you posted on the advantages and disadvantages to living alone and slicing off your fingers and bleeding all over your apartment.

Monday, October 02, 2006


This past weekend Kelly, Jim (the Brits) and I decided we wanted to go out dancing. This was after going to a party at Kelly's school Friday afternoon which we had expected to include music and dancing but was actually more like a field day with each of the classes competing in various activities against each other- bobbing for apples, relay races balancing ping-pong balls on paddles, shaving-cream balloon tosses, tonuge-twister challenges and many more. It was a lot of fun and nice to see all of the students (high school students even) participate and enjoy all of the games.
Unfortunately, there was no dancing. We did, however, find out that there is in fact a disco in Gyöngyös! Club Desparados Disco on the far east side of town so later that night we set out in search of Desparados. This turned out to be quite an adventure. Attila (yes we have been hanging around with an actual Hungarian- good for us) had told us, 'oh, just go down this street, take the second right and then the first left and then go straight and you will be there' Sounds simple enough. What he actually meant was 'walk down this road for about 25 minutes until you go over the railroad tracks, over the highway, past the cemetery, and then curve around to your left, take a quick hidden right and walk for another 25 minutes and then go through what looks like (and in the daylight is) a used car dealership, and THEN you will be there!'- thanks Attila. But we found it. Mostly by following the strobing search lights and sound of the music, but we found it none the less. So in we walked, Desperado's Disco, complete with potted cactus in the corners. There were disco balls and lights, a DJ in a booth who was rocking out and two bartenders. And that was it. The DJ, two bartenders and us. Apparently Hungarians can't find the place either. But eventually the place filled up a bit and we had a great time. I even managed to call us a taxi at the end of the night and direct him home in Hungarian. Although the successful directions had more to do with my ever improving skills in charades and as a mime then my Hungarian but it worked.