Excitement, Nervousness, and…Hesitation
Bear with me, the beginning of this post is a bit pessimistic… but it looks up :)
It has been interesting to observe the feelings I've experienced the past few months in anticipating studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary this coming fall semester. Most would expect a mix of excitement and nervousness, which I have, but another unexpected feeling, for better or for worse, has been resistance and hesitancy. Hesitancy rooted in two things: fear and a longing for roots. On one hand, I’m scared, as silly as it may seem, of falling in love with yet another beautiful, rich, unique city and country – a place I will have to leave after four months. I’m scared of building deep relationships with people I will inevitably have to leave and will most certainly miss. I’m also now at a point where I’m starting to desire a long-term community. I want roots, and I want to invest in a place, a community, and relationships that are long-lasting.
I wasn't anticipating feeling this way, but upon probing it further I find it quite a natural response to the life I've been living the past couple years. I fell in love with travel in 2009 when I spent 14 weeks living in England with my dad, spending every second I could in London and traveling around Europe on the weekends. Since then my desire to travel has been unquenchable. Fast forward to the present and 20 countries later, and having lived in five cities in three different countries, I’m starting to see the other, often ignored side of globetrotting.
The result of falling in love with cities, countries, and people all over the world is that you will never be fully content again. I often feel like the pieces of my heart are littered all over the world: a remote village in Panama, St. James Park in London, a hillside in Burundi, the seaside of Australia, Kerry Park in Seattle, the bustling streets of Phnom Penh… it goes on. Consequentially, a part of my heart will always be in a state of longing for the places I love and have left a part of myself in.
Some of my closest friends I got to know when I took a gap year after high school and as a result they live in Australia, Europe, Canada, and all over the U.S. Studying at university in Michigan, I miss my friends and family in Minnesota during the school year and vice versa I miss my community in Michigan when I’m home! It’s just plain hard to be in long-distance relationships with the majority of my friends and family the majority of the time. We are made for community and airplanes complicate that.
But with that being said….would I change my life? Never. Would I deny the incredible opportunity to live and study in Hungary for four months simply because of my fear and, really, silly hesitancies? Of course not. Travel is an immense blessing and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I've had so far in life. My life and relationships are so rich as a result of these opportunities and I wouldn't trade them for the world.
One of my favorite quotes sums this up wonderfully:
"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place." - Miriam Adeney
Leaving for Hungary
With August 17th, our date of departure, inching closer I've grown more and more excited. For those unfamiliar with the program, it is through my university Calvin College. The students I travel with will live in a dorm on the Buda side of the city (Budapest is actually two cities - Buda on the western side of the Danube and Pest on the east) and, for classes, we will take an intensive three-week Hungarian language class, then two classes from the director of our program, and two more from partner universities - Károli Gáspár and Corvinus University of Budapest.
Why Eastern Europe?
Originally I was planning on participating in Calvin’s study abroad program in Ghana, but I decided to go to Hungary instead for several reasons. First of all, I’m really interested in Eastern Europe. The history of communism and conflict; the disparity between, and different trajectories of, Western and Eastern Europe; the different cultures in the region and the impact communism has had on shaping them; and the often overlooked,yet very real need for development there.
With studying international development, my interest in Eastern Europe has grown as I’ve learned more about the region and the challenges it faces. With sharing a continent with Western Europe, I feel as though the needs of the region often get ignored in the face of other places that have more immediate and extreme needs or humanitarian crises. Yet there is still poverty, inequality, and in particular, a lack of economic opportunities in many countries that has led to widespread emigration from east to west and even human trafficking.
Last fall I wrote a research paper on Romania identifying its challenges to development and the root causes of those challenges. Through researching Romania, I learned about the devastating impact communism, and then the fall of communism, has had on their economy and the social well-being of their citizens. Although it has been a few decades since the end of communism, there continues to be few economic opportunities for citizens in many Eastern European countries. While reading Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara, I was surprised to learn that the greatest volume of traffic of slaves in the world is from Eastern to Western Europe. But it makes perfect sense. Few jobs and opportunities, plus higher wages in Western Europe and a history of idealizing the west, leads many to a place of desperation to move west. As a result, people are prone to accept job offers in Western Europe - job offers that many not always be legitimate. In Kara’s book, he discusses several victims he met from Eastern Europe that were trafficked, and re-trafficked, multiple times. He reports that they knew the warning signs, and often knew a job offer was phony, but accepted the offers anyways because it was literally better than staying in their home country. Things are very, very wrong when people feel that slavery is their best available option.
I visited Amsterdam last summer and spent some time talking with full-time volunteers at the Lighthouse, a YWAM ministry that builds relationships with women working in the sex industry. One of the volunteers shared with us that the majority of the women working in the windows are from Eastern Europe and came to the Netherlands, whether forced or voluntary, looking to earn a living yet ended up in the sex industry. It's all too common of a story. The Lighthouse partners with Not For Sale's work in the Netherlands; watch the video above to learn more about trafficking in Europe and the solutions Not For Sale offers.
In addition to studying international development I'm also studying business in hopes that I can work with economic development and job creation, in part so that individuals have meaningful employment and are less vulnerable to being trafficked in the first place. People shouldn't have to leave their country and risk exploitation just to find employment. I chose to study abroad in Hungary because I’m interested in potentially working in Eastern Europe with economic development and trafficking prevention and want to get to know the region more.
I've also always been very interested, for some reason, in conflict, war, genocide, and post-conflict transitions. As part of our program, we visit Poland and Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust and Bosnia to learn about the war and genocide there. We also visit New Horizons Foundation, a youth development program in Romania that focuses on building social capital. Several of the books we read in our courses also focus on the history of the region and the challenges it has faced, which I am looking forward to diving into!
Not to Mention…
I am also very excited for Hungary so I can visit Emma, a 13 year-old girl my family sponsors through World Vision in near-by Romania. She is an incredibly driven, intelligent, and sweet young lady and I am so excited to meet with her and the World Vision Area Development Program she participates in this fall!
The past year I’ve also been learning the importance of rest, enjoying life, and not over-committing. This past academic year and summer have been absolutely insane and I’m looking forward to a semester with less academic intensity and pressure and more down time to pursue other interests of mine, like writing.
Despite, as I mentioned, my growing desire to settle down in a place, have a physical community, and let my roots grow deep, I'm of course more than excited to set off for this journey in Hungary. I have the rest of my life to settle down and now is the time to have a variety of diverse experiences, to see the world and travel, to pick up and move to a completely new place for four months! I am so eager to explore this unique region of the world and to learn more about it. I am thirsty for travel and hungry for knowledge. I plan on sharing more about my experiences abroad on this blog throughout the fall, so check back for more!