Can the weeks stop flying by? I've been in Budapest for almost a month now and I’m begging the clock to slow down. I’m falling in love with every aspect of life here and knowing I have to leave in December is frightening. But I thankfully don’t have to think about that quite yet! This past week I visited the lovely town of Eger, started a history class at Corvinus University and two classes with Jeff (our fabulous program director from Calvin), continued service-learning, and “graduated” from Hungarian (I've never been so proud of a B+ before)!
As the morning sun began to creep through the glass windows of Keleti Pályaudvar train station last Saturday, my friend Aby and I boarded a train to Eger, a historic town two hours east of Budapest. Upon arriving in Eger we were warmly greeted by the owner of the guesthouse we stayed at and he gave us a lift, attempting to converse in broken English and Hungarian all the way there!
Eger is famous for a few things, most notably the Siege of Eger, the attempted Turkish invasion of 1552. Although vastly outnumbered, the people of Eger courageously defeated the Turks and inspired the novel Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, read by almost every Hungarian schoolchild.
After a day of wandering Eger’s cobblestone streets and soaking in thermal baths, we enjoyed some of the wine that Eger is also famous for. Tucked in ancient caves, the wine cellars of Siren’s Valley offer a truly unique experience and very inexpensive, but delicious, wine tasting (it cost me more to go to the bathroom then it did to buy a glass)! All in all, it was a very restful trip and I loved getting to know this fascinating country a little bit more.
Honesty Hour: Ethnocentrism and Being a Foreigner
Last week we had the task of applying for residence permits at the immigration office. While waiting in line with the other confused foreigners, I was, ironically, reading one of our assigned books that discusses immigration and crossing cultures. That experience, combined with volunteering at RMK and the daily reality of being a foreigner myself here, has caused me to reflect on migration and ethnocentrism in a new way.
Being in a cross-cultural setting, at least for me, exposes my own cultural biases and makes me more self-conscious as I’m keenly aware of my “other-ness.” From toilets to coffee, they do things differently here…and everywhere, really. Yet sometimes when I encounter this, my first reaction is still confusion and a “well, why don’t they just do it the right way!” attitude. It is a good reminder that different doesn't equal wrong (same goes for the whole pop vs. soda debate), though for some reason we often seem to jump to that conclusion.
Possibly the most shameful of times my ethnocentrism pops up is when I encounter people who don’t speak English. Logically, of course I don’t expect everyone here to speak English, this is Hungary after all! But when I’m trying to order at a restaurant, or mail a postcard, and no one can speak English, I find myself feeling frustrated and even a bit resentful at first.
But wait. I’m a foreigner, coming to their country from thousands of miles away. They didn't invite me here. How egotistical to assume they will accommodate to me, speak my language – a language that is so difficult to learn.
Aside from cross-cultural situations exposing our ethnocentrism, I think they are also great learning experiences in that they give us the opportunity (yes, opportunity) to be confused, frustrated, and pushed aside. Crossing cultures is humbling in that it forces us to be dependent on translators and the kindness of strangers. Not to mention, it puts us in the shoes of millions of immigrants across the world and in our own country who daily live with confusion and even prejudice, except they often have it much, much worse.
Although I don't want the days to pass quickly, the next couple weeks hold some exciting plans. Next week my class at our other partner university, Károli Gáspár, will begin and I’ll also start doing English lessons with one of the awesome students at my service-learning placement RMK.
Next weekend we are traveling to Bosnia, a country I find mysterious and fascinating, and in preparation we have been reading two books about the Bosnian war and genocide. The books have been very heavy and difficult to wrestle through. With my brother in Afghanistan, and the endless onslaught of tragic world news, I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed and weary in this area. I’d appreciate prayers for myself and our group as we travel to Bosnia, learn about its history, see its beauty, and process it all. The following weekend I'll travel to Cluj, Romania, to meet with World Vision and Emma, a special young lady.
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey! I look forward to sharing more with you about life in Budapest and beyond.