Wow, my last official blog from my semester abroad! It is crazy how fast these past four months have flown by. Time is a weird thing and I frankly hate how quickly it passes. Anyways, I didn't blog my last month in Budapest because, on top of being pretty busy, I was also desperately trying to make the most of the time I had left. I tried to spend as much time as I could out in the city and with the people I met in Budapest and as little time at our dorm or on my laptop as possible. It was a very full last month with many ups and downs, but I savored every second. Here’s an update on my final weeks abroad on the 2014 Hungary Semester.
The highlight of my semester abroad was participating in service-learning. For those who don’t know, I volunteered with a ministry (RMK) that assists refugees and immigrants successfully adjust to their new lives in Hungary. Not only do they practically help them, but they also provide newcomers with a community and familial atmosphere. At RMK I met with three teenage girls, Lina, Luna, and Mish, weekly for one-on-one English tutoring sessions and babysat two little girls, Maya and Mitra, once a week while their mom had Hungarian language tutoring. I loved volunteering at RMK so much because I was able to build relationships with the girls I tutored. I had the privilege of hearing their stories as well as their thoughts on various issues and their aspirations for the future. I was able to get a glimpse into the diverse cultures they come from through the lens of their life experiences. I became their friend and helped them become friends with one another, too. It was a deeply impactful experience and shaped me and my time in Budapest greatly.
This past month I tried to spend as much time at RMK and with the girls I tutored as possible. Two Saturday mornings Tonisha, a student from my group who also volunteered at RMK, and I went to RMK to play board games with the kids there. I also went to see the Hunger Games with Lina and her friend Zena, went to the Budapest Christmas Markets a few times with the girls, went out to eat once to the Hummus Bar and twice to Al Amir – an awesome Syrian restaurant – with Lina, and we all went out for bubble tea on my last day in Budapest. Tonisha and I also spent our last Sunday in Budapest walking around the city, shopping, and hanging out with the girls.
A Visit from Anthea
At the end of November one of my dearest friends Anthea came to visit. Anthea and I met in 2012 at YWAM in Australia and haven’t seen each other since June of that year. However we’ve stayed in close touch and have been scheming to get together again, but since she’s from Australia and I’m from the U.S. it just hasn't worked out. Yet we both ended up in Eastern Europe this fall and so we were able to spend eight lovely days together. Our reunion in Budapest worked out perfectly; we couldn't have planned it better ourselves. Being able to see Anthea again is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Saying goodbye to the people I met at YWAM was heartbreaking because I didn’t know when I would see them again. Yet God knows the desires of our hearts and since leaving YWAM two and a half years ago, I've been able to see 15 people I met there – people from Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, and all around the U.S. It’s really incredible and such a blessing.
While Anthea was in Budapest we explored a bit, shopped the Christmas markets, went ice skating, and mostly just spent time talking together. We also went on a weekend trip to Vienna with a few other students from my group. The purpose of the trip was to see Ben Howard in concert but it was also magical to just walk around the city deked out for Christmas. Nearly every street was adorned with lights and every main square had a Christmas market. Later that week I said a tearful goodbye to Anthea on the Metro 4 in Budapest, not knowing when I will see her next, but trusting that God will again be faithful and bring us together once more.
RMK had their annual Christmas party on the Wednesday before we left and it was an absolute blast. There was amazing Persian food, folk music, Hungarian dancing, gift-giving, and lots of laughter. The church that hosted the party was packed and the atmosphere was bustling and warm. Our group spent a lot of time this semester learning and thinking about what “beloved community” is and what it looks like. As we held sweaty hands and danced in a circle and laughed as we stumbled, trying to learn the steps, I realized that this is what beloved community looks like. It is the image of unity in the midst of diversity. It is choosing to build bridges and come together, not allowing differences to divide us and destroy the potential of authentic love and community. There was an openness, a freedom, and a spirit of acceptance and love in the atmosphere, it was a privilege to simply witness it and to be apart of the RMK community for a few short months; the people I met there will never know how much they blessed me.
Mountains and Valleys
Over the past month or so I’ve also experienced many ups and downs and really struggled emotionally for the first time this semester. Our group has seen, experienced, and learned about a lot of heavy things these past few months and it all caught up with me at once. For a while there, the weight of the world felt suffocating and overwhelming. I waver in between weariness and hope and have spent significant portions of my time abroad lamenting the history of this region of the world, in addition to lamenting pressing issues of injustice, like climate change, too.
In my last month abroad I was also hurting relationally. I did not really find the community or companionship I was hoping and striving for and that began to take a toll. I was so content in Budapest in every other way but was not fulfilled or content relationally. Relationships are one of the most important things to me and I really struggle when I’m unable to connect with others for prolonged periods of time. I’m so thankful for Skype, but the community aspect of my time in Hungary left me feeling disappointed and isolated.
I realized what a bad state I was when Anthea visited. To be with someone who knows me, truly knows me, and loves me and cares about me did wonders for my soul. I was able to relax and be refreshed, and her presence was simply encouraging. Anthea made me realize what I’d been missing relationally the past three months, and after she has left I felt the absence of community even more painfully. However in the face of the loneliness and challenges of this semester with community, I take comfort in God’s faithfulness towards me. I see His goodness and grace and redemption everywhere, like providing me with rich relationships at RMK, and at the end of the day, I learned so much through the valleys of this semester. I must focus on the blessings given, not the blessings denied, and celebrate the overwhelming goodness and abundant love God has given me, even if it doesn't look exactly the way I thought it would.
My last month in Budapest was also spent trying to squeeze the most out of every day. The days left abroad were dwindling faster and faster and I was keenly aware of how much I would miss Budapest after returning to the U.S. For better or worse, when faced with a decision to, for example, pack or go to Szimpla Kert one more time - I tended to opt for the latter option. Yolo, right? So in addition to spending more time with the girls from RMK, I also:
Saying Goodbye and Coming “Home”
Friday, December 19th was my last full day in Budapest. It was 50° F, sunny, clear, and beautiful. I spent the day packing and cleaning, hanging out one last time with Mish, Lina, and Luna from RMK, and in the evening I walked around Castle Hill, across the Chain Bridge, and down to St. Stephen’s Basilica and Deák Tér with a few other students. It was a perfect ending to an incredible semester. Yet it was so surreal. After investing so heavily in Budapest, and in building a life here, to suddenly be leaving was just crazy… and heartbreaking.
I didn't want to go. My heart was in Budapest. Studying abroad there gave me the opportunity to rest, learn, grow, wander, explore, and build relationships. Budapest was my teacher and classroom and became my friend and home.
Like other places I've encountered and people I've met, Budapest has now become woven into the tapestry of my heart, mind, and soul. For all of this and more I’m eternally grateful, however it made leaving that much more difficult.
Two nights before we left I was laying on my bed listening to music and weeping (yes, full on weeping) about the prospect of leaving. No part of me wanted to go. Not because I wasn't excited to go back to Minnesota or Michigan, because I was, but because I just didn't want to leave Budapest and the life I had there. I know myself, and I knew how deeply it would hurt to say goodbye and how much I would miss the city and this special time in the days, months, and years to come. I’m sure I’ll return to Budapest someday, but it will never be the same and my heart was mourning that this experience was simply over. I know the things I learned and experienced abroad will continue to shape and impact me for years to come, but in the technical sense, it was over.
Then the song Bones by Ben Howard came on my playlist. It ends with the line “it's just the bones you're made of” which helped explain to me why I was feeling the way I was feeling about leaving. I get strongly attached to places, I fall in love with cities, and I invest wholly where I am.It's my nature and it's the bones i'm made of. As a result, I leave apart of myself wherever my roots have enough time to grow. It causes me great heartache but it also brings me great joy. It is endlessly rewarding and has helped me discover my purpose in life. So mourning the end of my semester abroad, while simultaneously celebrating what an incredible time it has been, I understand now to be only natural.
And now I sit here by the fireplace in my living room in Minnesota on Christmas Day. As I reflect, I can't believe how lucky I am to have had this experience. It's still weird to suddenly no longer be in Budapest, it kills me not to be able to respond to things in Hungarian, and I may even miss our run-down, Soviet-era dorm. It's odd to think that in Budapest right now, as I sit here, the trams are still running and the coffee is still brewing and people are still going about their lives. Leaving my Budapest "home" for my "home" in Minnesota and soon my "home" in Grand Rapids will take some time to get used to, but I couldn't be more grateful for the past four months. Words can't fully express it, but to sum it up, I couldn't ask for more.
Köszönöm szépen és viszlát Budapest! Until next time.