Sorry for my rather long absence; it has been a busy couple of weeks! Classes are going well, and I have found out a bit more about the exam and university system. Seems that indeed this is a European system of sorts; I am told it is the result of the Bologna Process, aimed at developing comparability among European university systems, to ease international study (with the Erasmus program, e.g.) and job placement in differing countries after degree. So it is kind of akin to SUNY’s “seamless transfer” program, on a much bigger and multi-national scale. (For more, see this.) Bologna produced, for instance, the 3-year bachelor’s and the long exam period with retakes, I am informed. And while the single-exam-takes-all system may be stressful for the students, they are appalled that U.S. students have no opportunity to retake an exam. (I asked my graduate class, which includes a German Erasmus student as well as Hungarian students, about this.) I suppose when one exam is all, you almost have to allow retakes.
I am still trying to learn some Hungarian. Some days I feel that I’ve made progress, others not so much. My vocabulary has definitely expanded, but my ability to make sentences out of it seems permanently stalled! I have been sitting in on some of the Hungarian language and culture courses offered at the university (for foreign students). I see some of the American students at these; there are only six here, all from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. This also helps to keep me busy, although my life is now getting busier anyway. I gave my first presentation last week, to the students in my colleague Ágnes’s class. Although I was originally going to talk about the Puritans, Hawthorne, and May Day, I ended up presenting about the U.S. border with Mexico. I have been thinking a lot about the parallels between U.S. border security and immigration issues and what’s happening here with the refugee crisis, and it seemed like a timely topic. In fact, I will be giving this presentation again to a class at the University of Pécs in a couple of weeks. (Note: If you are interested in my reflections on the refugee crisis here in Europe, please let me know and I will be happy to share, in a less public space.)
Big news: I finally moved into the renovated apartment!! After being here for 5 weeks and watching the interminable progress of the renovations, I was informed on Tuesday morning as I was leaving for campus that I “had to move today.” Suddenly they were in a huge hurry. So I moved everything over and here I am. The budget for new furniture apparently did not materialize, but the apartment is, nevertheless, a significant improvement over the first one. The furniture, while not new, is nicer than what was in the first place, there is more room for visitors, and the bathroom and kitchen are very nice! So now I am settled in for the duration. I’m still living in the workzone (as they are now working on the first apartment), but at least once I’m inside it is more of a home.
The other day I attended a reception for Fulbright grantees, past and present, given by the U.S. Embassy. The event was at a beautiful home high in the Buda hills, on the rather amusingly named Bimbo Utca (yes, I’m childish; it actually means Bud, as in flower, Street). It was fun to see my Fulbright pals again, and to meet former grantees and Embassy folks. I will have the opportunity to hang with the Fulbright folks again next weekend when we have an outing to Debrecen, a city east of here.
Also this week I received a loaner bike from dear Ágnes. Of course, being me, I promptly crashed it into a pole on the way home. In my defense, it was a bit confusing as to which way the path went, and I hesitated a moment too long and ended up hitting the pole (which was in the middle of the path, I might add). Two days later I was barely able to move from back pain. It took me another day to figure out that this was the result of the bike crash (yeah, I can be a bit slow on the uptake). So I am taking it easy, taking Aleve, and hoping this will end soon! I have had only one ride so far, and I’m not really sure when the next will be. But for sure I will be riding away from traffic and crowded conditions for awhile once I get back on the bike!
Foodwise, I have been exploring the Turkish and Thai offerings here (not bad and a change of pace). I also went to a Serbian restaurant, which was quite nice. And I bought some of the local homemade kolbasz–a little similar to Mexican chorizo. And, believe it or not, I went to the wine festival here last weekend. And I drank not just one but three glasses of wine (okay, they were very small, but still)–two white and one red. I also had some white wine at the Embassy party (because there was no beer). And you know what, the wine wasn’t bad. So maybe I will actually start drinking wine once in awhile, as my pal Jan keeps encouraging me to do. The wines here are quite nice, and dry (at least in this region), so don’t be fooled by the Tokay. That’s only one type of the many Hungarian wines available. Among the food sold at the wine festival, by the way, was blood and onion stew, or hagyma vér (I kid you not).
While we’re on food, I may as well discuss the piac, or market. I got a tour last Saturday morning from my colleague, Zoltán. The market is open every day, but is largest and busiest on weekends. There are many, many farmers there selling all types of produce, which is delicious and low in price. Paradicsom (tomatoes), uborka (cucumbers), baracka (peaches), hagyma (onions), paprikas of course, alma (apples), etc., etc. Then there are the separate stalls that sell pickled goods (pickles, slaws, pickled veggies, etc.), sausages of various sorts, chicken (separate from the other meats), meats (pork, beef), fish, bread, pastries, etc. It is truly a treat for all the senses to wander around this vast market!