Wait, did I use this joke already? Three posts in and I’ve already run out of fresh material. This bodes well for a continued future of this blog. I realize that last week I wrote about orientation, but I also realize that I didn’t actually say much about it beyond metaphysical musings and making light of semi-youthful inebriation. However, I learned so much more than just what I was being taught that I feel like I am doing a disservice to the entire enterprise by glossing over it.
First let me begin by doing what the professors in my mandatory writing courses kept telling me I had to do and narrow the focus before continuing. The teaching program my girlfriend and I chose to participate in is of the pay for placement variety. For anyone who has not taught a language overseas or even contemplated such an unusual course of action, there are a number of different methods to exploit your semi proficiency with your native language into an important position that you likely are not remotely prepared or qualified for. (This here is called foreshadowing folks, this may be important in future installments.) There are internships, there are freelance positions, and there are jobs at government schools and private language schools. Sometimes it is possible to talk to a school directly the same can be done for the private institutions, however since we had no idea how to do any of those things we figured it would be easier to take the other choice of paying a third party organization to handle everything short of teaching for us. For a nominal fee they got us jobs in a very nice school in Budapest, arranged an apartment for the year, dealt with the bureaucracy in getting us visas, and finally put on the aforementioned orientation. I am happy with our decision because it means that we have at our disposal a contact person who can yell at people in Hungarian for us. (Hey foreshadowing, nice to see you again buddy.)
With background explanations now out of the way,
Previously on The Miscellaneist: Our intrepid, globetrotting heroes finally reached their destination after nineteen straight hours of travel. Will their exhaustion cause result in unfortunate actions? Will teaching be a good career path for them? Will Pluto ever become a planet again? Find out the answers to these questions and more, coming up next!
No, yes, and ask Neil Degrass Tyson I’m not an astronomer.
From first foot off of the plane there was one thing that stuck out to me most of all, namely that our flight had somehow been redirected without our knowledge and we had actually arrived at the caldera of a perpetually erupting volcano. Besides my flesh melting off like I was some kind of evil archaeologist in a Spielberg directed action adventure film, the lizard part of my brain responsible for survival instincts and political discussion understood that it was a balmy August outside when I got on the plane. Since we hadn’t crossed into the Southern Hemisphere or a time machine I understood that it would be summer when I got off the flight just the same. None of these subconscious thoughts decided it would be a good idea to inform my conscious brain about the imminent temperature directed misery. Translation for those who don’t speak rambling non sequiturs and run on sentences, I don’t like the heat. Unfortunately for me, the temperature was hovering around a muggy 90 degrees Fahrenheit the whole first month I was here. I thought Central Europe was supposed to be cold. I’m not sure who is responsible for this reasoning.
Before arriving here my entire previous experience with Central Europe has been through international spy dramas. Before terrorists became the ubiquitous bad guy in Hollywood, Communists were the undisputed heavyweight bad guys in films. Thanks to a little thing called the Eastern Bloc, everything east of France became shorthand for the Soviet Union as far as movies are concerned. The Soviet Union, or Russia for anyone born after the year 2000, is obviously in a constant blizzard. It’s the same reason why my home state Oregon is always portrayed as a verdant wonderland absolutely littered with hippies, but no one remembers that the eastern side of that state looks more like a desert. Plus, as we all know Matt Damon cuts a striking profile in a trench coat.
Separate aside; I have also come to the realization that I was never actually taught anything about this part of the continent in school. Now, I was home schooled from kindergarten through senior year, so I am under no allusions that I have had the most average of educational experiences. On the other hand though, as I was telling people of my upcoming plans to uproot my life and swap continents, a larger number of people than I was entirely comfortable with didn’t even know Hungary was a country. The lion’s share of everyone I told about my future plans didn’t even know where this lovely country was on a map. I will get down off my intellectual high horse by admitting that when inevitably asked where Hungary was I could only evasively answer, Central Europe. I know that the stereotype is that Americans are often ignorant of the outside world, and unless it is a country we are currently invading the average person doesn’t realize it exists.
Anyways, upon reaching the hostel and checking in we met up with a few people who were a part of the program, and they informed us that there would be a welcome dinner for all of this year’s teachers. This dinner would of course be in a few hours. Utterly weary and moist with perspiration we were unsure of whether or not to attend the festivities. I would be lying if the mention of large quantities of free food didn’t come into play in our decision to go. One too brief nap later and thirty plus loud and confused Americans were being shepherded from subway to subway in an attempt to get to locations unknown. As confusion subsided we found ourselves seated on the patio of a rather ritzy restaurant overlooking the Danube, its’ shores lined with centuries old buildings and crowned with a castle resting upon a hill. The spectacle of such a sight was so striking that I am not confident I can properly convey it. Strangers grasping at friendships partook in a sumptuous cocktail of sustenance and ambiance. Spellbinding is an apt word. Aside from the uncomfortable heat, the whole experience provided a convincing analogue for a European fantasy. The entire event was engineered perfectly to express the glorious majesty of the city as we embarked on a grand adventure. It masterfully downplayed the fact that we were not part of a romanticized getaway, but had actually agreed to do an extremely average job in a new location. We met some nice people and turned in early, something which almost no one else decided to do.
In the day to day operations, the orientation could be divided into four parts. Every day we would begin by eating a lovely breakfast which would serve to charge our energies for the coming day. It also served as the place to get caught up on the boozy shenanigans of the prior evening. Following breakfast there were three classes designed to theoretically prepare us for our new lives abroad.
The first was Hungarian Basics where we learned just how difficult a language Hungarian is. The answer is that it’s really difficult. Hungarian is a Uralic language whose closest related language is Finnish. This means that when you first hear the language being spoken, the words form sound waves which reach your ears where they pick up baseball bats and beat your brain into an uncomprehending pulp. It is so different from any language I am even remotely familiar with, and I have nothing but respect for all of the people here who have learned English. It’s basically linguistic wizardry. The class did succeed in teaching me how to say that I can’t speak Hungarian, a phrase which is immensely useful.
The second class was about teaching a second language. It stressed the difficulties that come from not being able to teach using the students’ native tongue. It was filled with theory and solutions for probable issues that would arise. Now that I am actually teaching, this is the class that I wish I had paid a lot more attention to.
The third was a class on Hungarian culture to better familiarize ourselves with the idiosyncrasies of Hungarian living. It talked about Hungary’s history for the last hundred years as a means of explaining the Hungarian outlook on life. The history in addition to the outlook is a lovely shade of bleak.
These three classes would last until the early afternoon after which the barely recuperated would be teachers were to be loosed upon an unexpecting city to begin the cycle anew.
There is more to say, much more, but I’m running out of steam for this installment. Tune in next week when I promise I will move on from orientation to something a little more recent. In the mean time I leave you with this lovely stock image reminiscent of our first night in this fair city.
Hungarian Etymology (Thank you Wikipedia)
English I didn’t know this time. :
Apparently I’m so bad at spelling bureaucrat that spellcheck thought that I was trying to talk about autocracies. What a hilarious miscommunication.
Double checked that I knew what an autocracy was. This time I was correct.
Good job Microsoft Word for making sure to tell me how poorly I spelled Spielberg but also having no idea how to spell non sequitur.