Sunday, March 29, 2009

That farmer and his dog are my new best friends

The past couple of weeks, I've been working on "shopping" with my lower level classes. Last week was mainly trying to confirm they remembered at least SOME of the vocab I worked so hard to introduce the week before. So, armed with a battery of games (the new, and highly popular BINGO among them), a few pieces of the lucrative American candy (ooo! Sweet Tarts!) and the offer of extra points for the winners. (so many extra points add up to an extra 5 in the Naplo). Generally, it was a fun week. They liked the games and the opportunity to be competitive.

I realized a while ago that playing dumb is one of my best teaching tools. Ask the Hungarian for a certain word. "Forget" the Hungarian. Ask again. Mix up the terms. Try again. It lets them constantly make the connection betweek the Hungarian terms and the English and forces them to explain both to me. I lose a little face, I'm sure, but they really seem to learn this way and seem to love that they are teaching me something. Maybe that it was funny watching me struggle with rediculous letter combinations. Maybe my terrible accent. So, to provide myself a challenge and them a laugh, one of the round of BINGO was me saying the Hungarian and them marking the English. They LOVED it. One class even tried to give hints instead of just telling me the words I messed up. (And now I can competently ask for the location of dressing rooms or for a shirt in a medium).

Two more of my favorite little moments:

Some of the terms are "extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large" which I wrote along with their abbreviations (XS,S,M,L,XL). When we talked about the terms, I could almost see the lightbulbs going on as they realized what those letters on the tags in their shirts actually corresponded to words and weren't just arbitrary letters. In nearly every class, these lightbulbs were followed by at least a few of the students checking (or even having others check)the tags in their jackets or shirts to make sure.

Hungarian is a very phonetic language. Once you know how a letter sounds, it doesn't (usually) change. 99% of the time, you'll be okay. (Granted there are 44 letters in the alphabet including several whose sounds don't exist in English) As such, with many new words, my students use the Hungarian phonetics to help spell it. This becomes especially amusing when there are lots of consonants in a row (every letter is pronounced in Hungarian). So the word "tight" became "tee-guh-huh-tuh." So, we're playing BINGO in 10b and one of the kids kept "translating" it into Hungarian phonetics under his breath while he searched. The word "size" came up, which to them looks likes "sheeza." He paused, then said "oh, oh, oh. She's a lady. . ." I looked at him, still not positive of what he had said. He repeated, singing this time. I don't know why, but I couldn't stop laughing. I told him that he had put that song in my head now, which ensured he sang the line everytime the word came up. The tune has been cycling in and out of my head all weekend (usually alternating with Puff the Magic Dragon, which was the song Ani said she hated when I told her about sheeza. The Dragon is definitately worse.)

I wanna live forever. . . .

I moved my digital alarm clock-radio into my kitchen because there is no other clock there and I hate the little hum it makes when it's plugged in. It gives me the added benefit of having something to listen to while I cook. So win-win.

Today, I stepped out of the bathroom from washing my hair and could barely hear the rhythm of the song that was playing. A moment of surprise/horror hit me as I realized what it was.
Translated into Hungarian.
Except, of course, for the word "fame," which was kept in English.

Betchya can't guess what's stuck in my head now. . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Well, at least I am No Longer Leaving in March.

When buying my airline ticket to come to Hungary, at the time, it made the best sense to purchace a roundtrip ticket. Unfortunately, Air France only a limited number of months in advance. So, I got the furthest tickect I could at the time (March 27). . .Easy enough, we figured, just give them a call later on, change the date, no problem.
In December, I made a phone call, filled out an online form and assumed all was right in the world, at least as far as my return trip was concerned. Being a constant worrier/planner, I checked a few weeks ago to make sure everything was still as it should be--leaving sometime in mid-June, well after my contract here ends.
Of course, it wasn't. The dates online still matched my original departure dates. . . .with only 2 weeks until I was supposed to leave. So, I sent an email to my Granddad who had helped me book the tickets with frequent flier miles and gave Air France a ring.
Then the fun really began. I tried to contact the US office only to spend about 45 minutes on hold. Then I tried the French office--I mean, time zones closer, I speak the language . . .after about 45 more minutes I was told I couldn't be helped because the tickets were booked in the US with a US card. More calls to the US office. . .more waiting time. . .I think I spoke to 5 different people. More trouble because I didn't have the card they were booked on, lived in Europe, and had previously tried to move the ticket (the December attempt.) Eventually I was told they would have to "look into my situation." What?? I just wanted to move the date of a ticket. Called Granddad who called the company. More hours of talking in circles.
After all of that, I am told the ONLY way to change the ticket is to go to the desk at the airport. I should talk to Malév because they are the first airline I will fly to get to Paris. Because that is SOO easy. Geh. I talk to Ani about taking a day off the following week and taking the train into Ferihegy to continue my fight. Gyuri tells her that some German students are leaving on a trip on Tuesday, I should just ride with them.
. . .
Come Tuesday, I teach only 2 of my four classes and am sent off in the giant city van with 10 students and 2 teachers. Head up to the Malév office. Can't help me there. Go to the Air France office. . .25 minutes later, I depart, flight changed and new tickets in hand. (And only 40 EUR lighter. . .I was told on the phone it might be as high as 150 EUR!) Of course, the only seat availiable was about a week before I wanted to go. . .but it was either that or the end of July. AND of course, the flights departs BP at 7 in the morning in the summer. But at least that is done.

I go outside to find Béla, the driver and off we head. I quickly see that we are not heading off in the same direction that we came. . .in fact we were headed north-east on the M3! (The interstates in Hungary branch out from BP like the spokes of a wheel). We drove and drove. . . a list of possibilities ran through my mind. . .maybe it is quicker to take the interstate, even if it goes like 60km out of the way, maybe I am being kidnapped and taken to Romania (kidding, mom). Anyway, about 40 minutes later we turned off onto the road to Hatvan. This road was almost the opposite of the interstate. It seemed there were more potholes than smooth road.
Eventually, we reached a round-a-bout in the middle of nowhere (it seems like round-a-bouts are the second most loved feature in Hungarian roads close behind man-eating potholes). One of the signs pointed to Szolnok! Excellent.
Until we drove past that spoke and turned onto one that wasn't marked. (Of course). So we drove and drove. It probably wasn't all that far, but the combination of giant van+ Hungarian roads prevented us from going too fast for too long (it did not stop us from trying though). Béla pointed out orchards, long-horn cows, and the Hungarian "mountains" (parentheses because the highest point in Hungary is just over 3,300 feet--by contrast Mt. McKinely is over 20,000 ft).
Soon, we turned down yet another road. This one:

Yup, actually a road there. Kind of. The GPS showed a rutted mud path that crossed our road. . .but not this. So we drove for another few kilometers and eventually turned off. "Asvanviz." I was told as he held up a bottle of water. (A clue?) We drove up to a guard house and were pointed around a corner to a big warehouse.

Béla got out and went to find someone. I stayed and waited. A short time later, a forklift buzzed up to the van with a pallet of bottles of juice and water. Asvanviz! They unloaded the pallets, filling the floor of the giant van with packages of bottles. He signed some papers, and off we went. Back over the meadow road. Back over the giant pothole. Back to the round-a-bout. This time to Szolnok.
Of course, this road took us through every tiny village along the way. It was actually nice to see them, my students are from many of them and the train doesn't usually go through such tiny places. Béla explained the meanings of the town names and about some of the churches.
Eventually, we pulled back into Újszász about 7 at night (good thing I had cancled all of my lessons in advance), stopped at the bakery and went to school to deliver all of the drinks.
The trip was long (5 and a half hours!), but in the end, I got the ticket changed (finally) and got to see some of the "exotic" Hungarian country side along the way

On a completly unrelated sidenote, the guardhouse had this type of broom, which I love. You take small bundles of twigs and fasten them between the clamps at the bottom. I snapped the photo when Béla was out with the guard,checking us out of the beverage compound

Thursday, March 19, 2009

10 d. . .How you confuse me. . .

I never exactly know how to get my head around 10 d. Half of the class is just hopeless.. . .some of the kids are great, but as a whole. . .pheeehhlsshsh is about all I can say. I'm not really sure how to say it, though. But today's half of the class. . . they are often too talkative to get much done, but a few of them just like to chat with me. Which is nice. They ask about anything and everything. Maybe they are trying to avoid work. . .but at least they are practicing English.

This is pretty much the conversation. You may want to skip it, but it was the most interesting thing that happened today. .. and they are actually fun to just talk to (I did clean up their English though)
Today's topics:

Why did you go to Kassa?
Did you take the train?
How long did it take?
How much was the train trip?
(Which seems forward, but I guess they were curious after hearing I was on the train for about 7 hours each way. Anything over three and they I am told the destination is far away. Luckily, there is a special ticket from Miskolc to Kassa, so the price didn't seem absurd to them)
One student told me he was going to California this summer. I told him it is very nice there, but will probably be quite warm.
Can you get a "sun braise" there?
First we established sun burn vs. sun tan. They were astonished that I burn despite wearing "sun-milk" over "number 15."
What number do you wear then?
More shock when I told them at least 30, but up to 50 or 75.
You go to California?
No. I tried to explain that America is very big, so it is hard to travel to all of the states, but when someone's concept of "far away" is three hours in a train, nothing I say can really register.
Have you met any famous people?
Not Pink or Brittany Spears or Madanno?
Shaq or Kobe Bryant?
Why not?
Again, floundering for explanation. . .I'm pretty sure they picture famous people strolling around ALL OVER America. But then again, all of America probably looks like southern California.
Have you met George Bush?
Good. He is a monkey. (Smart kids, no?) Barack Obama?
Kind of. A long time ago when he wasn't important.
Did you get a photo or a sign? (signature)
No. Then, it was Barack Obama?!? Who is that? Why shake his hand? But the GOVERNOR! Look!
He is the one with the ugly hair?
Yes. (I was REALLY impressed that they knew about this at all)
But no photo with Obama?
That was stupid.
I know.
Is Obama a Gypsy?
Wha?. . No.
Then what makes him?
His father is from Africa, his mother is white.
An Afro-American?. . .Good.
Yes. (They ALL say "Afro-American" I'm not really sure where they got it from, I guess it is better than some of the other choices I've been working them away from)
He is tall?
And married?
With a Gypsy?
Umm. . .No.
She has a good dress.
I think so too.

We eventually got to the lesson about shopping, which went surprisingly well. We're doing vocab and basic questions this week. . .next week will be a role-play or game. Once we learn the vocab, we play BINGO. . .the kids have no idea what this is. It is interesting trying to teach a game that just. . .is. I mean, who doesn't know BINGO? So we go step by step, first just cover up the words when I say them. Usually someone shouts out BINGO to EVERY word that is on the paper. Good opportunity to explain how to make a BINGO and about the Free Space. Then, one of the best students will say the words in Hungarian. Then I'll say them in a sentence so they have to pick them out. Then onto definitions. Everyone is a little confused at first, but we get straightened out quite quickly and, hey! with a piece of AMERICAN CANDY for the prize. . .who wouldn't want to play?
Ok. . .so I suck at keeping the blog updated. Not for lack of time . . .more of pure laziness. I certainly think about updating it. Sometimes I even write a new entry that I never get around to posting--usually ones I typed up during a break at school and just forget about. So, now more for my own benefit than anyone else's, there will be a deluge of back entries. Just a warning, I guess. . .

Mariapocs Ball Feb.14

The weekend after my School Leavers' Ball, several of us headed up to Mariapocs for Tara's school's ball. At just over 2,000 people, Mariapocs is one of the smallest villages CETP has teachers in . . .which makes it a treat to get to. I left right after school on Friday afternoon, planning to take the nicer, faster InterCity--I even had my seat reservation! Of course, the train from Ujszasz was late and the IC pulled away litterally as I set foot on its platform. Luckily, there was a slow train a short time later and I made it to Nyiergyhaza in perfect time to catch the bus to Mariapocs with Tara and Margie.

For dinner, we indulged in tacos (!) and for breakfast, pancakes (!!). Other than that, not much happened. . .we complained about the snow (which hadn't let up for a full day),slid in the snow, took a tour of Mariapocs (meaning we looked at the outside of the famous church and went to the CBA, and relaxed.

The Greek Catholic church in Mariapocs. There is
usually a famous painting of Mary that hangs here, a
copy of one, rather. The original supposedly wept, so the
Hapsburgs took it to Austria. A copy was made and
hung in the church. Before long, they say it wept too!

Emily and Briggi showed up in the early afternoon. We watched it snow. And complained about the snow (going on day three). Finally, it was time to get ready for the ball. Here is our little group (minus Margie, the picture taker) ready to head out. Luckily, Tara lives just across the street from her school and we didn't have to walk very far in the slush.

Once at the ball, we were shown to our table by the eighth year waiters and had barely sat down when two students arrived with trays of alcohol. Confused, and not having looked at the menu, we said that we didn't need anything, thanks. Within 5 minutes, the kids were back saying the headmaster had told them to bring us the trays! Breezers, Tokaji wines, mineral waters, and an entire bottle of Jagermeister (ick).

Each class performed a dance--most were quite impressive--an aerobics routine by the seventh year students, Tara's class (and Tara) hokey-pokeyed in English, and the eigth year students performed a waltz (complete with matching ball gowns)

Tara leads her class of 7 out to sing

The rest of the night was good fun--typical buffet dinner, the teachers of the school all sung for us--and encouraged everyone to sing along, along with dancing and a raffle. I won a vase that I left for Tara.

The next day, Sanyi was nice enough to give us a lift to the train station (3 km out of town and it still hadn't fully stopped snowing). However, due to the fact that the entire station was competely abandoned, nothing at all was shoveled. Meaning 1) we had to push Sanyi's car to help him get out again and 2) getting to the actual platform was an adventure. We figured the easiest way was to try to walk along the rails--totally easy carrying bags and wearing slippery soled shoes. Needless to say, we all ended up in the snow more than once--still it was better than trudging through it the whole way.

We were in for surprise when the train finally arrived--I've never seen one with just one small car before! The commuter trains in my area are usually two cars that are twice as long as this one. The conductor was luckily quite amused us all shooting photos of the train. Moreover, due to the state of the tracks and remoteness of the town, Tara has been told that it is actually the slowest train in the country! We got a really thorough look at the countryside (it finally stopped snowing). Unfortunately, novelty to us is Tara's daily routine. . . I have to say, I'm glad it's not my train .

School Leavers' Ball--Feb.7

For months, I have been hearing stories about and looking at pictures of the School Leavers' Balls from my friends' various secondary schools. Although my kids compared it to prom, this seemed to be correct insofar as everyone got all dressed up. Everyone's school is, of course, a little bit different from the rest, but for the most part the pattern seems to be:
+spend months practicing a choreographed dance
+most include a fun class dance and a waltz
+girls rent wedding dresses and sport a warehouse worth of glitter and hairspray
+boys rent tuxes
+families attend the ball

Because of the cost associated with the clothes and choreographer, the waltz isn't required, though it seems most participate. Gyuri doesn't particularly like that they spend so much money on everything and has done what he can to make the whole thing cheaper. . .but like prom at home, it keeps getting fancier and fancier and the dance is a tradition.

Although some schools rent out spaces in hotels or community centers, I live in Ujszasz (and the restaurant isn't open that late :-P), so ours was in the Auyla (ceremony hall) of our school. The balcony was packed and my usual hiding spot was taken, so Maria, Adi, and I found a space under the stairs that had an unobstructed (if side) view.

First, 12 B,C, and D did their choreographed waltz, followed by 12 A. Then each group did their "fun" dance. While one group performed, the other did a quick change between the two costumes. Either to demonstrate this talent OR make sure we didn't miss a second of the performances, each dance was performed twice. (Meaning 12 B,C,D waltz, 12 A waltz, 12 BCD class dance, 12A fun dance, repeat the order . . .not each twice in a row). Why three classes were combined and 12A was by themself. . .dunno--it is a bigger class than the others, I guess they had more that wanted to participate.

It was fun to see my students all spruced up--quite a change from the day to day (the schools don't have even a loose dress code). It was also cute to see some of my "coolest" students so worried about the perfect twirl, curtsey, and counting all the steps.

After the dance, we all sat down to dinner, with 11th year students acting as waiters. It was the usual "banquet" affair of dry chicken, rice, vegetables. This being Hungary, there was also a second piece of meat (pork?), amazing desserts, and hazi palinka. The last was only really allowed because the teachers sat upstairs in the teachers' hallway while the students and their families used to eat in the Auyla. (I guess they used to eat together, but the event grew too big, so the teachers had to retreat).

After dinner, there was a disco for the families and students. The teachers mainly watched from the stairs. It was fun to see the students with their little sibilings and parents and students shyly ask their various teachers to dance. There were (of course) random bouts of folk dancing to pop/techno music by students and parents alike. I was about to go home, when one of my 12 A students asked me to dance. I tried to say no (in class, I had told them I would stand by the walls to hold them up), but he argued that he used good English and it was his School Leavers' Ball--I couldn't argue with that. I ended up being taken to dance with the entire class in a big circle. Cool. I could handle that. Then he dragged me into the middle of the entire class. And they started chanting my name. He asked me if it was worth a 5. I told him maybe a 2. Soon enough, the torture was over as another group dance began. It was that "train" song they had us do in Transylvania--backwards, forewards, through the tunnel. . .apparently it is actually real. . .EVERYONE participated. . .especially amusing to watch the girls (now in party dresses) to manage the various instructions.

I ended up staying much later than I had planned--I kept being asked to dance by various students, even some kids that barely say 2 words in class (despite my best attempts)--talk about a long 3 minutes! I eventually found refuge by dancing/standing next to some of my 11D girls who had left their posts in the cloakroom to come enjoy the party.

The next week, several asked me if I had fun, liked the dresses, the dances, the food; Gergly asked me about the 5. I brought photos of prom so we could talk about the differences. Nearly all classes thought there was good and bad in both. They liked the prom dresses, but are drawn to the white ones (tradition), they like performing for their parents, but would like a place to have a formal dance without them, restaurants are mostly only for VERY special occasions, so this seemed to set the event apart as well. For once, I tended to agree with almost everything that was said.

I've posted a few of my photos below. The rest of the photos from the night can be found here. The color is a little off because I was sitting so far off to the side in the shadows facing a really bright flood light.

Gyuri watches the dance from the sides

12 B,C,D

Some of my 12A students

The lift was a big crowd favorite. 12A

My 12A girls finish their fun dance.

Eger Weekend--January 15-17

After a long week at school (the kids are alreading groaning about how they want spring to be here. . .and then asking me to go make a snowman), I set off Friday afternoon for Briggi's house in Heves. Hanna joined us a short time later and we spent the evening eating, chatting, and watching the ::ahem::amazing Hungarian film Kontroll. We fell asleep about halfway through without ever finding out who was pushing people onto the tracks.

The next morning, we were up early-ish and caught a bus to Eger to meet Alvin, Lauren, and Lyla. About 40 minutes into our trip a voice from behind us asked "may I ask where you are from?" We ended up spending the rest of the trip talking to Zsuzsi, an English teacher at a primary school in Heves. She and Briggi exchanged numbers so they could meet up sometime and the three of us went to grab coffee and a bagel (!) and wait for the rest to get in.

After they arrived, we strolled around the city a bit, peeking into a beautiful church and admiring the cathedral. Eventually, we decided to climb up the minaret, the northernmost intact piece of archetecture remaining from the Turkish occupation. It was a long 97 steps up--uneven, narrow, spiral steps--that brought us out onto a balcony no more than two feet wide encircling the minaret. Even Briggi, who fears spiral, narrow, handrail-less stairs made it all the way up (Unfortunately for my hand, I was wearing rings as she held on to crawl out onto the platform!) Still, goal accomplished!

A blurry shot of the minaret from the castle. . .
it is as narrow as it looks!

Me at the top of the minaret with the castle in the background

When we came down from the minaret, it was time to explore the castle and warm up by drinking some foralt bor (five o'clock somewhere). The castle offered some stunning views of the city. Shortly after the photo below was taken, however, we were scolded by the security guard for climbing on the walls. Ten minutes later he called us over--we were out what else we had done wrong--but he instead told us about where to find the entrance for the labrynth tours that were held on the grounds. Nifty.
Hanna, Alvin, Lyla, Lauren, Briggi, and Tara breaking the rules

Peaking over the castle walls

The rest of the afternoon was equally as awesome. We had lunch at a palicsinta restaurant were where everyone gorged them selves on (whatelse) giant palicsnita. After lunch, we were off to the Valley of the Beautiful Women, an area with dozen and dozens of wine cellars. We sampled some of the best as we gossiped and laughed the evening away.

Headed into the last wine cellar, much fancier than most.
And most importantly...a castle!

Over all, an absolutely wonderful weekend (and one that was badly needed). Thanks for hosting, Briggi!

Tata--Jan. 9

The weekend after school started up again (and Jon left :-( ), we headed out to visit Carla in Tata. It was great to get to see many people I hadn't seen since orientation in August and a little more of the country.

I met Tara and Briggi in Budapest and we set off. The first thing we noticed was the amazingly nice train that we took. . .we have a mostly substantiated theory that the newest trains start in the west and gradually are moved west as they age. Each time I've gone west, I've been more or less astounded that the seats aren't covered in vinel, the cars are air conditioned, and the doors are automatic.

Tara and I enjoy the fancy-dancy train.

When we got to Tata, we successfully found the bus to Carla's with only minimal confusion about where to get off. (Unfortunately, Rob suffered worse than we did--dead phone, got off the bus at the wrong stop, too many round-a-abouts--luckily, a random stranger let him borrow his phone for a few minutes until Carla could find him). We relaxed at Carla's for a bit, indulging in her amazing tortillini soup, and catching up. After a bit, we went on a walking tour of Tata. It was chilly outside, but a beautiful city!

Rob, Megan, Briggi, Tara, and me enjoying the city

Carla showed us one of the lakes in Tata. Her office looks out over it! The lake was frozen, so we walked a ways on it and watched various hockey games/skating lessons/etc. that were going on.

Carla, Briggi, Tara, and Rob respond to "Hey, everyone turn around!"

After the walk, we decided to grab an early dinner at Carla's hated/beloved Pirate bar. Megan, who had spent the previous night in Tata decided to stay another night after the train station wouldn't accept credit cards, so she re-met us there. Dinner was absolutely phenomenal. . .as was the palacsinta dessert.

Back at Carla's we tried to play cards, but ran into a lot of "house rules" that we thought were everyone's rules. We played anyway. . .although who needs an excuse for Boros Cola? A bit later, we headed out to a bar which Carla's students told her was more for people "her age." It was good fun. . .a rediculous band playing a mixture of Hungarian and English songs and overly aggressive Hungarian men. Megan picked up a gaggle of groupies, Tara had her shoulder kissed, someone grabbed my wrist and demanded I dance--when he tried to pull me, he saw a ring I was wearing and shouted "nem jo!" We got home at a semi-reasonable time (2ish .. .3ish. .. dunno).

The next morning (much too early, thanks to Carla's cat Boo and all of us existing on Teacher Time), Carla whipped up a mean French Toast and we chatted some more. Briggi, Tara, and I headed back to Budapest kind of early--Tara with a long distance to cover and me drowning in lesson plans and ignored grading.

A great weekend with people I don't see nearly enough of!


Before everyone left for his or her particular holiday trip, we all realized that Tara and Margie landed in Budapest literally minutes before Jon and I flew in from Istanbul. Not yet sure whether or not the train strike would resolve by then and wanting to enjoy the holiday in the city, we booked a hostel and decided to meet on the airport bus.

The hostel was only a short walk from Nyugati, so it was super easy to reach from the airport. We did have a little bit of a panic when the lady at the reception told us that "everything that is left is on the third level, so you'll have to climb a ladder to get in." We didn't realize she was talking about luggage lockers and not our beds until she gave us the tour of the hostel!

While we were lucky not to have to climb into bed via rickety ladder, we did have to somehow balance four people's vacation packs in a locker above our heads. Being tall, this job fell to Jon. Lucky him. Seeing the somewhat comical balancing act, another someone walking by dubbed it "the Jenga".

We ate at a Mexican restaurant before setting off to explore a bit. Unfortunately, the freezing temperatures kept our explorations quite short. After a bit, we headed back to the hostel to warm up and relax until closer to midnight. Around 11:30, we went back out to the square to join in the festivities. There was a ska-ish band, fireworks being lit off from everywhere (not just black cats and bottle rockets, either!) and, of course, absolutely no restrictions on open containers. We joked titling the night "Stuff that's More than Likely Not Legal at Home." We found a decent place from which to watch the shenanigans (and keep a bit of a distance) and counted down to the new year.

Margie and Tara shortly before midnight

Margie and me

Fireworks set off from the middle of the crowd

Jon and me at midnight. Not bad considering we went to sleep at like 10 last year.

Christmas at Home

More playing catch-up from forever ago. . .I'll get there evenutally. .. maybe even before I leave!

Christmas this year was nice--quiet and at home and with one of my favorite people. I decorated the flat with tiny trees and lights I found in the closet and made obscene amounts of cookies. All in all, I think the tree looked quite cute, spruced up with too many lights and surrounded by packaged wrapped in ridiculous bags I found in a cupboard and those sent from family at home.

Due to the train strike, Jon and I spent his first night here in a hostel in Budapest and headed back the next day. By then the strike had been put on hold for the holidays, so trains were starting to run on a semi-regular schedule. Either because of my extreme concern or cruelty in relation to helping him get past jet lag, we met Emily and Tomi in Szolnok later that night for dinner and dropped by Interspar for some last minute shopping.
On Christmas Eve, we made a delicious, if not wholly holiday appropriate feast of latkes and matzo ball soup while listening to Christmas music. Nothing like a Muppets Christmas Carol to set the mood! We gorged ourselves on the requisite things fried in oil for Hanukkah and exchanged the lamest of our gifts for each other to celebrate. . .the third night, I think. . .he gave me a photo album that was originally for my birthday, but never finished and he chose to open the pair of socks. To my credit, they are a really awesome argyle pair, but I cringe to think that we've already gotten to the point that socks seems like a perfectly acceptable gift. To help both of us, it definitely got better from there. :-)

Our Christmas Eve feast. . .

It started snowing that evening, the second actual snow of the year. When we woke up the next day, everything was beautifully covered in a layer of new snow. . .not too much, no wind, relatively warm. . .couldn't ask for better Christmas weather!

We made a good Christmas dinner with green bean casserole, carrots, breads, and the tiniest ham. . .I think it was just under half a kilo! Perfect for the two of us! Especially considering we were leaving the next day for Turkey, we had to cook the meal with no left overs. . .We had a relaxing day of cooking, watching bad TV on DVD, and finishing up packing. A little more low key than normal, but overall, a perfect Christmas day!

Christmas at School

The day classes ended for winter break, we ended had our Ribbon Pinning/Christmas program. It was interesting to watch everything, though I couldn't get very good photos because 9A invited me to sit with them in the front row--too close to the action for good shots! But here is what I got.

This is the tree that appeared the week before "decorated to all of its tinsel-y glory" as one teacher told me. Hehe. It was interesting. It appeared one day, was set up on the table the next, and was decorated two days later. There were a few real trees that appeared throughout the school. One in the cafeteria (much more tastefully decorated than this one) along with small wreath and candle table decorations, a fake one near the teachers' room, and one in 12 C's class room. (I was teaching my secretaries one Friday and heard a comotion in the hallway. At the end of class, I went out to see a trail of pine needles, the tree and a HACHET lying on the ground near the front door! The next day, I noticed the new, fully, decorated addition to their room. ..they were VERY proud). Additionally, a small advent wreath appeared in about half of my rooms, which the students would sometimes light between classes (I have a feeling it was more the chance to play with fire than anything else)

From what I've gathered from some of the other teachers, ribbon pinning ceremonies seem to be quite a big deal. However, Gyuri got angry at the way the parents behaved during the ceremony, so he decided to have it with the Christmas program.Instead of having each student presented individually, we did it all at once. Each of the four 12th year classes stood in two rows on either side of half of an 11th year class. When the word was given, the 11th year students pinned the 12th year to their right, gave them a book and a puszi and then did the same to the student to their left.

Lighting the advent wreath.
(What, you mean, this wouldn't happen at a public school in the US?)

After the ceremony, we got on with the Christmas program. The kids did sort of a mini-story about a Christmas tree who was sad because no one would take him to there homes. A group of teachers sang some songs (okay, A LOT of songs), there were some more performances by the kids and we were done. Afterwards, it was kind of nice, because nearly all of the teachers and kids went to eat together in the cafeteria, which rarely happens.

It's Really Cool to be Able to Say Things Like "Oh, I'm taking a quick weekend trip to Vienna."

Because our contracts give us the long Thanksgiving weekend off, Jake and Ellen generously opened their giant Pest apartment to hoards of CETPers along with several Poles, Hungarians, etc. There was, of course, more food than even we could manage--turkey (giant turkey breasts, not whole turkeys), potaotes, vegetables, stuffings, and on and on. Everything was amazing, and the company was better.

With three days left in my weekend, I decided that a quick trip to Vienna was in order. Only three hours from Budapest and with a special round-trip ticket price that included public transportation in the city, it was the perfect weekend escape.

So, I left BP early Friday morning, getting to Vienna shortly before lunch. On the train, I sat in a car with a Hungarian family who stared at me suspiciously for a bit before pulling out their sandwiches. At the border crossing, we switched conductors for a new Austrian crew, one of whom kept yelling at the family for not having their tickets filled out correctly. They didn't speak German, and took the "if I talk louder and more slowly" approach to explaining the problem. That always works well. He left abrubtly and they started asking me paniced questions in very fast Hungarian. I answered the best I could and we went back to sitting in silence. The man came back, yelled some more, shook my ticket at them (right?) and disapeared. Eventually, the father went into the corridor for a phone call and the mother in search of the dining car, which left me sitting with the son. He discovered I spoke English. We made small talk. He asked weird questions. The mother came back, discovered us talking, found out I was American, told me she has a brother in California (left in '56) and asked about my marital status, age, job, education, and family. She "suggested" we exchange email addresses and MSN names.

In Vienna, I found my hostel a short walk from the station and checked in and started playing tourist. The first stop was Schönbrunn Palace. This was probably one of my favorite things to tour. The gardens were spectacular (of course my camera battery died before I could get a photo) and the front courtyard had a Christmas market set up.

That was all there was really time do to that day, so I bought some pasta and sauce to cook back at the hostel. It was SOO cold in the room! I slept with my hat, three layers of tops, and two pairs of socks and my coat as an extra blanket. The next day, I headed out for some more exploring.

St. Stephen's was absolultely stunning. Getting there before most of the crowds was an added bonus. As I was leaving the sanctuary, about 75 people were lined up to come in

I decided to climb to the top of the main tower. . .some 600 stairs, I think. One tall, spiral, handrail-less staircase. There was a group of Hungarians behind me who were providing running commentary on the extent of the torture. The view from the top was beautiful despite the thick, low clouds.

After surviving the descent (passing people who were going up was quite a treat), I headed over to the Hoffburg.

By the time I finished, it was starting to get dark, so I grabbed dinner and went to go find yet another Christmas market. I had read a lot about the one in front of City Hall (which is Rathaus in German ::snicker::) The whole area was beautifully decorated with lights and decorations--a little train ran around the perimeter (Polar Express) and there was a Advent Calendar in the windows of the building.

The sign over the main entrance to the market. Hehe. I might be three sometimes.

By this time I was feeling both tired and ill, so I headed back to the hostel and had a miserable rest of the evening. I had caught the same plauge that several teachers seemed to come down with that weekend. You know, share and share a like, I guess. I made it back, was taken to the store for bread and milk and scolded for coming to school the next day. That part of the not-so-exciting tale is completed here.

Despite the rather miserable end to the weekend, it was a great time. And it IS really cool to do things like run to Vienna for the weekend. And as hokey as it sounds, it is also cool to do it by myself. . .I've never really been a solo-trip type of gal, but it was fun, nothing bad happened, and I checked off another country.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I am such a pushover

Yesterday, I was getting ready to do to my second to last class of the day (the terrors of 12 C) when three of my favorite students from the last class of the day (the usually fun 10 a) cornered me. Essentially, they told me that the rest of their class had gone home (not surprising--those kids skip all the time), they didn't have a class during this (7th) period, they had a big test to study for the next day, and had already talked to their form teacher and could they please go home? To their credit, they promised they would come to the other half of the class' lesson on Tuesday (which did impress me a little). Unfortunately, I am going to BP today to try to get a debacle straightened out at the airport, so I won't have class with that section today ether.

I was more or less sideswiped by the question. . . .just asking to cancel class?!? It is hard to run class with only 3 students, especially when I had planned to give a small test and present new vocab that would be the basis of the next few weeks. And, being way to soft, I completely understood their point of view. I went back to the teachers' room in search of their ostályfőnök. She wans't there, so I went to the only teacher who spoke English, explained the situation. We agreed that it was frustrating for the teacher agreed that the class might be canceled before talking to me and said she didn't know what should be done. . .so we made up our own rules.

In the end, I gave the students a homework assignment that the entire class must do, whether they skipped or not. If the assignment was not turned in, it would be a one. The kids seem so clueless about any sort of current events, I told them to find one news story and write a one paragraph summary and one paragraph opinion. I thought it would be a little time consuming, but easy enough. Mária laughed when I told her about it--she said it was a good assignment, but would be difficult--not because of the English, but because the students "don't seem to have any opinions of their own." We will see. These kids are pretty smart. . .they've just never been taught critical thinking skills that American schools seem to spotlight from kindergarden through university.

Maybe I shouldn't have let them go. . .I probably shouldn't have let them go. At home it never would have flown, ever. But here, students have free hours and (at least at my school) if a teacher suddenly must miss class, it is simply canceled (I know some schools do substitutes from within the other teachers). If anyone deserves a break, it is these three. They participate, never miss class, and are willing to work. C'est la vie. Besides, I already warned them I get to hold this over their heads now. They agreed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'm probably overthinking this all. . .but the grammar lover in me can't let it go. . .

I sometimes help correct one of the English teacher's homework for a university class that she takes. I often feel bad in the process because I know the teacher will see one true correct answer in the assignment when there just isn't one. I am left explaining how the particular question doesn't really matter and that my answer may or may not be correct.

For example: Both . . . and . . . woman were taken to . . . hospital.
You are supposed to fill in either a definite or indefinite article (THE or AN/A). . .the problem is that both work depending on context. Are you talking about a particular boy/woman/hospital or some random folks and any hospital? Her teacher however, will see only one correct answer.
I wear . . .fur coat in . . .winter and . . .rain-coat in. . .autumn.
The blanks before the coats could be filled with either A or THE. . .are we talking generally about coats or looking at a few and offering explanation? Do I need to specify "the winter" or "the autumn?" Both sound correct.

There was one that made me almost smirk. The passage was talking about a house that would not sell. One of the sentences : "I don't know what price the owners are asking, but Dry and Rot are the realtors. You should give them a ring."

Friday, March 6, 2009

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day! Actually it is on the 8th, but that being Sunday, we celebrate today.
Women's Day started in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America and was a way to bring light to the politica, social, and economic achievements of women, as well as the challenges they faced. For example it came to commemorate the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and promoted voting rights and decent working conditions, and was used as a platform for peace marches during wars, etc. The day dwindled in the '20s, but was revived by a wave of feminism in the '60s. A Soviet feminist eventually persuaded Lenin that the day should be a national holiday to mark the achievement, patriotism, and efforts of Soviet women. And as Soviet Russia went, so did the rest of the socialist world.
Although originally highly political, the day eventually lost this feeling and became a day for men to honor the women in their lives--giving flowers, small gifts, and cards--similar to Mother's Day. Some countries have attempted to ban the celebration of IWD due to its Socialist roots (Czech Republic) by introducing Mother's Day. Although this new day was embraced, celebrations of IWD still often occur on March 8.

Ani wrote me an email the other day to warn me about the day (her son is out of school with a bad case of the chicken pox). I say warn , because some teachers have been caught off guard--presented with flowers with no explanation.

My phone was being sketchy last night, so I sent an SMS asking for a friend to call and make sure I was awake. .. good thing too, because the alarm didn't sound. So, I rushed to school and got to the teacher's room as the bell was sounding. There, a couple of students were waiting. I asked which teacher they needed and they stammered "Umm. . .you? Women's Day. Happy Women's Day." And gave me a yellow rose.

After the second class, our break is a bit longer. A couple of boys from one of my most difficult classes stopped me to give me a carnation. We were herded into the confrence room where cakes, juice, and breads were laid out with table cloth. The secretaries, kitchen ladies, and cleaning ladies crowded in with us. Robi delivered a short speech. . .I zoned out, but the last line was "Women are wonder itself." The male teachers handed out beautiful plants. . .They have tiny little roses and dozes and dozens of buds. That is a terrible description. I'll try to take a photo. Hopefully I can keep it alive. Gyuri told us to eat. . . .then Iréne stepped forward to say thank you for everything. . . it was quite a speech in itself and we were hungry. We ate and chatted. My next class was canceled due to an English exam.

I'm not laden with bouquets lake some of the teachers, but I was happy to get a few and the plant is very nice. A couple of teachers had taken the time to explain it to me, each beginning with telling me that is a holdover from the soviet times. . . .but it is good, so it is kept. There seem to be a few holidays like that--ones that are originally socialist, but people like them, so they are still celebrated. Always, seemingly with the caveat "it is from the socialist times, but it is good. . ."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I wish they would get it together. . . .

I've complained about Júlia, the language school lady being pushy and bossy and demanding. But at least she is consistent. Right now, I about love her. The past two weeks, the company I teach at canceled their lessons about two o'clock the same day. This is frustrating on many. Levels--that I prep lessons that I don't need, that I have to go to Szolnok to teach one hour instead of 3. When she called to tell me that they canceled again today, I reminded her of our agreement that I should be informed no later than ten in the morning the same day. She agreed and told me that the next time we meet, she will pay me the two weeks back pay. So that is 10000 Huf for doing absolutely nothing except prepping the lessons. She is going to talk to the company to see if they actually should be studying right now anyway, if they keep canceling and will let me know next week. Either way, she may have a new group for me to teach starting at the end of the month.
The extra lessons can be a lot of work, especially because I must go all the way to Szolnok and prep business English lessons, but it is nice to get to teach students who genuinely want to learn.