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I’m so glad you’re here!

Welcome! Üdvözöljük! באַגריסן! ברוך הבא! Добро пожаловать!

(Am I missing a language above that you’d like to see? Let me know!)

This is a blog dedicated to my year in the Fulbright US Student Program as an English Teaching Assistant in Eger, Hungary. I’ll be sharing my experience with you all in regular posts about travelling, living in Hungary, teaching at a university, and applying for nationally competitive awards.

This blog is: a personal collection of my thoughts, experiences, and perspectives through writings, photos, and videos.

This blog is not: an official site of the Fulbright Program or U.S. Department of State, and does not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

I am deeply grateful for this opportunity through the Fulbright Program. I hope to use this blog not only to connect with family and friends back in the US (and in other parts of the world!), but to encourage all students and prospective applicants to apply for a Fulbright. It is a life-changing opportunity that this state-school-graduate-who-has-barely-left-New-York will treasure forever, informing my professional and personal trajectory.

How is it already February?

Thanks for your patience for these past few months. But I’m here, emerging victoriously from a far-too-long winter hiatus, just in time as the winter chill in the air slowly dissipates and makes room for much needed, very welcomed sunshine…

I’m not great with downtime. I’m a person who thrives on structure, routine- I’d never say monotony- but I do appreciate a color-coded calendar and do my best to follow a datebook diligently. I finished the first semester of teaching here in Eger at the end of December, and spent the majority of January burrowed away in my apartment, fighting off an unknown respiratory illness (not COVID- I don’t think) and enjoying time with my ever-supportive partner who came to visit for an entire month. (Come back, be here, would you?) Leisurely walks by the Eger patak, weekends in Budapest at the Flipper Museum and playing VR games, mad-dashes to Spar and Tesco to fill my kitchen with the joyful sounds and aromas of home-cooked meals, seventeen rounds in a row of the same card game and having to devise new house rules… it wasn’t all bad. It is difficult to travel during a pandemic, and I do regret my immune system and seasonal depression conspiring against my desires to get out into the world and just be. Nevertheless, we are back!

I’ll sheepishly admit that I had no idea when I was supposed to actually start teaching again, and my American-centric brain was adamant that I started at the end of January. The unexpected two weeks of preparation was spent organizing my files, rearranging my calendar, and wondering where the time has gone since my first steps in Hungary back in September.

I took a quick trip to Budapest and Debrecen (the two largest cities in Hungary) before my first day of teaching, so let me lay out a rough sketch of the five days leading up to my heroic return to the whiteboard:

  • Drinks at ruin pubs and wine bars full of history and life. Being mistaken for students by fellow Americans enjoying their cocktails. Realizing my stand-up comic voice kicks in after the second glass of sauvignon blanc. Wondering when I became the kind of person who ordered sauvignon blanc.
  • Strolling around art museums, taking in the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and intention in every piece. Loving geometric art, seeing the word Gestalt for the first time since undergrad, picking up pieces of Hungarian vocabulary from placards.
  • Pure joy at watching ducks skid across icy ponds and sumberging themselves in cool waters for afternoon baths.
  • Late night talks (and surprisingly good empanadas) with people who truly get it, letting my American accent roll quickly off my tongue and filling the room with laughter over the most niche vocabulary and statements
  • Being deeply moved by the resonance of source recordings of Hungarian folk songs.
  • Being deeply embarrassed by my lack of rhythm and skill at the Tánc Ház, where I reckoned with the fact that Transylvanian dancing does not come easily to me.
  • Long train rides watching the land roll by, burning orange and pink sunsets pressed behind wisps of clouds effortlessly dangling above the horizon.

I’m back to sitting at my desk in the office, surrounded by piles of handouts and worksheets and a re-found sense of purpose. I feel reinvigorated and excited for the coming months. I’ve gained enough footing here to be able to venture out alone, make plans, and actually keep them. I’m missing New York like crazy, but I’m so determined to make the most of the remainder of my time here because I have a feeling it’ll just fly by.

It’s a packed semester for sure. I’m teaching Upper Intermediate English and Community Organizing again. Each and every one of my students is a rockstar. They come in, introduce themselves, (some with the preferred name “Mr. Perfection”), and admit to being anxious and excited. And I share that eager, yet nervous energy, because I don’t want to fail them.

I’ve changed my perception of the concept of failing dramatically since coming here. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding failure like it’ll kill me, and in doing so, I rarely took risks. I thought this defense mechanism kept me strong and confident, but in reality, it meant I was missing out on some of the richest experiences. I wish I had taken more challenging courses in undergrad and studied disciplines outside of my major. I wish I had put myself out there socially and didn’t give in to the anxiety. I see this in my students, maybe ten-fold, in the way they stick to comfortable vocabulary when speaking to me, even though I know they understand my roundabout ways of getting to the point. I tell my students that we’re creating a “safe space” to fail together, to make mistakes in the classroom and say the wrong word and I mean wow that word is not what you think it means let’s get the laughter out and then move on or be met with a completely clueless blank expression or to reluctantly break out the translation app when we forget how to say shoelace. The space to make mistakes is not enclosed within four walls of a classroom streaming with the sun’s rays, but is limitless as long as we do the hard work of letting ourselves fail.

What else is on the docket this semester? Running Fulbright information sessions, private English classes for coworkers and their children, attending meetings at the Roma Residential College, an upcoming European Union and NATO Conference, supporting International Student Mentors, on the professional side of things. On the personal side of things, I’m hoping to spend a little bit of time exploring the EU on some weekend getaways, continuing to grab coffee and drinks after work with friends, going on hikes once the weather warms up, and improving my Hungarian. 

It’s going to fly by.

To compensate for my lack of an online pulse over the last two months, here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to.

In Gratitude

Alternative titles: Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Reflections

I’m nearing the end of my first three months in Hungary, and my blog seems to have taken a bit of a hiatus. That seems to take all of the ownership off of me, and onto this inanimate, non-sentient entity, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll admit- writing took a bit of a backseat in my priority list, but for every second that I’ve been here, I’ve been taking it all in and learning so much in the process.

Today, as I write this at almost 10 o’clock in the evening on November 25, in the US, my friends and family are settling into their places for Thanksgiving dinner, which typically starts at what I have always found to be an irrational dinner time, mid- to late-afternoon. Growing up, Thanksgiving wasn’t much of a holiday in my household- then again, few were- but I do have some fond memories of vegan mashed potatoes, store bought ice cream cakes with turkeys drawn in buttercream frosting, worn out jade green booths at diners in the later years when no one felt like cooking and my vegetarian rebellious adolescent self ordered a stack of chocolate chip pancakes…

The colonial and imperial weight of the day aside, it’s never a bad idea to display gratitude. I’m honored to get to share my experience abroad here with you, whoever you are that’s currently reading this.

I’m grateful for my walk to work every morning, a stroll down the Eger patak, and my pit stop for a kakaós csiga. For every time when I have to get the keys to my classroom to teach, even though I’ve rehearsed how to ask for the right room number in my head a thousand times, a kulcsot kéto száz egyes, kérek, the porters already have the key in hand when they see me walking over, remembering not only me but my room number.

For long talks on bus rides to Slovakia, full of hot political takes, swapping travel stories, and real, genuine laughter. For being able to say thank you for taking a chance on me and changing my life.

For new friends who embrace your differences over a shared love for something sweet after lunch. For friends who kill the ants in your apartment at 2 in the morning, expand your musical horizons, who are always on your team and make you feel less alone and more understood when everything around you is different, scary, exhilarating, and exhausting all at once.

For the random opera singer in the dog park on the last uncharacteristically warm autumn day.

For colleagues who never judge my pronunciation, always have the best snacks, and teach me about the world as they work tirelessly to send students on international adventures of their own.

For the trust of my students that I’ll spend forever working to build and keep, for students who have already taught me more than they’ll ever know. For students who show up in Halloween costumes to bring some of my favorite American cultural traditions here, who gift me with marzipan frogs and Eszterhazy torta, who push themselves and speak out loud even though it’s scary, who work so hard and handle a million different pressures and stressors and still make time for me and my class, who let me into their worlds. For students who feel comfortable enough to ask me about American stereotypes, to fake-laugh at my jokes, who let me say “I don’t know, but let me get back to you next class.”

For the most eccentric, kind-hearted, and brilliant Fulbright family. For walking through the Districts for Korean food, for looking for a bagel in Budapest on a Sunday morning, for air mattresses and turning up the thermostat by one more unbearable degree (Celsius, of course). For never going south of Prospect Park for good reason, and for having someone here who understands. For the Fulbright program bringing us around the country, packing our Fridays full of exciting tours, hearty meals, and community building.

For the sleepless nights when my body rejects Central European Time and begs to be back in New York City, for the loneliness that creeps in and makes me first question why I’m still here, and then reminds me that it’s so much bigger than me. For the friends that pick up the phone when I’m walking home and tell me about their days and everything they ate and the everyday and ordinary and mundane. For the everyday and the ordinary and the mundane that I didn’t think I’d miss.

For a love that has lasted years and will last forever and then some, for a love that supports me endlessly. For a love that you can fall in love with in any city, over and over again. For a love that radiates through texts, video chats, late-night-for-me-but-your-afternoon phone calls, and beams at you from across the airport.

For every person who has supported me on my journey, whether it was the countless essay drafts marked up and down with red pen, the recommendation letters written with intention and belief in me, the pep talks that I still remember years later, the kind smiles, offers to translate and read something for me, invitations to dinner, to the pub, to the grocery store, to a Latin dance class that I still haven’t been to yet but will absolutely go once it’s back on, for all of it.

I’m grateful for it all, and I’m grateful for you all.

Tanár és diák vagyok! (I am a teacher and a student!)

It’s been a month since I landed in Hungary, and there’s nothing quite like a worldwide Facebook and WhatsApp outage to make a girl sit down and write a blog post. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received from around the globe over the last few weeks- it’s made this exciting (and culture-shock inducing) experience all the more enjoyable. Here are some highlights before I launch into the main subject of this post and my primary purpose for moving here: teaching!

Over the last month (and in no particular order), I have:

  • Visited a winery and harvested grapes off the vine using pruning shears
  • Experienced a mix of emotions about pálinka and unicum
  • Learned how to order at restaurants in Hungarian
  • Gained an affinity for carbonated lemonade
  • Spent a day strolling and absorbing the beauty of Margaret Island
  • Befriended a chameleon named Benjamin at a Zoo Cafe
  • Rocked out at an electric LP concert in Budapest Park
  • Taken a million pictures of the Eger Eye aglow with myriad vibrant colors
  • Bonded with my coworkers in a private wine cellar over 10+ glasses of extremely good (finom!) wine
  • Became a part of a solid community of international (and Hungarian) educators

As I mentioned in my last post, I live in Eger, a charming city a little less than two hours outside of Hungary’s capital, Budapest. It’s really a beautiful place to live, with gorgeous cobblestone streets, buildings with pastel facades brimming with history, and an actual castle. I am truly living out my Disney princess dreams here. To get to my office each morning, I walk past a stream lined with delicate flowers, and pass by the main square, Dobó István tér, bustling with people. Sometimes I stop and grab a csokis croissant (chocolate croissant) and latte and marvel at how the city feels like the epitome of tranquility and liveliness at the same time.

I teach at Eszterhazy Karoly Katolikus Egyetem (Eszterhazy Karoly Catholic University) as a member of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I teach two classes: Upper Intermediate English and Community Organizing. In my English course, we focus on higher level content creation: storytelling, sophisticated sentence structure, and irregular verb conjugation, all alongside developing critical thinking and researching skills. I also try to incorporate USA-based content, like geography, demographics/stereotypes, and American culture themes in my lesson plans. For example, today we talked about parts of speech that lend themselves to idioms and common expressions. When we discussed irony and sarcasm, I played Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” from Jagged Little Pill to talk about irony in action. Though my class of Gen-Zers swore they hadn’t heard the song, once Alanis was belting out “It’s like raiiiiiiiiiin on your wedding day,” in the chorus, the class let out a resounding, “Oh!” that uniroinically brightened my day.

Community Organizing is a bit more difficult to describe- I think it’s a required class for many on the BA track at the University, and we focus on foundational language in community-based careers. I treat it as a sociology 101-type course, discussing leadership models, communication styles, and different aspects of culture.

Students in Hungary are typically more reserved and more reluctant to speak freely in a discussion-style course. (My English course is the opposite, actually, but I think it’s a fluke- albeit a very welcome fluke with endless chatter.) Lecturing for an hour and a half straight isn’t really my style, but I also don’t like long, awkward pauses, so I’ve adapted to cold-calling in my Community Organizing class when necessary- which is effective. All of my students (and I do mean all, and I feel very lucky to say that honestly) have engaged with me at some point in the classroom, and have demonstrated to me how curious, thoughtful, and intelligent they are.

Language learning is stressful; I’ve found that across the board, it can be intimidating to speak with me, a native English speaker, especially as their teacher. I firmly believe and try to remind my students that a conversation with me and any of our classroom dialogues are spaces where mistakes are welcome, patience and kindness and guaranteed, and genuine effort will be rewarded. I’m not there to be intimidating; I’m there to help students learn English and figure out who they want to be once they get their degrees.

I teach 3 class sessions a week, hold office hours, and am figuring out my schedule and additional commitments. I also take a Hungarian language course taught by my colleague in the department- it is very fun being a student again! Duolingo has sort of helped me learn Hungarian, and I’m learning ten times more in the classroom, but there’s nothing quite as effective at solidifying vocabulary than having to recall it because you need to at the grocery store or on the train.

I’m very fortunate for this opportunity to work with creative, inquisitive, and overwhelmingly good-hearted students and colleagues at this University. Teaching over the past month has been an absolute blast- I love standing in front of a classroom, cracking jokes, answering mind-blowingly smart questions, and watching students’ writing improve over the weeks. Making mistakes as a Hungarian student has been humbling and helps me be a better teacher- I’m grateful for the space to make errors and to learn from them.

Teaching and mentoring has always been a passion of mine, so getting to spend a year doing that here in this gorgeous country has been rewarding and humbling. I cannot wait to grow as a teacher and use these integral communication and boundary-breaking skills as I go forward in my career.

Here are some pictures to show you all what I’ve been up to!

Last week, my English class took me on a tour! I’ve been told I do a great job of blending in, and I look just like a student… (can you find me right away?)
Three cheers for new good friends + mojitos served in a soccer ball!
Margaret Island is just so pretty.
Made a new friend- Benjamin the Budapesti Chameleon! (Benjamin from Budapest)

Orientation Recap + Journey to Eger

Szia from Magyarország!
The TLDR (too long, didn’t read): I’m so, so happy I’m here.

Last week, I was able to spend a week getting to familiarize myself with Hungary and my Fulbright cohort through orientation. First, I need to shout out the fantastic commission. Not all countries have their own Fulbright commission, but Hungary does. The commission acts as its own body that oversees the Fulbright program in their specific country, and while I admit I may be biased, I’m pretty sure that ours is the best ever.

I’ll admit, I was incredibly nervous for orientation. I’ve had Fulbright Imposter Syndrome since I first applied for the award (the first time) back in 2018- never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d actually get it and be here. To say I was excited to meet the cohort was an understatement- I was buzzing with anticipation to meet the brilliant minds from a range of fields that would be undertaking innovative academic endeavors from performing arts, scientific research, college lectures, and more. It took a lot to remind myself that I had rightfully earned my spot amongst them. But this crew… I feel so blessed to have a cohort full of bright, kindhearted, compassionate, and fun souls. I am so grateful to be one of them, and it has given me so much confidence in myself.

Through lectures about Hungary through historical, cultural, and musical lenses (I have the Treaty of Trianon burned into my brain), meals with far less paprika than I had been expecting, and walks along cobblestoned pathways, it gradually set in that this would be my life for the next year. Going to visit the Buda Castle and the preserved buildings in Visegrád made everything seem like a fairytale, like my life could be a page in a Disney animator’s sketchbook. The United States is full of history, but the hegemonic viewpoint eliminates the indigenous legacy that truly belongs to the land. I am a Jewish American from New York City. I recognize my roots in bagel stores and Seinfeld reruns on TV. Seeing a standing castle and a preserved medieval church was so moving for me; it simultaneously made me feel like an insignificant blip in the timeline, and a prominent part of history for having had the opportunity to be a part of it.

By the end of orientation week, I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye. In just a few short days, I felt so connected to my cohort. I’m having serious FOMO (fear of missing out) for all the great happenings over in Budapest (though I can totally pass on the pálinka- seriously, don’t save any for me. I am not strong enough) but am welcoming you all to Eger with open arms.

Speaking of which… I would like to publicly announce that I live in a town that could have come right out of the page of a Disney animator’s sketchbook. Eger is an incredibly charming town about two hours to the northeast of Budapest. While I haven’t been able to fully explore the town (even though it’s pretty small, I spent my first weekend here holed up in my flat with a cold), from what I’ve seen, it’s absolutely breathtaking. The buildings, from commercial to residential, are brightly colored, people are kind, and there are at least four different places for ice cream within a 10 minute walk from both my apartment and my office.

I’m looking forward to reporting more about the friends I make in my new home, all the food I get to try, the stunning landscape, and of course- how my classes are going! I will teach my first classes on Wednesday- I’m teaching an upper level English course and a community organizing course. I’m eager to get back into a classroom and an academic environment, and I just hope I do right by my students.

I’m sending my love to all my friends and family back in the US- I miss you dearly. x

Overlooking the Buda side
I can’t get over the architecture here… the attention to detail and the preservation are like nothing I’ve ever encountered
A map of Szentendre, a town by the Danube bend with Eastern Orthodox and Serbian influence
I can’t resist an ice cream shop with a cute storefront!
The High Castle in Visegrád
Golden hour at the Danube bend
Very grateful for new friends!
A perfect view.

I’m Finally Here!

I can’t believe I’m actually here.

It took me about 12 hours to travel to Budapest (NYC -> Amsterdam -> Budapest), and the only place in the world I can’t fall asleep is on an airplane, so it’s really felt so surreal and dreamlike walking around this gorgeous city and country. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and I’m writing this post in the Corvin Hotel in Budapest early Monday evening. It’s been a whirlwind. I am eternally grateful.

Some things to note regarding international flights during the COVID-19 pandemic (because it’s still happening!):

  • I recommend getting to the airport 4 or 5 hours in advance- especially if you’re checking any bags. 3 hours prior to boarding is no longer sufficient; lines are crazy, and there’s a lot more paperwork involved now.
  • Check the travel restrictions for your destination. Hungary currently isn’t letting in travelers from the US who do not have a Hungarian passport/EU citizenship without special paperwork. I had to get a police permit and a consular certificate, and had to speak to a supervisor at the check-in desk. I’m going to strongly discourage international travel right now if it can be avoided (maybe that makes me a little bit of a hypocrite, but I believe that traveling for Fulbright was the right move at this time). If you can, getting a negative PCR test result a maximum of 72 hours before your flight will also help, if you’re asked for the results.
  • Not so much of a tip, but if you can sleep on airplanes, please give me advice. I am physically incapable of sleeping on a plane, no matter how long the flight is, what time it is where I depart, or how much I try. I watch movies from the moment the in-flight entertainment is available to the second they turn it off. If you’re interested, I watched: Promising Young Woman; Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and Wedding Every Weekend. Sometimes you just need a good Hallmark made for television movie to get you through the last hour and a half of a flight.
  • We were masked the entire time on the flight (save for the 5 minutes where I inhaled some chicken and mashed potatoes). I struck up a masked conversation with the woman next to me- she was travelling to Dublin to visit a friend lecturing at a University. She offered me her chocolate chip cookie. 10/10 would sit next to her again.

On the flight from Amsterdam to Budapest, I felt awestruck as we started our descent into the city and I could see the roofs, roads, and greenery taking shape. It was an emotional moment for me; not only had I been waiting for over a year for Fulbright to actually happen, but it meant a great deal to me to know that I would be stepping foot in the country of my ancestors. My family is a blend of Hungarian, Polish, and Russian, but we know the most about our Hungarian side. Speaking of…

I am the luckiest person in the world, because my incredible cousin (we share a …great-great grandparent, so I think we’re third cousins… twice-removed?) who lives in Budapest picked me up at the airport. We’ve never met in person, only through video-chat, but as soon as we started talking, it was like speaking with any other member of the family. Shout out to Gábor for being incredibly warm, welcoming, and showing me around on my first day! (He’s got a pretty cool website, if anyone is interested.)

Okay, Budapest! My family has been telling me for over a year that I would love the city, and that it’s one of their favorite places to be. I instantly understood why; it’s incredible. Walking alongside the Danube River on a sunny day, passing people chatting in all different languages at tables in outdoor cafes, saying hello to playful pups trotting alongside their owners, and taking in the architectural beauty of the bridges that connect Buda and Pest- I feel as though I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Coming from NYC, I’m not too intimidated by big cities, and I was thrilled to find that the Budapest public transportation system is relatively easy to learn. With trams, buses, and the metro (subway), I can get around pretty easily, though the city is very walkable.

The architecture of the city is stunning; the facades of the buildings are intricate and are varied in colors. Though the sidewalks are narrow, the streets are paved and easy to maneuver. There are ramps and curb cuts almost everywhere I’ve walked, which is always lovely to see.

Exploring the Jewish Quarter Saturday night, it was impossible to not feel energized by the vivaciousness of it all. Music, lights, people dressed in incredible outfits (I’m a sucker for a muted color palette and anything leather).

The rest of the weekend was spent connecting with two other Fulbrighters, for whom I am incredibly grateful. Over dinner and drinks, I was captivated by the discussion of past travels and future project plans for their time here.

Tonight is also the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s difficult for me to not be in services, whether in person or virtual, sharing a round challah, and connecting with my loved ones in the Jewish community. As I embark on this new beginning, I’m wishing everyone a Sweet New Year! L’Shana Tova!

Orientation starts tomorrow morning, so I’ve been taking it easy today to try beating the jetlag in preparation for meeting our cohort. It’s a thrilling adventure, and I’m excited to be sharing it with you all.


Check out some pictures!

The view of the Buda Castle from a rooftop bar
Another shot of the view from the rooftop bar at night
The Ferris Wheel of Budapest- maybe it’s a little touristy, but it’s on my list!
A street view from my scenic walk around the city today
A display I found on my walk this morning- I’m a huge fan of Nintendo, so it felt like a good sign!