great hungarian plain

a Seattleite teaching university in eastern Hungary

return

I traveled abroad over the holidays, and as I packed my bag in preparation, I was struck by how out-of-practice I felt. For so many months, throwing together a travel bag (whether the trip was for three days or a month) felt so automatic. The strangeness of putting together a bag for this holiday trip has been one of the strangest indications that I’ve really settled back into life in Seattle. And so it is time to document an important part of the experience of my year in Hungary, one that has heretofore been missing: leaving Hungary behind and coming back home.

I’ve started writing this post a few times over the past six months, but I never made it very far. Perhaps I didn’t feel ready. Perhaps it’s just quite a lot to try and fit into one cohesive post. On a personal level, my year in Hungary was, and always will be, a huge part of my life. It changed my life in many ways, some of which I’ve written about here, and some of which I haven’t. But for those of you who followed along all year, and even those of you who’ve stumbled across this blog after the fact, the most relevant question might be: how was my re-entry into American society?

The short answer is: fairly seamless. But there are some caveats. I didn’t have a hard-and-fast re-entry into American life, which helped a lot. In between leaving Hungary and returning to Seattle, I traveled for a week. And once I got back to Seattle in July, I was only home for a week before I was on a plane to the east coast. The next month, August, brought more overseas travel, and when I returned from that 2.5 week trip, I had six days at home before I flew to North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention. So I didn’t truly have any substantial length of time at home until mid-September, even though I left Hungary on July 4th. By the time I was able to spend more than one week at a time at home in Seattle, I was simply ready to stop living out of the backpack I’d been carrying around all summer. It was difficult to feel anything but relief.

And what about reverse culture shock? I think I’ve managed to avoid it for the most part, although there are certain things about Hungary that I often miss. Some things I knew I’d miss (train rides through the Hungarian countryside) and others I couldn’t have predicted (the ritual of saying jó étvágyat, or “good appetite,” before eating a meal). I miss using the Hungarian language much more than I expected to, and I often find myself using simple vocab and phrases at home (my partner picked up a teeny bit of Hungarian on his visits). Sometimes I miss the excitement of an expat life – bonding with other expats, frequent travel to new places, conquering little challenges presented by everyday life. But even though there are things that I miss, I’m mostly just glad to be home.

A year abroad will shape and change your outlook in ways that are impossible to foresee – though for many of us, I think that’s precisely why we decide to do it in the first place. While I am so happy to be back in Seattle for now, I think I’ll always be a little bit restless, and I’m sure I’ll find my way abroad again. Only time will tell.

Thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to read about my journey along the way, and to those of you who’ve found your way here after the fact. I’m not always quick to respond, but I do always welcome questions from anyone considering teaching in Hungary (particularly through CETP), and those questions can find me at: dianna@paper-tiger.net

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homeward bound

It’s been quiet around here!

While I officially touched down in Seattle on July 11, 2012, I’ve been busy and doing quite a lot of traveling (unrelated to my year in Hungary, so I won’t be writing about it here) and I’m only just starting to re-settle in Seattle, getting moved into a new apartment, visiting friends I haven’t seen in awhile, and everything that goes along with it. I have plenty of thoughts to share about that process, but I’m not quite ready yet.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little bit of my trip to Iceland on the way home. Iceland Air flies directly between Seattle from Reykjavík, and in the interest of promoting Icelandic tourism, if you have a layover in Reykjavík, Iceland Air lets you extend the time of your layover by several days at no extra cost, in order to spend some time in Iceland, falling in love with the country and boosting its economy all at the same time. It’s a pretty genius model, and it made it a very appealing way to make my way home. And so that’s what I did!

Below are some photos of my five days in Iceland in early July. I got to see an old friend and make some new ones, walk home at 2:30 in the morning as the sun was already moving back up in the sky (it doesn’t get completely dark out so close to the summer solstice), and see just a few of the places of staggering beauty Iceland has to offer. I also bought a lot of Icelandic wool, and I spent a lot of time in coffee shops downing cups of espresso. The Reykjavík cafes were a welcome sight for my Seattle eyes.

Reykjavík:

“The Golden Circle” tour:

Gullfoss, a massive waterfall. You can see a path and overlook on the left side of the photo, with tiny people!

Strokkur, a fountain geyser with frequent eruptions. Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity (energy which they’ve learned to harvest to heat their homes and greenhouses)

The continental rift valley of Thingvellir National Park, which straddles the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

romania

My last post was a month ago, but it feels like a lifetime. I’m back home in Seattle, but I’ve been a lot of places between here and Hungary and I’m still trying to get my bearings. I have a few more posts before I’m done with the story of my year abroad. In an attempt to catch up, and perhaps also to mentally de-clutter and simplify, here’s the first of the posts of the road home.

Sighişoara

It was interesting to visit Romania after a year in Hungary. I had been meaning to visit all year – much of present-day Romania belonged to Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon, and there are still plenty of ethnic Hungarians and Hungarian speakers within the Romanian borders. Driving from Debrecen to Sibiu with my family, this presence was apparent. We passed through a town that had old Christmas lights up, one of which said ‘boldog új évet 2010’ (that’s ‘happy new year 2010’ in Hungarian). We also passed through a town with posters on every telephone pole, visibly proclaiming in boldface type, MINDEN MAGYAR SZÁMIT!’ (‘every Hungarian counts’).

We passed silver-topped churches, horse-drawn carts, tractors, and cyclists. And Romanian roads are without a doubt the worst roads I’ve ever been on. Between the condition of the roads and the many obstacles a driver must face, driving in Romania is a lot like real-life MarioKart. We also had to dodge pedestrians, chickens, dogs, oncoming cars passing other cars (in our lane). We passed a group of road workers at one point, working away, clad in nothing but their shorts and sandals.

It was a short, three-day trip, and I really only saw Sibiu and Sighişoara, two cities in central Romania (but still part of Transylvania). They are quite different cities. Some differences are obvious on the surface: Sibiu is sizeable where Sighişoara is much smaller. Others are more subtle and somewhat difficult to put into words. Both cities were at once familiar, due to their proximity to Hungary, but also a totally new experience for me, which was sometimes disorienting. Sighişoara totally won me over, while Sibiu did not (it felt like a German-Hungarian city where everyone spoke Romanian and the beggars were way more aggressive). Sighişoara was beautiful and charming. It is most famous for being the birthplace of Vlad III Dracul, or Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, but you’d never know it just by looking at it.

Still, the Romanian countryside was beautiful, and I’m immensely glad I got to spend a little bit of time there, bad roads and all. But if I ever go back to Romania, I’ll probably fly.

A few photos from the drive into central Romania:

And some from Sibiu:

And Sighişoara:

the last house on the right (the yellow one) was the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler

VICTORY

What am I celebrating with citrom fagyi in hand? Two things:

1. I finished packing up and moved out of my apartment in Debrecen today. This is bittersweet, because I’m going to miss it a ton, but I’m super excited to be going home to Seattle, too. But still, packing up and moving out is a really big bookend to a successful year abroad, and worth celebrating, right?

2. Possibly way huger, definitely in the grand scheme of things: the United States Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) in its entirety, essentially. I am BEYOND elated. This is such a huge step forward toward universal health care in my country.

Because I’m traveling for the next two weeks (writing to you from Romania at the moment), the fact that I’ve moved out of my apartment in Hungary hasn’t really sunk in yet. It feels a little bit like it’s just another weekend away. Even the sight of my empty apartment didn’t seem to do it. I snapped a few photos of my last hours in Debrecen, though, and I’m sure once it starts to sink in that I’ve left I’ll want to return to these, so I thought I’d share them with you too.

I’m gonna miss old Trabants on the road,

I’ll miss my apartment building on Poroszlay út,

I’ll miss the little Coop grocery and the zöldség-gyümölcs stand across the street, too.

Viszlát, Debrecen. All my love.

more lake balaton

Keszthely, Hungary

the hungarian sea

I’ve wanted to visit Lake Balaton since I first learned of its existence. Hungary once had a port and coastline on the Adriatic Sea – before the Treaty of Trianon – but in its current landlocked state, Balaton is the only place to come experience Hungarian life on the water. I’m here with my brother for a few days, and today the beautiful weather we’ve had has turned to rain, driving us indoors, so it seemed as good a time as any to write about it.

Balaton is one of the largest lakes in central Europe, and we opted to stay on the western shore of the lake, which is at the far end if you’re coming from Budapest. This meant a three and a half hour train ride that took us along the entire southern shore of the lake. We saw tons of little resort towns right on the water from the windows of our train car. Balaton is a favorite summer destination for Hungarians and foreigners alike. We spied hostels, guesthouses, little camping cabins, and larger hotels. We picked a vendégház (guesthouse) in Keszthely, the second-largest town on the lake, to stay at. While there are certainly other tourists around, Keszthely feels less like a cheesy tourist stop than many places we passed on the train, if only because it’s large enough to be a proper town, with a nice town center, and there are plenty of folks around who live here full-time. Keszthely is also home to a Baroque palace.

It’s been quite fun to simply wander around, soak up the sun, and stare at the lake. There’s a public beach for swimming, though I’m not sure we’ll partake in that, but we might take a boat ride tomorrow if the weather clears up. My heart is happy to be by the water, and I’ll be sad to move on when we pack up to catch the train back to Budapest on Wednesday. Balaton is a wonderful place to spend a few days.

A few glimpses into our days in Keszthely…

lang may yer lum reek!

I’m traveling for about two and a half weeks before I get back to the States, and much of that traveling is within or near Hungary. I’m currently writing from Keszthely, on the western shores of Lake Balaton, and an update on that will be forthcoming. But first! I have photos of my trip to Edinburgh for you.

Scotland is one of my ancestral homelands, but I’d only ever visited as a child. I’ve always had an affinity for the country, its dialects, and its cooler (some would say “bad”) weather. It was certainly cooler while I was there, and grey and rainy to boot, but for my Seattle-loving self, it was a welcome respite from the heat and sunshine of the Hungarian summer. I loved it.

While I was there I got to stay with an old friend from college who’s studying in Edinburgh as well as one of the most wonderful couchsurfing hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay with. My friend Laura (who recently landed a book deal for her debut novel, Pantomime!) came down from Aberdeen – she’s a fellow American expat, married to a Scot – and we had a grand time traipsing around in the rain (thank goodness for rain jackets and umbrellas). Laura also taught me the Scots toast featured in this post’s subject, lang may yer lum reek, which they say up in Aberdeen.

We also took a quick trip out to Roslin, to see the Rosslyn Chapel. Today it’s most famous for being featured in Dan Brown’s The Da Vince Code and its film adaptation. It’s a church with a very interesting history, Freemason conspiracy theories aside, and it was a lovely little side trip. We took a nice walk around some of the area around the chapel as well, take-away tea and florentines in hand. Midlothian is a really beautiful place.

Ferihegy in Budapest – saying farewell to sunny Hungary

Arthur’s seat

Okay, I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd, so I loved visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard and taking a peek at the names. Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she was writing the earlier Harry Potter books, and you can see that she drew inspiration from all over the city. Above is pictured the grave of Thomas Riddell, who had a son named Thomas Riddell. I spied a McGonagall and a Moodie in the graveyard as well.

tea and cake at Tea at 94

the National Museum

The Elephant House – a cafe famous to Harry Potter fans as one of the cafes where Rowling worked on the books

Laura!

The Olympic Torch had passed through town just a week or two before I was there (and that horrid London 2012 logo was everywhere, too)

The sun finally came out the morning I left. More soon!