Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gardening in Hungary

Well, the Hungarians are doing what I just read is something Americans will need to do to aide in the war against global warming. The Hungarians are growing gardens. Whether they have always grown gardens or whether this is a result of two world wars and being under the Soviets when food was hard to come by, I do not know. I do know, however, that it costs money and greenhouse gas emissions to bring produce long distances to markets. One suggestion I have read about is individual or community gardens that provide local produce. Makes sense.
Hungarians call a garden anything around your house. It can be a tree garden, a grass garden, a flower garden, a rock garden, a vegetable garden, etc. Most homes have no lawn, but do have an assortment of “garden” types. Roses are very popular!!! They grow well here and are just beautiful. Flower gardens are not like we would have them, more of an English garden full of assorted flowers. No, they are planted just like a vegetable garden in rows. I have found this very interesting. All flowers I have seen here are available in America. Not all would grow in Idaho, though. The English daisies are wonderful here and spread like weeds, covering entire sections of gardens. I can’t get them to stay alive in my garden in Pocatello!
Grapes are grown quite frequently in gardens, with long rows of vines stretching the length of a lot. Obviously wine and palinka are produced by the owners! Paprika peppers are also everywhere as are tomato plants. Cucumbers vine their way up and around everything also. Fruit trees are in most yards. Cherries and apples are most frequent. Plums and pears follow. Apricots are not forgotten, either. Many families can their produce. We have been lucky enough to be the recipient of many jars of produce given to us by a secretary at the school. What a treat!
All in all, now I can’t wait to get home and go to the Farmers’ Market in Pocatello and feast on all those home-grown goodies! Berries should be in when we get back. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

As the Year Draws to a Close

Future home of the John and Donna Language Room!

It is hard to believe we have been here for almost an entire school year. Yet, three more weeks and we head back home to Idaho.
As we assessed our teaching time here, we knew that it took us two months before we became effective conversation teachers. We feel badly about that, but there is nothing that can be done. If we teach again somewhere else in the world, we will be all the better for the time we have spent here. An outline on the best way to teach conversational English has been sent to CETP and also offered to a language company for possible inclusion in course materials. It is like it disappeared into cyberspace, though. No word from anyone! We are glad it is copyrighted!
We have decided that the best way to continue helping future students with their English skills (or German skills) is to put a language laboratory into the school. There was one here many, many years ago, but it stopped functioning and was dismantled. So, we have offered to put one in and both the Director and language teachers are delighted. After three tries the correct room was settled on. Storage cabinets are already being made to order by a local carpenter. Equipment is being priced. The Director wants everything in place before we leave! We are grateful and thankful. That way we know it has actually happened and will be used next year. So, before we leave the John and Donna Language Room will have “Howdy” mounted on the door and will be open for usage!!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Weather or Whether?

Weather in Hungary – I had certain expectations: a cold winter with snow, deep snow. A wet, chilly spring was expected. Well, only fall lived up to my expectations and turned out to be beautifully warm and relatively dry.
Winter ended up being a cool, snowless season. I brought heavy boots, gloves, hats, etc. with for that reportedly nasty season. Think of the overweight penalty I could have avoided on my luggage! Now I get to drag all that stuff home for my next winter in Pocatello and hopefully I will use it – Idaho needs moisture desperately.
I was told spring would be a wonderous season in Hungary. I have always thought that spring was a wonderous season everywhere! How could it be any better here? Well, it was better!!! Buds and bulbs peeped out and birds returned and started singing. They do that in Idaho, too, but somehow it was better here! I haven’t been able to figure out what caused this “betterness” of spring here in Hungary. Whether it just reminded me that my return to Idaho was not far away, whether it was because winter was soooooooooo grey and full of deadness without the joy of snow that new life was more eventful, or whether it was because my world in Ujszasz is much smaller and spring just jumped out and seemed bigger, I do not know. But spring is GLORIOUS in Hungary!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Travel in Hungary and Europe

Besides teaching, one of our goals while living in Europe was to travel and see other places and how others live. We have achieved that and more!

In Hungary we have been lucky enough to journey to Eger, Szeged, Pecs and enjoy many, many weekends spent in Budapest. The wonderful train system here has made this possible. Trains are frequent and go everywhere! Unfortunately, they are also dirty and unkept, at least the 2nd class ones fit this description. Some first class cars on fast trains have been at least kept up, but never have we been on a clean car. We have seen train car washing facilities, but they must all be broken! If Hungarians want to encourage tourists to visit in numbers, this will need to be remedied.

A week spent in Croatia was spectacular – Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik!! Bratislava, Slovakia we took the train to on a weekend and saw a fine castle spectacularly displayed. It doesn’t get any better than Christmas spent in Salzburg and Vienna Austria, with some time thrown in for Prague, Czech Republic, too. A long weekend in Berlin required an airplaine flight that we found online for a mere $75.00 round trip for two!!!! The past weekend we spent in Paris. The most glorious city we have ever visited! Again plane tickets and a fast 2 ½ flight and we were there.

Europe is so user friendly for travel. Trains between countries and metros, trams and buses easily take you anywhere in cities. Maps for these modes of travel are abundant and they are cheaply priced. Even airport security is quick and efficient. No standing in lines of 100 people and waiting an hour to get through!

We still hope to visit Cyprus, Cairo, Egypt and Venice, also Liffifurd in Hungary before we must return to the States. Hopefully we will be able to sneak some other trips in also!

Well, I will sleep tonight with sweet dreams of Paris and look forward to heading to Budapest tomorrow!! What a way to live!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hungarian Habits Worth Learning!

Many Hungarian habits and traditions are well worth carrying home and spreading.

A few are:
- forget the car - walk, bike, take the train or bus.
- cook it from scratch.
- smaller homes, cheaper to heat and easier to clean!
- fewer clothes means wearing out what you have before getting new ones.
- Cell phones only - forget the landline.
- metal or tile roofs - easier maintenance and longer life.
- tiny yards.
- gardens with your own vegetables.
- lots of parks.
- school dances that your parents come to so they can dance and you can dance with them!
- school programs that the students produce and share their talents in.
- stores closed on Sunday. The emphasis in on family, not on I want it NOW.
- trains, trains, trains.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Baking Challenges

I have no doubt cooked more since arriving here than I have in a number of years. I am actually baking bread! Whats more, I'm enjoying doing so!
I have adapted to a European oven and its settings, which are quite different from ours in the States. Many ingredients are available in Szolnok, but few are available in Ujszasz. Since any items purchased in Szolnok must be hauled in bags, first by bus, then by foot to the train station, on the train, back by foot to our flat --- this really limits what we will purchase in Szolnok. Therefore, I am cooking with a select group of basic ingredients and trying to be creative within that selection.
Breads have been plain old white, potato-cheese and corn flour yeast bread. More recipes are waiting to be tried out.
Deserts are limited to basic ingredients also. I've used apples a lot since they are readily available. I will try banana bread and walnut bread soon. The walnuts are harvested from our yard and first must be cracked and the nutmeats removed.
In our flat we have one bread loaf pan which I use for all baking, both breads and deserts. I have been looking for an 8x8 square cake pan for a month now. No luck yet.
Someone needs to make a fortune by selling cake mixes, etc. here in Hungary. No such things are available even in the biggest grocery stores. Everything must be made from scratch. There are only 3 kinds of cookies available in stores and they need to be dunked first before eating! No cake flour, so I stay away from cakes because they turn out coarse.
Also, no baking chocolate or chocolate chips.
Rye, whole wheat, etc. flours are not available. White bread is a Hungarian staple.
More as I branch out and try other things!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to Education

Back to the subject of education. A few months ago I wrote: I am not shocked or surprised by Hungarian students' inability to think for themselves. Afterall this was a Soviet country only a few years ago. I am surprised, though maybe not really, by the educational system itself. Very few changes have been made, except that they study English rather than Russian. I was asked to speak to a 13-14th grade technical school communication class on the difference between verbal and non-verbal communication in Hungary and the USA. One of my points was that Hungarians do not make eye contact with strangers. They are afraid. They still live within a shell. Safety in anonymity. Also they will not tackle controversial topics to discuss. Again, keep your ideas to yourself. They do, however, use sarcasm to express their opinion rather than state it.

Students still sit in straight rows. Only a blackboard graces the room. Chairs, desks and a blackboard. That's it folks!!!!! Not even an overhead projector in the school. The library is smaller than our bedroom and is only open a few hours a day. Even then, many books are locked up. Teachers do not have classrooms. They must carry their supplies from classroom to classroom with them. Everything is out of a textbook and a workbook. The teacher always sits at her desk and lectures from her chair and then assigns work in their workbook. End of class. How exciting!! I am reminded of my days in school in the 1950's.

Best Practices do not exist in Hungary. It's not even an idea on the horizon. Business as usual. English is taught with workbooks. NO speaking that is not scripted. Our goal is to speak extemporaniously. We have had to create the wheel all over again. Our TEFL course and our CETP workshop were NO help whatsoever. We do not teach grammar. Our job is to get the kids to TALK. The regular English teachers in the school do not do this. Workbook, workbook. They have lots of words but cannot put them into free speech. Kids who have had 7 years of English cannot speak in a sentence that is not scripted. We are outlining how to teach conversational English - goals, objectives, steps in the process. As I say,, we are inventing the wheel all over again. Even on the internet everything is grammar based. Hm, maybe we should sell this when we are done!

Individualized teaching?????!!!!! They look at me like I am crazy. I have been told it is the student's responsibility to learn, not the teacher's responsibility to teach. If they do not understand it is their problem and not the teacher's.

I realize our school is not top quality. It catches the dregs that cannot get into the better schools. I do not mean to insult my students. They are great kids. But you apply to high school here. Our students were turned down at the good schools.

There are no clubs or sports in this educational system. I do not consider that this is necessarily a bad thing. No electives as we know them. Many students take the train for half an hour each way to get to school here. There is no lunch time provided. Just class after class during the 8 period day. They are supposed to run to the canteen and buy a sandwich and eat it on the way to the next class. They do serve a hot lunch which we try to get each day if we have an empty hour. IF THE KIDS EAT THIS THEY HAVE 10 MINUTES TO DO SO. Always a bowl of soup and something. (Cabbage is in season - so guess what has been on the menu lately!)

This has been my experience here. No discussions on philosophy of education, goals, etc. Just workbooks and lectures. Mind boggling.

Today’s addition to this diatribe. It is now a month later and we are still struggling to get the kids to talk. Today we started using the topic of movies, hoping it would spark interest and fun for the kids to talk about. Some interest yes, but to ask them to get up out of their seats and talk to each other in English and do a movie survey – nope!! Unless they speak one on one with us or to us in front of the class, we do not get English. They revert to Hungarian. We have created pages of goals and ways to get to those goals with the kids. We have theory and stats to back up all of our work. It’s just that nobody’s told the kids that this is what they need to do! We have tried to create a comfortable, non-threatening classroom atmosphere for them to work in. But, if it isn’t scripted, they don’t try. (There are a few exceptions, of course, but we are talking about the majority of the kids here.)

It is at least a help to know that the EU has put educational reform on the list of necessary items Hungary must complete before they get full membership. Looking online I find countries working together on teaching concepts for English as a Second Language. Hungary is not one of these countries.

We have tried simulations and this has been the biggest success for us. But to lay the foundation for new topics we must do vocabulary work and get them to practice this vocabulary. Pair work only works if scripted. If we walk away, back to Hungarian!

We are determined and will win this battle! We are here to teach conversation. We must get them to converse, not just parrot phrases and sentences given them.