2023-24 Sam, outbound to Hungary Sept. 20, 2023

Sep 20, 2023

I have been on exchange for almost four weeks now, which means almost 10% of it is already gone. It’s going too fast! It is pretty much exactly what I wanted. Every day feels like something new. I have slightly less independence here, which I have been really enjoying. I feel so young. I’ve been going to college classes instead of high school for two years and now I get to experience a normal 11th grade year? I’m about two years older than everyone in my class but it sure doesn’t feel that way. They’re all more capable than me because they can already speak Hungarian and most of them have some English. They’re all one or two years from their drinking age so they all act like college students (when it comes to partying at least). So to me, it seems like they’re 20 year-olds and I’m actually the one who is two years younger. I thought my exchange would be about maturity, but it has revealed itself to be something sweeter. It’s a year to enjoy being young. And I don’t have to worry about grades this year so I can just enjoy high school. I never did P.E. or played sports in America but I am loving them here. It still feels like this is where I am meant to be.

Putting all that effort into my pins and gifts (the pottery mentioned in the last journal) was absolutely worth it. People seem to enjoy my dog’s beautiful face as much as I do. Just seeing that stupid face sticking out of arrival photos – it is pure joy.

I really don’t know what I expected out of Hungary. I was correct to think that most things would be better here. A certain Hungarian exchange student I called seemed to think so (after I called him I went from terrible nervousness about leaving to counting down the days three weeks in advance. He sure had a way with words, “you know what I’m saying?”). The food is fresher, and the city is absolutely beautiful for a few reasons: the roads are smaller, there are charming bike lanes everywhere, every roof is a work of art, everything is older, there are flowers everywhere, I could go on. Everyone complains about what a small town Szombathely is, (and it is) but it still has Renaissance era churches, Roman remains, sculptures, and unbelievable architecture. It also has a beautiful city square and amazing restaurants to boot so being small isn’t a bad thing when it’s so dense. This is one of the great things about Hungary.

I didn’t have any expectations for the host family, which is good because they are better than I could have hoped for. My host mom speaks very good English and I love talking with her. My host dad doesn’t speak much which is good for my language learning. I definitely underestimated Hungarian. I studied for hundreds of hours before I left but unfortunately, I poured those hours into Duolingo. It gives you a nice starting vocabulary but never stops using the same few nouns and verbs. I learned the word for car, “autó” thousands and thousands of times only to come here and learn that the actual word for car is “kocsi.” what. The one word I know is wrong?! I was livid. If you broke your streak after a week and quit the app, be glad – you used it in the most efficient way. It was only after I reached that coveted “365 day streak” that I started to question whether the app was really doing what it claimed. After some research, I quit on day 368. And I never broke that streak once. I did learn something in all those hours though: do your research. I switched to studying with a grammar book and vocabulary lists which have been far more effective. Recently, my work has started to pay off. The rare occasions that I understand most of the words in a sentence are happening increasingly often, but I still can’t put them together into a coherent meaning. This is why Hungarian is hard. Words are split into root words, conditionals, and verb endings which are very unintuitive for an English speaker to use. It’s like switching from a bike to a unicycle. I am still trying to wrap my head around the grammar which is probably why I still can’t understand the full meaning of a sentence. Though I know enough to start speaking in Hungarian, which is good because time won’t stop flying by. I never thought ten months could look so short.

The trees in Hungary were one of the main things I was excited about and they have lived up to expectations. Although to my surprise, it wasn’t all autumn orange when I got here like seemingly every picture of Hungary had led me to believe. I mean of course not, it’s Summer. I have been assured they really do look like that in Autumn though. Also, all the leaves fall off in Winter and it blooms in the Spring. Yay seasons! Everyone’s sad about Summer ending and I just can’t relate. I’m so excited for a real Autumn! (I will post pictures).

The full story of my journey to Hungary is too long to be included here, but to summarize – my flights were the worst case scenario everyone fears their flights might be. A flight got delayed three hours, for a period of time I thought I had gotten on the wrong flight and was now in a random airport, I didn’t have a boarding pass for my rescheduled final flight (same reason I didn’t know I was in the right airport), and I missed the new final flight that my kind host mother bought for me because I lost my passport. So I got to spend a day in Italy thanks to the great kindness of my host family’s relatives, who did not sign up for this when they agreed to drive me to the airport. Just look at my face in the “arrival” photo. Fun side note: it was taken while dropping off my host brother at the same airport I was supposed to arrive at. It was also there that I learned of the secure pocket inside of every Rotary player designed just for a passport (only twelve hours after losing mine to the large front pocket).

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