2023-24 Sam, outbound to Hungary

Jul 11, 2023

The fact that I leave for Hungary in a little over a month has really snuck up on me. Throughout the whole exchange process I kept the soon-to-be reality of leaving for exchange as an abstract end goal. Before I was accepted I tried not to think about it at all in case I didn’t get in. Now it’s a very tangible reality that is sitting right in front of me in the near future. This and the weight off my chest from finishing school and most of my preparations for exchange has left me feeling adrift.

My last semester of dual enrollment (college classes which also count for high school graduation requirements) was intense. It required weekly writing assignments with word counts that slowly grew from 100 words to my final’s word count of 1,000. At the start those 100 word assignments were absolutely daunting. They would take me hours when I did them but I often didn’t. Halfway through the semester my grades were all C’s. The previous semester had ended with the worst grades of my life and I had resolved to never let it happen again. This semester was looking like it would, in fact, be happening again. For comparison, my English class sophomore year had only required monthly multiple choice responses online and no attendance. It was at this point that I once again resolved, this time to never miss another assignment. I calculated my grade in Canvas and it looked like I could eek out an A if I got a 100 on nearly every assignment (these calculations were only approximate and did not include many assignments. At first it looked like I could only get a high B but as more assignments were added an A became possible). Although, at this point the writing assignments were averaging 500 words and were more frequent than ever. Still I stuck with it, working on assignments every day which were now coming in at about four per week. I became wholly focused on these assignments with Rotary as my second priority. (This ended up costing me at optional training two, in which I came with a freshly translated but unmemorized Hungarian speech I had to choke through in front of everyone at the level of a first-grader [including my Hungarian tutor/the first Hungarian I had ever seen who I had only met that day]). My writing ability became significantly better over those few months at the cost of a few holes in the wall and a broken desk. The final stretch of my Literature Appreciation class (the class responsible for the vast majority of my writing assignments) was a set of five assignments over the course of a month which were all in preparation for the final. They were a series of creative assignments detailing the plot, characters, and set of a ten minute play/episode of television we would write for the final. The final was that ten minute script which was required to be 1,000 words. I decided to do the final first and base the other assignments on it. At this point I was ahead of schedule and had some leeway. Over the course of many days spent writing at the library I wrote a 2,200 word script for my own Seinfled episode called “The Poet.” I exceeded the word counts for the other assignments as I worked on the final. I remember coming in to check my grades after it was done and seeing my Humanities class (the second most writing intensive) had posted its final with a 750 word count. I did it that night without a fuss. I studied hard for my Zoology final. I needed a 91 or higher to get an A. Anything less would be a B+ which with how hard I’d worked on my other classes was unacceptable. I managed to score a 92. That was three out of four classes done but I still had my College Algebra final. I had neglected this class more than any other. I had not engaged with any of the material besides the final unit and somewhat the second. My grade in canvas was a 53. However, the end of semester grade calculations were very forgiving. They would drop your two lowest homework grades and replace the lowest unit test’s grade with the final’s. Even with that, an A was out the window at this point. I would be fighting for a C+ or maybe, just maybe a B. I had studied all afternoon for a few days before the third unit test and had gotten a disappointing but deserved 70. For the final I studied in the library instead of the math studio because it was open longer and the library had become a blessed workspace. I studied at least five hours every day for five days, it couldn’t make up for a semester of studying math but maybe it was enough. I was calm and collected on the day of the final-final. I left feeling good but later I found I had only gotten an 83. I had fought the good fight and was satisfied with how hard I worked, towards the end at least. I checked my final grades a few weeks later and saw that miraculously, it was three A’s and a triumphant B for math. I would love to credit my own dedication to that B but really I have to thank my professor for being so forgiving. It’s entirely possible that I only got that B because she rounded up. That semester was the most rewarding experience of my life alongside this exchange.

After all of that was over, I still had obligations to Rotary. I had a seven section presentation on Hungary to put together and still that speech to memorize. I went back to the library to work on it, I would memorize the speech when it was done. A week and a half of work and a week of endlessly reciting the same paragraphs was enough to make up for my performance at optional training two. What now? Besides some paperwork and a short bio to write there was nothing left to be done. So, in my hyper focused state, I poured myself into making a desk (remember the broken one from earlier?). It took a week and it’s the desk I’m writing on now. What now? Well apparently, my Literature Appreciation class worked as intended. Also, in my spare time during that semester I had been watching Game Of Thrones, which led me to watch George R. R. Martin’s talks and interviews. One day I stumbled upon a talk featuring both George and Stephen King. I liked the way Stephen King talked so I watched more. One day I watched him read aloud his story, Afterlife. I couldn’t stop thinking about it that night or the day after. I also heard him tell the story of his first book, Carrie. How he had thrown it away nine pages in, and his wife had fished it out of the trash to tell him to continue working on it. I wanted to at some point read A Song of Ice and Fire but I wanted to work up my reading ability first. His rhetoric of the importance of reading had also gotten to me. So I read Carrie and thoroughly enjoyed it. I read some other books afterwards, including Fahrenheit 451, which really cemented my interest in books. I kept reading casually when suddenly I found all this free time to use. The goal: cultivate a genuine love for reading in the way only a child who has grown up on books can. That was a very lofty goal which I did not expect to actually accomplish. The real goal: read more; make reading easy. I read a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which said to track the time spent working on things you want to do more of. Sounds reasonable, so I started tracking my reading time. For a week or two, I was reading five hours a day, averaging one book every two days. But then I read another book that talked about masters of their craft; “experts.” It said that some chess grandmasters have been known to practice ten to fourteen hours a day and that this dedication was seen across most masters of their craft. So the goal: work up to reading ten hours a day. One day I did manage this. I went back to the library one morning with a bag full of books to read for ten hours. It did not go well. In those ten hours I only read 200 pages which normally should take a quarter of that time. Needless to say, I quit tracking time. This also had the side effect of quitting reading almost entirely. Maybe trying to make something effortless and fun by working at it is a bad strategy. Lately I’ve been averaging a few pages a day. But that means I read almost every day, which is more than I ever did before. I do enjoy reading and I do intend on finishing all these books I started (like eight). My to-read list continues to grow but it’s only been the first few months of a lifelong pursuit.

Meanwhile, while I was reading I took a pottery class. My mom is a potter and she’s even built a pottery studio in the backyard. Her friend began offering classes and I was available to take them. After the week long class I started doing pottery on my own. These sessions improved my technique but only resulted in a few sloppy pieces. All the others ended in the same way that poor desk did. My mom’s friend offered another class and I once again signed up. My work paid off in this class and I managed to make much bigger pieces than I could before (with help). One of the few things left to do before I leave for exchange is to make pins for other exchange students. Also to find gifts for Host families and going away gifts. All this is to say, they may or may not be pottery related. I’m planning on packing extremely light, like a backpack full of one outfit and some necessities. The other thing I pack will be a suitcase full of pins and gifts that I will give away, leaving room to bring all the things I acquire on exchange back home.

So anyway, here we are at the present. Why is it called the present? Because every moment is a gift. Awww, how fitting. Maybe instead of feeling adrift, I ought to take this time to relax and collect my thoughts. One of the reasons I’m struggling to read is that I can’t stop thinking. I’m using this journal as a way to collect these thoughts and make some sense of the past. I hope it has served as a good glimpse into this period of my life before I leave.

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