Just call me Alexander…

Many of you know that I am not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that school starts at 7:30 am is a daily struggle. So when I burned my tongue on my coffee this morning—when my one friend, my one comfort in the morning turned against me—I knew that it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

No, I said to myself. I am more than a conqueror! God was teaching me about that yesterday through a battle with feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy. I will start the day with a good attitude. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

I made my oatmeal, which I love eating for breakfast every morning. I need that time to wake up with my oatmeal and coffee and my devotional before I have to face other people in the morning. I mixed it up with my nuts and cinnamon, and then I poured milk on it. And then I smelled the milk. And I knew it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

I scooped out the middle of the oatmeal, which hadn’t mixed with the milk, into another bowl. I ate that part and threw the rest in the trash. Thankfully I made muffins this weekend, so I spread some peanut butter on one to make up the rest of my breakfast.

I sat down with my devotional (Streams in the Desert, if you know it). Today’s selection talked about how God met Isaac when he found rest. This was not immediately encouraging as I looked ahead to my day with little time to rest. But I asked God to give me rest in my heart amid my busyness and responsibilities today. Nonetheless, I worried that it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

I set off for school. Yesterday, I walked to school through several inches of beautiful white fluffy snow, which was still falling lightly. Today, I walked through several inches of nasty slippery slush. And I knew it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

But God spoke to me as I was traipsing through the slushy muck. I was trying to walk in a set of footprints so as not to sink so far down in the wet snow. But they were just a little bit too far apart for me, so I slipped with every step. And I heard God whisper in the quiet of my soul, “You can’t walk in someone else’s steps. They are just a little too big for you. You’ll slip and fall if you try to fill shoes or footprints that I haven’t asked you to fill. Do what you can.”

And Christ did give me strength to do what I could in school today. I did find rest—and joy.  My 12th graders listened sympathetically, laughed with me, and dutifully practiced switching from formal to informal language. My top class of 9th graders is working with Shakespeare—with his original language! They’re awesome. And the middle group of 9th graders never fails to make me laugh, especially when they have no idea in what order to put subjects and verbs. And my lowest level of 9th graders—they were absolute beginners at the beginning of the year—practiced giving advice for my troubles of the morning:

I think you should look the date on the milk.

I think you ought to drink energy drink [instead of] coffee. (I had to help them there)

On the Bázis [where my house is—it means “base”] there are some airplanes. Why don’t you come to school with airplane?

And after looking a word up in the dictionary: If I were you, I would come to school with stilts.

So it wasn’t a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day at all. Soon this afternoon, I’m going to see Hamlet (apparently it’s actually Shakespeare Day in my life) this afternoon in Hungarian at the National Theatre with a group from school. And this evening, I will gather with my Budapest family at our Tuesday night community group for food, fellowship and prayer.

I am truly blessed. It’s been a rough year in many ways, but amidst all my battles, small and great, I can say with Paul,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Year 3 in Review – Part 2

More about my year in Budapest…

December —

December started with our school’s szalagavato.  Sorry for the dark picture, but this is the class I’ve taught for 2 years performing their pirate-themed class dance:

Another December highlight was our Christmas party with our students…

We do a weekly English club at our house after school on Thursdays.  From week to week we average about 15 kids, but for special parties like our Christmas party, 40 kids might show up. We’re playing cards here in the classroom on the lower level of the building where our apartments are.

This fall we had the opportunity to partner with a Calvin College study abroad program to have college students get some “service-learning” experience working with us.  The Calvin students took classes at Hungarian universities, and as part of their semester requirements for Calvin, they completed a certain number of volunteer hours each week.  We had 2 young men working with us for the semester.  They were a great help in our classes and with our English club. Luke is pictured at the top right of the table.  I think it was really beneficial for our students (65% of whom are boys) to have some positive male role models. We love our boys, but we know that our influence on them just isn’t the same as a young Christian man’s. We plan to continue this partnership with a new group of Calvin students this fall.

Serve the City: Budapest is another group that I’m involved with.  It’s a nonprofit organization in many world cities that works to connect volunteers with practical needs in the city they serve.  Our group picks up trash along roads, organizes activities for a home for disabled adults, and this Christmas we collected shoebox gifts for children in a homeless shelter.  It was a special experience to see the children receive their Christmas gifts.

I spent Christmas in Budapest with a few friends, other Teach Overseas teachers, and a friend from high school who was teaching English in France.  Budapest knows how to do Christmas! The city is beautiful at that time of year, and there are markets and and decorations everywhere. This is Chelsea (she teaches in the Czech Republic) and I on the Christmas tram. A regular city tram wrapped in 1000 Christmas lights. (Google it!)

January — brought another Szalagavato. This one we attended for another school in Budapest where Teach Overseas teachers work.  A couple of the students have been been coming to our Bible study for a year and we’ve gotten to know them pretty well.  It was fun to celebrate with and honor them!

I accidentally hit “publish” too early. Sorry if that threw you off. I wanted to get a little more in this post before sending it out to the world.

In February — I turned 25!

I also participated in another Serve the City event, this one at the home for disabled adults. It was my 2nd time visiting the home, and I love it. This is Lajos. His body is deformed and he can’t speak (though he’s learning!), but he loves to color and he can understand everything that you say to him. Here I am with him, wearing a mask that he colored for Farsang, the Hungarian spring celebration (kind of like Carnival).

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Year 3 in review – Part 1

Hello friends and family! It’s high time to dust off the old blog and try again. Here’s a taste of what my life in Budapest was like this past year:

Airplane chairs in the school lobby–there are a lot of airplane parts (not to mention whole planes) around this school

September — Back to school. This was my second year teaching at Kossuth. It was great to get to teach the same kids again, and it really helped to be able to reuse some of my material from the previous year. I taught:

  • 2 sections of 10th grade literature
  • 2 sections of 10th grade American history
  • 2 sections of 11th grade literature
  • 2 sections of 11th grade American history
  • 2 sections of 12th grade “Technical English” (You wonder what kind of class that would be? So do we all.)
  • 2 sections of 13th grade literature.

Jessica, Della, Sharon, Hope

This year I lived with two other American girls, Sharon and Della.  Sharon is from Kentucky, and we lived and taught together last year also.  Della joined us this year from North Carolina.  They are both amazing Christian women, and I am so thankful for their support and friendship this year.
All 3 of us work for the Christian organization Teach Overseas, and their team structure (Della, Sharon, and I are a team) is one of the reasons I chose this organization.  Another reason I’m thankful for TO is the regular retreats we have throughout the year.  Here’s my team at our beginning of the year retreat with our field director, Jessica.  She negotiates with schools, observes our teaching, and supports us on the field. She’s awesome. (Why are we under a newspaper tent? Our devotional was about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, so we had to build our own houses.)

October — Kossuth Day! Our school had a fun day in honor of Kossuth Lajos, Hungarian revolutionary and our school’s namesake. There were no classes, just different activities that the students (and teachers) could go around and do.

We taught “traditional American dances.” You know, like the Macarena and the Electric Slide.

Over the long Hungarian holiday break in October, some friends and I traveled to Spain for a few days. Kirsten (left) and Justin (right) teach in Budapest like me. We stayed with Elle (between me and Justin) in Madrid, where she teaches English too.  Mmmm chocolate and churros.

November — I visited Sárospatak, where I taught my first year. Anna, who taught there this year, and I joined Zoli and his family for a day of fishing and and being outside. I taught Zoli in 8th grade when he was just starting to learn English, and Anna taught him this year in 10th grade, and his English is excellent! It was fun to get to know his family a little. And to get to eat goulash cooked outside over a fire–the way it should be!

I went to Patak to attend szalagavato – the big celebration for the graduating classes. I had taught 3 of the 5 classes, so I loved seeing each class on stage. After the program there was a banquet for the students and teachers, and I could reconnect with some of my old colleagues there.

More to come!

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Starting out

Sziasztok!

I’ve had about a week and a half to get settled in at the Bázis, my new home in Budapest. As you can see, it’s a pretty big building. My teammate, Sharon, and I live in separate bedroom + bathroom suites upstairs, along with 2 Hungarian teachers (both of whom speak perfect English). Downstairs are some classrooms for the technical program, and a small kitchen and living room that Sharon and I (and Nicki, who will come in a few weeks) share.

Bázis means “base” in Hungarian, so named because it’s where all the helicopters and airplanes hang out. This is my front yard. 🙂

Pretty cool, huh?

It’s just a short walk to the main school building, where I’ve had 3 days of teaching so far. I’ve met all but one of my classes.

Here’s the school –>

I’m really excited about teaching this year.  I have half as many students as last year, so I’ll get to see more of them and get to know them better.  I’ll get to see 4 groups 4 times a week!

I’m teaching:

  • 2 sections of 10th grade literature
  • 2 sections of 10th grade British history
  • 2 sections of 11th grade literature
  • 2 sections of 11th grade American history
  • 2 sections of 12th grade British history (American history 2nd semester)
  • 1 section of 13th grade English language –the students not in the bilingual track who are taking the advanced language exam

The girls who taught here before had a great relationship with their students, which is exciting because now the students are really excited to get to know me and my team.  Pray for us as we get to know each other!

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Summer

Sorry, friends, for the long hiatus. Life has indeed been busy, but one would think I could find enough spare time for one blog entry in 4 months. Apparently not though. Anyway, here begins a renewed attempt at semi-regular blogging.

So what have I been doing the last 4 months?

May — The school-leavers left in a ceremony called Bállágás, which was very nice, but slightly anti-climactic as they looked forward to several weeks of rigorous exams.  My teaching load lightened slightly, but I missed some of my best English speakers. The rest of us trudged on with regular classes for 6 weeks.

There were also a few long weekends, including 3 days off for the major school-leaving exams. I was able to travel with friends to Croatia (one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been) and Transylvania (also cool).

June — School finished for the rest of us on June 11. The last week, Deanna and I showed

The Lion King in our classes after a unit on Africa. A nice end to the year! We then traveled to Prague for a couple of days before returning to Sárospatak for the Closing Ceremony for the school year.

I returned to Minnesota on June 23.  Enjoyed the first chance to do nothing that I’d had in a long time. Lots of relaxing and just hanging out with friends and family.

July — I was honored to be the personal attendant for Steffanie Lindgren, a college roommate, as she married Paul Dahlseng.  Lots of fun!

The next day, I flew to California for Teach Overseas training. It was different this year as

an alum, from what I experienced last year as a new teacher. Much less stress! Also the weather was GORGEOUS–another major change from last year’s extreme heat.  I enjoyed leading several of the training sessions and supervising the English class at a local community center where the new teachers practice-taught.  More than anything else, I enjoyed getting to know the new teachers (including my new roommate Sharon, pictured) and also spending time with friends from last year, some of whom will not be returning to Hungary.

August — Returned to Minnesota on Aug. 12 for two sweet weeks at home.Time for final preparations and time with friends (like Addy Blosser, in this picture) and family.  I’ll fly back to Hungary on Thursday, Aug. 26. My time in California really got me excited to go back and see what God will do this year in Hungary. I’m ready to go!

While at home, I’m also trying to wrap up my fundraising for this year.  I only need about $5000 for my second year, and most of that is actually already covered! Praise God! If you’d like to help put me over the top, you can mail a check (made out to “Teach Overseas” with “acct. 209062” in the memo line) to:

TeachOverseas.org
639 N. Soldano Ave
Azusa, CA 91702
USA

Or visit: http://www.teachoverseas.org/contribute.php to use a credit card.

And what’s next?

September — I’ll be starting a new year at Kossuth Lajos Kéttannyelvű Fővárosi Gyakorló Műszaki Szakközépiskola és Szakiskola. The school is in Csepel, a suburb of Budapest, on an island in the Danube.  I’ll be living in a building owned by the school and used by the technical program–where students learn to work on airplanes. (You can look forward to the pictures of the helicopter in my front yard!) I’ll be teaching American and British Literature and American and British History in grades 10-13 in the bilingual program.

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Spring

Spring here in all its glory.  Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and the park is green once again. I lose track of time because I’m not used to the sun still shining at 7pm. It’s beautiful here. I took some photos of the flowers around Sárospatak yesterday– you should check them out on facebook.

So, I apologize for the lack of blog updates over the last couple of months. Here are some highlights:

February

  • Spent a weekend in Vienna with Deanna
  • Celebrated our birthdays (one year and 2 days apart)
  • Watched our students perform songs and skits at English Evening

March

  • Had our first ESI teacher visit us from outside of Hungary, all the way from the Czech Republic
  • Visited our fellow ESI teachers in Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Decided about returning to Hungary next year (more on that to follow)
  • Spent a weekend in Miskolc (between here and Budapest) with our good friend Edina
  • Celebrated the return of fagyi (ice cream)!
  • Created and executed a successful intermediate-level unit around the game of “Mafia”

April

  • Spent Easter weekend in Budapest.  Learned the value of planning trips in advance, because train tickets go WAY up at the last minute.  Unfortunately our friends were out of town for the break from school, but we did some things around Budapest that we had been wanting to do, and we attended an Easter service in an English speaking church!
  • Made an Easter egg hunt for our elementary students
  • Spring cleaning

We’ve also continued hosting our classes on Wednesday nights, and continue to enjoy it.  We’ve had a great time with each class, and the students have also really enjoyed themselves and our American cookies.  With one class I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in our classroom relationship since they came to our house. I used to have a really hard time engaging them in class, but now they seem more willing to go with whatever I do.  It’s been fun.

Our “school-leavers” (the graduating classes) will leave us already at the end of April.  They will have a graduation type ceremony on the first of May, and then take their exams on the 3rd-5th, and will not return to school after that.  I will definitely miss the 2 classes that I will be losing, but I won’t complain about the 3 fewer lessons each week. Or about the 3 days off while they take their exams and I go to Croatia with 2 Budapest teachers.

Now, about next year.  Most of you know by now that I will return to Hungary for a second year, but that I will be changing schools.  This year has been an incredible one for me (incredibly difficult at times), and I’ve fallen in love with this country and its people, especially my students.  So the decision to leave them was a difficult one for me.  Though I love all of my students, my teaching situation here has been difficult for me with the wide range of ages and levels, and the lack of direction.  In Budapest next year, I will have the opportunity to teach literature and history to upper-level students in a bilingual school.  I really look forward to being able to teach what I learned to teach! I will miss my students here, but I’m so excited for this new opportunity. And I hope to be able to visit Sárospatak regularly to visit my students and encourage the new teachers here.

So here’s a rough time line for the next few months.

  • June 15 – Last day of school
  • June 20-27 – I’ll fly home to Minnesota sometime in here, after packing, moving my things to Budapest, saying goodbye, and a possible short trip to Slovenia. Probably whenever I can get the cheapest plane ticket (which I will need to purchase soon, so I’ll let you know the exact date ASAP)
  • July 17-August 15 – TeachOverseas training in Pasadena, CA. I will not need to spend the whole time there, but I will be required to be there for at least 2 weeks during this time to get to know my 2 new teammates for next year.
  • August 23-27 – I’ll fly from Minnesota to Budapest sometime in here.  I’ll probably be buying a roundtrip ticket (as they’re roughly the same price as a one-way ticket), so I’ll soon know the date for this also.
  • September 1 – First day of school

Some things to pray about concerning this transition:

  • That I will finish strong here and continue to have opportunities to pour into my students over the next 2 months.
  • Logistics of summer plans
  • The new Hungary teachers. There will be a lot of turnover this year, and they are still looking to fill positions here (anyone interested? Talk to me!). Pray for recruitment and for the new teachers as they prepare.
  • Team dynamics. I will share a living situation with 2 new teachers.
  • Finances. I do not know exactly what my financial need will be for the coming year, though I know it will be less than this year. Pray that God would work another miracle in this area as he did for me last year. Also pray about how he wants YOU to be involved in this.
  • I’ve been offered a leadership position within ESI for next year that would enable me to serve the other teachers in a unique way.  It will mean added responsibility as I make a fairly significant transition myself. Pray for wisdom as I decide about that.
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Suicide rates in Hungary

Hungary is at the top of list of highest suicide rates in the world–right where it’s been since at least the 1980’s.

This link shows a graph of suicide rates in 2006: Suicide Rates Around the World . Hungary is just behind South Korea.

Is communism to blame? Is capitalism to blame? Here’s what some people thought about it in 1987. I just thought it was interesting to read the perspective on the subject from 23 years ago.  Rates have declined since then, but Hungary is still right at the top.

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