On the Road 2009: Day Four

May 28, 2009

By hammersmith

Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Aubri Carman (’08):

This morning we all met at our hotel, the Radio Inn, after spending the night with our homestays in Budapest.  I got to stay with Annie, a 25 year-old student who is finishing her thesis in English literature and linguistics.  It was so fun to experience the city from a student’s point of view and to spend the night in her cute little flat!

From Radio Inn, we took the metro to the IIE office for our first lecture of the day–an ethnic-relations discussion with Professor Ferenc Zsigo.  He talked to us about the ethnic group in Europe known as the Roma.  The Roma are commonly known as gypsies and face harsh prejudice and discrimination all over Europe. Ferenc told us that it is believed that Roma originated in India and migrated to Europe.  He talked about how Roma are sent to special schools with only other Roma children and how most Roma children are sent to another kind of special school for students with learning/behavioral disabilities.

It was really interesting to hear about such harsh human-rights violations that many of us were not fully aware of before this trip.  Professor Zsingo also talked about the fact that Roma are not accurately represented in Hungarian government, and that most of the issues involving Roma are shoved under the table and never dealt with.  Most people here think of Roma as a lower-class people who are believed to live off welfare and be theives.

We then got reacquainted with the two Robi’s, the guitarists who played for us on our Danube boat cruise.  One of them is half-Indian and the other is Roma, so both are minorities in Hungarian culture.  We got to ask them questions about discrimination they have faced and their daily lives living in such a “monoculture” as Hungary.  Needless to say, we are all excited to visit the Roma village that we get to go to on Saturday to get more of our questions about this issue answered.

Next, we had a lecture about Hungarian music from a cute little old professor named Tamas Daroczi-Bardos.  He introduced us to folk music from different parts of the world to begin, and then delved into Hungarian folk music.  It was fun, because he brought a CD with different songs and he sang and danced for us while teaching us the importance of music in Hungarian culture and giving us a brief background of music in Hungary.  He even did something similar to beat-boxing for one song, and we all had a good laugh.

Following the lecture, we had a pizza lunch.  However, as we all found out, pizza in Hungary is kind of different from pizza in the United States.  One pizza had corn on it, and another had bacon, and one even had eggs; it was really interesting to try all of the different types! Once our chaperones and Mate (the IIE intern) returned with the bus, we loaded the bus for Pecs.

On the bus, we had a brief discussion of what had seen and experienced in Budapest.  We talked a lot about the Roma and all of the issues that come with a repressed minority and we also addressed our first impressions of Europe, Hungary, and Budapest in general.  Finally, we got to catch up on our sleep from the night before, since many of us didn’t sleep too much with our homestays!

Once we arrived in Pecs, we immediately departed for a walking tour with a political-science professor from the local university.  Pecs is much smaller than Budapest, with only about 200,000 (don’t quote me on that, but I think thats the number…) people.  It has a much more quaint and family-oriented atmosphere than Budapest does, but it still has a nice downtown area as well. We got to see the Bishops temple, the new city park, and various other facets of the city. The fact that Pecs is going to be a European Capital of Culture next year was something that we learned a lot about as well, and we saw many of the new projects in action that are helping Pecs prepare to be a large European destination next year.

We ate dinner at Trafik, a local trendy restaurant, and discussed our different homestay experiences before heading back to check in to our hotel for the night.  Our hotel is somewhat outside the city, up a large hill with beautiful views of the city.  After getting settled, we finally got to catch some z’s and prepare for our next three days here!