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.
Derek Huang (’09)
This morning, I had breakfast at a local pastry shop with Galen and Blake. The prices were so low, we ended up trying out four or five different pastries. Honestly, I don’t know how so many Flinns in our class have stayed skinny. I guess we do a lot of walking, talking, volleyball, and soccer playing, so it probably all balances out in the end. One major lifestyle difference I’ve noticed here is that the people eat their food in public places, while walking, talking or playing with their children. I’ve seen gelato cones everywhere on the streets, but not a single gallon-sized box of ice cream on store shelves. I think it’s a better way to treat food–not as a guilt-laden, private pleasure, but as a shared one that is soon walked off. A meal is more fulfilling when eaten slowly and with good company.
When we left Alba Iulia for Simisoara, I did not think that we would be crossing any borders, as both cities are in Romania. However, somewhere along the way, we passed into the region of Transylvania, which is mostly Hungarian. Being in an area where ethnicity is a much stronger identifier than nationality was truly a new experience for me. As a scientist-in-training, my first reaction to the new experience was to categorize it, to tag it with descriptions:
Which are the most important to the people here? Something I take for granted as an Asian-American is in fact the validity of that very label. I am both Asian and American, with neither canceling the other. This acceptance of not only diversity, but also of plural identity, is what my homestay in Budapest, Máté, said he admired the most about America. Maybe one day there will be people who proudly call themselves Hungarian-Romanian. Maybe this will never happen. It is a difficult question to answer.
After Simisoara, we drove to a small ethnically Hungarian village of about two hundred people, where we were welcomed with copious amounts of strong palinka and a kind of sugar-dusted, hole-less donut. A word about palinka: this Hungarian drink is a type of brandy made from a fruit like peach or cherry. The palinka I’d had up until today were usually very sweet and fruity. The traditional palinka we were offered at the village, however, was much, much stronger. Some of the Flinns slowly sipped the drink. Others decided to get it over with in one gulp. Whatever their approach, there was a basket of sugary donuts nearby to help soothe a palinka-shocked palate.
Then we learned some Hungarian folk dances! I enjoyed this part especially, because even though I loved going to different clubs around Budapest and dancing to modern music, there are aspects of folk dancing that are just more fun. The biggest difference is the feeling of inclusion in folk dancing. Everyone lined up in a circle and held each other’s hands while dancing the same moves. By the end of it, we were all soaked in sweat. I had to change into my third shirt of the day.
The freshly cooked goulash and bread at dinner was delicious. The singing and dancing after dinner with the accordion player was fun. Usually I think of tradition as something that binds, guides and fortifies its followers, but here I was reminded that the tradition of hospitality was, at its core, simply the art of having a great time.