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.
Nesima Aberra (’09)
Today was a great immersion for the group into the city of Pecs–a rainy immersion, I should say. It’s been raining hard through out the day and we have had to grab our jackets, rain boots, and umbrellas as we traipse around the city from place to place in our busy schedule.
In the morning, we went to the American Corner, which is a center that highlights American culture and values around the world. We learned about the different programs the Corner puts on in Pecs and other Hungarian cities to teach about American culture, like Native American Week, Thanksgiving Quilt workshops, and African American Week. It was fascinating to see how American culture is perceived and celebrated through the lens of Europeans, and Hungarians specifically.
Then, we learned about Pecs’s activities in preparation for its title as European Cultural Capital of 2010, a title it shares with Istanbul and Essen. Pecs has developed several projects in its bid to highlight the culture and innovation of the so-called “borderless” city, like the Pecs Conference and Concert Center, the South Transdanubian Regional Library and Knowledge Center, and the Zsolnay Cultural Center.
Afterwards, we listened to a lecture about Hungarian politics, which is very interesting, considering the current issues the country is going through, dealing with the effects of its recent elections and the rise of the extreme-right party. The political culture in Hungary is full of distrust and suspicion, no doubt from the socialist and communist regimes the country has experienced. There is a lot of corruption and still marginalization of minorities that the government has to deal with. The professor who gave the talk had some optimism for the future but also some skepticism.
For lunch we headed over to a very nice restaurant called Traffik, followed by a couple hours of free time. It was still pouring rain but we all managed to find something to occupy our time in the eventful city. I walked through some shops for souvenirs and visited the two surviving mosques, symbols of the old Turkish occupation, although one of them has been now turned into a Catholic church, interestingly.
The group returned to the American Corner to watch Sunshine, a Hungarian film made by a famous Hungarian director. The movie was an epic drama chronicling the lives of a Hungarian Jewish family through the Habzburg, fascist, and communist eras. It brought up many themes of redemption, identity, assimilation versus integration, and political oppression.
Overall, we had a very educational and eye-opening day in Pecs and I feel like I am getting a better understanding and appreciation of the culture and history.