Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Slovakia and Serbia for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Leah Edwards (’10)
After having a little bit of time to explore Belgrade, we all boarded the bus and headed out on a three hour drive, passing beautiful landscapes of grassy hills, cute village homes, and swelling rain clouds along the way. We ultimately arrived in Star Moravica, a small village of about six thousand Hungarians living in Serbia. The village was founded in 1796 in what was then a part of Hungary; it did not become a part of Serbia until borders were redone in the 20th century. After the transition, the people living in the village retained their Hungarian language and culture, and many of the villagers had Hungarian citizenship and spoke little Serbian. The people in Star Moravica were in every way Hungarian; they just happened not to be living inside of Hungary’s borders.
Upon arriving in the village, we were welcomed by the villagers in a beautiful gazebo located next to a grassy field. We were then invited to a wedding located in the Reform Calvinist Church. Inviting our group to such a traditional and special event made me feel very welcomed, and considering that I have not been to very many weddings in the U.S., I was excited to experience one in another country.
After the wedding we were treated to Hungarian martial arts demonstrated by some of the village youth, who made shooting bows and arrows, jousting with wooden poles, and cracking enormous whips look entirely too easy. We were then given the opportunity to try each of these activities. I tried (and failed) to crack one of the whips, and only had a little bit more success with the bows and arrows. Like I said, they made it look a lot easier than it was.
After a while I got distracted from the commotion of the martial arts by a one-and-a-half year-old girl named Viola, who had fallen in love with my tourist pamphlet and sunglasses (which were at least a few sizes too big for her). I spent a good half an hour playing with her in the grassy field with the sound of whips still cracking in the background. Viola’s mother, Izabella, then offered to host me, and I immediately accepted.
My play date with Viola was briefly interrupted when we were invited to see a rehearsal performance by a traditional Hungarian dance troop. After an hour or so of watching their exhilarating performance, we rejoined the villagers to enjoy dinner and listen to the music of a traditional Hungarian band. As people finished their meals, they began getting up to dance to the music, and after a while we had all become part of a giant dancing circle throbbing back and forth as we stepped to the beat. Dance proved to be an amazing bonding experience, both for the Scholars and the villagers.
When we were all exhausted from dancing, we met up with our homestays, and I had the opportunity to meet Izabella’s husband, Robert, who turned out to be the mayor of Star Moravica and the chairman of the regional parliament. Although there was a bit of a language barrier, I was able to have a discussion with him about local politics, which is something that I am very interested in. By this time Viola had gone to bed, and I left with my homestays to attend a birthday party for one of their friends. This gave me the opportunity to speak with some of the villagers. Unlike the homestays that I had earlier on the trip, most of the people in Star Moravica had never been to America and had never had much opportunity to interact with Americans, and were very excited to have the opportunity to meet with us and practice their English.
Everybody that I came across was very kind and welcoming and seemed truly excited to have the opportunity to host American students. Even though many struggled with English, their willingness to try to communicate with us and their kind gestures made it apparent that they were truly happy to host us, and I couldn’t have felt more welcome. I really appreciate that we had the opportunity to visit Star Moravica. It has been one of my favorite experiences from this trip, and if I ever have the chance to visit Serbia again, I hope that I will have the opportunity to revisit this town.