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.
Lindsey Gibson (’10)
From Flinn Scholarship information sessions to the annual retreat at Lost Canyon, seasoned Scholars spend much of their time reminiscing. Without fail, the Central European Seminar always finds its way to the center of the conversation. To say I looked forward to my own turn at this adventure with excitement is certainly a bit of an understatement.
Yet, despite all of the hype associated with the seminar, I always wondered if the trip would truly live up to all of my expectations and provide the same level of enlightenment and personal growth for me as it has for so many other Flinn Scholars. Because of this unknown, the “Central European Seminar” always seemed quite distant. During the past couple of years, it has been a source of common ground (if you will, a convenient conversation topic) for scholarship candidates and freshmen Flinns. Needless to say, I never thought this trip would arrive so soon. Even as I reflect upon today’s activities in a quaint room of the Radio Inn, which is located in the heart of Budapest, the past week still seems quite surreal.
The rhythmic beat of water droplets falling from fleshly laundered clothing hung strategically throughout the room coupled with the constant hum of distant traffic creates a peaceful atmosphere this late night. This calmness mirrors the tranquility of the day and presents an ideal moment to reflect upon the day…
This morning begins without disturbance as we enjoy a brief taste of home, scrambled eggs, at the Slovak Pub. The relatively few hours of sleep during this leg of the journey are evidenced by the quietness (not common to this group of students) at the restaurant this morning. However, our enthusiasm is quickly revived as we begin to discuss our plans for our first and last free morning in Bratislava. Since yesterday’s short tour of the city has not quite afforded us the level of familiarity with the city that we desire, a small group of us decide to spend the morning exploring the city on foot. After packing our suitcases, we wonder down to the Danube River. As we rest along the riverside, I am finally able to organize my thoughts about this city.
Since the tension between past and present, or the communist and post-communist eras, has been the theme of many of our lectures and conversations during the trip, I consider the changes that have occurred in this very city during the past two decades. Across the street from our post, a vibrantly colored advertisement extends the length of a large business building. The sign depicts laughing children and young, carefree couples. It embodies the hopefulness and freedom promised by a democratic nation. Despite such demonstrations of optimism, remnants of the past still exist and often evoke strong emotions among citizens. As I turn to face the river, the unique UFO tower, which was constructed during the communist era, is hard to miss. While such memories torment some citizens, many experience nostalgia and yearn for the past because of them.
This tension extends to other countries throughout central Europe. Our journey from Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary reveals many of the changes during the past decades. Soon we cross the border between Slovakia and Hungary, I remember the words of yesterday’s presenter and foreign correspondent Michael J. Jordan, who encouraged us to examine these changes. While citizens of both countries under communist control were suppressed and unable to travel freely from one country to another, today we do not encounter difficulty and can easily pass from one country to the next. As a citizen of the United States, I have not experienced such sweeping political and social changes in my life. However, this evolution is vital to understanding many central Europeans and has enriched our experience during this trip.
After we enjoy the gorgeous natural landscapes from the bus for the next few hours, seventeen of us spontaneously decide to visit the Buda Labyrinth. Several screams and a few wrong turns later, we finally conclude our escapade. The group gradually splinters off into smaller groups as we try to settle on a place for dinner. Hungarian pizza is the final verdict for Tina, Kevin, and me. Laughter abounds as the three of us navigate our way back to our hotel, a priceless end to such a rejuvenating day.