On the Road (day nineteen)

June 13, 2008

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.

Wang, Neufer, Sheldahl in Hungaromania

Jared Neufer (’07):

According to Wikipedia, “Friday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck in English-, French- and Portuguese-speaking countries around the world, as well as in Austria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and the Philippines.” I thought I was good to go, given that I was in Romania. But, alas, I was wrong.

Also, strange coincidences usually don’t come so close together. After Arielle lost her wallet on the day she was supposed to write her blog, I didn’t think something out of the ordinary would characterize my day, the very next day of blogging, my day. But, alas, I was wrong.

So, I spent the morning of my blog day being treated for pink-eye. Actually, the whole experience was rather painless. Mada (who deserves endless thanks) took me to a Romanian eye doctor, who looked at my eyes, immediately diagnosed my diabolical eye germs, and wrote a prescription. Then, we walked about 50 feet to a pharmacy, got some eye drops, and before the day was over, my eyes were loads better. So, basically, I set my dear readers up for a devastating disappointment. The (begin ominous voice) ominous medical emergency of the Central European Seminar (end ominous voice) was nothing more than a 10-minute drive, a 10-minute wait, and a 10-minute walk. I think the scariest part of the whole thing was when *gasp* there was no doctor at the first eye place we went to so we had to walk *gasp* 5 minutes to another place.

While I was experiencing the Romanian medical system first-hand, everyone else was exploring Cluj on a photo scavenger hunt. In teams of 4 (and one of 3, thanks to me), the healthy majority took pictures of themselves with various landmarks. I definitely missed out, but being a neutral figure, I got to see the majority of the pictures and get more of an outside view of the whole event. Being required to fit the entire team into a picture with each landmark, teams of Flinns framed pictures with their hands, used their reflections in car windows or puddles, or even had a Cluj resident take their picture for them. Along with the landmark pics, the teams also had to take more creative pictures showing globalization (one team took a picture of the Red Bull car, another was more abstract, opting to take a picture of hands forming a globe) and cooperation and competition (there were a lot of pictures of other scavenger-hunt teams here).

We all had lunch in the city, on our own. I went with a few others to a nice sandwich place, which was cheap and delicious. We all then had to go back to the hotel to catch a few lectures. On the way back, we got hit by a nice shower, so the majority of us ended up sopping wet. The first lecturer was Reka Soos, who is involved in waste management in Romania. Her lecture was a bit repetitive from Illes Zoltan’s, but it provided a few new perspectives. The most drastic was how she believed that the cyanide spill in the Tizsa wasn’t so bad after all. Since cyanide dissipates quickly, it did not kill many of the smaller fish, and did not leave a lasting mark. On the other hand, it drove people to action–many new laws were passed that prevented future harm to the river, and more media attention was given. While pollution is still a problem, Reka told us that the cyanide spill helped galvanize some action.

Next, we had a lecture on Romanian higher education from a political science professor at the University of Cluj. Though his primary expertise was not in education, he brought some light on some major issues in Romanian higher education. It is striking how much Romania suffers from a lack of statistics about anything. Our lecturer could make hardly any analysis about anything, not from lack of expertise, but from lack of data. Also, we heard more about the Bologna system, the new EU-encompassing educational reform. While Abadi-Nagy Zoltan simply presented it in Debrecen, we learned more about its controversiality. The shortening of the undergraduate education to three years definitely has some people up in arms, especially our chaperone Zoltan (lots of Zoltans!). Finally, it was interesting to hear that political science, my field, is relatively new in Romania; in fact, the political-science professor is a sociologist by training.

After the lectures, we took a quick rest, and soon went to dinner. This was our final dinner in Romania, and our farewell to Mada and Zoltan. The food was delicious—we had plates of meat and cheese, potatoes, and chicken and mushroom kebabs. At the end of the dinner, Liz and Justin announced the prizes for the scavenger hunt—each team got an award, ranging from serious to silly, and even though my health prevented me from partaking, Justin and Liz got me a postcard with a pink-eyed dog that said “That’s life” in Romanian. We said our sad goodbyes to Mada and Zoltan, gave them some gifts from all of us, and promised to stay in touch. Following dinner, even though the bus was to be leaving at 3 a.m., (just about) all of us went to a club called Diesel and danced the night away. We arrived back at the bus, ready for a slumber train back to Budapest.

Photo courtesy Sam Wang (’07)