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.
Ravi Ram (’09)
It was a Wednesday morning and had rained all of Tuesday (remember the Flinn application?) I sat outside my room thinking about the events of the previous day, trying yet again to understand how all of us could have done so much in so short a period of time. After an early morning run in the rain on Monday morning and clambering into bed late that night, the chances of a repeat performance on Tuesday morning stood at an encouraging 0%.
The rain and bleary skies, however, remained to greet me yet again on Tuesday, June 1st. Breakfast was the usual – eggs, bread, cheese, fruit, juice, hot chocolate – along with some philosophical banter between Derek and Galen and a discussion of Hugh and Katherine’s personality test results. Not even the brightest personality in our group was thrilled at the prospect of another cold, rainy day, but the morning gloom would soon be dispelled even if the clouds were not.
Agenda Item #1: The Gandhi School, a high school specially for ethnic Roma children of Hungary. We had to create a presentation of sorts for the boys and girls at the school, and as is so typical for the Flinn Class of 2009, we decided to do something with music and dance. The result: a brief history of Arizona’s universities and higher education system followed by a rendition of UA’s Bear Down fight song. Just like at the Roma village, shouts of “nice!” and “yes!” in broken English greeted us. Even better, we taught the students the song and then sang it again with all of them.
Better still, our planned performance inspired an impromptu session including a team break dance by Derek and a Roma high-schooler named Sándor, a guitar-accompanied song performed by two guys and two girls from the school, and finally a Flinn Class of ’09 version of Down by Jay Sean, led by Hugh on guitar, and Katherine, Nesima, and me singing. Music apart, the disadvantaged gypsy children had once again been the source of joy and laughter just like at the Roma village, and the bright, intelligent faces of the high schoolers provided hope that some day these people would be able to overcome their plight.
Later in the day, we had the opportunity to visit a number of museums in Pécs, all with years of culture from the Turks, Habsburgs, and all the other people and civilizations that have called Hungary home. The quality and diversity of artifacts and architecture in each exhibit was striking purely for beauty, but to me it emphasized something more, too, that tied together all of our experiences thus far.
To me, it was a symbol, a message, an idea that despite our differences – our ethnicities, families, economic status, education, etc. – we are all human beings, all bright, passionate people living on the same Earth. We often discuss the world’s problems as if we are all so far apart, as if unity and agreement are foreign concepts that rarely, if ever, are achieved. Some argue that the Roma people should be integrated into Hungarian schools and companies to help them rise as a people, while others argue for the necessity of a separately education Roma elite first. We debate alternatively that the Roma are oppressed and in need of help, or that we are forcing our Western values upon them.
If anything, interaction with the Roma people has taught me that we all share common goals, we all believe in family values, in community, in liberty, in achievement, whether we live in the poorest slum or the most beautiful mansion. As Michael said after visiting the Roma village, everyone speaks the language of fun. I know when I was 5 or 6, I would’ve run yelling and screaming to play catch and piggyback races too. The faces of the Roma kids are the smiling intelligent faces we all share as children, the hope of a peaceful world we all share as human beings.
At night I sat engaged in one of my favorite activities: a good, old-fashioned heart-to-heart conversation with Lauren. Finally, I had a chance to reflect with someone about the myriad of experiences we had all already had since leaving Arizona for central Europe. I realized that if this trip has taught me anything, it is that the awareness of this unity, these values, these common goals must come first if we are to ever truly solve the problems of the world. In my opinion, it is this understanding that will shape the future. But on a lighter note – this trip is the best thing ever.