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.
Lauren Johnston (’09)
Today we ended our homestays in Homorodszentpeter, a small Unitarian Hungarian “willage” in Transylvania, Romania. Probably the only words to describe this little niche of the world are “freaking awesome.” To put it a little more eloquently, this tiny village is an idyllic paradise, where each inch of architecture and décor and cuisine is marked by flawless craftsmanship and every cow knows how to get home on its own. The people take pride in their traditions, history, and handiwork.
After a pleasant morning of homemade breakfast and strolls around the hills and the dairy, we sat down with Reverend Kinga to talk about the issues that this village faces. She began with the formidable assertion that, “At some point, we must decide what we want really out of life,” Packed in this simple sentence are the deepest questions of morality and values that challenge not only Kinga’s evolving community but our own lives as well; especially at this junction after our first year away from home. Considering that our lives are so privileged with freedoms and essentially sheltered experiences, one can only imagine the depth of tackling this challenge in the midst of such harsh cultural and moral clashes.
With Romania’s recent entry into the EU, traditional communities have in some areas been forced to adopt the values and practices of Europe. Over the past 80 years, the small ethnic strongholds have had to cope with regime changes from monarchy, to communism, to a fledgling democracy. The sheer rapidity and juxtaposition of such richly opposing governments is enough to overwhelm any society that has succeeded in remaining rooted to its practices and morals for hundreds of years. The rhythm of life in the traditional cultural strongholds like Homorodszentpeter has been interrupted as harshly as a stanza from a Bela Bartok composition. While modernization has brought communities together through technology and education, Rev. Kinga pointed out that the most notable changes are pessimistic sentiments towards integration and the loss of cultural and economic stability. Cultural phenomena in the form of television and unsavory vice have overturned the community life as well.
With the constant air of change, Reverend Kinga holds to the wish that her congregation will remain faithful and devoted to the simple joys of an honest life. She hopes that her children will choose to stay in the village and work as farmers. As Matt Rolland mused, for a woman so educated and worldly, this is a rather unique sentiment. I interpreted this dream as a small blessing of hope that the next generation will come to understand where true happiness lies, and pursue a life centered around a deeper peace with the world. As we said our goodbyes in the village, Kinga charged us to find a balance between tradition and progress, and to always have hope that we may find happiness.