Flinn Scholars

On the Road 2011: Day Nineteen

June 12, 2011

By Flinn Foundation

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.

Daniel Fried (’10)

Hello from Stara Moravica, Serbia!

Stara Moravica is a small village of around 6,000 people in northwestern Serbia, in an area called Vojvodina. Nearly all of the villagers here are actually ethnically Hungarian, speak Hungarian as their first language, and practice many of the customs we became familiar with in Hungary. The people here have been ridiculously kind and generous hosts for us. The Hungarian culture and hospitality prompted Kata to say that coming to this village felt like coming home, although she’d never been here before. For us too, our stay here marks the transition back to Hungary after our week of traveling in Serbia.

Today is Pentecost, one of the biggest holidays in this predominantly Reformed Calvinist village. Dominic and I are a little tired when we wake up at our homestay’s house. Our hosts speak only a little more English than we do Hungarian (not a very high bar to clear), but we discover that their son Erik has learned some German from watching cartoons, and he does his best to translate my rusty high school German. Dominic and I discover that gestures go a long way–a handshake, a smile, a laugh, and the always-handy Hungarian word köszönöm, which means “thank you.”

Since it’s Pentecost morning, we go to the local church service with our hosts, dressed in the nicest clean clothes we have left after our time on the road. The church is filled with several hundred people, the largest turnout the church had seen in a while. This is the second church service we’ve gotten to sit in on on the trip, but it is pretty different from the Orthodox liturgy at the monastery at Velika Remeta (see Kevin’s blog from June 9th for details). The service is entirely in Hungarian, but it has a structure that anyone who’s been to a Presbyterian service in the States would find familiar: a sermon, scripture reading, and some singing of hymns accompanied by the organ. 

We get lucky and, on top of the normal Pentecost service, witness all sorts of special events, including a baby christening, a kindergarten graduation, and a first communion for some of the local kids. Some of our group also take Communion along with the congregation. We try our best to keep up with the events of the service, standing and sitting with the people in rows ahead of us, and paying close attention to symbolic actions like the anointing with water during the christening.

The somewhat surreal experience of hearing prayers, preaching, and singing in a foreign language is suddenly broken when the preacher reads some scripture in English to acknowledge our group and celebrate the gift of languages commemorated by Pentecost. At the end of the service, he goes even further and spends a couple minutes introducing us to the congregation and warmly welcomes us to Stara Moravica. He invites Michael to come up to the pulpit to introduce our group. 

Through Kata, Michael explains that we’re a scholarship group seeking to learn about cultures and countries in a way that we never could in a classroom. She also explains that this was the first Flinn visit to Stara Moravica, and expresses our desire to form some lasting friendships with the people of the village, and to come back and visit with future groups of Flinns. Afterward, Savannah gets up and sings a beautiful version of “Amazing Grace”, meant both as a a small example of our culture and a thank you gift for our hosts’ generosity. Savannah’s voice resonates powerfully and beautifully in the hall, and moves some of us nearly to tears.

After the service, we have a long lunch with our hosts in the courtyard of the village kindergarten. The language barrier is not as severe now–most of our hosts speak very good English–but the cross-cultural gestures still stand out. Nothing expresses generosity quite as clearly as a hot homemade bowl of noodles and beef goulash. We find ourselves communicating intentionally, swapping reflections on our trip so far and what life is like for Hungarians living as minorities in Serbia.

When the time comes to load the bus, I get a feeling for the sensation of home that Kata expressed yesterday. Hungarian culture is not my culture as it is hers, but the genuine kindness behind our hosts’ welcome makes me feel like a part of me has always been here. The friendships I have with the rest of my class and the new friendships made today seem comfortable, rich, and older than they actually are. We board the bus and as we pull away we wave goodbye–for now, at least.