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.
Angela Abolhassani (’10)
Gliding on the tarmac, our airplane moves forward into the heavy heat of an Arizona night. A sharp click announces the tightening of one last seatbelt. Finally, the engines begin whirring to a climax and silence overwhelms the cabin for the first and last time on our flight. As the lattice of Phoenix city lights grows beyond the oval window to my left, the plane orients itself midair in a way that makes my stomach drop. The inertia of the movement creates an illusion of weightlessness for just a moment, as though there is a vast vacuum of space within me.
It is in this space where I can feel the stress of finals, last minute travel arrangements, and the illusion of complete control slide away. I feel wiped clean of nervous energy and comforted by the sandwich of Flinn Scholars that are seated on either side of me. The instant passes, I giggle, (a rare occurrence), and we are airborne. Hungerbia has officially commenced. This is where the 2011 Central European Flinn Seminar journey begins.
The relaxation of accumulated nerves I experienced seems to have affected all of my fellow classmates. Our first day was inspired with an anticipation for this trip that has filled an entire freshman year of college for each of us. Every new event supplied a momentum to this feeling that was only minorly obstructed by jet lag.
For example upon arrival at the Radio Inn and after thirteen hours in the air, a majority of the Scholars opted to go on a brisk walk to Hero’s Square despite the indecent (Michael Cochise Young’s phrase) hour. The monolithic scale of an expansive square and expressive copper statues inspired much ogling and cooing as we assimilated our first impressions of Budapest.
Our first morning presented the city to us in a wash of clean sunshine. Once divided into two groups, IIE orientations and tours to either the Buda or Pest sides of the city began. Each detail of the Budapest cityscape had some of kind of historical and cultural significance to it, making the city feel like a living mosaic of the past, present, and future of Hungary. What Bethany Vu described as “layers of buildings” continuously distracted everyone as the diversity of Hungarian architecture displayed itself in full form during the tours. The city is charmed with an eclectic beauty wrought by baroque steelwork, hidden courtyards, and reliefs that made some statues look as though they are crawling from the walls of surrounding buildings. Surrealism coated each new activity as we delved deeper into the city as well as plans for the Slovakian and Serbian portions of the seminar.
We were granted a brief period of repose at the Inn before making our way to the Danube for a river cruise in the company of Hungarian students. The Hungarian students were truly incredible individuals who helped guide us through the splay of authentic foods that were served onboard. The falling sun accentuated the contours of buildings lining the Danube in addition to the green hills of Buda on the right and the modern city structures of Pest on the left. An accompaniment of string instruments added to the ambience of the cruise, and any initial awkwardness soon dissipated as subjects varying from music to prom to politics floated around the dining room. The students we met on the cruise will also be hosting individuals of our class for the first homestay of the trip on Friday night. I am particularly excited to stay with my hostess, Anna, who showed me various times throughout the night that humor could most definitely transcend linguistic barriers.
Overall, the day was packed with an almost dreamlike range of events and emotions. This impression may have been due to the jet lag; however, I’d like to think that it was also rooted in an awe inspired not only by the city of Budapest itself, but also by the amazing crossroads of anticipation, excitement, and hope at which my class now finds itself.