On the Road 2011: Day Two

May 26, 2011

By hammersmith

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.

Brandon Day (’10)

Day two in Budapest left me with that feeling of passion that seems to come only to a young child presented with a shiny new toy – the prospect of endless opportunities I have found even in the short time we’ve been here. The lush green plants, scattered among the architecture that is somewhat of an amalgamation of Baroque, Renaissance, and oddly some signs of Moorish styles, stand as the first reminder that the history of this city is as vivid, varied, and tumultuous as can be expected.

After a hearty breakfast of yogurt, rye bread with cheese, OJ (that tastes quite unlike anything I’ve had in the US, with a tinge of tang), that necessary cup of coffee to get me energized, I was ready for an adventure – an adventure that I’ve all ready noticed has started to change everything about my world view.

Up until this point, I must sady confess, I have been quite unable to navigate a map, much less find my way through a maze of streets and subways in a city the size of Budapest. Thankfully, my Fliblings took care of that in a flash (Get it? FLash? Flinn jokes are an absolute must). Anyway, Amy, our female chaperone, in her Flexpertise, gave me the rundown on maps I desperately needed, and now I can proudly say I am map-literate. Which was tested with our “find our way” to FUGA for our first lecture. With a small group, I managed to get to the location on time using the subway system (that, mind you, Tucson’s buses could learn from) and the first lecture on Hungarian history commenced.

Our lecturer, Károly Pintér gave quite the introduction to Hungarian history, articulating Central Europe’s extensive concerns about conflicts arising out of arbitrary geographical borders dividing and bringing together cultures that have resulted in extreme clashes, creating the racial tensions present today. And the divisions abound way beyond this: linguistics, religious practices, and politics have all resulted in a cultural sensitivity present in this area of the world. And, the future remains quite uncertain in light of these volatile conditions, especially in regards to the Roma “problem.”

After a quick coffee break, Ferenc Zsigó came in, an ethnic Hungarian raised in Canada, to discuss this constant source of frustration in Hungarian culture. Before I move into any specifics, I must say this speaker is phenomenal – by the end of the presentation, I was ready to champion the Roma cause and truly empathized with their struggles. Culturally different from the majority Hungarian population, this varied group has faced discrimination, abject poverty, violence, low access to education (especially higher ed, with only .5% of the population receiving any form of college degree), poor sanitary conditions, and the list continues. Now, I have a hard time hearing about any discrimination on this scale, but it was appalling to hear how these conditions are allowed to occur under the relatively prosperity Hungarians enjoy. True, they do not have the same scale of materialism present in American culture, but I just do not understand how anything of this nature could thrive, especially when history has shown time and time again the social, psychological, and cultural reprecussions this has.

This nicely brings me into the next topic of the day – the Jewish situation in Hungary. Visiting the largest Synagogue in Europe was a sobering experience harkening back to the days of Nazi occupation, the devastation of the Holocaust (which also “devoured” many of the Roma people) and how this continues to be reflected in Jewish practice in Budapest. After a tour of this beautiful building, a lecture on Hungarian folk music (which, I admit, is not my forte), and a delicious meal of rice and two potato patties filled with veggies and cheese, our formal learning ceased.

However, one of our Budapest homestay students, Anna, generously came on her own time to take us to the Buda side of the city, for more exploration. Several pictures, trams, and subways later, I arrived back at the hotel for four hours of sleep to only begin this process anew the next day, and I was more than satisfied with this, completely enamored with this experience, the Flinn Foundation, IIE’s coordination and efforts to make it possible, and the future prospects of bonding with my flamily.