On the Road in 2011: The Flinn Scholars Central European Seminar

June 20, 2011

By hammersmith

In late May, the Flinn Scholars Program made its annual pilgrimage across the Atlantic for the Central European Seminar. A cornerstone of the program, the seminar inserted the entire 2010 class–Scholars who had just completed their first year of college–into Hungary and Serbia for three weeks.

The Scholars recorded observations and experiences in a set of reflections posted on the Bulletin Board blog. For those who would rather not read in reverse chronological order, here are some highlights:

Day One
(Angela Abolhassani)

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.

Day Three
(Ryan Lane)

Enthusiasm works better than coffee. Every morning on this journey, I’ve risen quickly, jolting awake to the prospect of learning more incredible information and crafting memories with the amazing individuals who accompany me on this journey.

The enthusiasm is validated as soon as breakfast starts. Today is full, as they all are. We have a crash-course lecture, workshop, and panel on the European Union, but only after we navigate Budapest to find each appropriate location. The group finishes their breakfast, breaks out the maps, and leaves the Radio Inn in small parties.

We get there a few minutes early, smiling and laughing and living all the way—a beautiful constant of this trip.

Day Seven
(Lindsey Gibson)

Despite all of the hype associated with the seminar, I always wondered if the trip would truly live up to all of my expectations and provide the same level of enlightenment and personal growth for me as it has for so many other Flinn Scholars. Because of this unknown, the “Central European Seminar” always seemed quite distant. During the past couple of years, it has been a source of common ground (if you will, a convenient conversation topic) for scholarship candidates and freshmen Flinns. Needless to say, I never thought this trip would arrive so soon. Even as I reflect upon today’s activities in a quaint room of the Radio Inn, which is located in the heart of Budapest, the past week still seems quite surreal.

The rhythmic beat of water droplets falling from fleshly laundered clothing hung strategically throughout the room coupled with the constant hum of distant traffic creates a peaceful atmosphere this late night. This calmness mirrors the tranquility of the day and presents an ideal moment to reflect upon the day…

Day Fifteen
(Bethany Vu)

Now thinking back on the day in my room engulfed by the sound of rain pelting the roof, I am comforted by the fact that each one of us will become something great in the future, and for this one moment we all converged in one time and one place to share this one dream. I probably won’t remember much of that hike today, but I will remember the words and smiles that we exchanged. The Class of 2010 may not remember many of the facts and figures we learned on this trip in the years to come, but we will remember the friendships we solidified.

What will remain in my heart, illuminated by the light of distant dreams, is this:

In the summer of 2011, my dearest brothers and sisters and I went to Central Europe.

And there we walked one path. One journey to grow and develop together. We waited through the stormy challenge of facing the great and terrifying unknown. We shared one pulse, one breath in every experience we shared. And in this brief moment in our lives, we lived one life together, building each other up, and weaving the bonds that would hold us together long after time and space have separated us.

Day Twenty
(Tina Cai)

After coffee, our group had an incredibly satisfying meal at the one and the only Hummus Bar. That falafel hummus plate is even more delicious the third time. Then, we split up to either do some shopping or rest at the Radio Inn. I picked the latter. And before I knew it, it was time for the fanciest part of our itinerary – the opera.

For most of us, this was our very first opera experience. The opera was Rossini’s renowned comedy, The Barber of Seville. Not only was the plot filled with characters in disguise plotting an intricate plot of deceit, but the opera was performed in Italian with Hungarian subtitles. So, most of us were unaware of the jokes and the subplots and even which character was who. But in the end, I think I can say that all of us acutely felt the beauty of the music, a universal language that transcends borders and unites us all.

It’s funny, because less than two years ago, I was writing an essay on the power of music to unite people, to be submitted for my application for the Flinn Scholarship. And looking back on our trip, music and art have forged pathways to deep connections both within and outside of our group.

Day Twenty Two
(John Ernzen)

Each of us understood how much we’d grown and what a close family we had become in the past month, and we wanted to ensure that the end of this trip wouldn’t mean the end of that bond.

And so as the final applause died down, it was now time for Michael, Kata, and Agi (the former program coordinator from years past, and now director of IIE Europe) to take the stage and share some of their thoughts about what the trip had meant to them. What I loved most was hearing Agi, whom we had only met that night, address us saying “I feel like I know you all, because I can see in your faces the same thing that I’ve seen in all Flinns–passion.”

Following these three touching presentations, dinner was served, and I very gratefully grabbed my plate and hurried to get in line. During the meal we enjoyed (in addition to the food) last-minute discussions with some of our past presenters and IIE staff, all the while reminiscing about favorite memories and moments with each other.

After finishing dessert, it was finally time for the much anticipated Scholar awards, and with that our two amazing chaperones, Amy and Alan, took the stage to commend each of us in a very ‘personal’ way. I took home the “Ninja of Help” award and laughed uncontrollably as my classmates were honored with their own occasionally-serious, mostly-hilarious titles. Then it was finally time for our class to present our gifts and our gratitude to our chaperones, to Kata, and especially to Michael, all of whom had guided us so well on this journey.