Monday, September 19, 2016

Welcome to Budapest! Now ignore all the fun distractions and study you scoundrel!

Dear reader, hello!

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I arrived in Hungary, which means I’m long overdue in updating you on what’s happening over here. Apologies to my patient and flexible family and friends who let me drop into their lives for a few weeks and then disappear into a kind of void from which I’m generally pretty terrible at staying in touch from. Seriously, much Canada love.

Last photo I took in Canada? Dad running to help my dumb brother put gas in his car.

On to Budapest! Budapest looks like this:

Vaci walking street
Looks like a church?

I've heard the funicular is super FUN

I arrived 3.5 days before my very first day of orientation, which was enough time to do pizza, beer, set up a cell phone and start the apartment search. It was not enough time to get over jet lag or actually finish the apartment search.  Luckily, the public transportation in Budapest is an extensive and easily navigable system, so getting around was a breeze, especially considering the last foreign public transit system I learned to navigate was in Kathmandu (system might be an exaggeration). Another plus was that my AirBnB (not a bed and breakfast) was exactly what I was expecting, in a great neighbourhood and with no unpleasant surprises, so I had a nice private room to relax in at the end of long, exhausting days.

On school:

The first two weeks at school were made of orientation sessions; way more orientation sessions than you could even wrap your mind around. Sessions with admin, about health care, about immigration, about various student clubs, about fired safety, etc. 

On top of orientation, we started a mandatory academic writing class. Many of my classmates are non-native English speakers, and I think these classes exist to help even out the playing field before we start into a year of heavy reading and writing. This pre-class class led to having a paper due before any of us even started the classes we registered for, which seems to be an omen of the year to come. Several instructors have warned us that it’s going to be a huge workload, and hoped that we had had a relaxing summer (luckily I did!)

School is split into 3 terms: Fall term starts now and ends in December. Winter term starts in January and ends in March. Spring Term starts in April and ends on June 10 (it’s a short one!) My thesis is due on June 10, and then my official residency permit ends on June 30. By this time I will hopefully be on my way to start a 2 month internship, the final component of the program. I know, I also kind of can’t believe I’m subjecting myself to another internship. But, as they say in Nepal, what to do?

As expected, my classmates come from an extraordinarily wide range of backgrounds. North American, South America, Africa, all regions of vast Asia and of course Europe (EU and non-EU) are represented. Some are coming from well-established positions within governments and NGOs, some are transitioning from the corporate world, and some (like me) are getting into something brand new. So far our conversations in class have been incredibly interesting and I’ve learned about many new issues.

I’ve been pretty wary about developing too many activities outside of class as I’m going to have 8 classes in the first 2 terms, plus a few little smaller courses throughout (finally forcing myself to learn Excel), plus write a thesis, plus apply to various internship programs. I’m also attempting to keep up my VipKids teaching (the online thing with the Chinese kids) since the pay is so good and the commitment so minimal. I’m also trying to exercise and eat healthy. I heard that can be tough during master’s degrees since it’s take more time than not exercising and eating garbage.

I’ve decided to get involved on a small level with one program, called Olive, where I’ll be teaching an English class to various refugees and newcomers living in Budapest on some Saturdays. This seems like the easiest way for me to use a skill I already have to do something good in the community without a huge time commitment, and the program seems really great so far. While I am working with lower-level English students, the program also provides subject specific academic tutoring to students and has a class-auditing program for students who are aiming to be accepted into Master’s degrees in Europe. It’s a really neat initiative, ad I’m super glad they have asked me to help (even though I was such a mess last week that I missed the first meeting with them because I thought the email said Thursday instead of Tuesday. Great work Thompson.)

Enough about school! I’m already sick of it. I finally found an apartment, after an arduous five days of hunting and 12 apartment visits. I live in what is called District VI (Budapest had numbered districts before the Hunger Games was written, if you’re wondering) near Andrassy Ave., which looks like this:

I’m about a 10 minute walk from Heroes Square, which looks like this:

Which is in front of People’s Park, which is a huge beautiful park filled with bars and huge sprawling lawns and even a thermal bath. It’s great. Now that I’ve finally found a bicycle (another arduous task it turned out), I’m about a 15 minute bike ride from school (12 in the morning when there’s less traffic) on a road with beautiful, huge, well-respected bike lanes.

The apartment itself seems to be pretty typical Budapest style. You enter a huge front door from the street that takes you into an open courtyard. The building is built around the courtyard, so that all the apartments are positioned around it in a big U shape. The ceilings are tall, almost too tall, and the door are too. Like this:

This apartment was appealing because the landlords had put such care into making it look nice. There are nice curtains, new furniture, and freaking chandeliers in every room.  I’m pretty pleased with it. I share it with a roommate – a German girl who is in her second last year of med school and doing an exchange semester in Budapest. Europe seems to have a very popular network of schools student scan do exchanges between, and Budapest seems like a very popular destination.  So far she’s great, but just like my last German roommate, she buys way too many sweets and chocolates and is way too generous about sharing them. That’s a slippery slope you guys.

Welp, congratulations if you’ve made it this far again! I generally only expect my Mom, Dad and Grandmas to ever make it this far. I literally don’t even expect my own brother to make it through start reading it in the first place? Oh well. If anything interesting happens I’ll update, but I might just get sucked into a blackhole of schoolwork instead.

Goodbye for now!