Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Back in Buda

3/8 (Sorry for not posting immediately)


Wow, what a wild month! I left Budapest in the early morning a full month ago (February 8), bound for Dallas, TX for the BBYO International Convention, accompanied by 5 Hungarian teens and one other Hungarian staff member. Today, I boarded a flight from Tel Aviv and am sitting back in my bedroom in Hungary that feels comfortable and familiar, yet strange. Over the last month, I slept in 9 (I think) beds in 5 cities. I spent each day with amazing company and a packed schedule.

The best way to summarize what the experience was like and where my head is that is to say that 1) everything was truly amazing and 2) there was so much happening that my head was consistently 10 steps behind my body. On point #2, it sometimes felt like I was watching a series of short movies about my own life, and I just needed some time to sit down and process everything. I generally need time and space to recharge and process. I try and be present in all my interactions, and it was hard to do so when my head felt like it was spinning. I also try and be very reachable for catching up and making plans, and I found it nearly impossible to stay on grid and available when I was struggling to even have my head totally present in my actual face to face encounters.

As I identified this reality, I made sure to be honest with others about these feelings, and try and take whatever time and space that I could to try and soak in all of the great things that were happening.

To recap (maybe this will help me process):


My first (almost) week in Dallas was spent in home hospitality, as the international contingent for BBYO International Convention descended upon the city. IC itself is a huge production with 2500 teens from around the world (a few hundred of whom are not North American) and as many staff, guests and speakers. Before that unfolds, the international delegation arrives to acclimate to being in the US, have extra time to tour, and additional programming to build them into more of a cohort that they can lean upon during IC and continue to leverage after IC ends. During this week, I had the chance to see the 8 other JDC-BBYO fellows who have been working on teen engagement and programming in their placements this year. Additionally, I met staff and participants from other countries across Europe, the FSU, Israel, and Latin America. It was really special to see this community coalesce and learn how much we all have in common. It was also incredibly special to finally be with all of the other fellows after only formally meeting as a group during our September orientation. We were all craving sunshine after cold European winters, and also to be around native English speaking friends. Some highlights of the week were my birthday, going with a group to a Dallas Mavericks game, watching my teens start to grow more comfortable as a group, and spreading the fun of the game Happy Salmon that I brought with.

When this pre-IC week finished, we migrated to the Dallas Hyatt Regency for IC. The hotel is a large and beautiful hotel, and the entire facility was rented out to BBYO. This means that every space of the hotel was converted into a programming space. The restaurant, bar, common spaces, windows, elevators, and beyond were all covered with pictures, signs, booths, and more. It was an impressive transformation to behold. The role of the international staff throughout the week was basically just to support our teens, so I was able to sit in on sessions and experience the convention for myself. The convention included top-notch educators, innovators, activists, and performers. I found that at times, it seemed like the schedule was inundated with options, and it was actually hard to provide a nurturing and content-heavy experience for the teens. It was honestly somewhat of a reverse culture shock to be around 2000+ Jewish American teens, because it forced me to really think about the major differences in educational approaches and appropriate content between them and the international delegation. My name tag had the Hungarian flag, and people were frequently impressed with my English, before I admitted that I am from Chicago. I think that BBYO's attempts to create a global network of Jewish leaders, very much in line with my JDC experience, is an incredibly exciting front for Jewish education and community building. I thought a lot about how at Camp Ramah, we try and build an immersive Jewish experience that brings serious Jewish content into every hour of the day and models what observant progressive Jewish community and identity can look like. Because IC was this major production with so many teens and so many options, it was harder to create a space like that, and was much more about building excitement and pride. IC was also a pluralistic space, so it's harder to model a particular Jewish identity or lifestyle, and their whole vision revolves around teen-led programming, meaning educators advise the programming but do not impart their vision upon the teens in the same top-down way that I see at Ramah. These approaches are different and reflect different conditions and values, and it was interesting for me to see this model.



After IC, I came to Chicago for a very quick visit, essentially a <48 hour layover. For those of you who may be surprised to read that I was within a few miles of you, I kept my visit covert because I just didn't have time to see all of those with whom I would have loved to catch up. I really only saw family (and only for a brief time) and a few close friends. I loved the chance to go home, but it also felt like an out-of-body experience. Even though I haven't lived at home since high school, it felt extra sentimental to return to the house I grew up in that still holds so many of my memories and belongings (and also my parents). I had beyond no time to process all of the emotions, but I knew that I was glad to have made the pitstop.



After my Chicago 'layover,' I headed off to Israel for our JDC Mid Year Seminar. The seminar was really incredible. All of the fellows, not just the BBYO fellows who were with me in Dallas, joined together for the first time since September. People came from Argentina, Europe, Rwanda, Israel, and India. The seminar helped us all reflect, focus, and plan. Most of us are about halfway into our placements, and it's incredible how quickly that time has flown by, and also to think that I still have half my year still ahead of me. The group of fellows is an incredibly special group. Everyone is smart, accomplished, and motivated, and also incredibly humble and honest. Nobody tried to outcompete anyone else for being more successful professionally or socially in their placements. Instead, we all spoke very modestly about the challenges of living and working abroad, which I'm sure was a relief for everyone to realize how we are really in this together. And when we had the chance to share our accomplishments, there was a sense of sincere pride in each other. The group had diverse personalities and backgrounds, and truly no weak links. I felt like I could really be myself in this group, including feeling vulnerable about insecurities, free to test my sense of humor, and invited to share my opinions. Even though I felt like people still were learning about me with every new day, I felt very comfortable to be myself, which meant a lot. Everyone felt incredibly lucky to have this chance to recharge and reflect.



And then I was back! I hate to talk about the weather, but it was what struck me first. When I left, it was still bitter winter, and I needed a thick coat to brave the walk even to the grocery store. Now, cold days are in the 50s and warm days are 70. So many of my formative memories took place during during the winter months, and it is strange that the whole winter season has simply passed. With spring, I cannot wait to see what good vibes the good weather brings. AND I am soooo relieved to have the time and space to breath, reflect, and get my bearings in my own head and also in the world. 

No comments:

Post a Comment