Thursday, May 11, 2017

Never too late for new friends


I haven't blogged about life in Hungary for a little bit, but that's because life has been pretty routine and solid, and I have been enjoying living in the present, and blogging about it felt too formal and preemptively retrospective.

However, the routine did break for a week, as I traveled back to Chicago for my cousin Brad's wedding #FromLowtoJo #LololoJoseph. Going home is always exciting, strange, satisfying, and fleeting. It was great gathering the 5 Foresters from the 4 corners of the Earth and having us all back together in our house. We have all had transformative life experiences and traveled to all sorts of places since we were last together as one family, and there is just nothing like family time. Gathering for such a wonderful simcha was extra special. Being able to see as many other friends and family that I could squeeze into just a couple days was also very nice, yet fleeting. It's a funny feeling knowing that on the one hand, many of the most important people in my life are in Chicago, and I have a bedroom there and still feel so at home. On the other hand, I don't really have a life there, because I have nothing to really do there at this time, and my daily life this year is very different from what it would be in Chicago. Nonetheless, it was important for me to be able to catch up with close friends and get a glimpse into their lives, and offer them the same to mine.

Upon returning, I had to readjust to my Budapest routine. It's always strange doing so, because it is sort of the inverse of my feelings in Chicago. I do have a life here and things to do, but I do not have a lifetime full of memories and relationships here. I do feel at home here, but it doesn't take much time after landing to remember that I am actually living in a foreign country.

I also have less than 5 weeks until I leave for Szarvas Camp for the majority of the summer, which means that the routine that I have built, my life as I have come to know it in Budapest, is soon going to change. I still have 3+ months of experiences and adventures left, but my routine of 8+ months is coming to an end. Before camp, I will be attending Junction Annual in Berlin (more on that in a future blog post most likely), a conference for Jewish 20-30 year old Europeans. I will attend as a participant and also in the capacity as a Jewish professional and educator, as I will be leading a Friday night tefillah option and zemirot. I will then visit a friend in Copenhagen. I am also going to a European Moishe house retreat in Bulgaria. And some great friends are planning on visiting Budapest. So this whole "routine" thing is kind of a fallacy anyways, but at least my basic job responsibilities and obligations will remains consistent until Szarvas.

Now, to get to the actual impetus for writing this post...

All year, I have been trying to develop the position of JSC Fellow in Budapest, and forge partnerships with various people and programs in the community. As the first Fellow here, I want members of the community to understand that I am available and eager to help in different ways they might find useful, and hopefully they can start to imagine ways to build a vision for utilizing a JSC Fellow in the future.

One recent development began when I helped staff a JDC trip of students visiting with American University Hillel. We visited a number of programs and organizations in the community, including a group called Cafe Europa. This group is JDC supported, and it consists of Holocaust survivors joining together for schmoozing, conversation, and sometimes more specialized events. The group is filled with tremendously kind and interesting individuals. I approached the director of the program after the meeting and introduced myself, and said that I would be so glad to find a way to remain involved. With the help of a translator who works for the JDC and whose mother attends Cafe Europa, we met on a later date and discussed how I could be involved.

This morning, I had my first session teaching English to the group!

Six lovely ladies showed up to the JCC to learn English with me. They all said that they had learned some English once upon a time at an introductory level, but they confessed that they had forgotten most of it. One lady worked in international trade throughout her career and her English is fluent. They wanted to join the group to keep their minds limber and have the chance to refresh their knowledge.

Immediately, one woman asked me if I would speak with a British accent and not an American one, because American English is too hard to understand. I said I'm from Chicago and it's hard to hide that, but I would try and speak clearly. The thought of speaking for an hour in a fake British accent while six old ladies attentively listen makes me chuckle, but I appreciated her honesty.

Our first game was Two Truths and a Lie, a common icebreaker in which each participant tells two true facts about themselves as well as one lie, and the rest of the group must guess which was the lie. I love this game because I always get to stump people with my "I have a sister who lives in Vietnam" truth. The ladies caught up relatively quickly to the game and shared some funny answers, including "I hate classical music but love rap" (lie), and "I hate my grandchildren" (also a lie).

We then played a game that was inspired by an activity that we did in AP Spanish, in which the instructor reads out questions, and the participants compete against each other to swat the answers, like flies. I prepared a list of questions in Hungarian, and then I taped the English translations of those questions to the walls, each of which also had a picture of a fly. When the question was read in Hungarian, they had to swat the proper translation, read it in English, and answer it in English. The first one to do so received a point! One lady shared that if she could have dinner with one historical figure, it would be Mr. Trump, but she would poison the food. I told her to just make sure that he picks up the bill first. One question asked how many languages they could count to 5 in, and the lady did so in Hungarian, English, Hebrew, German, and Russian (I think most of the group could probably do so in all these languages as well). Another question asked what interesting item they always carry in their purse/wallet, and the lady said just a handkerchief. I asked the group if any of them carry pictures of their children or grandchildren, and they all ran to their purses to show off all of their lovely families. 

After that game, I passed around a song sheet that I prepared, with Kol Haolam Kulo lyrics written in English, Hebrew, and Hungarian. I taught the song and we sang it together in all three languages!

Even at 10:00 AM (which is early for me), I felt incredibly energized and excited from our wonderful lesson together. The ladies were all very patient and participatory, and I appreciated their ability to be vulnerable by speaking a language that is not their first. 

Even with just a few more weeks of this "routine" that I have created, I was so glad to fit in these new friends just in time! I know that we will have some nice times together before I leave, and hopefully this connection with the group continues past my time in Budapest.

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