Hey! How’s Hungary?

“Hey! How’s Hungary?” My friends and family have been asking me this over the past month, and it has been hard to give a detailed answer because I hadn’t been here long enough to give accurate information. Now that I have been in Miskolc for 6 weeks, I would like to attempt to answer this in depth!
Where I reside:
I live in a 1-bedroom flat (‘apartment’ in British English, more on that later) that is attached to the kindergarten that’s associated with the Lutheran school. I have a playground in my backyard! Since I am the first YAGM in Miskolc, my flat is newly furnished, and it is conveniently located close to the city center and to the high school where I work.
The city where I live:
Miskolc (pronounced Meesh-kohlts) is a city of 160,000 people, the fourth largest city in Hungary, located in the northeastern part of the country. We’re large enough to have a tram system along with an extensive public bus system. It’s about 2 hours to Budapest by car, and is situated at the base of the Bükk Mountains, a national park where many locals enjoy mountain biking and hiking. The main downtown area is on Széchenyi utca (road or street), and is closed to traffic besides the tram. There are many shops, bakeries, cafes, and restaurants along the street, and even more shops in the hidden alleyways. I walk down Széchenyi utca almost every day, and I keep finding new hidden streets and alleyways to explore. If you are ever in Hungary, make sure to check out the alleys and side streets because that’s where the cutest cafes and restaurants are!

Around Miskolc, there are plenty of sites to check out. I hope to visit the Diósgyöri castle, which was built in the 13th century, destroyed later, and partially restored in the 1950’s. There is also Lillafüred, a quaint mountain village west of town, and is a popular starting point for hiking in the Bükk Mountains. South of town is Miskolctapolcai Barlangfürdö (cave bath), a natural hot spring in a cave. I’ll post some pictures when I visit these places throughout the year. Since I’ve lived all of my life in small, rural towns, it’s been an adjustment to live in a city (Miskolc is not that big, but compared to White Salmon, Washington, and Saint Peter, Minnesota, Miskolc is definitely a city), and I am enjoying all of the exploring I can do.

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Miskolci Nemzeti Színház (National Theater of Miskolc) is the first stone theater in Hungary, and is on Széchenyi utca.
I pass by the Béla Bartók school of music every day on my way to school and the city center, there is always beautiful music coming from the practice rooms!
I pass by the Béla Bartók school of music every day on my way to school and the city center, there is always beautiful music coming from the practice rooms!
View of western Miskolc from the TV tower
View of western Miskolc from the TV tower
Roads and stairs to the TV tower
Roads and stairs to the TV tower
There are many small cottages built into the Avas hill on the way to the TV tower
There are many small cottages built into the Avas hill on the way to the TV tower
Waterfall at Lillafüred
Waterfall at Lillafüred

What I do during the day:

I assist with teaching English lessons to 7th-12th graders at the Kossuth Lajos Evangélikus Gimnázium és Pedagógiai Szakközépiskola (Lajos Kossuth Lutheran High School and Pedagogical Technical School). I have 4 or 5 different classes every day, where we work on pronunciation, reading comprehension, conversation, and vocabulary. On Tuesdays, I also teach English to the Pedagogical Technical School students, which is a one to two-year certificate program after high school to work with children with disabilities, or to become a teacher’s assistant. The textbooks they use in Hungary teach British English, so sometimes I can teach American phrases or slang words. For example, in the US, I would say that “I live in a one-bedroom apartment”, and in Britain, they say “I live in a one-bedroom flat”. Another difference between the two reminds me of playing Go-Fish as a kid: “Do you have any fives?” (American English) and “Have you got any fives?” (British English) are both grammatically acceptable, but Americans would prefer the first version. During class, we also talk a lot about holidays and food in Hungary and the United States.

The school day starts at 7:45 am and ends at 3:50 pm, with 9 45-minute periods throughout the day, and 5 or 10 minute breaks between classes. The first period on Monday mornings is worship, which we would usually have in the Lutheran church next door, but it’s being renovated, so we have worship in the classrooms with the pastor on the intercom loudspeaker. All of the classrooms have a laptop and a projector, and some of the classrooms have smartboards. There are about 600 students in the high school.

What I do when I’m not at school:

On Tuesday afternoons, a craft group meets at the city-center Lutheran church before the weekly Bible study with the pastor. We’re already getting ready for Christmas by making paper ornaments. On Wednesday evenings, I have been attending the choir rehearsals that one of the music teachers at school invited me to. Thursday evenings is the Lutheran choir rehearsal. On the weekends, my colleagues have invited me for various activities like grape-picking, hiking, and bowling. I also had two choir concerts in October, one in Budapest and one in Eger. Otherwise, I have enjoyed running around Miskolc, and exploring the hiking paths up to the TV tower on the hill. I even ran my first 10-k race last weekend!

In September, my colleague Eva invited me to pick grapes at her vineyard with her family and friends. Such a gorgeous view of the vineyard-covered hillsides
In September, my colleague Eva invited me to pick grapes at her vineyard with her family and friends. Such a gorgeous view of the vineyard-covered hillsides
Eva's husband, Laszlo, and a young friend make gulyas the traditional way: outside, in a giant pot over an open fire, stirred with a giant spoon
Eva’s husband, Laszlo, and a young friend make gulyas the traditional way: outside, in a giant pot over an open fire, stirred with a giant spoon

Worship in the Lutheran church:

I’ll dedicate an entire post to this later, but there are three Lutheran churches in Miskolc: one next to the school in the city center, one next to the Diósgyöri castle, and one in the old factory district. It varies which one I attend, but I usually go with my site supervisor, Orsi. Since the church in the city-center (next to the school) is being renovated, they have worship in the large church library, where we also have choir rehearsal. Sunday worship consists of prayers, a sung liturgy, two or three hymns, a Gospel and an Epistle reading, the creed, a sermon, the Lord’s Prayer, and a sending blessing. Communion usually happens on the first Sunday of every month.

I know this post was long, and there are probably questions you have that I haven’t answered, so let me know what you’d still like to know about Hungary!

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Inside the Lutheran church in the factory district
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I got to go hiking after school with some of the students to a cave in the Bükk Mountains
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Musings on music

Over the past month (I’ve been in Hungary for a month already! Crazy!), I’ve had several memorable episodes and encounters revolving around music. For me, making music is a passion and a hobby, and it is a big part of my family’s traditions and my own spiritual practice. As J.S. Bach said it, “the aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

While we were staying in Budapest, I had the chance to see Bizet’s opera Carmen at the Erkel Theatre. I did not have a chance to read a synopsis before the performance, and the performance was in French with Hungarian prose and subtitles, but I still understood what was going on most of the time. I was utterly impressed by the vocalists’ ability to project to the entire audience, even those of us sitting 4 rows from the back. The performing arts seems to be highly valued in this part of the world, so I hope to see more live music and theatre this year.

My first full day in Miskolc (Wednesday, September 16) was quite overwhelming. I met with the headmaster of the secondary school, had a tour of the primary and secondary schools, was introduced to all of the teachers, and sat in on a couple of English classes. I tried to fully embrace the YAGM mentality of “say yes and go with it”. My afternoon concluded with the kindergartner’s Bible class, where they sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Down, Moses” in Hungarian before starting the Bible story of David and Goliath. I tried to teach them the English words to “This Little Light of Mine”, but we mostly just did the actions all together. It was quite adorable, and I couldn’t help but feel the presence of God among the language and age barriers. It was a great way to close such a long day.

Later that week, I went with Orsi, who is my site supervisor and an English teacher, to the high school music class that she was covering for (again, embracing the “say yes and go with it” mindset). There were no lesson plans, but there was music for “Amazing Grace” that they were going to sing for an upcoming performance. I played the piano while they sang, and it was comforting to hear a familiar hymn amidst all the stress of moving to a new city. Afterwards, a student showed me how to play “All of Me” by John Legend, and the whole class sang along, in English. It was a moving reminder of how fun and amazing it is to make music together, despite our age, language, and cultural differences. (It is also evidence for how American media is so globally widespread, but that’s perhaps for another post.)

Of course, no Lutheran church experience would be complete without a choir, and I have joined the local church choir. I am singing soprano, which is a whole new world, and all of the songs are in Hungarian, so I can work on my pronunciation as I sing all the high notes. Everyone has been very welcoming and eager to help me find my seat, make sure I know what song we’re rehearsing next, when to breathe in the song, etc. They are preparing for a concert in Budapest on October 10, and I hope to perform with them! Here are a couple of the songs we will be singing:

A világ világossága – Light of the World. This is also familiar hymn tune in the ELW 576, “We All Are One In Mission”, which is ironically appropriate for this year. There are 3 verses, but I recorded just the first verse. Here’s a link to a recording of it: https://soundcloud.com/kirsten-larsen-1/a-vilag-vilagossaga-light-of-the-world

Lyrics of the first verse:

Ha jő a nap az égre, S megáll a hegyeken,
Ragyogva csillan fénye, A harmat cseppeken.
Szent égi fénye minket Új életre hív el,
S eltörli bűneinket Örök szerelmivel

Ujjongva zeng a Mindenség – Joy to the World. I recorded all 3 verses. Here’s a link to a recording of it: https://soundcloud.com/kirsten-larsen-1/ujjongva-zeng-a-mindenseg-joy-to-the-world-1

Lyrics of the first verse:

Ujjongva zeng a Mindenség, A szívünk lángra gyúl,
és dalra kél a tágas ég, és dalra kél a tágas ég,
Mert vélünk már az úr, mert vélünk már az úr,
Mert vélünk már az úr, mert itt az úr