Lessons Learned Abroad

This post is what I’m going to call my “final installment” of reflective posts from studying abroad. Saying Goodbye captured my feelings right after leaving Europe, Cultural Differences in Hungary provided a more lighthearted look back on the experience (which I think I really needed more than anyone), and now that I’ve had some time to sit back and reflect, I’ve come up with a few lessons I learned while abroad.

The semester came and went faster than I could have ever possibly imagined. It seems like not long ago I was arriving in Budapest, nervous and excited. But four months quickly passed and as cliché and corny as it sounds, I wouldn’t trade those months for anything. Whenever I saw Facebook posts from my friends returning from study abroad spouting how life-changing the experience was and how they will never forget it, I just passed them off as humble-brags and didn’t think much of it. But they were right. It opens your mind and pushes you out of comfort zones. It provides new firsts, new friends, and some life lessons along the way too.

One lesson I learned is that material things are completely unimportant. When your life can fit into a single suitcase and carry-on bag for four months, you re-wear the same clothes, wear through the same few pairs of shoes, and make-do with what you have. And did I ever feel deprived? Not once. It was almost nice to not have as many options to choose from when getting dressed in the morning!

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Cultural Differences in Hungary

After my last sappy blog post about saying goodbye, I thought it was time to lighten things up a bit! That said, here is my commentary on cultural differences in Hungary vs. America!

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A Day Trip to Eger, Hungary

When living in a new country, it’s probably best not to see only one city. Following the advice of my father to go somewhere in Hungary besides Budapest, a few friends and I took a day trip to Eger in early October.

I wasn’t going to blog about Eger at first, but then I thought, small towns deserve as much recognition as big cities! Why not tell you all about somewhere you’ve most likely never heard of? So here’s a short post about the cute little town of Eger, Hungary!

Eger can be reached by a two-hour train ride from Budapest. The best advice I can give about Eger is just to stroll around and take your time. It’s not a very big town, however it is quite charming. There are a few pretty churches, a nice main square, cute restaurants, a castle, and best of all, Szépasszonyvölgy, or more commonly known among tourists as the Valley of Beautiful Women.

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Wearing Fancy Pants in Vienna

Vienna is my kind of city – palaces, fancy cafés, beautiful architecture, and an appreciation for coffee. Plus, Austrians like their desserts as much as I do. Excuse my language, but Vienna makes you feel like one classy-ass-motherfucker. Great vibes made for a great weekend.

On Friday morning, my friends Derek, Molly, and I hopped on the bus for a three hour ride from Budapest to Vienna. After flights and overnight buses for previous trips, a short bus ride was very welcome. We arrived around 10:30am and walked about 20 minutes to our hostel to drop off our bags and buy metro passes for the weekend. We each bought a “Vienna Card” because it was only a few more dollars than a metro pass and included the metro as well as other discounts to museums and restaurants around the city. Don’t buy this if you are a student. At every single place where the Vienna card gives a discount the student discount is either the same or better. It was only a few extra dollars though and we learned our lesson to research before we buy anything like that in the future.

From there we took the metro to the Naschmarkt, which is an outdoor market. It was raining but we still wandered around. We kept seeing a certain pastry at many of the stalls so each of us decided to try one. I can’t remember the name of it or seem to find on Google, but there were a few different fillings; poppy seed and walnut seemed to be the most traditional, but there was also sour cherry cheesecake, apple, and apricot. I tried the cherry and it was pretty good! We needed a little more nourishment than a pastry provided though so we found a restaurant for brunch. After some eggs and coffee, we started wandering the city.

We looked at the Secession, which is a beautiful art nouveau building. From there we saw the St. Charles church (Karlskirche), where we impulsively decided to buy a cheap ticket to go inside, which was totally worth it. The church is beautiful and there is a lift up to the dome where you are just a few feet from stunning frescoes and can get a great view of the city. One thing I love about Vienna is that you can literally just walk around and find something cool to see or do. You could spend the whole day walking without a plan and have a great day.

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The Secession
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St. Charles church (Karlskirche)
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The fresco on the dome of St. Charles church

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Prague: Pretty and Pretty Odd

If I learned anything from my trip to Prague, it’s that weird things happen in Prague. I’m not going to list them all right now, because that’s no fun. You’ll have to read about the normal things I did as well to hear about the weird things.

Before we even left Budapest though, things got interesting. On the way to the bus station with my travel companions, Alyssa and Anum, we encountered the end of a Hungarian soccer game. As we were leaving the metro, floods of people were trying to enter while cheering “Magyarország!” (“Hungary” in Hungarian) and drunkenly waving flags; it was like being a salmon swimming upstream. As we waited for the late bus to arrive we gawked at all the cute Hungarian guys walking by and wondered where they’d been this whole time we’d been in Budapest so far. We quickly decided that we needed to attend a game soon.

The bus eventually arrived and we set off on our seven hour overnight journey to the Czech Republic. After semi-successfully attempting to sleep while sitting upright for the whole ride, we arrived to the Prague Florenc bus station at 6:45 am. Being frugalistas, we decided to take the metro to our hostel rather than take a taxi. Well, this took a while. First we got lost trying to find the metro, even though it was right next to the bus station. Then we found the ticket machine but it only took coins and we only had large bills. Then we tried to get change by buying a pastry from the bakery in the metro station. Anum and I got change, but they wouldn’t give Alyssa change (weird). So we went back up to the bus station to ask another bakery and a Burger King to give us change for our bills; the bakery gave me change but refused Alyssa again. We still didn’t have enough change for all of us, so we decided to try the convenience store. Turns out you could just buy metro tickets at the counter there… who knew.

After easily navigating the metro once we hopped on (even with a transfer… we are metro pros after living in Chicago), we got off at the station near our hostel. Now was the matter of walking to the hostel. After a little wandering in the wrong direction and asking a police officer for directions, we finally found our hostel. We dropped our bags off at Hostel Santini and set off for the Old Town Square. On the way there a woman literally stuck her tongue out at Alyssa… like I said, Prague is odd.

The St. Charles Bridge - you can see the Prague Castle in the distance as well
The St. Charles Bridge – you can see the Prague Castle in the distance as well

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Solo o Doppio?

Last week I ran. No timer, no splits, no pace goal. I ran to run and for no other reason than it was what my body was craving. I took the tram to Margaret Island by myself because I’d been wanting to check out the 5km track there for a while. As I ran, I was surrounded by other runners, old couples walking hand in hand, groups of friends sitting beside the river, and dogs racing each other. Despite the bustling island, I felt very at peace. There is something to be said for running with no goals or expectations. Runners are often motivated by numbers and results, however I think that there is a time when it’s okay to step back and run for no other reason than the joy of running. Hop off the treadmill, leave the watch at home, and go explore. Make nature your playground. There is a dreary workout room in my dorm building, but why would I go there when I can breathe the fresh air and get outside?

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The track at Margaret Island

The experience reminded me of something even more important though – it’s okay to be alone. Living down the hall from most of my friends and constantly being around other people has sometimes made me forget what it’s like to do something alone. I’ve gotten used to doing almost everything with other people. The run reminded me how good it feels to be alone sometimes. When I haven’t had time to think by myself, my head starts to spin with too many thoughts and sometimes I need to write them down. (Which explains this blog post.) I’ve found that I’m most inspired to write after being alone for a bit.

I consider myself to be a pretty extroverted person; I enjoy doing things with other people and I feed off the energy of others. Would I want to travel solo? Probably not. Some people love it, but of the trips I’ve gone on so far, I can’t imagine I would have quite as much fun alone. I’ve learned that balance is key. Sometimes you need that coffee with a friend to vent to and sometimes that coffee is better with headphones, some James Vincent McMorrow tunes, and a relaxing location by oneself. My mission this week is to find a little more of the latter. And coffee is almost always involved.

My Experience at Immigration

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Hungarian immigration office. Imagine the DMV, but literally 100 times worse. Because my stay in Hungary is 15 days above the 90-day allowed length of stay for those traveling as tourists, I had to apply for a residence permit.

My friend and I followed the instructions of our program coordinator to get there before the office even opened. Armed with all our necessary documents and our passports, we set off for the office. One metro ride and one bus ride later, we arrived at 8:15. The office opens at 8:30, so we thought we were doing great on time and would be in and out in an hour. Boy, were we wrong.

There were probably 40 people ahead of us in line already. We met a nice lady from Canada who was in the same boat as me. Once the clock hit 8:30 the line started to move pretty quickly, which made us optimistic. Nah, turns out we were just in line to get a number. They assign numbers based on what your purpose is at the office. Those just picking up their permits, European Union citizens, and those already with Visas get first priority. Last priority: people like me – getting a residence permit, non-EU citizen, with no Visa.

I was given number 220. About 15 minutes after sitting in the waiting room, the TV screen indicated that number 200 was up. We soon figured out that those with numbers in the 200’s were all going through the same process as me. My friend Margaret had already gotten her Visa while she was in the US, so her number was 719 because she fell into a different category. As the 700’s steadily ticked by, progress in the 200’s was slim to none. Every 10 to 15 minutes the next 700 number would get called up. The 200’s increased about once an hour. At that rate, I’d be at the office for 20 hours.

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I Made it to Budapest!

Jó napot!

As you can guess from the title of this, I’ve arrived in Budapest! I’m studying abroad at Corvinus University and will be here until December 20th. It’s been a busy whirlwind so far and I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. I can’t believe I’ve been here a week already!

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Somewhere over France

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I arrived to the Budapest airport last Monday afternoon. The university assigns us each a tandem partner, who is a local student that helps us assimilate and get to know the area. I took a cab with my tandem partner and another DePaul student to the dorm. My dorm is on Ráday Utca (utca = street), which is one of the best streets to find some great cheap food on the Pest side of the Danube River. It is a very convenient street to live on when you get hungry.

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