Reflections at 9 Months

Yesterday, I was invited to speak to some Hungarian students who were wanting to go abroad on an internship through AIESEC. This speaking opportunity has fallen nicely at the half way point of my internship and provided a good opportunity for me to reflect on my experience so far.

Its scary to think of how fast time has gone by since arriving here. It really does seem like not too long ago that I was saying goodbye to my parents at the airport and stepping onto a plane into the unknown. Now things that use to drive me crazy or be strange to me are all part of the norm. So much so that sometimes I really have to think about how things are different here compared to what I’ve grown up with.

The speaking session included a short question and answer period and here are some of the questions they asked me:

What has been your craziest memory?

Budapest is full of crazy adventures and random moments. Its hard to narrow it down, but this definitely has to be running around in a thunderstorm in the summer last month. I was a friend’s place for dinner when it starting getting incredibly windy and before long the rain, thunder and lightning started. It was getting late and I had to walk home as the metro had shut down for the night. Our solution? Garbage bag dresses. Along the way we picked up an abandoned cardboard box for extra protection from the elements. The funniest part was once I made it to the tram line. Everyone kept on giving me weird looks because I was wearing a garbage bag and was dripping wet. Throw in some Palinka and you’re golden. Only in Budapest.

What was the weirdest thing?

There have been a lot of things that I find weird here: the way national holidays work, strange configuration the phone numbers, paying to go to the washroom, the amount of PDA, cold soup for an appetizer, having the washing machine in the bathroom, and many more things. Probably the weirdest is the phenomenon called lomtalanítás. The first time this happened I was so utterly confused. After doing some research, its actually a pretty cool way for citizens to get rid of stuff they don’t want or need anymore. For one day there is a ton of garbage on the street, but they’re so quick about cleaning it all up. The next morning you see no trace of the previous day’s piles.

Do you feel you are different from when you arrived?

Definitely. But I’m not sure how. I know this experience has changed me. I feel like I’m much more laid back compared to before. I go with the flow more and leave things up to chance and opportunity. Every moment of every day doesn’t need to be structured and I’m okay with that.

Everyday when living abroad is an adventure. Simple things like going to the supermarket becoming grand adventures because everything is written in the language you don’t understand and things are placed in different locations (what? you mean whipping cream isn’t put in the fridge? no its found on the shelf). It makes life fun and I never know what to expect. If something unexpected comes up, its no big deal.

I feel like I don’t take things for granted anymore. In Vancouver, you can pretty much get anything you want any time of the year, but here in Hungary, things are much more seasonal. If its not in season, good luck finding it in the grocery store. But because of this, I’ve become great at adapting. If I can’t get or do something in particular, other things will come along that will replace it or come close to replace it.

I also feel that I’m more open to risk taking and adventure. Just going and doing and embracing opportunities. This attitude has made my experience so much more.

What was your biggest fear?

My biggest fear was the length of time I was going to be away for. I had committed myself to be in Budapest for 18 months, a year and a half. That is such a long time when you’re looking at it from the very beginning. I was afraid of coming here and failing, of not being able to settle, of being so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t cope. I was afraid of being away from home for so long, away from my family and friends. This would be the longest time I would be away from home.

What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge has to be language. Hungarian is pretty impossible to learn and pick up just by interacting with other Hungarians. Yes, some people, especially in Budapest, speak English, but the vast majority do not or are too shy to use it. With time its easy to pick up some works: hello, goodbye, thank you, etc. But that is not enough. I started taking Hungarian lessons just to help me along. Plus, I pester all my Hungarian friends to teach me new words and slang. They think its hilarious when a foreigner speaks their language, but I see it as a way of communicating with them.

Was there ever a moment that you wanted to go home?

No. I had a tough time around my third month of being here, but at no time did I actually want to go home. I had made a commitment to myself and to SELTI and I was going to do everything within my power to honour that commitment. It was tough though – it seemed like everything was going wrong. It was summer and it was way too hot for my taste (35+ on most days!), I wasn’t getting paid on time, my flat was falling apart, the fridge had stopped working, I couldn’t communicate in Hungarian, and to top it all off, I was sick. One day I woke up and there was no hot water in my flat. I was so angry and frustrated at that point. I skyped some friends and just ranted and it made me feel better. There was nothing they could do about it, but just having a way of venting my frustration really helped. I reminded myself to be positive and take delight in simple things. And with time, everything sorted itself out and I was able to move on.

What was the most rewarding moment?

The most rewarding moment so far has been meeting all these fantastic people that I get to call my friends here in Budapest. We come from all around the world and yet, somehow, we ended up here in Budapest. Its the little moments we have together that makes this experience worthwhile. We’ve started this trend of cooking for one another. Family meals. Its simple moments like this that has made this experience so rewarding. My experiences at Global Leaders Summit and traveling are also highlights.

With all of this in mind, I’m excited to see what happens in the next half of my internship. I’m ready for it!