Sunday, June 15, 2008

Balaton Weekend


If you spend the summer months here in Hungary, you've got to hit Lake Balaton. Summer weekends at the lake are an important part of life in Hungary. And if done right, a visit to the lake is very rewarding.

Coming from Milwaukee, the best analogy I can make is Summer Fest, because both are more than time spent near a body of water. Balaton, like Summer Fest, is a cultural touchstone in the region: a place, an event, and an experience. It comes with pluses and minuses, but if the summer goes by and you haven't visited, then you haven't really had a summer that reflects the place you are in.

Last weekend, Dorá, Lili, and I drove to the lake for a weekend get-together that Dorá's cousin Kazi planned. The company was great. I've known many of the people who were there for nearly a decade. There have been several marriages, some kids, and a lot of laughs exchanged in both broken English and Hungarian. It was a good group to share a Balaton weekend with.

During the day, we drank beer ate
Lángos, Palacsinta, and Hekk. We threw the Frisbee around and wished the weather was more suitable for swimming. It was a good day. Relaxing.

We were in town called
Balatonföldvár. Kazi's wife Kati has spent most of her summers there, and knows where to take guests. She showed us a hell of a night with some very odd karaoke and a great set of live music at some of the town's more lively bars. The most notable aspect of the karaoke was that the video accompaniment for all of the Beatles songs were soft porn fantasy sequences involving topless women and motorcycles. You don't get that many other places.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Reflections on Summer's Arrival

Summer is here. That means a lot of good things in Budapest. This year, one of the best is free time for me. While in Hungary, I've normally spent the summers looking for private English lessons or other kinds of work. There isn't much for me to teach at CEU or McDaniel during the summer months because the undergrads are off until August.

This year, however, I've found myself in a very fortunate situation that's going to make this summer much easier. In the fall I will (likely) be taking up a full-time position as Senior Lecturer of Communications at the CEU Business School. I have been an adjunct lecturer (part-timer) up until now. This meant that in order to make ends meet I was teaching a full course load at one school and a near-full course load at the other school. Last semester almost broke me, but the extra work was all worth it when the offer of a two-year contract came through.

The contract will have me teaching a composition course for first year students, a business communication course, a one-credit course on the expectations of a US style university, a course that combines team-building activities with the case study method of learning, and a course on critical thinking. I'll be working exclusively with undergrads, and exclusively in courses within my general interests, which is exactly what I want to be doing. On top of that, I will also be undertaking a two-year project: establishing an undergraduate writing center for the business school.

While this may not sound exciting to everyone, I couldn't be happier with my employment situation. First, I've found in recent years that I really enjoy teaching young adults how to articulate their ideas (they typically cannot do this very well when they arrive). Second, everyday I'm teaching in a classroom composed of at least 10 different nationalities. It's impossible to describe how much I'm learning from teaching in such an atmosphere. My plan is to capitalize on this position. I want to write up some research on teaching composition in a truly multi-cultural classroom and get myself into a well regarded composition PhD program in the fall of 2010.

The most exciting part of all of this, however, is very internal:
I feel like I've become an adult on my own terms.
There have always been forces guiding me on my long (some would say very long) journey toward adulthood: family, schools, friends, employers, and others. And I've listened along the way, but I've also stuck with what felt right to me. Not what felt easy. Not what was the most fun. What felt right.

I was a horrible office worker. I was a damn good waiter. I still think I can write, and I don't plan to stop. But put those years of searching together, and here I am living in a European capitol with a beautiful, intelligent, and wonderfully generous wife. I'm teaching people from all over the world how to write. I have two adorable dogs, and I'm not conflicted about any of my choices.

Dorá deserves a lot of credit here. She's been reminding me of what I value for the past nine years, and that has helped me (pardon the expression) stay the course - regardless of the unexpected turns that course has taken.

Perry was here visiting a little while ago, and in one of my more obnoxiously wistful moments I mused, "Who could have predicted I would be living in Hungary?" Perry brought me back to Earth with, "Actually, Hogan, if it was going to be anyone I knew in college, it was going to be you." I like to think that means, with all that's changed, I've remained the same.