By Fanni Barocsi
Deciding to accept the Balassi Institute’s scholarship was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. The mere idea of getting on a plane, cross the ocean and live in Hungary for ten months scared me to death. However, as I have learnt since then, the actions and decisions that scare you and bring you out of your comfort zone carry the biggest rewards.
I thought that in coming here, to Budapest, I would gain the confidence and determination to do everything I ever wanted to do. That being on my own would shape my personality and make me into the person I always wanted to be. During the first few months in Budapest I realized that I already have the confidence and determination to accomplish whatever ambitious goals I may have, and I am already the person that I have always idealized.
Knowing that I am able to live on my own, survive without my parents and those friends that have been there for me through all my miserable high school experiences, is something I never thought I would be able to do. And now that I am here, I only have to look out my window, and see my view of the Buda Castle to know that I have made the right decision.
The school itself is in a prime location. Placed on top of the Gellért Mountain, on the Buda side of Budapest, The Balassi Bálint Institute is a large grey block of a building, housing students from all around the world. In fact, I believe I have never been in a more multi-cultural setting. There are people from all over Europe, more from South-America, a large number from Asia, and several from North America.
The classes in the program are fun and dynamic, and the language classes, which are the most frequent, are productive and informative, especially for those of us who learned Hungarian from our parents abroad and did not learn to read or write. For instance I would never have guessed that there are forty-four letters in the Hungarian alphabet! It is surely challenging to match the various sounds to those letters!
It is also rare that one gets the opportunity to learn and use a language in the midst of the nation, in true immersion. I remember back in school, where I learnt French for ten years, and never really got it, because I never had a chance to speak it in a native setting. Speaking Hungarian on a day-to-day basis helps improving our accent and vocabulary.
The school also provides opportunities to explore Hungary and the culture. Last semester our class went on a three-day field trip where we travelled around on a bus and explored the regions of Eger, Lillafüred and Diósgyőr. And just last week we went on a one day trip down to Mohács, and took part in the Búcsújárás, which is a huge celebration commemorating the myth of the Hungarians scaring away the Turks.
There are also opportunities to go around Europe. A couple weekends ago the school was advertising a one day trip to Venice to visit the Venice Carnival. We signed up, paid a very reasonable fee of about fifty dollars, and were on our way on a bus during the night to spend an amazing Saturday in Venice. The experience was one I will never forget.
Our last school trip will be a week long trip to Transylvania in May. And nothing stops you to explore more of Europe on your own. I have already visited Vienna and Berlin, and plan to go to Prague and hopefully to Spain before June. Hungary is prime location for travel because it is in Central Europe. If you are careful with your money it is very easy and cheap to travel as a student. You just have to make sure to book your air fare early, and stay in a youth hostel. Hostels are also great places to meet people, and wonderful starting points to explore cities, because they are usually in the center.
However, you do not have to go far to have a good time while here. Budapest has so many theaters, movies, great clubs and bars, lots of coffee places, and everything is open late. The night life here is wild, especially if you lived anywhere like Ottawa before. I remember my first two weeks here were crazy; we were out every night exploring the city.
There are also opportunities to work and learn new skills, especially if you are English speaking and are willing to offer some time to converse with people who want to learn and practice English.
I miss home more than I can say, but I do not regret my decision to come and spend a year in the country my parents call home. I love being around my relatives. When they call and ask me to come over for the weekend it is still a little weird being so close after years of two-week summer visits from far away. It feels wonderful knowing how happy my presence here is making them, especially my grandparents.
This is an experience I will never forget as it has led me to a place in my life where I am happy to be. I am learning about myself, I know who I am, I know what I want, and now I am certain that I will never be afraid to go out and get it.