Category Archives: Hungary

The Sexy Woodsman

(Note: I am traveling for the next few days, but please stay tuned for pictures of Paris!)

Teaching classic children’s stories to my students has been a lot of fun, but there are some challenges.  Some of the vocabulary is kind of story specific.  I mean, a non-native English speaker can survive without knowing the word “porridge,” although it’s awfully important to Goldilocks when she gobbles down Baby Bear’s breakfast.

Recently I’ve been reading Little Red Riding Hood to my primary students, or “Piroska” in Hungarian.  I now appreciate what a mouthful Little Red Riding Hood is to say.

First, I showed them a picture of a hood.

Then, I showed a cloak (which some of my boys know from a computer game) because the word is used in the story.

We kind of skipped over the riding part.  I mean, she did not ride a horse to grandma’s house.  If she had, maybe she wouldn’t have stopped to talk to the wolf, and the wolf wouldn’t have eaten her and grandma.

This is how the lesson went:

Me: Say “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Students: “H-ooooooooooo-d.”  (They draw out all their double-o’s like in “moo” or “boo.”)

Me: (pointing to Red’s picture) “Who is she?”

Students: “Piroska!”

Me: Good.  (*mentally banging my head against a wall*) But in English, she’s Little Red Riding Hood.

Student: But what is her name?

Me: Little Red Riding Hood IS her name.

(Maybe I should have just said that it’s Sarah.)

We then spent a few minutes pronouncing hood, woods, book, and look.

After I read the story, the students had to write a few sentences using their vocabulary words.

One fourth grade boy’s sentence: The woodsman is sexy.

Not what I expected from a nine-year-old, but at least it was grammatically correct.

The fifth graders decided today that Little Red Riding Hood would invite Justin Bieber to her birthday party.  They would do karate and eat wolf meat and wolf cake.  She would get a wolf fur cloak as a present.  Evidently Red carries a grudge.

And, of course, they would listen to LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”  (If you don’t know this song, be thankful.)



Filed under Hungary, Language, Teaching

Story Time

On Wednesday, two worlds collided: my high school students visited my elementary classroom for story time.

As a special project, my ninth graders worked in groups to translate a children’s story from Hungarian into English.  They then illustrated their story.  I promised them that they would get to read their stories to primary students, and thankfully my colleagues at both schools helped make this happen.

The result was great.  I was really proud of my high school students.  They used their English to communicate a story to children, applying their language skills to real life.  I know how self-conscious teenagers are, and I know how hard it can be to speak in front of groups– even (or especially) small children.  They did a great job.

The first, second, and third graders listened in awe of the “big kids.”  I am so amazed at how much English they understand after just a few years of studying, and I hope seeing the high school students speak English inspired them to keep working.

9th Grade Girls

Second Graders

Second Grade Boy

9th Graders

9th Grade Boys

1st Graders

3rd Graders

The expression on this boys face really says it all.  He absolutely loves stories, and his third grade class got to hear them two periods in a row.  When he sat down for the second lesson, he said, “Kössönünk!” (We thank you!)  And he really meant it.

When I signed up to each in Hungary, I requested to be placed in a high school.  I didn’t find out until a few days before school started that I was teaching in a high school, a primary school, and a kindergarten.  At the time this surprise frustrated me, but sometimes it’s best not to get what you ask for.  Working with all ages has been very rewarding, and the Story Time project is a memory of teaching in Hungary that I will always treasure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hungary, Language, Teaching

An Anniversary in Budapest

Three years ago, Jesse and I got married.  We wanted to go to Europe on our honeymoon, to a romantic destination that was less expensive and less cliché than Paris.  We decided on Budapest . . .

. . . but we never bought plane tickets.  We thought of a million practical reasons why we shouldn’t go to Europe that summer, and we were filled with quite a bit of anxiety about moving to Michigan, Jesse starting grad school, and me finding a job.

In the end, our honeymoon was a spur-of-the-moment camping trip on the beach in the state of Delaware.  We had a great time.  I will always remember watching dolphins leaping in the waves while the sun rose over the Atlantic ocean.

Yet I did have a lesson to learn about not waiting to do things that I am really passionate about.  There will never be enough money or enough time.  There will always be a really good reason to not take a risk.  Sometimes you should do things anyways.  (You wouldn’t think I have a problem with being overly cautious, given that Jesse and I got engaged after dating for only three months and married three months after that.)

But this year we spent our anniversary in Budapest.  The same excuse of not having enough money would have applied–but I want to get the most out of Europe before I go home, even if this means we are reduced to eating raman noodles when we move to back to the States.

So, we took the train to the capital on Saturday morning.  We went to the Museum of Applied Arts and got in for free with our teacher cards.  The special exhibit was on Hungarian Art Deco, which seems as unique as Czech Cubism.  I love how Hungarian Deco was inspired by traditional folk designs.

The building that houses the museum is as amazing as any of the furniture it contains.

That evening, we took a cruise on the Danube.  Unfortunately, the sun sets so late now that we didn’t really get to see the city lit up at night.  But in the last five minutes of the cruise, the Chain Bridge was illuminated.

On Sunday, we went to the Hungarian National Museum.  Once again we got free admission with our teacher cards!  Jesse and I were in history geek heaven looking at medieval tomb stones and paleolithic artifacts.  Too soon we had to catch the train back to Debrecen.

I guess we were right to choose Budapest as our honeymoon destination.  It is a city we could visit over and over again.


Filed under architecture, art, Hungary, Travel

A Birthday in Miskolc

Jesse’s birthday was on May 5th, and our friend Eszter invited us home with her for the weekend.  It was great to spend time with her family and to see a new part of Hungary.  Living on the Great Plain, we forget that Hungary does  in fact have hills.  The  landscape reminded me of central and southern Ohio.

On Saturday, we took a narrow gauge (tourist) train from Miskolc to Lillafüred.  The open-air ride into the hills was chilly but a lot of fun.  In Lillafüred we took a tour of Saint István cave.  We caught some glimpses of bats flitting around the stalactites and stalagmites.




We took the train back down the hill and headed to Diósgyőr Castle.  It was a favorite hunting castle of King Louis the Great of Hungary in the fourteenth century, and a favorite spot of the queens of Hungary for several centuries until the area came under Turkish rule.

Diósgyőr Castle

Diósgyőr Castle

In the afternoon, we went back to Eszter’s family’s flat for lunch and birthday cake.  Eszter’s mom is an excellent baker.  The cake reminded us of our wedding cake.  From the expression on Jesse’s face, you can tell that he was pretty excited to dig in.

In the evening, we strolled around Miskolc’s city center.  It was really charming.  I was fascinated by a gate with hundreds of lovers’ padlocks.  We wondered how many of the couples are still together.

On Sunday, we went to Miskolctapolca, a spa town with a cave bath.  We didn’t have time to take a dip in the cave bath, but we strolled around the lake and enjoyed the adorable ducklings.

On the way back to Debrecen, we stopped at Eszter’s family’s cottage, tucked away on a hill.

Jesse kept his eyes out for squirrels, but they were elusive.  This one looks like he was ready for a showdown, but he dashed into the grass as soon as Jesse snapped his picture.  Hungarian squirrels have hilarious pointy ears.

Such a splendid weekend involving a cave, a castle, and a birthday cake is hard to top!

Leave a comment

Filed under Hungary, Travel

A Hungarian Graduation

Last Friday my school had its graduation ceremony.  In the days leading up to the ceremony, the graduates came to school in strange costumes, sprayed water on the underclassmen, gave presents to their teachers, and sang songs for their teachers.  Although they were a little rowdy, these activities didn’t distract too much from the lessons.

(At least there are no senior pranks: Jesse says that his graduating class filled the hallways of the school with chickens.  My class was too scared by the principal to do anything.  He said that if we pulled a prank or had a senior skip day that we would have to take final exams, which no one wanted to do.)

As I’ve mentioned before, the bilingual program at my school is five years long.  So there were three graduating classes of 12th graders and one graduating class of 13th graders.  My 13th graders were pretty resistant to my lessons throughout the year, but I must say that things improved in recent weeks.  I think they felt like a 5th year of high school was torture, and at last they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

At some schools, students sing to their teachers during the school day.  Others go to their teachers homes in the evening.  Last week we were at home when we heard shouting and the clomping of horses hooves.  Two horsedrawn wagons parked outside of the neighboring apartment building.  About thirty teenagers spilled out of the wagons and sang screamed a song for one of their teachers.  Then the teacher invited them upstairs for a snack.

I think it is nice that there is an official way to express gratitude to teachers here.  In the U.S., individual students might give presents or write a letter to their favorite teachers, but there is no organized ritual.

On the day of the commencement ceremony, rain threatened.  While the rest of the sky was blue and sunny, one single rain cloud unleashed five minutes of rain on the school yard immediately before the ceremony started.  The rest of the time I was nearly blinded by the sun.

When I think of high school graduations, I think of mortar boards, stupid robes, students’ names being called, diplomas presented with a handshake, and the same twenty measures of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance being looped over and over again.  The Hungarian ceremony has none of these, and yet it still felt familiar.

There were songs, speeches, and awards.  And it was boring, which is probably an international requirement for commencement ceremonies.  This one was particularly challenging for me since I only understood every tenth word of Hungarian.

Flag Raising

Class 13

Thanks, mom and dad!

Passing the flag to the underclassmen

Beautiful, although bad for the environment

Graduation always entails a mixture of excitement and fear.  In this shaky global economy, there is quite a bit of fear.  If financing a university education and finding a job is a concern for students in the U.S., it is an even bigger concern in Hungary.  Hopefully my students’ fifth year of high school will pay off and their English skills will open doors for them.  I wish them all the best.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hungary, Language, Teaching

Spring in Debrecen

May 1st is a holiday in Hungary, so we have a long weekend and are traveling to Prague.

In the mean time, here are a few spring images from around Debrecen: willows, tulips, pigs, and snails.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hungary

A Blustery Afternoon in Budapest, 3.31

On March 31st, Jesse and I bade farewell to Debrecen . . .

Debrecen Train Station Artwork

. . . and headed to Budapest for the afternoon.

Our first mission was, of course, to find food.  We tried out The Hummus Bar, a popular restaurant that currently has four locations in Budapest.  It was vegetarian heaven, but the experience was a little hard on my ears.  The diners were over 50% international, and most of them seemed to be American, particularly undergraduate-aged women.  I’m not used to hearing so many American accents, and I had a hard time tuning out their conversations.

After stuffing ourselves, we paused to take some pictures of St. Stephen’s Basilica.  It is a truly massive church.

From there, we hopped on the metro to head to Hero’s Square.  Jesse and I were chatting away when someone called our names.  We turned around to see our friends Bobby and Kellie–along with their jet-lagged family–in the same car as us!  It was a funny coincidence.

We emerged from the metro to find ourselves in a crowd of several thousand people.  This seems to happen a lot in Budapest.  There was some sort of religious procession ending at Heroes Square.

Because I can’t go to Budapest without seeing a museum, Jesse and I headed over to the Museum of Fine Arts.  The last entry was technically 4:30 PM, but we snuck into line at about 4:38 PM.  The ticket lady was kind and let us in anyways.

When I handed my ticket to the guard, I said “jó napot kivánok,” which made him chuckle.  He seemed pleased that I knew this standard Hungarian greeting.

Everyone we encountered that day (in fact, for the entire week) was friendly and helpful, which makes traveling so much more enjoyable.


With less than an hour before closing, we had to be strategic about what to look at.  The museum has a good collection of pieces by El Greco and Goya, so I sought these out.

It’s hard to believe that El Greco was a Spanish Renaissance painter from the late 16th/early 17th centuries.  His style is very expressionist.  Many of his pieces seem like they could have been painted centuries later.

Mary Magdalene in Penitence by El Greco


Goya was an artist for the Spanish Court in the late 1700s/early 1800s.  He witnessed the cruelty of the Inquisition and the invasion of Spain by Napoleon’s troops, but he chose to remain neutral in the political drama that surrounded him.  His subject matter is diverse, ranging from royalty to peasants to depictions of war.

The Water Carrier by Goya


After learning so much about the Renaissance while in Florence, I spent a lot of time looking at the Italian pieces.  There were no paintings by my new favorite, Lippi, but there was one by his son and one by his assistant.

Madonna with Child by Filippino Lippi


I couldn’t find an image of the painting by Fra Diamante, but to me his Madonna looked like Lucrezia, Lippi’s model and lover (she was also a nun).  I am so captivated by her beauty and by her story.


After soaking up as much art as we could in under an hour, we emerged into a beautiful–if windy–spring afternoon.  We strolled down Andrássy út, a very grand boulevard.  Some of the neo-Renaissance buildings have been preserved and restored while others are crumbling, but the architecture is beautiful regardless.

When gray rain clouds began to cover the sky, we stopped for some cake at a cafe.   Then we went back to our hotel to try to get some sleep before our 6:00 AM flight to Sicily.

Getting to experience Budapest on multiple occasions and in different seasons is one of the special aspects of living and teaching in Europe.  I feel very lucky, and I hope to explore this fascinating city some more before we head home in June.

Leave a comment

Filed under architecture, art, Budapest, churches, Hungary, Travel