Budapesht

Believe it or not, this is how Hungarian people pronounce their capital city!

What a trip. I cannot believe how amazingly organized DIS is as a study abroad program. After meeting so many friends and friends of friends in various cities the past few months, no one has as many trips with their class as I do. I just spent a week in a new city with the opportunity to explore the actual city, learn about positive psychology there, and get to know my classmates and teacher in a new environment. We had academic, cultural, and social elements of the trip that were planned, as well as plenty of time to do what we wanted on our own.

We began our trip early Sunday morning, as we had to meet at the airport at 8a.m. I was about to take my first-ever connecting flight, and I was very nervous that my checked bag would not make it to Budapest. I was also worried about our 50-minute layover in Frankfurt, Germany, as I knew that even a small delay from Copenhagen would make us miss the second flight. Although we arrived on time in Frankfurt, we never stopped within the airport to regroup as a class; Kamilla walked pretty quickly at the front of the group and expected that we keep up. Two girls ended up back in security somehow instead of continuing to our next gate, so Kamilla actually had to ask the flight attendants to hold the plane for them. I can’t even imagine how stressed they probably were. Luckily, the people on the plane were nice about it.

My bags arrived safely with me to Budapest, but three people in my class were missing their bags, so they had to file claims in the airport. All of this ruckus took a while, and we were itching to get out of the airport. It was the warmest day that we’d have in the city, and we wanted to make the most of it.

A coach bus picked us up at the airport to drive us to the hotel, about a 35-minute ride. On the way there, the tour guide gave us some basic info about the city, explaining things like the currency (which is a super weird adjustment—about 280 “Hungarian Forint” is 1 USD—)and our transportation passes. We also learned that Budapest wasn’t always one city; it used to be two: Buda and Pest. The Danube River divides the two areas, and we were driving to the Pest side, which is much flatter. The tour guide made a comment about the city being super accessible for people with dietary restrictions like gluten-free or vegan, and everyone turned to look at me! I was very excited about this.

We finally arrived at our hotel around 4p.m. (long day of traveling!), dropped our stuff in the rooms (I had the same roommate as I did on the core course week trip, Martha), and headed back down to the lobby for some exploring. We had about a half hour before meeting Kamilla and our class at the hotel for a short guided tour of the city, with some suggestions of places to go later in the week. After going to the bridge that divides Buda from Pest and taking some beautiful pictures of the water and the green Chain Bridge, we headed back. Kamilla showed us the largest synagogue in all of Europe (and the second largest synagogue in the world), and she suggested we do a tour of it in our free time. She also took us to the street food market and the Ruin Bars, which we planned to visit later in the week.

Our first group dinner was at a fancy-looking restaurant close to our hotel. The menu was pre-set, and there was a gluten-free vegetarian option for me and my friend Sara. Honestly, the food would not have been my first choice if I ordered off a menu, but I was so incredibly hungry that it was completely fine. I hadn’t eaten real food since much earlier that day at the airport. We had three courses. After dinner, we had the night to ourselves, and I walked with a big group of people towards Fisherman’s Bastion, a beautiful village in Buda that overlooks all of Pest. The view was stunning; we tried to take pictures, but we all agreed that they did not do the scenery justice. I’ve never seen a city so lit up before. (Well, maybe New York…not a European city at least.) It was still fairly early after we were done hanging around Buda, so we decided to get some gelato. I randomly looked up gelato in google maps and directed the group towards a place that was a 20-minute walk away. It happened to be the most famous gelato in all of Budapest: Gelarto Rosa! The gelato was like artwork. The people scooping it arranged each flavor into little flower petals (see pictures!). We were all very happy. We headed back to our hotel, deciding to go to sleep instead of going to a bar, as there were plenty of nights ahead of us. Plus, Monday was our earliest morning.

We woke up on Monday morning and started our day with a group breakfast at the hotel. There were plenty of different options. I was psyched to be able to start my day with a good meal each day of the trip, especially since traveling with a large group is a little hard for me with eating (more on this later). Our first academic session was a lecture at a nearby hotel conference room. A Hungarian economist specializing in health care came to speak with us. Throughout the week, we’d be having different lectures relating to living in Budapest, and we were instructed to think about how each of these topics promoted happiness and well-being in the city. He talked to us about some of the factors that could undermine well-being and economics in a city, such as low levels of innovation, which is something that Budapest has struggled with in the past.

After the lecture, we had a few hours to explore on our own before meeting back up with the group, so I went with 11 other classmates (the 12 of us kind of stuck together throughout this trip) to the synagogue. We waited on a short line to buy tickets for a tour. The area inside the Jewish quarter was a bit confusing, but we ended up just listening to a tour guide who was speaking English, and that worked out well. We started in the chapel, which was beautiful. The tour guide gave us a little background about Jews in Budapest. I have to say that I had no idea how much Jewish history exists within Budapest and within all of Hungary, and it was interesting to learn about World War II and other historical events from another country’s perspective. Then, we went outside into the courtyard to look at the memorial. I learned that we were standing in the very spot—the ghetto that had been built in the 1920s—where 2,271 Jews had been killed in the Holocaust. I also learned that 600,000 of the 6 million executed Jews were Hungarian. Most of those people had been deported to Auschwitz, but the remaining people were sent to the Budapest ghetto. After hearing these heartbreaking statistics, our tour guide ended with some uplifting information about the Jewish community in Budapest. There are currently 27 active synagogues in the city, and Budapest has the 4th largest Jewish community in all of Europe. When the tour guide finished talking, my group headed downstairs to the actual ghetto where we read more posters of information. It was extremely heavy. Many of us are Jewish, though, and it was meaningful to have this experience with other people who had many of the same emotions as I did.

We weren’t exactly in the mood for lunch, but we only had a short time to eat before the next class activity, so we walked down the street to Karavan. This was a place Kamilla had highly recommended to us. Most of my friends got the burgers sandwiched between pieces of fried dough, but because that was not appealing to me for many reasons, there were luckily so many other places inside Karavan to buy food. I ended up getting a hummus/Mediterranean bowl with tortilla chips, which was yummy and filling. We all sat together at a big table outside.

The next academic session was with two middle school teachers in Budapest, and they were coming to tell us about how they implement positive psychology within the classroom. The lecture portion of the session was pretty intuitive, as they discussed concepts such as looking at situations with a more positive perspective. Then, we were divided into two smaller groups, and we did a few activities. The first was rating a bunch of statements from 1-10 depending on how stressful we found the described scenario. We then had to defend our numbers and why we stood there. The next activity was finding mutual things we liked and disliked with a partner by counting to three and blurting out a random word we associated with a particular topic. For example, for the topic ‘Budapest,’ my partner and I both exclaimed ‘baths!’. The purpose of doing this was to show us how positive emotions and personal connection can make such a difference in the social dynamics of a classroom. It was a good demonstration.

We had a bit more free time until dinner. Some people used it to nap, but I went with a few friends to walk around the city more. Initially, I was with a few classmates who all decided to look for mulled wine, which I actually hadn’t had since my time in Prague. However, we didn’t find any place that sold it, so we settled for regular wine instead. We walked along the pretty shopping street and the square with the Ferris wheel, the Budapest Eye.

The group dinner was again at a restaurant with multiple courses, dishes that I wouldn’t have selected if I was on my own. The portions were also a bit small, and I left dinner still feeling hungry, so I ended up getting a to-go container of rice closer to our hotel. We walked around a bit more before heading back for the evening and meeting in front of the elevators to check out the pool’s sauna and indoor pool. My friends were excited about the sauna, but I was a little skeptical. I decided to try it, but I only lasted about 30 seconds before feeling like I was choking on hot air. It wasn’t too pleasant, so I kept some other friends company in the main pool area. I didn’t go in the pool, but it was really fun to hang out with everyone. When we took the elevators back up to our floor, we walked out to a bunch of Hungarian people in business suits, and they all started laughing at us! Yes, we were wearing our towels and bathing suits, but I didn’t think it was THAT funny. It was something we talked about throughout the trip.

Tuesday started with a group meeting at breakfast, as we needed to discuss our research questions in more detail to prepare for an activity later that day. In lieu of writing a paper about what we learned about Positive Psychology in Budapest this week, we have a group presentation in class next week, where each group will present on a different aspect of Hungarian culture and its relation to psychology. I’m in a group with four other classmates, so we all got a table together to eat breakfast and discuss. Our topic is “current level of well-being in Budapest, focusing on generational differences.” We decided to break ourselves further into two groups, one focusing on people under 30 and another focusing on 30 and older. We would each walk around the city later that day, asking people “What do you do to live a happy life?” and “What do you think Hungarians do in general to live a happy life?” I suggested that we ask the questions in this order instead of the reverse order, as I learned in my research methods class that it is easy to bias people’s answers if you ask them what “people do” first; they will report that they themselves conform with the general population instead of giving us more specific answers.

The main morning activity was a class visit to the House of Terror, the site of so much Holocaust-related abuse. People there were tortured, slapped, whipped, and killed, and we walked through multiple floors of dirty and depressing cells where this occurred. We all received audio guides when we entered the exhibit, and Kamilla told us to meet outside in two hours, as this was a museum that we all needed to experience individually. In addition to listening to the audio portion about each room in the museum, there were many videos playing, mostly recorded bits from people experiencing the war firsthand. Since I had learned about a lot of the Hungarian Jewish history the day before in the synagogue, learning about World War II in this part of the world was familiar. What was most moving and difficult to absorb was physically walking through all the places people were terrorized and killed. It was a well-done museum, but it was extremely heavy, and after two hours of being alone with my thoughts and my audio guide, I was emotionally exhausted. We gathered outside as a class, and the mood was somewhat solemn. As difficult as it is to learn about history sometimes, I’m glad I got to see that.

Next was lunch at a nearby cafe, which was fairly uneventful. I had a spinach risotto, which scared me at first because of its deep green color, but it ended up being really good.

We had an hour to explore the city, but we needed to interview the local people before spending the time to ourselves. I walked around with Martha, and we decided to target an area near the university since we wanted to find people under 30 years old. We actually found it a bit difficult to pinpoint which people were locals and which were tourists, but at the end of the hour, we had spoken with six different Hungarians. It was interesting to speak with so many different people, and it was even more interesting to hear their responses to our questions about happiness. While some young students and adults told us expected answers as to what they do, such as spending time with boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, family, and sleeping, eating, and relaxing, a few people were genuinely confused by this question. It could have been a language barrier, but people in the younger generations have learned both Hungarian and English, so it probably wasn’t. One girl told us that no one in Hungary is happy; another girl said that Hungary is not a happy country, so if she really wanted to be happy, she would move. I found this shocking at that point in the trip, but as we started to interact more with locals throughout the week, I slowly began to understand why (more on this later).

After the hour of walking around the city, we met up with the rest of the class at a metro station for our next academic visit, the Invisible Expedition. I honestly didn’t know much about what this experience entailed, except for the fact that Kamilla found it extremely worthwhile for us to do. We took a metro, a tram, and walked for quite a bit before reaching the destination. We were introduced to Yvette, who split the class into three groups. I was in the third group, so I chatted with my classmates as we sat in the waiting room for a while. When it was our turn to prepare, we locked our belongings in a locker and sat around a table. I don’t know what Yvette’s face really looks like, as she is blind and wears huge black glasses. She taught us how to write in brail, and then instructed us all to use these typewriter-like things to write our names, when she could then “guess” our names. She got all of them correct. Then, she told us what we were about to do. She would guide us through a completely dark room, through which we would visit several different rooms inside. It was ironic that a blind person was our guide, but the idea was that we would be using our other senses to make our way through, all of which would be heightened. Kamilla waited outside in case anyone freaked out and needed to leave. At first, I wasn’t nervous at all, but once we stepped inside the maze and darkness literally wrapped around us in every direction, I blinked quickly, trying without avail to catch even a bit of light. I found that even if I closed my eyes and then opened them again, the darkness level was the same. It was a darkness I had never experienced. Yvette instructed us to “explore the room” and tell her which objects we could find, so with our hands in front of us, we walked around, bumping into each other occasionally. There were no stairs, but there were definitely corners and big objects, so we had to be careful when reaching out and touching various things. We learned after a while that we were in a kitchen, as there were pots, pans, different fruits and vegetables on the counter. When we discovered something new, we would report to Yvette, who was always amused by our incorrect responses. The next room was a cabin in the woods, followed by a simulation of a busy street with traffic. We needed to use the bumps on the ground and the sounds of the crosswalk to guide us as to when we should walk over. We walked through a bathroom and then a Farmer’s Market. Finally, we went into a room with comfy couches and chairs, and we had a conversation about what we experienced—still very much in the dark. I asked Yvette when she had become blind: 5 years old. I also asked what the thing she missed most was…what did she wish she could see? She said that although she remembered her parents’ faces and her baby dolls and the blue sky and green grass, she’d never quite know what her children look like. As we emerged from the expedition room into the fluorescent lights of the waiting room, I blinked, adjusting. I glanced around at each of my classmates, and I almost started to cry. I was so grateful for my eyesight in a way that, prior to this hour of blindness, I hadn’t experienced. I could see each person around me; I know the faces of all my family and friends. I am so lucky. If you’re wondering what the connection is to positive psychology, there are actually a bunch. First of all, gratitude is something we have learned helps people capitalize on their previous experiences. Additionally, having this museum is a terrific way to employ blind people who may otherwise have difficulty getting the same job opportunities as someone with complete eyesight.

It was 5:30 by the time we left, and we had the rest of the evening to ourselves. A group of us had a dinner reservation for 6:30 though, so we decided to go straight there, as we needed to figure out how to use the tram and metro ourselves this time. We were eating at a trendy restaurant called Mazel Tov, which is primarily Mediterranean and Israeli food. The environment was also so pretty and fun, and the drinks were named after different cities in Israel. I had Tel Aviv, a fruity cocktail, which was really good. We ordered bowls with various combinations of hummus, feta cheese, cucumber and beet salad. It was delicious, and we had such a good time. We were also happily surprised that the restaurant was able to accommodate such a large group, so we didn’t have to split up into two smaller groups.

We walked around again at night. A bunch of people got a classic dessert called a chimney cake, where they didn’t have gluten-free cake. I could have ordered ice cream, but I was so full from dinner anyway that I decided to skip it.

We went back to the hotel for an hour before changing and getting ready to go out to the Ruin Bars. I was close to bailing, getting more tired by the minute, but I did really want to experience the nightlife in Budapest, and we were able to sleep until 8:30 the next day. We didn’t even end up staying out that late, which was perfect. We got drinks at the Ruin Bar, which actually has several different types of bars within the same area. I got “the Ruin Experience,” which was sweet and yummy, and we all sat at a big table and chatted. It was a fun night.

The first event on Wednesday was an “optional” academic visit to the famous Thermal Baths of Budapest, where we could spend time in a place dedicated to enjoyment. Of course, no one wanted to miss out. We took the metro there, and I carried a separate bag of my change of clothes for afterward. Although I was pretty sure I’d have time to come back and shower, I expected to be freezing when I got out of the bath and entered the 57-degree air temperature. We were all really looking forward to this part of the week, as the baths are something everyone who visits Budapest comes back talking about. It was fun to experience the baths altogether, which were super warm, even though they weren’t hot tubs. We took lots of pictures with the pretty buildings outdoors before going inside and checking out some of the different mineral baths. Some of them were flavored, which weirded me out a little, so I sat on the side. Kamilla and our TA both enjoyed the baths as well, and although we could be there until noon, our little crew had had enough by 11:30. We changed in the locker room and went to walk around Hero’s Square, which is a beautiful area of the city right nearby. We started walking back in the direction of the hotel, looking for a place to each lunch simultaneously. Even though our group of 12 ended up splitting off into six and six based on lunch preferences, I was getting tired of wandering around and not knowing what I could eat. This trip was very different than my other traveling experiences in that I was with many more people with many more opinions. I also hadn’t previously mapped out the best gluten-free spots in Budapest because I knew that where I’d be eating would just depend on where I was at a given time. Of course, people wanted to be sensitive to me, but there were also other allergies in the group, and not everyone could be pleased. It’s totally fine; it was just different. I had a very-okay omelet quickly before we headed back to the hotel to shower.

We met Kamilla and the rest of our class in the hotel lobby for our afternoon academic visit, which started with a long tram ride and a long ride. We entered what looked like someone’s house, where two women greeted us and welcomed us into their living room. They talked about their style of community housing, very similar to where we had visited in Western Denmark, except with a more urban and vertical feel because of the location.

After that, we were done with academic commitments for the day. We decided to see the Fisherman’s Bastion area in the sunlight, especially as sunset time was approaching, and it would be a beautiful look-out to watch it. We went supermarket nearby and purchased wine, cheese, grapes, and dark chocolate—an amazing pre-dinner snack. Then, we hiked up the steep hill to the gorgeous village, took a few pictures, and sat with our food, talking and enjoying the view. It was a great way to spend time there. The view—and the sky—was stunning. Next was dinner. Again, we had a reservation for our big group. After my food came wrong twice (it was funny, although the waiters were not so nice about it), I ended up eating the risotto I had ordered initially. We decided not to go out at night, but my friends Hannah and Chandler came to my room and we sat on my bed talking for a while, which was fun. I’m glad I got to know them better during this trip, as well as several other people in my class. And, after hearing a fair share of roommate horror stories abroad from my classmates, I am that much more thankful to share my room and experiences with Adina.

Thursday was our last full day in Budapest, and we had a packed schedule after a bit of a sleep-in, which was nice. We had breakfast at the hotel and then took the elevator to our own hotel’s conference room. A woman who is an educational school mediator—which sounds similar to the American version of a school counselor—came to talk to us about education in Hungary, as well as some methods with a positive psychology twist she uses in her own school. Her first demonstration was about the power of connection, which seemed to be a common theme of lectures this week. We played a game where we had one minute to walk around the room and discover a non-physical similarity with other classmates. We recorded each similarity on a small post-it. I won the game by “connecting with” 12 other people. Besides getting a sticker, I’m happy because I think that connecting with others is such an important skill to continue to cultivate, especially when I embark on new experiences such as studying abroad. The woman also mentioned that connection within Hungary was important to promote in her school, as oftentimes, Hungary is kind of stuck in the middle of a lot of European politics. Some people consider it Eastern Europe while others consider it part of the West, and no one but Hungarians speak their language, which can feel isolating. It can also lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications even with Hungary’s closest neighbors.

After the lecture, we had a few hours for lunch and exploring on our own. It was a beautiful day outside, and I went with my group of 12 to the famous shoe monument on the Danube River. We took a tram to get there a bit faster, and we then walked along the water until we saw them. Dozens of shoes made of metal are built into the ground to memorialize the Jews who died there. There were lines of people tortured on this very boardwalk; the Nazis tied the people together and pushed one into the fast-moving river below, sending all those people to a tragic death. The memorial was difficult to see, similar to other experiences we’d had in Budapest. However, again, I was glad I got to see them. We stood together, arm in arm, all lost in our thoughts as we looked at them. It was nice to have company for this, as I felt like everyone was empathetic and sensitive to each others’ emotional needs and feelings.

When we had looked at the shoes for a while, we walked around the grounds of the stunning and very old Parliament building, which we had seen from across the river the night before at Fisherman’s Bastion. Then, we went to the Budapest Market for lunch so that everyone could get something they liked. Unfortunately, most of the options were Hungarian food, which I have decided is my least favorite cuisine I’ve had so far this semester. Nearly every dish has meat, tomatoes, or bread—often a combination of these foods. All my favorites—ha! I was fine because I found a place that had a salad with feta cheese and rice with mushrooms. We walked quickly back to our hotel for the next academic lecture, which ended up being a favorite. For this academic session, three young Hungarians came to chat with us. They were 22 years old, so we could easily relate to them. We basically just had a question-and-answer session so that we could learn about Hungarian culture while they learned about American culture. I was shocked by some of their responses. First of all, I hadn’t quite realized up until this point how conservative the viewpoint of Hungary was. It’s not only illegal for gays to get married, for example, but it is completely shamed by society, and they said hardly anyone acts on gay sexuality. They asked us some questions about the Trump administration, to which one student assured them that we likely represented a cohort of people who does not favor Trump, and we are not representative of all American viewpoints. The Hungarians told us they felt trapped and unwanted in society, and that if they had the resources to move (and if their families moved also), they would move elsewhere in Europe. They said Budapest is a safe city, but it’s not a classy city.

After our new friends left the room, we debriefed as a class about that experience, as well as all of the experiences we shared over the week. Kamilla asked us to share some of our favorite moments so that we could relive them together—similar to what we had done in class. Then, we all went back to our rooms to change before the dinner cruise, our final class event. The cruise was absolutely incredible. Not only were the views unreal from all sides (and we got to hang out on the roof to take pictures), the food was the best we had all week, and it was a buffet, which was fun. Additionally, DIS gave us three alcoholic drinks… We entered the dining room and had a glass of champagne, and the waiters brought wine and cocktails with dinner.  We all had a great time, and it was a fun way to wrap up the week.

The boat docked around 8:30, and we headed back to the hotel to change for our final night out. First, we stopped at the ruin bar to enjoy that atmosphere again. We ended up talking to some people visiting from London. When I was standing at the bar with one of my friends, two men who were much, much older than us asked to buy us drinks that we obviously turned down. However, they kept trying to talk to us, so we decided to leave the area. Some people went back home after that, but I went with a few friends to a club called Instant, which was so cool. There were all these different rooms, each with its own bar and dj. We hopped around from room to room for a while, following the best music. However, I generally felt uncomfortable by many different people’s stares while I was there, and after a while, I was tired of being so on-edge. The young people had told us gender roles are really defined in Hungary, and I worried that someone creepy would do something scary to us. I stayed in a big group though, and I was very aware of people around me. We headed back around 1, and we packed up for the morning.

This morning, I went with two friends to a nearby gluten-free bakery that I had researched. I was sick of the hotel breakfast, and I wanted to visit at least one place with something specifically gluten-free. We got chocolate croissants, and I was very happy. Then, we spent most of the day waiting in airports and traveling, as we had a longer layover in Munich. Tonight I am catching up on this blog and my journal before the Harnicks arrive in Copenhagen tomorrow. I am SO excited to see them, as well as mom and Aunt Sheila in just a few days. It’s going to be such a fun week, and I can’t wait to show everyone around Cope. Adina also has one of her best friends visiting, as does Goldie next week.

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