Time Abroad: Fall 2007
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Many of my most memorable experiences surround the language barrier. My program was in Budapest, Hungary, the heart of Europe. The program was in English because Hungarian is spoken by few people outside of the country and Hungarians know this. As a result, any word of Hungarian results in the assumption that the speaker is fluent. For instance, there was one time when I was looking for big matches, gyufa nagy, with little success. At the third small store I went to, the clerk did not speak any English. My eking out two words caused a thrilled look to come across the clerk's face, a paragraph of fast, enthusiastic Hungarian followed, and the matches were produced.
Getting to the point where I could articulate basic needs in Hungarian took a little time, practice, and confidence building. The group that was always the least likely to speak English was the elderly. Culturally, younger people interact positively with the elderly consistently in Hungary. If an older man or woman stepped on the tram, someone would always vacate a seat near the door. Similarly, if an elderly person boarding needed help with shopping bags, helping hands were always present. This was easy to pick up pretty fast; but the first time I was able to appropriately respond to the friendly 'köszönöm szépen' (thank you) with the correct 'szívisen' (you're welcome), I was thrilled and beaming. This showed me how much people appreciate effort, even if it is slightly incorrect.
The people that I interacted there have had a profound effect on me; because they came from so many different perspectives they have broadened mine. The biggest overall lesson I will take is the value of communication in the traditional sense. Much of the communication that I use daily in the US is through email; very rarely do I try to negotiate things, frequently taking them at face value; much of the US culture is fast-paced and doesn't allow for thorough decisions. Study abroad in a different culture showed me the value of asking, and of working towards forming relationships in all situations.
My advice to anyone who has the opportunity to study abroad is to go! Make the most of the opportunity, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, be open, and constantly reflect on what you are taking in. The amount that you can learn about yourself and the world is unparalleled.