Getting Ready to Go to Hungary
Things to Prepare and Think About:
A few quotes and questions from: John D. Barbour, “Students Abroad as Tourists and Pilgrims,” in
Ronald Morgan and Cynthia Toms Smedley, Transformations at the Edge of the World: Forming
Global Christians through the Study Abroad Experience, 2010.
“Do we want simply to gaze at exotic people from a safe balcony or bus, or do we want an engagement with
another culture that teaches us how they perceive us?…. We wish, like a pilgrim, to be transformed. We want
to come back as different persons. We want our travel to influence the rest of our lives. We hunger for more
meaning than can be provided by the tourist industry, even as it sells us spiritual tours of sacred places and
so-called ‘authentic’ cultural experiences where no tourists are visible… “The kind of tourist we criticize asks
only: ‘Am I getting my money’s worth? Is it worth it? The pilgrim should ask: ‘Am I worthy of an encounter
with the holy, worthy to enter this church, mosque, or temple [or city]?’”
“One of the most significant transformations resulting from a study abroad experience is greater wisdom
about when to judge and when not to judge. Judgments about what? Travelers encounter a different
culture’s attitudes to time, clothes, food, gender, religion, work, recreation and leisure, authority figures, and a
hundred other things…. Some of the differences one confronts in another culture are matters of etiquette,
aesthetics, or convenience, but others can lead to serious moral reflection and to challenging the ways of a
foreign culture.”
Attitude: A common motivation for students planning to study abroad is the desire to learn
firsthand about a new and different culture. But studying and living in another country is difficult,
and acclimating to a different culture is a never-ending task. Some tips and warnings:
• Things will be different. Plan to be flexible, adaptable, and humble.
* You will probably endure long lines, delays, cancellations, interruptions, poor service, and
other things for which we, in America, have little patience.
• Store cashiers, waiters, university staff, train conductors, and other "service personnel"
may not demonstrate the cheery pleasantness we expect of the average Midwesterner. In
many instances, service employees will seem downright rude.
• At some point in the semester, the things above will cause you to be
frustrated/upset/enraged. Practice your deep breaths.
• The proper attitude is one of humility. Remember always that you are a guest.
Care for the Soul: Living abroad can be a time of great spiritual struggle–and growth. Think in
advance of the trip how you will meet the challenge of living in new environment, with new thorns
and stumbling blocks, which will likely cast the state of your soul in a new light.
There are English-language churches in Budapest, ranging from Scottish Presbyterian, Catholic, and
Anglican to Baptist and American-led but internationally-flavored non-denominational evangelical.
Students in the past have sought out the program director in leading a Bible study or other group
As you think about how you will live abroad as a Christian and how you will represent Calvin,
please keep in mind the comment of a Czech colleague when he visited the Calvin campus: "I don't
believe it. They look exactly the same as students at Berkeley and Boston University." If Calvin
students look exactly the same as any other American college student, what sets them apart?
“A number of leading faith-based writers are suggesting that our best hope for recovering
healthy, morally-grounded social life will come through a sort of “new monasticism” in which
small communities whose members are answerable to one another can model alternatives to
the ego-centric materialism that everywhere threatens neighborly love and authentic selfacceptance.” John Skillen, Gordon College, in Morgan and Toms-Smedley, Transformations
Weekly dinner and games: My family will be living in an apartment approximately 30 minutes
away from the dorm by public transportation, and we are planning to host weekly gatherings for
dinner and games or movies at our place, located near to the Parliament complex and the US
Romance: Ah, to be young and in Europe . . . and in love. It sounds enticing, but be careful. Studyabroad romances can cause problems. A romance between Calvin students will be difficult, because
it will be played out in front of everybody else in the program–and a relationship of two people will
affect the dynamic of the whole group. A romance between a Calvin student and a Hungarian
student could be even more problematic–and potentially traumatic. Be very cautious.
Keep in mind that, according to Off-Campus Programs policy, sexual misconduct can result in
expulsion from the program, in which case the student(s) is sent home with no refund.
Alcohol: Wine, beer, and hard liquor are part of the culture of Central/Eastern Europe. Friends get
together for a glass of wine at midday, and visits to someone's house often begin with an offer of
schnapps or pálinka. It all tastes good, and it's strong. And your hosts will keep filling your glass.
But remember: this program is not an opportunity for a drinking tour of Europe. Demonstrations
of public or private drunkenness can result in expulsion from the program after a warning. Severe
inebriation and/or destructive behavior resulting from too much alcohol will result in immediate
dismissal. After we arrive in August, we will have good conversations about our group’s standards
and ways toward mutual enjoyment and accountability.
Safety: Budapest is a safe city. The major problem to guard against is thieves and pickpockets.
Urban thieves everywhere are skilled at opening zipped purses, or cutting the bottoms out of bags
while you're holding them, grab wallets off of café tables. Watch out when taking money from the
ATM. Make copies of your credit card numbers, the customer service numbers, and your passport
(I will have a copy). When traveling, keep your passport, money and cards in a neck or belt pouch.
Travel: Everyone is eager to travel in Europe, and the Calvin program in Budapest is typically
structured in such a way as to allow students three-day weekends for travel. However, this is a
study program–not a vacation. There will be no allowance for the excuse that you were unable to
complete your class assignments because you were traveling, nor will I excuse absences from class
on Monday or Thursday owing to your personal travel schedule. When you do travel over a
weekend, you must complete in advance an Independent Travel Release, which includes your
In the past, students on the Hungary program have sometimes taken advantage of the low-cost air
fares to West European cities such as Stockholm, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, and Edinburgh.
These tickets are often temptingly cheap, but bear in mind that prices in West European countries
are far, far higher than in Hungary. Thus, in the interest of getting more for your money, you will be
better off traveling in Central and Eastern Europe. Plus, London, Dublin, and Paris are common
destinations that you will likely visit in the future. But when will you have a chance to ride a train
to places like L'viv, Belgrade, or the Dalmatian coast?
Visitors: If you have family members or friends who plan to visit Budapest during the semester,
remember the statement above: this is a study program–not a vacation. You and your visitors must
be attentive to the other students on the program and the program director. The printed Handbook
explains the specific policies regarding visits. To reiterate here:
• visits should coincide with students' free time;
• visits must not interfere with course schedules and assignments;
• visits must not interfere with planned group excursions;
• visitors may not stay in the dorm;
• the program director (Bouman) must be informed of a visit at least three weeks in
Living Arrangements: For some, this will be the first experience with apartment living (making
food, sharing a kitchen, cleaning bathrooms and laundry rooms, etc.). One of your first tasks should
be figuring out a schedule for cleaning and determining which kitchen/food supplies you will share
and which you will keep individually. I will make regular visits to the dormitory, so please be
mindful of proper cleanliness and propriety.
a. To home: An easy – and cheap - way to communicate with family and friends at home is Skype.
Simply download Skype on to your laptop, start an account, and you're ready. Two
recommendations: 1) Buy a cheap headset to bring along. Then you won't have to talk at your
computer and hold the little speakers to your ears. 2) Tell the people with whom you'll be talking
most often to also download Skype on to their computer. Calls between Skype users are free,
whereas you are charged to call a phone over Skype (although it is much less expensive than any
international phone-to-phone call). Keep in mind that wireless speed is not as reliable as it is on
campus, so there may be peak periods when service is slow.
b. In Budapest. Used cell phones and SIM cards are inexpensive enough to make it a worthwhile
purchase for the semester. Calvin students can keep in contact with each other, with the director,
and with other international students. Prior semester groups have sometimes purchased
individual phones, and other times shared phones. We will decide this when we arrive based on the
cost and availability of phones in Budapest.
Warning: Communicating with friends at home is now easy and cheap. But avoid the temptation
to use your free time to narrate your experiences to friends or remain connected to Calvin via
Skype, Facebook, or email, as if you were still in Grand Rapids. Instead, use your free time to
narrate your experiences to yourself–and think about them–by writing with a pen. Put down the
computer and pick up your journal. Or, if you want to communicate with friends and family, write a
postcard or a letter (then ask your friends or family to save the correspondence; it will make a
wonderful record of your stay). Just because you can keep in almost-constant contact with people
back home doesn't mean you should. Remember: an important part of the experience is venturing
off on your own.
Things to Bring:
Power Converters and Adapters. A converter converts the 220V current that comes out of the
wall socket to the 110V current that North American appliances run on. Any type of plug-in device
you bring along (e.g., hair dryers, curling irons, alarm clocks, etc.) will need one. For hair dryers,
the small converters you get at Target or Meijer will work fine. But for anything with an integrated
circuit, like a battery charger or a power strip or a computer printer, the smaller converters are not
sufficient. For these things, you will need a big, clunky converter with an actual electric
transformer inside (they are usually available at Radio Shack).
Note: Many laptop power cords have attached power adapters that will work with European
currents (many electric razors have these as well). If your laptop's power adapter says that it uses
an input of 100-240V, you should be OK. But, you will still need an adaptor. . . . An adapter is a
little thing you attach to the end of the power cord, which turns the two or three prongs of the plug
into the two round prongs that fit into a European wall socket. Everybody must bring their own
Traveling Gear. Most of your actual travel will be weekend trips via train or bus. For that, you will
need luggage that will be functional and easy to carry. You do not want to drag rolling suitcases or
oversized bags around train stations or through cobblestoned city streets on your way to the hostel.
A good idea is to bring along a camping/hiking backpack for the trip and then a smaller day-pack
for roaming the city. One past student suggested bringing along a cheap traveler's mug, if you are
addicted to tea or coffee. Another past student suggests a small, lightweight blanket to use on
overnight trains.
a. Washing cycles in Europe are very long, and the water is very hot. Your clothes may get rough
treatment. Plus, there are not drying machines, so you'll have to hang all your clothes out to dry.
(There are moveable drying racks in the dorm.) What does this mean for packing? For everyday
clothes, bring along things that will drip dry and hold their shape. But also consider bringing along
clothes that are toward the end of their lifespan. That way, after the washing machine has abused
them for the semester, you can simply throw them away or donate them–and save yourself some
room in your luggage.
b. Bring more socks and underwear. One former student suggests a three-week supply.
Alternatively, you could buy the easy-dry underwear and bring less.
c. Bring a set of nice, dress-up clothes. We will go to the opera, orchestra, and theater. You will
discover that Europeans are dressed to the nines when they go the theatre. You don't want to stand
out as the slovenly American. Plus, we might also meet some important people. It is a sign of
proper respect to dress nicely in such situations.
d. November in Budapest tends to be wet and chilly, and the cold seeps into your shoulders when
you're standing at a tram stop in the evening. Bring a waterproof jacket, umbrella, and clothes you
can layer. A heavy sweater is a must, as are hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Shoes. You will walk–A LOT! European streets are typically paved with flagstones, rather than
cement or asphalt, so the surfaces are uneven, slippery, and cold when wet. Shoes with hard soles
are best. Flip-flops are ok as shower shoes or at the beach, but not a good idea in any urban
Linens. The dorm provides sheets and blankets. But your own sheets and pillowcases might serve
as a "comfort item" to connect you with home. Be sure to bring along your own bath towels,
swimming towel, washcloths, etc.
Medicine. Bring along a semester's supply of any medication or medical supply that you regularly
use or that you might need, whether over-the-counter (Dramamine, allergy medicine, ibuprofen,
anti-rash cream) or prescription (inhalers, epi-pens). Do not plan to have extra medication sent
from home. It won't get there.
Entertainment. Bring along a book or two for lighter reading, for reading on planes, trains, and
trams. One former student recommends optimistic and uplifting reading material, as East
European history may leave you depressed. Bring along DVDs. Some students in a past group
brought along the box sets of their favorite TV series and had communal viewing night around a
computer. It is great fun to explore the city, but there will be plenty of nights when you just want to
hang out. See the warning above about optimistic and uplifting material.
Odds & Ends: Alarm clock. Watch. A small gift associated with Calvin or your hometown that you
can present to friends you might meet who show you hospitality - a professor at Karoli or Corvinus
for example. Or our Hungarian language instructor. And Ziploc bags.
Think about a "comfort item" to bring along for times of frustration or loneliness. This might be a
jar of peanut butter, Lucky Charms, Oreos, or another food item unavailable in Europe.
Preparing: If you are planning to travel (as you all are), you should invest in a travel guide.
I have lined up approximately 20 options for service-learning, and will know more by the time you
all arrive in August. Below is a snapshot of some of the possible service-learning options to get you
more immediately and deeply connected into Hungarian culture in a useful way that will also
contribute to your learning.
EDYN – The Ecumenical Diaconal Year Network http://www.edyn.org/
Serve the City, Budapest - http://www.stcbudapest.eu/
ESI English Clubs – helping teach English in Hungarian schools, activities with school kids
YWAM coffee shop - http://www.ywamorganic.org/show_vid.php?ID=6
Golgota Calvary Chapel coffee shop
Shout for Life http://www.golgotabudapest.hu/en/misszio15/ourcity15/shoutforlife15.html
RGDTS - Roma-Gadje Dialog Through Service - http://www.rgdts.net/
European Roma Rights Center - http://www.errc.org/
Ars Longa Foundation - http://proteo.cj.edu.ro/arslonga/arsang.htm
Lonyay School, Baar Madas school – Hungarian schools where we know a few teachers or
alumni – possible sites for playing with children or tutoring/mentoring in English
Association for Christian Schools International main offices, 18th district – administrative help
Bible society - administrative help
International Baptist Church of Budapest – youth work - http://www.ibcbudapest.info/
Danube International Church – youth work - http://www.danubechurch.org/node/170
We will be taking three required excursions, with a fourth optional trip. These are still coming
together, but at this point the dates below are the planned excursion dates.
Sarajevo, Bosnia – September 15-18
Lupeni, Romania - October 13-17
Krakow, Poland – November 10-13
Optional to Ukraine – December 1-4
Course registration and information
You should all be registered automatically for the two required courses that I will be teaching
Calvin will register those of you still interested in the Italian Renaissance Art course through Calvin
Registering for courses taught at Karoli Gaspar University and Corvinus University is typically done
during the first or second week we are in Budapest. Courses listed presently on their websites are
very subject to change.
You might also spend your summer days reading (or googling around) about your destination. I
recommend the following books:
Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian, fictional history of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) and the
Hungary/Romanian Transylvanian journey
Bob Dent, Budapest: A Cultural History. A mix of well-written, anecdotal history and tour guide to
the city.
Claudio Magris, Danube. Account of a trip down the river, from West Germany to Romania, during
late communism. Author is an Italian literary scholar. Slow getting started, but it gets better–and
Paul Lendvai, The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Wonderfully written history.
Slavenka Drakulic, Café Europa: Life after Communism. Croatian author writes about the
experiences of women across post-communist Eastern Europe.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The
Middle Danube to the Iron Gates. True story of a 19-year-old Brit's travels across Europe in the
Géza Gárdonyi, Eclipse of the Crescent Moon.
James Michener, The Bridge at Andau.
Robert Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History.
Kate Seredy, The Good Master. A fun kids book - true to life on the Hungarian Plain from years ago.