Depending upon the weather, and my disposition that day, I might take the bus, walk, or ride my bike. Because the bus arrives either an hour before or an hour after my lessons start, and because the classroom is only about two miles from my house, lately I have been strapping a guitar to my back and biking up and down the hills or rural Hungary to get to class. I have had anywhere between one and six students show up for class Saturday morning, more on days when the weather is nice and children feel like venturing forth from their homes and fewer on cold days when leaving the house is less appealing. I start class with a simple prayer, first in Hungarian and then in English, “Isten segíts nekünk tanulni,” “God help us to learn.” Then we will study English for a while. Mostly I focus on teaching simple vocabulary words. I started with numbers, then tried to teach basic introductions (hello my name is…), and then I started coming up with lists of words for my students to copy down (animals one week, fruits the next, etc.). Lately, when I have only one or two students in a lesson, I have been pulling out my phone and letting them play on an English study app while I help coach them through the activities.
After the English part of the lesson we take a quick snack break, and then get out the guitars. Teaching guitar to elementary school aged kids who do not speak English is a unique sort of challenge. I sometimes wonder if I did more to confuse my students than to teach them back in the beginning. However, as my Hungarian has improved (marginally), and my students have learned more about playing guitar, we have begun to make some real progress. I quickly learned how to say some relevant phrases like “this finger goes on this string” and “a little farther this way.” At this point the students who come regularly can tune their own guitars with little to no help from me and play a handful of chords. Recently we have been working on changing between chords more quickly. Szabolcs gave me some song books with the words and chords to some Hungarian hymns so I have been using these to teach my students. There are a handful of songs in the book that I know in English, so sometimes I will try teaching my students the English words and they will help me pronounce the Hungarian ones.
Sometimes I wonder about how much of an impact I am having with my lessons. By the time I leave Hungary this summer I know that none of my students will be fluent in English nor will they have mastered the guitar. But then I think back to what Szabolcs, my site mentor, told me when I first arrived here. As we were driving around dropping guitars off at the homes of my future students he told me that the most important thing for me to teach the kids was that God loves them. Even if my students end up learning only a handful of English phrases and a couple songs on the guitar I will consider my lessons in the villages to have been a success if I can show them that they are important, give them confidence, and teach them that they are loved by God.
After class in Nagycsepely I make my way back to Kötcse and do it all again in the afternoon with a different group of kids. Between lessons I will eat some lunch, tidy up around the house, and pack for the week ahead. I need to pack because right after my lesson in Kötcse is done I need to start my journey to my part-time host family in Balatonboglár. After class I walk with my students and drop them off at home as I make my way to the bus stop in the middle of town. First I take the bus into Balatonszárszó and from there I take a train to Balatonboglár. The whole trip would only take about twenty minutes by car. However, relying on public transportation and my own feet it usually takes me around two hours. This is because there is sizable gap between when my bus arrives in Balatonszárszó and when the train departs for Balatonboglár. As luck would have it, this difference in the bus schedule and the train schedule gives me just enough time to savor a piece of cake at the cukrászda (combination café and sweet shop very popular in Hungary) next to the bus stop. Since January the cukrászda has been closed, but this week it finally reopened, a sure sign that spring has reached Hungary.
When I finally walk in the door at my host family’s house I usually offer up a “jó estét” (good evening), to whomever is around and I am greeted with a chorus of “Szia,” and “Helló Levi” in return. Then someone, often seventeen-year-old Levente, asks if I am hungry and offers me some dinner. In Hungary, dinner is usually a small meal such as a sandwich, scrambled eggs, or leftovers from lunch. Whoever else has not eaten yet usually joins me and then, as soon as my plate is empty, nine-year-old András will gesture for me to come play some game or another with him upstairs. After a couple rounds of whatever game András has devised for us, I say goodnight to my host family and retire to my small apartment which is attached to the main part of the family’s house. At this point it is evening in Hungary and early afternoon back in the U.S., so I sometimes will call a friend or family member back home. Before long, however, I crawl into bed and call it a day.