Coming Back “Different”

Okay, I’m going to be really honest with you.

I have a quite a few fears about coming home.

One big one being how people are going to interpret/feel about me coming back “different” or “changed”.

Now, I totally understand, that no matter what, I’m going to come home to people who love and support me.

But, I know I’m going to be coming back changed. A different version of Sydney that boarded an airplane to Chicago last August.

I’m going to voice my opinions more because I’ve grown in my confidence in taking space in a conversation.
I’m going to have new opinions of topics I might have had a different opinion on before I left.
I’m going to say something instead of rolling my eyes when something inappropriate is said.
I’m going to proudly stand with minority groups because I’ve seen what happens when no one stands with them.
I’m going to talk about privilege a lot because it’s my responsibility to recognize/acknowledge how much I have and what I can do with it.
I’m going to value the importance of self-care because I’ve been living in a culture that values it and have seen the fruits that come from it.
I may not commit to as much activities/things to do as I have before because I’ve recognized that how much I do will never give me more value as a person.
I will be more open-minded about a lot of different topics because this year has taught me to “lean into ambiguity”.

Though these are only some of the changes one might see in this “New Sydney” that will return to the States in July, I don’t want anyone to think that I think I’m “better than them” because now I have this “worldly experience”.

I’m so beyond grateful for this opportunity, and I understand that not a lot of people have an experience like I am having.

But this year has really been a jumping off point into a deeper self-acceptance for me, and I want to be clear that this “New Sydney”, the latest version of me, is here to stay (with no apologies).

25 “Normals”

In honor of being in my community for only 25 more days, here’s a list of 25 things that have become normal to me here. (Thanks to my fellow YAGM in Argentina, Tara, for the idea!) By no means are any of these complaints and not even necessarily things that I see as better or worse than what my “normals” were in America. I just thought I’d share a part of my list I made in my journal a few days ago. This list is mine specifically, based around my experience alone. My “normals” may not be the same for other volunteers or residents of Hungary.

As you read through this list, I ask that you keep in mind this quote by Wade Davis, “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality; other cultures are not failed attempts at being you – they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

1. People around me not speaking my native language
2. Riding the train being the most common form of transportation to get to other towns and cities
3. Walking to all my work sites
4. Most cars being stick-shift/manual
5. Lunch being the bigger meal of the day
6. Pickles and/or bread served with a lot of the traditional meals
7. Seeing young women’s/teens’ stomachs (because crop tops and sheer shirts are in style)
8. Paying to use any public restroom
9. Almost all pets always staying outside (It’s very rare to see an animal allowed inside.)
10. Slippers and/or Crocs found in every house and highly encouraged to wear
11. Always having fresh vegetables, eggs, and meat straight from the source (In my case, my host grandparents!)
12. Drinks being room temperature
13. Being welcomed into a home with pálinka (a strong Hungarian brandy)
14. Celebrating Name Days (Children’s names are chosen from a long list of Hungarian names, and every day of the year is a Name Day for at least one name. For example, yesterday was Kármen and Anita’s Name Day, so all who have either of these names were probably given small gifts and well wishes yesterday.)
15. Hardwood floors (I have yet to see a carpeted floor in Hungary!)
16. The jingle of the milk trunk passing through the neighborhood (the same noise as the ice cream trunks I would chase down when I was little)
17. Going to a bakery for fresh bread every few days (if not every day)
18. Unshaven legs/armpits
19. Bikinis being worn by whoever wants to wear them (pastors and grandmas included! 👍)
20. Not being allowed outside with wet hair (because of fear of getting sick)
21. A lot of women/teen girls always having manicures
22. Baths (These are public buildings with various numbers of different-sized pools. The pools are filled with different minerals/relaxants and are used as a source of relaxation and self-care for all people.)
23. Repeating something multiple times for emphasis (i.e. “Szia, szia, szia” as you hang up the phone.]
24. Soup being served at the beginning of almost every lunch
25. Middle/High schoolers traveling alone to other towns or to Budapest for school every day

The Month of “Lasts”

This afternoon, I sang for the last time with the church choir, Izsóp. We sang two of our favorites in celebration of Szis and Eszter becoming official pastors of the Pilis Lutheran church. I saw Ildikó conducting her heart out (with the biggest smile!) for the last time, and it got me thinking…

This month will be FULL of “lasts”, which is obvious, but I’m not going to wallow in the fact that they are the lasts. I’m going to soak up every moment as this beautiful journey comes it an end. I’m not going to let the end of the ride race by because I don’t want to face the fact that it is almost over. I want to keep my eyes open as this “train ride” slows to a haunt. I don’t want to close my eyes because I’m afraid of the ending.

I want to focus on what a great school year it was while I hug all my students for the last time. I want to listen carefully to all the birds as I walk through the park for the last time. I want to thank God for all the people who have been so supportive here when I ride the train to Budapest for the last time.

“Lasts”, but certainly not the “leasts”.

Kiddo Vignettes

Here a few short stories for your reading pleasure, centered around experiences with children.
All names used in these vignettes are not the children’s real names.

Ricsi is an adorable, 9-year, inquisitive, sweet boy who I visit for an hour every Monday. He doesn’t communicate through words, but he will repeat words he hears sometimes. A few months ago, I fell backwards trying to stand up when he knocked off my feet when we came back from the kitchen. After he saw my back touch the floor, he insisted on me laying on the ground the rest of my hour visit. I tried multiple times to sit up, and he would take my hand and pull me back down. Most of the time, he would lay next to me and keep me company. He would stare into my eyes, rub my back, snuggle up as close as he could, or just rest his arm around me- just to make sure I wasn’t going anywhere. He did a lot of humming, so I joined in once and started humming “Amazing Grace”. He immediately stopped and listened intently, creating such a peaceful moment as he focused on my humming while rubbing my back lightly, with his little arm draped around me. I would whisper, “Jó éjt, szép álmokat” (“Goodnight, sweet dreams”), and he would repeat it back to me as best as he could.

Marietta is a fun-loving, energetic, wide-smiled, 16-year-old I get to see every Tuesday afternoon when I join Sámuel for the religious lesson at the Castle. Almost every week for the last few months, I’ve entered the gate to see her on the swings about 30 yards from me. As soon she sees me, she jumps off the swings and yells “Syyyyyydnnneeeeeyyyy!” as she run towards me for a hug. This week, she was wearing (very!) glittery eyeshadow that I told her was pretty. Before I left, you better believe I got “glitterified”! I left the grounds feeling like a fairy with my glittery, gold eyelids.

One week I went to see Ricsi and he wasn’t there, so I hung out with another kiddo, Mark. Mark also doesn’t communicate through words but will repeat some words he hears. He surprises me sometimes when he randomly says English words with a perfect American accent because of the games he plays on the computer! Mark was usually on the computer when I was at the house, so I didn’t interact with him besides saying “hi” when I came in. So I figured what’s a better way to bond with him than over his favorite thing- the computer. I pulled up a chair next to him and watched as he played a game similar to Angry Birds. At one point, I said “Együtt?” (“Together?”) and placed my hand on the mouse with his. He didn’t seem to mind, so I clicked the mouse when I would have let go of the “bomb”. He clicked at a different time, making the bombs go at rapid fire, which made both of us giggle. I eventually moved my hand away after a few rounds and he signaled he didn’t want to play together, which was fine. I just said, “boom, boom, boom” when he fired more than one at a time, and he laughed to himself every time- eventually looking at me before he would do it to “prep” (me or him, I don’t know). He eventually got to a level where if he’d double click on a specific bomb it went faster and a noise that sounded like “talkie talkie” in a high-pitched voice would sound. I tickled his side and repeated the phrase when I first heard it. I only did it in that situation for consistency for him and to give him control when it would happen, if he enjoyed it. Eventually, I could tell he couldn’t care less if he completed a level. He just wanted to be tickled! He would laugh as soon as the “tickle bombs” would come up on the screen and would twist to the side, preparing himself. He belly laughed for 40 minutes, I swear! It also touched my heart when he showed his comfort to me by climbing in my lap multiple times just to lean on me. What a great hour that was!

A Spring Weekend

      Friday evening we, as the young people of the church, sat around the monument in the center of Pilis, singing songs of praise. We sang our hearts out in the most outward way possible, but you would have thought that we were just gathered around a fire in a backyard from how we swayed to the music and the guitar never missed a beat. Grocery shoppers were given a new view when leaving the store. Our voices reached in the windows of the cars passing by. Friends from school came over to see what we were doing. The cajon was beating with our hearts and the guitar was strumming along with the melody of our praise.

      Saturday afternoon was busy with the end-of-the-school-year showcase. I stood next to the students I’ve accompanied for the last nine months, and we sang “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman (surprisingly, not by my choice) with pride for the principal who will be moving after the school year ends. The acts surrounding our performance blew me away. Some little kids from church each memorized long poems that they seemed to deliver with ease and professionalism. Some of my shyest students showed their powerhouse dance moves. Full classes sang songs together that made me my smile from ear to ear. After the tears were shed after the farewell speech from the principal and the dedication to her from the teachers, Panna, some of her friends, and I waited for Második Mama outside. I sat on the steps in front of the beautiful, new community center and just observed what was in front of me. The girls were chasing each other through the tall grass, their giggles could have warmed the coldest heart. The sun was out, creating the perfect weather for jeans and no jacket. The “summer snow” (what seems like cotton that falls from the trees at the beginning of every summer here) drifted through the air so perfectly; it felt like we were in a movie. The sky was a beautiful blue. The clouds looked like they were part of a painting, not seeming to move an inch. It was a beautiful time to just… be.

     Sunday night, I got to join Sámuel in Budapest for a worship service he plays guitar for. It was held in the Lutheran Church of Hungary’s office building, the congregation being made up of mostly pastors and their families. Let me say though, this was the most “happy, homey, churchy” experience I’ve had so far in Hungary. I could see the joy of the people as they sang the songs (that I knew from youth club!), reminding me of some folks back home. We celebrated communion AND passed the peace- my two favorite parts of worship that I don’t experience too often in Pilis. The service was held in a smaller room than the huge sanctuary in the Pilis church, making everyone sit closer to each other- which I adored. We even had a “coffee hour” time after the service. I left feeling more refreshed than I have after a service in a long time.

Under the Willow

I’m sitting at a picnic table, under a willow tree, at park near my house.

God is in the wilderness.

I hear at least five different kinds of birds singing this morning.

God is in the wilderness.

To my right, I see a field of wishful dandelions,waiting to be plucked.

God is in the wilderness.

I see ants, ladybugs, and other little friends slowly crawling on the table, on my jacket, they don’t bother me.

God is in the wilderness.

I see the leaves on the trees rustle in the breeze.

God is in the wilderness.

I see birds take flight from the comfort of the trees.

God is in the wilderness.

I see the dark green grass that has regained its color after the winter season.

God is in the wilderness.

I know the calm water of the pond is within meters.

God is in the wilderness.

I think this is my favorite spot because it reminds me that God is in my own wilderness, too.

What a Difference a Year Can Make

Last weekend, young adults from all over the US met in Chicago for the ELCA’s DIP (Discernment-Interview-Placement) weekend for this upcoming year’s YAGMs. That means… JUST a year ago I was in their shoes! That realization hit me right in the heart strings and got me thinking:

About a year ago, I was in the heart of student teaching and felt like the only person not attending job fairs and stressing about the future, in hopes of being accepting into this program.
About a year ago, I flew by airplane by myself for the first time.
About a year ago, I sat at a bench outside of my terminal at the Chicago airport and (by the grace of God) deeply felt “the peace that transcends all understanding”.
About a year ago, I sat next to Genna on the bus to our retreat center, and my first YAGM friendship was formed before we even arrived at our accommodation for the weekend.
About a year ago, I was blown away by the “random roommate” I was roomed with who had SO MANY things in common with me.
About a year ago, I wrote in my journal, “Why YAGM? You’ll be pushed really hard against who you are, how the world works, and who God is”. (AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH!)
About a year ago, I attended meetings describing the Central Europe and United Kingdom programs.
About a year ago, I ate lunch with potential candidates for the two different countries I’d been interviewing with.
About a year ago, I sang songs of worship in different languages with people I had no idea I’d be spending a year with.
About a year ago, I felt a call to go to the United Kingdom.
About a year ago, I met with the other volunteers who had also been placed in the UK cohort.
About a year ago, I left Chicago in a daze from all of the emotions the discernment weekend came with, thinking I’d be in the UK right now.

Last weekend, I soaked in bright sun rays and the blue sky stretched over the small town in Hungary I’ve been called to.
Last weekend, I walked with my host sister the same route we’ve taken to church for the last seven months.
Last weekend, I participated in the Lutheran church’s production, Passió, that we’ve been rehearsing for for months.
Last weekend, I played Lazarus and was “raised from the dead” by one of my dearest friends here, who played Jesus.
Last weekend, I recited lines in Hungarian.
Last weekend, I got to perform on an incredibly unique stage that brought me the joy of theater I’ve grown up with.
Last weekend, I meandered through the Palm Sunday market held at the church and purchased homemade crafts from people in my community.
Last weekend, I marveled at what God has done over the course of the last year.
Last weekend, I was reminded that God’s plans are far greater than mine could ever be.
Last weekend, I thought about how scary it is to step into the unknown, but how faith can outweigh that fear.
Last weekend, I was in awe.

Now, I am thankful.

Being Courageous, Part 2

Awhile ago I wrote another blog about being courageous, and I want to start out with the same reminder as that one:

“Being courageous” doesn’t mean you have to suit up in your armor and go into battle. “Being courageous” isn’t just “for the superheroes”. Being courageous can be taken in strides OR in small steps.

Well, a few weeks ago I was the most courageous I’ve ever felt while being over here. Here’s how it went:

It was a Sunday evening, and I saw on Facebook that I was invited by a fellow YAGM (serving in Budapest) to an event called “Hate Speech: Turning Prejudice into Love” that would be the following day. The event would be in Budapest, but it wouldn’t end until 9. Per my host mom’s request while I decided if I was going to go, if I did, I would have to stay the night with Taylor and come back to Pilis on the morning train. I slept on the idea and thought in the morning, “You know what, this sounds really awesome! I love hearing people’s stories and being able to support those who make themselves vulnerable for the betterment of others. This is such a ‘YAGM’ event for me to go to. I should go, even though navigating the city scares me… It’ll be fine… ”

I messaged Taylor, and she told me I could crash at her place afterward. BUT she said that there would be a possibility that she wouldn’t be going to the event, but if she didn’t she would send me detailed instructions on how to get to her place.

My immediate reaction, “Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t go. What IF she doesn’t come? I’d have to not only find my way to the event alone (without GPS), but also make it to her neighborhood alone. I’m not super comfortable with navigating public transportation. I DEFINITELY don’t want to be alone at night. I’m SO LIKELY to get lost. Budapest is so big… It would so easy to back out of this and say, ‘Ah well, I tried'”.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the words I’ve been using as my ‘motto’ this year, “I need to have courage in order to be vulnerable so I can grow.”

I messaged Taylor back and told her I was heading to work then hopping on the train to Budapest.

I hopped on the 5:00 train and pulled into Budapest around 6:00. For the hour ride there, I hand wrote the directions from Google Maps that I had screenshotted on my IPad when I was home on how to get to the program from the train station. I got off the train, found the metro station, got to one of the many town squares, and started having my doubts when I couldn’t find what street I needed to turn onto. I asked 5 people in Hungarian “Do you speak English?” with no luck. Thankfully, I had about 40 minutes of wiggle room before the event started.

I started walking passed some vendors just hoping I’d hear someone speak English and I could ask them for help. Luckily, I heard a girl, who looked to be about my age, speaking English. I asked her if she knew which way the university was, and she said she had no idea because she was a tourist.

My heart sank a little, but then she said, “This vendor knows English, maybe he can help you! Good luck!”

Thankfully, the vendor understood me and pointed me in the right direction. I found the address that was written on the Facebook event, only to find out that it wasn’t being held in that building…

The receptionist spoke English though and told me I just had to continue down the street for a block to find the student center that was hosting the event.

When I finally walked through the glass doors, I let my shoulders drop, my eyes close, and my lungs take a deep breath again. It took talking to about 7 people and 45 minutes instead of 21 to find that place, but I made it.

I had about ten minutes to spare, so I hopped on the university wifi to tell Taylor I made it and to see if she sent me the directions to get to her in case she wasn’t going to the event.

She sent me directions, screenshots included, which I copied down every detail into my little notepad I was carrying around like Dora the Explorer.

I thanked God for keeping me safe and for all the people who helped me get there, and I went in to find a seat. I found a few of Taylor’s co-workers, who I’d met through a conference in December, and I felt a sense of peace being near familiar faces.

As my heart rate began to finally decline, I felt a sense of victory that most city folk probably wouldn’t understand. A sense of pride a small-town girl feels the first time she makes her way through “the city life” on her own (and at night to boot!).

The program was ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. College students from 8 different countries who attend college in Budapest all spoke about their backgrounds, times they faced discrimination, and were incredibly vulnerable to do so.

It really was an extraordinary, unique experience. There definitely would not have been “a next time” if I didn’t go.

Afterward, it took me about an hour longer to get to Taylor than expected. I went to the wrong bus stop. I didn’t have a connection to her because her phone didn’t work. I called another volunteer in a panic. I prayed for 25 minutes straight while sitting on a bench waiting for my tram because everything slows down later at night. And I was EXHAUSTED when I found Taylor waiting at the station. But I made it.

I told Taylor, “I was so brave today. I don’t know if I’d ever do this again, but I did it. I was so worried, but I’m proud of myself.”, as we walked arm-in-arm down the middle of her quiet street, laughing as if it wasn’t 11:00pm.

Be courageous, friends, and remember this: Courage ➡️Vulnerability ➡️Growth


Ever wonder why the Day of Rest is a part of the Creation story, even though nothing was technically created?

I think it’s mentioned, and seen as equal to all the other days, because God wanted to show us the importance of rest. If God did it, how do we think we can haul through life without it? If God sees it as important enough to mention in the story of the creation OF THE WORLD, why don’t we give it a second thought? Why is it seen as a sign of weakness?

I had been hustling around Friday night and yesterday morning. So when I returned from Budapest, exhausted, I decided to listen to my body and give myself some decompression time in my room. I opened my window, put on a Christian music playlist I found on YouTube, laid down in my bed, and closed my eyes.

The sun was beaming through my window, warming my face and turned the shades of colors I was seeing behind my eyelids to a brighter reddish orange. I breathed deeply and focused on the lyrics of the songs seranading my room. I had reached ultimate relaxation, without falling asleep.

Before I knew it though, I opened my eyes to see that the sun had almost disappeared into the skyline. I didn’t feel groggy or in a daze, like I usually do after naps, though. It was quite a refreshing feeling, to feel as though everything in the world was in order again, even if it was just for a few minutes.

As I saw the oranges and yellows of the sunset, I was reminded of the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God”.

Great peace comes with stillness.

Why don’t we take more time to rest? Why don’t we see the importance of it?

You need rest. I need rest. We all NEED rest.

God wants us to rest, to be still, to be in calmness sometimes.

Please (re)claim your need for rest, no matter who you are, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Szolgakirály (Servant King)

Tonight at youth group, we finished our lesson time together by singing some songs that were projected on the wall from the laptop. I had sung through the same songs an hour earlier with the confirmation class, so I felt somewhat confident singing along. When we were deciding which song to finish with “Szolgakirály” was suggested. My friend, Anita, translated the title “Servant King” to me while Eszter looked for the lyrics to project. I knew the church choir sings a song with “Szolgakirály” in the chorus, so I thought it was going to be that one…

Eszter looked up from behind the screen and said she couldn’t find the lyrics. Sámuel, our guitarist, looked at everyone and said, “You all know the lyrics, right?”. Everyone nodded in unison, as I looked at Anita with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I thought, “At least I can hum along and pop in for the last sentence of the chorus”. As Sámuel started playing, I started humming, recognizing the tune.

When we got to the chorus, I realized we were singing the Hungarian version of “Here I am to Worship”. I got so excited! I started singing the English version out loud (but being conscience of not overpowering or distracting others).
In those moments, I closed my eyes and felt my heart flutter. My heart began to soar from being able to worship alongside my friends with the same meaning behind our words but spoken in different languages.

It was such a beautiful experience for me, reminding me that we all come to worship from exactly where we are in that moment and God is delighted by all people in all ways.

Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.