Being Courageous

Alright, let’s start with this first:

“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.

Today, I was courageous.

This morning, I finished my tea with one of the Lutheran pastors and had all the intentions of going to as few stores as possible and attempting to speak Hungarian as minimally as I could to get what I needed (conditioner, something for breakfast, LEGOs for a church program, etc).

I could have gone to PennyMarket (where I always go and am rarely asked questions- my comfort zone for shopping) for the majority of what I needed, but I decided I needed to do more for myself. It’s so easy for me not to “go out” on my own because my host family buys all the food I need and are willing to translate almost anywhere we go.

I told myself, “Okay, Syd. We’re going to be independent today. We’re not even going to go to Penny. We’re going to four different shops this morning, AND if you want breakfast- you’re going to go to the pékség (bakery) for the first time by yourself and order something at the counter.”


After a few deep breaths, ya know what though? I did it. I went. AND I understood almost everything everyone said to me: “Can I help you?”, “Do you have the 300 forints?”, etc.

The one thing I didn’t understand happened when I couldn’t open the door to a shop, so I thought it was closed. The woman on her smoke break was telling me to push the door, not pull it. After she had to physically show me what she was saying, she followed me in the store for a few minutes to make sure I wasn’t a looneybin. 😂 Definitely a moment I could have just walked away from in embarrassment and tried again another day, but I figured it was a time to push through and not retreat from.

After I had bought everything I needed, I made my way to the pékség… Did the woman at the counter know I wasn’t Hungarian because I mispronounced “bejgli”? Probably. BUT guess what? My virsli bejgli (a hot dog baked on top of bread, with ketchup underneath the meat and cheese on top) was WARM and FRESH… Much better than the cheese bread roll I would have gotten out of a PennyMarket basket that was baked an hour beforehand.

Be courageous, friends.


See ya 2018, Szia 2019!

(Translation: “Szia” is used in the Hungarian language as “Hi” or “Bye” in a casual setting. It sounds like “See ya”, without the “y” sound.)

As 2018 came to its end (unlike ANY way I would have predicted at the beginning of the year…), I took some time to reflect what God had been up to in my life throughout the year.

If we’re being honest here, I’d mark this year as “the most monumental”. In the last 12 months, I:
– survived student teaching (which at the time I thought was the hardest thing I’d do in my life… Pshh)
– Graduated with two Bachelor degrees in May
– Coordinated my first vacation without my family
– Worked my fifth summer at the YMCA summer camp
– Spent my first holidays away from home

Just in the last four months of the year, I think I’ve grown more, as a person, than I have in my entire life. I’ve been exposed to a lot more of the world than I thought was there to discover. I’ve had to learn a lot more about myself than I wanted challenged. I’ve felt more lonely than I ever have before. My faith and world views seemed to have been turned upside down, spun around, and then given back to me to figure out how to look at them again. I’ve had a lot of questions running through my head like, “What are you doing here?” and “Are you sure you’re doing this right?”.

BUT, through it all, I’ve had no doubt that I am where I’m supposed to be right now. I’ve been the recipient of so much love and support that I cannot even begin to describe to you.

2018 was not what I would have wrote if I was writing my own story, but I’m sure glad the author knows what they’re up to. 💕

2019, I’m not sure what you’re going to hold, but I’m sure you’re going to be full of love, surprises, challenges, and growth.

… I’m buckled in, let’s go.

Boldog Karácsonyt! Merry Christmas!

Being away from tradition, routine, familiar sounds, and “home” for the holidays can’t be easy for anyone. With that being said, I applaud anyone who was away this holiday, anytime in the past, and for those who will be in the future.

Knowing I wouldn’t be in Warren for Christmas for the first time in my life, I wasn’t really sure what to anticipate at this time of the year. Would we celebrate with extended family like I do in the States? Will I be so overcome with homesickness it would take all my energy not to cry at the dinner table? What does the month of December look like in this small town across the world from mine?

Though I had many questions, I was sure about one thing… This will be a Christmas I treasure and look back on for the rest of my life. After all, not many people get the opportunity to be a part of a non-touristy community across the world for Christmas.

I was reminded several times by people in my community that “it’s okay to miss home”, “that I was brave for being so far from family at this time”, and that “they hope I genuinely enjoy being in their community for the holidays”.

Honestly though, the days winding down to Christmas didn’t really affect me. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I felt like it was just any other winter day abroad. That is until I called my mom, dad, and Jordi for our weekly video chat and a steady stream of tears ran down my face. It wasn’t that I really wished to be home or that I wasn’t having a good time here or anything like that. They were tears of “I know this is not going to be easy, but I know this is where I need to be”.

Flash forward to Christmas Eve Day. Zoli’s mom came over for lunch, and we ate chicken soup and gombas husz (one of my favorites!) together. Soon after she left, Panna and I headed to the church for choir rehearsal before the 6:00 service. The service began, and it still didn’t really feel like “Christmas” to me. But, I was happy to be a part of the Christmas play and the choir during the service. (I’m almost positive if I had to sit in the congregation and not participate in anything, this story would be quite different.) We sang beautiful Hungarian Christmas songs, and I was a barkeeper in the Christmas play. I felt a twinkle of “Christmas” at the end of the service because it ended with “Silent Night” (the song my church ends with in the States) in Hungarian!

My host family and I headed home to see if “Jésuska (Baby Jesus) came”, which indeed He did. We played English Christmas music, danced around the living room, and sipped mulled wine. Before opening presents, my második mama made a toast to me and expressed how she was so glad to have me as a part of their family, how she truly sees me as a daughter, and that she loves how I am a big sister to Panna. Naturally, I choked up trying to thank them for opening their hearts and home to me and told them that this Christmas will always be dear to my heart because they’ve made me feel so welcome. It was then that I felt in my heart what I had hoped would come, the “Christmas feeling”.

Christmas morning was slightly different for me because the family had already opened gifts the night before, so there was no need to wake up early. Knowing I had presents sent from the States, I set aside an hour and half of my morning to have my own time to open them and cry as I wished. Of course by the time I opened my second gift I was crying. I knew I had to save my “big present” for last because I knew it’d require a lot of energy and emotions, the scrapbook I requested.

I made myself as comfortable as I could get to place this most ginormous scrapbook I’ve ever seen in my life in my lap. As I leafed through the scrapbook with tears rolling down my cheeks for 45 minutes, I felt the closest I’ve felt to God all month. I looked through pictures from all different times in my life, read letters from dear friends and family from PA to NC to AZ to NH, laughed out loud, and cried tears of thankfulness.
I must say that that book is the most precious and special gift I have ever received. I was and still am speechless with how above and beyond my sending community went for me (especially my parents, Bri, Sarah Jo, Kim, and Raegen who helped assemble everything).

In the afternoon, my host family went to my második mama’s parents house. There I was greeted with a warm welcome from a few people I adore visiting, Nagymama and Nagypapa. I was given Christmas presents by them AND by the második mama’s brother’s family (whom I’ve only met one time before!). The eleven of us gathered around a table to enjoy a typical Hungarian Christmas meal- a special soup and csirkepörkölt. With that many people, there’s bound to be many conversations. There was always happy conversation being had (that sometimes I understood most of!) with the occasional “Boldog Karácsonyt!” (“Merry Christmas!”) thrown out there once in awhile over the bustle of voices. I was asked questions, offered multiple shots of pálinka (a strong Hungarian brandy), and encouraged quite often about how well my Hungarian is coming along. The youngest cousin even let me braid her hair! Before I left, my “host aunt and uncle” told me that I should come to their house sometime and proposed blessings to me during this holiday season.

Our family of four headed home and played some new games Jésuska brought Panna. I finished my night video calling my family back home as I was about to go to bed and they had just finished their lunch. What a blessing it was to be a part of both of my families that day!

In Hungary, December 26 is also celebrated for Christmas, so I had an extra day of traditional celebration! Originally, Zoli’s family was going to come to our house, but sickness hit one of the household so it’s postponed until Sunday. Instead, we relaxed in the morning/afternoon and headed to my host uncle and aunt’s (on Edit’s side) house around 4:00. There I was welcomed again with open arms, a new gift- a Hungarian towel, great food, and a tour of their house. I played with the smallest cousin again with a game (like DDR) she got for Christmas. I chatted with a cousin, who speaks English, who asked about American culture. Plans were spoken about to take me to Budapest for a sightseeing tour, and I did the smallest cousin’s hair again before we went home.

When we made it back home, I changed into my new pajamas sent from America and played card games with my második mama in the living room. After we played four different games with her practicing her English and me practicing my Hungarian, we snuggled up on the couch and watched a movie in Hungarian (which she impressively translated for me for two and a half hours).

I’d say my Christmas in Hungary was a huge success and will be remembered for a long, long time.

AND, I still have two more Christmas parties to attend…

Putren Le Jakha! Open Your Eyes!

6 days + 35 Roma and non-Roma participants + 13 different countries represented = a very unique conference experience!

Last week, I was able to attend a conference with a name combining Romani and English language,  “Putren Le Jakha! Open Your Eyes!”. The week was focused around antigypsyism. Like any other “anti” or “-ism” word, you might be able to come up with an idea of what this term means. (Maybe something along the lines of “discrimination against gypsies”?). If only definitions for such deep words could be wrapped up in three words…

From my experience last week, I can tell you that there is so much to this word, and there’s no way to give it a complete definition. First of all, a YAGM friend and I were slightly confused why the word “gypsy” was even in the word in the first place. Most often than not, “gypsy” is used as a slang term for Roma people and has a negative connotation. Taylor asked about this at a round table discussion, and this is what I understood through the answer given:
1. The word “gypsy” can be referring to not just Roma people, but also “travelers”.
2. Roma people may use the term “gypsy” to describe themselves and embrace the word, others may not.
3. It’s IMPORTANT to ask individuals if the term is offensive to them.
4. Stick with the word “Roma”, unless told otherwise.
5. Why it is included in the term “antigypsyism” is because the “anti” part of the word focuses on abandoning any negativity towards the population being discussed.

During the conference, we discussed how each of us see or have experienced antigypsyism. We spoke about national strategies for the inclusion of Roma people in European society, the positive effects and the plenty of negative ones. Different organizations planned to collaborate on the national level, and youth empowerment was a highlight in several conversations.

By Day One, I knew I was experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was bonding with people from Kosovo, Italy, Bulgaria, Albania, and so many more countries. Not only was it amazing talking to so many new, diverse people, but I got to see multiple perspectives of Europe through so many different lenses. I was inspired to see so many young people (ages 20-35) representing all different NGOs or organizations for the same cause- to help Europe see all of the people in the continent as humans.

As the “good YAGM” that I am, I went into this past week with the thought of being a sponge. I was going to try to soak in as much information as I could (because frankly, what would an American be doing at a conference about such a huge issue in Europe that even some Europeans don’t understand or know about?). Thankfully, this beautifully knitted community accepted my American-ness with open arms, love, and support. Thanks to seeing the passion in the eyes of the participants in this conference, I left on Saturday rejuvenated and reminded of the main reason why YAGM has placements in Central Europe- to accompany and empower the Roma people here.

(P.S. Experiencing Budapest, it’s “night life”, and disco parties with these people are memories that will last a lifetime!)

Circus Acts, Mugs, and Hockey- Oh My!

Saying “these last few days have been busy” would be an understatement. Since Thursday, I’ve been to Budapest twice, rode a glass elevator up to the 14th floor of a bank overlooking the Danube River, ate pizza for three meals, sang “Amazing Grace” over the loud speaker at the middle school with a few girls, and have felt the most “alive” in awhile.

I could go on for awhile about the last five days, so here are some details of the three events mentioned in the title of this blog…

Circus Acts
On Thursday, I had to privilege to join some of the kids I accompany at The Castle (an organization where children – who do not have parents or can’t be with their families for safety concerns – are given homes at a castle in town or in houses around the community of Pilis) going to the circus in Budapest!
I wasn’t quite sure what the day would entail besides meeting them at the train station at noon, seeing some of the kids perform, and coming home by train around 6.
I joined a group of ten kiddos and a few adults at the train station, and we made our way to the circus together hand-in-hand.
Excitingly, we sat four rows up from the performance area in the circular showroom. First, we watched a group of about 20 people with disabilities performance a Hungarian song in sign language. We enjoyed music from famous Hungarian performers. A group of individuals with and without wheelchairs danced their way around the arena. Then, a group of kids from The Castle (that I didn’t come with) sang and danced in front of the crowd of easily 400+ people. A 16-year old, who would later sit behind me and befriend me, sang a solo, “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato.
There was an intermission, and then a Christmas story was told through the acts of professional circus performers. I saw a magician, a dog and tiger trainer, a tightrope walker, a unicyclist, a group of men who did more flips and tricks than I can count, and hundreds of smiles of kids that would go back to this magical place everyday if they could.
I asked my new friend behind me during an intermission, “Do you like the circus?”. He said, “I like the circus for the humans performing, not the animals. I know when I see the animals that they are really in pain.” That reaction really stuck me…
After the last performance, the group of us boarded the van to take us to the train station, ran as fast as we could up the steps at the train station, and were on our way home with not even three minutes to spare.

Saturday afternoon, I met my friend Eszter outside of the Penny Market to walk to our friend Ditta’s house for a program organized by the church. On our way, a sweet little kitten crossed the road to greet us, and we greeted it with some cuddles and compliments. We attempted to name it, But we couldn’t decide between Barátságos (“friendly” in Hungarian) and Purrfect.
We arrived at Ditta’s to a warm welcome, and we began our project with some boiled and spiced wine. Our project consisted of decorating 100 white mugs to sell as a fundraiser for the church during Advent. We gathered around the magazine covered table and let our imaginations run wild. After a few hours, our group of eight decorators, a few cheerleaders, and a few bakers finished.
Ditta, Eszter and I played a few Hungarian games in Ditta’s room, and Edit (Ditta’s sweet mother) ordered pizza for the crowd in her house. Seriously, I’ve never seen pizza so big before!
It was an afternoon full of creativity, friendship, and learning each other’s languages!

Yesterday, I went with people associated with The Castle to Budapest again. This time, there were 45 of us who traveled by coach bus!
My pal I get to see every Thursday wanted me to sit with her at the front of the bus, so I took my place and was ready for an action-packed day. Our first stop in Budapest was at a bank that is associated with The Castle somehow. We rode glass elevators on the side of the building to the 14th floor to get a tour of that level (and receive some chocolate!). Riding the elevator was such an awesome experience! My smile was just as big as the kids as we went up, and up, and up. The kids were squealing with excitement as the people on the ground slowly started looking like little toy people.
After our tour of the bank, we headed to the ice arena to watch the Vasas team win after double overtime and a shootout! I sat next to Roli, the 16-year old who sang the solo at the circus’ brother, and a little fourth grader who wanted to show me his English skills. On my right, I had a new dear friend who helped me immensely by translating some things to me and having friendly conversation. On my left, I had an excited little guy trying to record every minute of the first period of the hockey game and asking if I can translate whatever English words he could think of (I couldn’t, haha).
Guess what we were eating? You guessed it. Pizza.

Knock, Knock! It’s the Holidays.

I knew I’d get homesick when the holidays rolled around.

I could have told you that in July. It’s inevitable.

I’ve been doing Thanksgiving and Christmas the same way since I can remember. Our locations might have changed, but there’s always been the comfort of knowing I’d be in “the atmosphere of my family” every year (seeing family members arrive through the front door with snow on their heads and smiles on their faces, overeating while talking about family memories made and creating new ones, catching up on each other’s lives on a couch…).

This evening, while planning a youth group meeting that falls on Thanksgiving, I could feel homesickness walking up my street. As every word describing my Thanksgiving traditions came out of my mouth, homesickness took a step closer to the front door of my heart.

I knew I had to be proactive about the upcoming stay of this expected guest. I messaged my immediate family (who will be with my mom’s side of my family) about video calling on Thursday. Then, I reached out to my uncle (who will be hosting my dad’s side of my family) about when to chat with them.

As homesickness was knocking on my door, my uncle video called me with my aunt, niece, nephew, and cousin. What a wonderful fifteen minutes it was! Indeed, something I didn’t know I needed in my last-minute prep for my awaited visitor.

As I hung up the call, I opened the door of my heart to greet the being at my door. This guest has packed bags at its’ sides; I think homesickness is going to stay awhile.

Halottak Napja

(The following information of this important holiday in Hungary I have received from my host mom and sister, the English teacher I assist in Pilis, and her son.)

Halloween has only just started beginning to be observed in Hungary in the last ten years. The part of the population that is beginning to take hold of the idea of Halloween is the young people (mostly pre-teens and teens). The day after, November 1st, has had more significance in the culture for quite some time.

Halottak Napja is observed every year in Hungary. Someone told me that it translates to something like “All Hallow’s Eve”. It is a day that most businesses and workplaces are closed so the employees can properly be involved in this part of the culture (definitely a significant part of Hungarian culture, but could be a part of other European countries culture, too).

Individuals go to cemeteries in the morning and “prepare graves” of loved ones’ by placing flowers on the raised tombs and tilling the soil/sand around them. I wasn’t available to go with my második mámá (second mom) in the morning, but she told me that the cemetery looked “like a beautiful, big garden” when she left.

In the evening, people go back to the cemeteries with candles of different shapes and sizes. As the darkness covers the sky, people light their candles and place them on the raised tombs or in the sand around the tombs. Those who are there usually meander through the cemetery with their immediate family members, visiting the graves of family members and friends who have passed. Someone from the group may take a candle to another grave on their own for maybe a close friend’s mother or classmate who touched their lives in a special way. My host mom told me that they light candles because people used to think that those who have passed could see the light from heaven.

To my surprise, I didn’t see many people crying as we walked around the cemetery, crossing paths with at least 100 people. I voiced my observation was told, “Today is not for that. It’s about remembering them and giving respects.”

When asking about the holiday, I found that it originated from the Catholic tradition that honored the saints on November 1st and others on November 2nd. Though, this part of Hungarian culture began with a religious base, almost everyone observes the day now as an act of respect for those have have gone before them. Most go to the graveyards on November 1st, but November 2nd is also seen as part of the holiday (just not as common to observe). Halottak Napja isn’t necessarily seen as a religious holiday anymore, and many people remember observing the holiday as long as they can remember. I asked my sister why she thought this holiday is important to Hungarians, and she said, “It is important to remember loved ones who have died”.

I wasn’t sure what I would experience on November 1st this year because I didn’t have any personal connection to what others have observed and done for years and years. Yes, I did feel on the outside of culture because it was like nothing I’d been given knowledge of before. But, I felt honored to walk alongside people who I deeply cared for and see their deep love for others who have passed. I walked in solace that evening, trying to soak in as much as I could while passing each flower and candle placed with care. I also thought to myself, “Heaven must have quite the view of this sacred place.”