Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Odd Bathrooms

I sat in the bathroom in the Chicago airport and the first thing that popped into my mind... People can see me doing my business! My mother-in-law recently sent me an article: Odd Things About America that Americans Don't Realize. One of the things on the list was "odd bathroom stalls". The gaps between the door and the stall allow anyone to take a peak of you doing your business. As I sat there, I watched people pass by, wash their hands and walk into other stalls. All from the crack in the bathroom stall door. And I realized... that's only in America. In the rest of the world there are no bathroom stall gaps. They actually make the doors to give you privacy. In a country that likes their rights - the right to guns, bashing the president and most recently marijuana - it seems very strange that Americans don't seek the right to privacy in a public restroom. Maybe it's because they're free. They may be less private, but you can go to the bathroom for free all over the country. (FYI - Most bathrooms abroad coast a euro or so to use.) Maybe that's what keeps people from complaining. Or maybe Americans just don't know it's odd. Or the fact that we call it a bathroom - who is taking a bath in public?! America, your public bathrooms are odd, but I can't complain about the availability and convenience, even if people can watch me wee.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do we stay or do we go?

This question always arises in the fall, before teacher contracts have to be signed. International school teachers have to decide if they walk the plank, don't sign their contracts for next year and take a leap of faith they'll find something else. Something better.
They piddle around on job search sites seeing if anything catches their eye before that December due date in which their contracts have to be signed. Not really getting serious about the job search but looking just in case.
There are those that just know they're staying. They love it where they're at and they want to stay another year.

I feel like we've been in category two, the piddlers, for two years now. And I think it's the worst place to be. Who knows what we're doing? Who knows if we're satisfied where we're at? Has the bug to move hit us or are we just hitting the shorter days of winter and feel a little sunlight deprived?

When people ask us what we'll do next year, we usually say, We'll probably stay. Which we totally mean. Until we see job openings in Lima and Prague and think, maybe we should apply and just see. But then we don't have all our application stuff together because you need references and current photos and updated CV's and hours to spend filling out little boxes on whatever site that school uses to recruit teachers. And then half way into filling in all those little boxes we think, We'll probably end up staying. Is this worth a try?! And of course it is, but who wants to spend all their free time filling out little boxes and making sure our teaching licenses are the right PDF size?

As you can see we're definitely not in the ready-to-go category. Because you really have to decide that in September and spend all your free time job searching. And we're just not ready to commit to that. But then we wonder... What if? What if we fill out that application and end up on a grand new adventure?

I guess we'll know by December 10th when our current contracts need to be resigned. After that we don't have to deal with it until next fall when we ask ourselves again, Do we stay or do we go?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not so popular on Facebook...

A month ago I posted an article on Facebook. It didn't get a single 'like' or 'comment'. Not one! I realize I'm not so popular as to get loads of comments on my Facebook feed, but when I looked back, EVERYTHING else on my feed had some likes and comments. EVERYTHING, except this one article. Why? Because this is what it said:

Why You Need More Muslim Friends

Ok, don't stop reading yet.
Just read a little further. 

I realize this is a hot topic. A hot topic in America. A hot topic amongst Christians. A hot topic amongst Muslims too. And since most of the people reading this blog are the Christian/American side of this hot topic, don't get frustrated or annoyed or think "here goes the Christian girl who has become liberal" yet. I just want to say...

This article is actually from a CHRISTIAN magazine. Just consider reading it. Whether you agree, disagree or think I'm totally crazy (aka liberal), I really think it reflects the WWJD idea. And whether you believe in Jesus or America or Christianity, it really reflects human decency from a regular American Christian guy. And we all need a little human decency in our lives these days. So be encouraged at the good things still happening in this world and take a look at this article. I think it shows that all we need is love. (Ok, that last comment was cheesy, but it's true!)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's getting sticky in Hungary.

Hungary has been in the limelight recently because the politics here is crazy! Here are the recent highlights...

First country in the world to put forth an "internet tax" to Parliament, so that every gigabyte of usage is taxed.

Hungarian government officials are the first ever to be blocked from entering the US because of corruption issues.

The current Hungarian prime minister, Mr. Viktor Orbán, is making headlines for his stance against Western ideas of government and his illiberal (or non-liberal) ideology. He likes the Russian and Turkish authoritarian regimes.

So politics is part of expat discussion a lot lately. What will happen in the next few years in Hungary? That's what we all want to know. Will we be moving on to other countries or will outside economic and political pressure force Hungary to move back to the EU/Western/Democratic politics that Hungarians have leaned toward throughout their history? I guess we'll see.

Thousands protest against the internet tax in Budapest.
Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, is making enemies,
but he still has many Hungarian supporters too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 'pros' of a place

Living and traveling in various places has given me an appreciation for what each country has to offer. The pros of a place.

In China the delicious spicy cuisine was a pro. 
In Kenya it was the relaxed atmosphere (which I have to admit was sometimes a con as well).
America has the best customer service in the world.
Hungary the quietest people.
The Italian and Swiss Alps win for stunning views.
Denmark has amazing boutique shopping.
Zanzibar the best beaches in the world.

Most recently my adventures took me to Scotland. And I think they have 'friendliness' going for them. Everyone was so nice. Always willing to chat. Generous. Their generosity and friendliness came out in full force when we went out one night with friends. We visited one of our co-workers in his hometown. His dad took us from pub to pub in the little town of Eyemouth (which you say exactly like it's written: eye mouth). Hanging out with intoxicated old men in a small Scottish pub showed the true friendliness of the Scots, especially as the night wore on.

At our last stop, our host showed us a photo hanging on the pub's wall that he took some years ago. I went back to look at it a little closer, then returned to the group for another drink. In the midst of my meandering back to my glass, another man in the pub went home and came back with a framed copy of the same photo I had just been looking at. He had snagged it some years ago and wanted me to have it, since I was admiring it on the wall. Seriously?! He went home and brought it back for me just because I was looking at it! I trekked the photo back to our host's house. I didn't feel good keeping it, since it was really a family keepsake. But I was astonished at the generosity and thoughtfulness of every Scottish person I met. Truly, the Scots are some of the nicest people in the world.

Friday, October 17, 2014

To my mommy friends

I'm not a mommy. But I have a lot of mommy friends. And lately a lot of you have been expressing the pressure you feel as moms. I've heard you talk about it in private conversations, emails, blogs and when I ask you how you're doing. When I hear you express your stress, guilt, fears of judgement and the pressures on you to be super mommy, I want to cry. Because that sucks! None of us should have to live with that kind of pressure. So this is what I want to say to you...

Ignore the pressure. Screw the pressure. Forget the pressure. I know that is easier said than done, but that pressure has nothing to do with your kids. Because your kids don't really care about the themed birthday party or the matching outfit or the organic lunch. And here's how I know...

I grew up with a single mom with three kids. She wasn't there for all the ball games or music concerts or school plays. She had to work. (And let's face it, she was TIRED!) We didn't have bento box lunches; we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wonder bread with two chips a'hoy cookies and a few potato chips from the big bag at home. We didn't have the newest clothes; we ordered the same five shirts, three pairs of pants, one package of underwear and one package of socks from the Sears catalogue every fall. We lived in a trailer for several years; our friends lived in two story houses with matching furniture in every room.

My mom's friends saw my sisters and me in our Sears catalogue clothes and eating no-frills lunches. They saw that my mom didn't always come to our events at school. They saw our mismatching furniture when they dropped off our friends for a sleep-over. But it's the things they didn't see that make me say please let go of the mommy pressure...

They didn't see that my sisters and I laid on my mom's bed every Saturday morning and talked and talked and talked. And my mom would just listen to our childhood and teenage ramblings. They didn't see my mom rush from work to make it to the band concert just in time. They didn't see her take me to the fabric store to pick out a homecoming dress and make it for me. They didn't see her mow the lawn or make dinner or put a band-aid on my finger. They didn't see her be my mom day in and day out. But I did. And even though we didn't have all the other things our friends had, I never felt without. Even when my mom said go outside and play, I didn't feel like she didn't want to be around me (although she probably didn't). Because I knew I was loved. Love. That's all your kids want. Kids are easy that way. Because the simplest things make kids happy...

This is what made me happy as a kid... I loved getting the Sears catalogue every fall and picking out what I wanted. I loved sitting on my mom's bed in that mismatching house every Saturday morning. I survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips a'hoy cookies allowed me some good lunch trades at times. I liked when my mom let me do the decorating to our house, even if it wasn't the nicest looking. I felt extra proud when my mom made it to a school event because I knew it was hard for her. I loved eating her fried halibut and helping her plant flowers in the yard. It's only when I look back as an adult that I realize that the things I loved as a child would have been looked on very differently by adults. Maybe my mom's friends thought I was without and that my mom wasn't a good mommy. But I didn't. And that's the best part - kids don't care what other people think; they just care what their mommies think.

So mommy friends, please don't let the pressure from others, pressure from yourself or pressure from society make you feel stressed, inadequate or judged. You are super mommy already. Your super power is love.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What expats can learn from a six year old...

A new student started in my class this week. Fresh off the boat from America. As he experienced his first two days of school, he taught me some things too. Reminders of moving to a new country. For the first time... 

Culture shock is real.
This sweet little guy had a great first day of school. Excited. Made new friends. The other kids in the class welcomed him with open arms, as international kids do. On Day 2 the same talkative, happy boy got teary-eyed about 20 minutes into the school day. Seeing "Assembly" on the schedule set it off because he didn't know what it was. A stomach ache and missing Mom and Dad followed the rest of the day. And it made me remember my own bouts of culture shock when I couldn't communicate that I wanted to buy strawberries in a Chengdu market or when I had to drive myself across Nairobi in rush hour. Whether 6 years old or 30, culture shock is real.

We live in an "international bubble".
As is normal in an international school, when we met our new first grader, I asked him what country he came from. International kids always know how to respond to this. Sometimes they say one country, sometimes three, but they always name the countries they "come from". This child responded, "Minnesota". Again I asked, "That's a state. What country is it in?" After going back and forth with guided questions, I finally said, "Isn't Minnesota part of the United States of America?" A little quizzically he replied, "Ya." I forget that kids back home don't know much beyond their community. It's normal when they're six years old. But I've gotten used to 6-year-olds knowing all kinds of things about the world. Just ask them what they're going to do during the next school holiday. Most recently I've heard... eat chocolate in Belgium, go to a play park in Austria and visit Grandma and Grandpa in Scotland. That's not normal except to expats.

We are lucky.
Near the end of the day Dad came to support his son adjusting to his new environment. This included tagging along to the assembly, which had set off the culture-shocking-day in the first place. We watched students share their learning, perform dances from five countries and show a small video clip of a man dancing around the world while cheers came from the audience with each country that came on the screen. At the end of the assembly, Dad was sharing how amazing it was to see all those countries and cultures represented in the assembly. He was enthusiastic about what his children will glean from being part of this international community. Yep, we're very lucky. We get so much from being part of all the diversity that being an expat provides. And the travel is a big plus too!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Atilla and Ildiko

Atilla and Ildiko live down the road from us. They're an elderly couple who are Hungarian, of course. The first time I met them was on the bus. They got off a couple stops before me that day. Atilla helped Ildiko down the step from the bus, as she limped and held her cane. I watched them saunter down the sidewalk as the bus pulled away destined for the next stop. When I got off, I jumped in my car. (We often park at the bottom of our "mountain" to catch the bus to the city.) As I turned the car to go up the "mountain", I saw Atilla walking beside Ildiko as she hobbled up the road. I thought, she should not have to walk up this hill. Then Atilla stuck his hand out to wave me down. They wanted a ride! I stopped, helped them in the car and off we went. They spoke no English. I spoke my pathetic bits of Hungarian. We established that I didn't speak German or Italian either. But we had a great little chat and I dropped them at their house.

A couple weeks later I saw them trekking up the hill again. I told Will to stop and pull over. We gave them a lift again with me giving the directions this time. Later I saw Atilla walking on the village sidewalk and gave him a shout and wave from my bike.

Atilla and Ildiko are a small part of my new Hungarian village life. They are part of what makes me like my little Hungarian "mountain".

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Hungarian Country Life

It's been 18 years since I lived on a dirt road. And now I live on one again. Two weeks ago we moved to a small Hungarian village just outside Budapest. We're surrounded by forest, hiking trails, birds chirping and fruit trees. It's still up for debate if it was a good decision: country life vs. city life. But here are some of the highlights I love so far...

Running on winding trails through the forest with views like this...

Picking cherries from the four trees in our garden.

Sitting in the garden, pruning the garden, planting the garden, watching the garden grow.

Harvesting lavender from our garden.

Fresh flowers in the house (from the garden).

Yes, I love the garden! And the 5 minute commute to work is a definite plus too. So far, country life is winning the debate. Or at least the garden is winning.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Yes June!

I could not have said it better. This blogger sums up June for expats...

Why Expats Hate June

And expat teachers... It's bitter-sweet. Hate the good-byes, but so thankful it's finally summer! Cheers to June... for all its craziness, sadness, happiness and excitement!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thankful it's a small world!

The thing about living abroad is that you make a lot of friends. And somehow you seem to run into people again even when you don't expect it. Even after 10 years! That's what happened this weekend... 

When I was 22, I graduated university and headed off to China to seek adventure and my first teaching job. This weekend, one of my friends from that adventure arrived in Budapest. In 2002 I moved back to America from China, then Kenya and Hungary. While Fan Fan got married to an American friend, lived in China, then America and now has two beautiful daughters. Our lives have definitely changed since we first met in 2001!

This weekend we enjoyed catching up, hearing stories and hanging out again. Last time we saw each other was 2004 when I took a trip back to China. We traveled to Tibet together then, and now I'm showing her the sites in Budapest. As Fan Fan said to me today, "Who would have thought it back then."

Then: 2004
Look at that awful hair Kim!
Trip to Tibet

Now: 2014

The world is a very small place. All the places I've lived have enabled me to meet amazing people from all over the world, but somehow there are these moments where we bump into each other again. And each time that happens I learn again... People have many changes in their lives, but we really never change who we are. Friends remain friends and can pick up right where they left off.

Fan Fan, it has been so much fun! I'm thankful it's a small world!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Good-bye City Life

In February, when we went home in the dark. When it took 45 minutes to get to work. When the city was dead. We decided to move to the village. Now it is May. The city is alive with the warm weather. The sun goes down at 8. And our car gets us to work in 20 minutes. But we're still moving away from the city to a small village of 7000 people.

I will miss the vibrance and laid-back-ness of the city.
I will miss Indian take-out. Chinese. Mexican. Restaurants and cafes.
I will miss walking downstairs to get an ingredient I need right then.
I will miss public transportation at midnight, dropping me off right at my front door.
I will miss many things about the city.

I'm looking forward to fresh air, trees, peace and quiet.
I can't wait to hop on my bike and go wherever the trail leads from my front door.
I will like the 10 minute commute (by bike).
I can't wait to have a small community of friends that hangs out just because.
I look forward to filling my bike basket with veggies and fruits from the weekend market.
I think I will like the village.

We move in June to a little village. It will be different, but good because change always brings new adventures. Looking forward to a new adventure in a little Hungarian village. (And the city is still only 20 minutes drive away.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another Year, Another Ending

There is one month left of school. Friends are starting to prepare to move to new countries. I'm filling out recommendation forms for students transferring to schools in Shanghai and Geneva. Work is stressful. Kids still come to school with smiles. Warm weather is finally emerging. We're all counting the days. It is the end of another year, a teacher's year.

This time of year is sweet and sour. A lot of good-byes are in the works. Kids get over emotional and react unexpectedly. Adults are on edge and thrilled all at the same time. My husband puts up with my stress. Everyone is tired.

At the same time, summer is coming and the hope of rest is in sight. After all the end of the year assessments. After writing reports. After helping children cope with good-byes and leaving. After field trips and sports days. After moving from a flat to a house. Summer will be here and so will the end of another great year.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Look who's visiting!

Will's brother, Sam, and our sweet nephew, Jacob, traveled from Mississippi to Budapest. Now we have a week of fun. Jacob is posting all his adventures on this website: www.porteradventures.weebly.com.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stars in our Eyes

From Hungary, through Austria, across Germany, hitting the tip of the Netherlands and finally arriving in Belgium. And then back. After 2000 kilometers of driving, we finished our first road trip in our new car. A couple months ago we found the car for us, so during our spring holiday we had to test its road-worthiness. As Will said about 5 hours into the trip (and about 25 more road hours to go), "I had stars in my eyes." We definitely decided on a BIG venture to start our European road tripping, but it had a great purpose... Westvleteren beer. One of Will's first hopes with this new car was to drive to Belgium and fill the car with beer. Well, we did just that. We are loaded up now. And if you know anything about Westvleteren 12, then you may think it VERY worth it. My dream was camping along the way. So we combined them and took off. The result was a lot of fun...

Mission accomplished!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The city is alive again

Spring arrived a couple of weeks ago in Budapest. With the turn in weather, so too does the city change. People are everywhere. It's as if they are coming out of hibernation. People are happy. If someone bumps into you accidentally, instead of wandering off with that blank stare of winter dread, they smile and say bocsánat. The cafés are putting their tables and chairs onto the streets. Walking down the sidewalk once again involves going through diners. The boats are cruising the river and tourists are looking at maps. The sun is out. The warm weather brings out joggers, bikers and picnickers. The tram stop at Margaret Island is buzzing anew. Flowers are blooming, trees are budding and I have Dutch tulips popping up in my flower boxes. Our terrace is in use, even now as I write this. Spring is here and the city is alive again.

A few pictures of a Saturday walk with my camera in tow.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hungarian Revolution Day

Today is Hungarian Revolution Day. It's a celebration of an important day back in 1848. In the current political climate, it's a day that prompts several political demonstrations, bussing in of demonstrators from the countryside and an increased reaction of blatant prejudice. This can be seen on the streets, trams and throughout the city.

Today we encountered some Roma racism that made us get off the tram a couple stops early and catch the next one. Passing one of the major squares we saw people setting up for the Jobbik Party rally. Their supporters gathered on corners here and there baring political symbols from the days of World War 2 that scare everyone outside of Hungary and some Hungarians too. Being that it's election time in Hungary right now, Budapest is in high political fervor. Today that fervor crept out from the corners it sometimes hides in. This political atmosphere makes me feel like I'm back in time in the first half of the 20th century. I imagine the political views of many Hungarians today are somewhat the same as they were back then, and we know how that ended... the genocide of thousands of Hungarians.

On this holiday new laws also came into effect... You can no longer take pictures of people in public unless you have the consent of those in the photo. That means when you're at Buda Castle or Parliament or any other beautiful site in Budapest, you can't snap a photo if someone you don't know is in it. You have to first ask their permission. Really? Great for your tourism industry Hungary.

So happy Hungarian Revolution Day. Hungary, I urge you to remember your leader, Kossuth Lajos, who led this revolution and actually hoped to make a multi-ethnic federation along the Danube. He fought for minority rights in Hungary. This is what I choose to celebrate on this day... equal rights for all people in Hungary.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What is your hat style?

Winter finally came to Budapest a couple weeks ago.  The decrease in temperature increases the number of hat-wearers in the city.  And there is no lack of variety here.  You can see the usual modern styles...

And then there are my favorites... the fur, the animals, and more fur...

Grown women of all ages wear all of these styles.  Which hat style would you choose in Budapest?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Morning Run

I recently read this...  6 Secrets to Getting Up for a Morning Workout

The one they left out was: #1 Live in a place where the sun rises before people do.

I like to run.  Margit Sziget is my sanctuary in the city where a run through the trees and paths is my own time, away from everything and everyone, time to think, time to let go, time to firm up my butt.  But in winter... this is very difficult.  When the sun rises after I get to work and sets before I leave work, it's very difficult to be motivated to go run on a cold, dark morning.  Or a cold, dark night.  But on the weekend, when I can get up after the sun rises, a morning run is perfect.  Even in winter (when there isn't ice floating down the Danube yet).

One of my favorite things about my Margit Sziget runs is an old man I often see.  He's usually somewhere along the path I take.  He's walking along or sitting on one of the benches, watching the runners go by.  And as I run past, he always gives me some encouraging words.  Or they're what I assume are encouraging words.  He's speaking in Hungarian and my headphones are in my ears.  But the smile on his face and the pump of his fist let me know that he is saying, "Good job.  Keep going." He always makes me smile.  And gives me a little pick-up in my stride.  I love that old encouraging Hungarian coach.  Just wish the sun would start rising earlier so I can see him more than once a week.

Winter Run
Spring Run 
Summer Run
Autumn Run

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A New Year on the Other Side of the World

2014.  Remember when that was far, far away in the future?  I certainly would not have guessed where my life would be in 2014 when I first ventured out into the "real" world (whatever that is supposed to be).  So what does 2014 hold?  (The parts I know so far...)

We'll spend another year living in Budapest.  My teaching contract is signed for the next school year, so that's for sure!

We hope to buy a car.  The nice thing about living in a big European city is public transportation.  It gets us everywhere.  But getting off the beaten path and pulling out our tent along the way sounds really fun.  So that's our next hope in the adventure.  We'll see how it pans out.

I will be teaching Grade 1.  Ahhh!!!!  I've never taught children that young.  Going from 8 year olds to 6 year olds may not sound like a big jump for many of you, but trust me, it is!  I'm mostly excited, anticipating the new career adventure (my 15th year of teaching) and asking lots of questions from experts of 6 year olds.  More on this topic and my attempts at survival will be posted here.

We will travel.  Of course.  Places are yet to be determined and will no doubt be based on hoped-for car and good deals on Wizz Air.

I will probably shop too much after watching way too many seasons of What Not To Wear over the holiday.

My husband will finish grad school.  YES!!!  This will change my life!  Oh, and his too.  Anyone who has had a partner going through school while you're together... you know what I mean.  (Especially when you're the one who is the bookworm nerd and he is the opposite of you in most ways.)  So cheers to us him on February 27th!

This is what I know about 2014.  The best part, however, is all the stuff I don't know yet.  So Happy New Year and may all the "unknown" things bring you adventure!