Tell Me What You Really Think

I suppose I'm a real teacher now, because I taught three classes today.  I arrived at the school at 7:30 ready to teach the one class I had on my schedule and was immediately handed a revised schedule, surprise!  Two of the classes were fairly advanced English speakers, but the other was a beginner class.

The beginner class was the challenge of the day.  I expected them to know a little more than they did, and I still can't figure out the exact extent of their knowledge.  They had a surprisingly large vocabulary of words such as "hamster", but didn't know how to respond to questions like "How are you?".  My plan, if they were truly beginners like they were, was to do some activities using the whiteboard to explain myself and ask about them.  Here's some advice, if your plan for a 45 minute class of kids who hardly speak English absolutely requires drawing pictures on a whiteboard, make sure you have a marker.  I was able to come up with some games (some were more successful than others) that just involved miming and simple sentences, but it didn't go as well as I hoped.  The highlight of the class was when I unlocked a seven foot tall cabinet and opened it looking for markers.  It wouldn't have been exciting except it was a magical cabinet that only weighed three pounds so I didn't even notice when it almost fell right on top of me hoping that it could build up enough momentum to make up for it's lack of weight.  I didn't notice it was about to fall on me until I heard 20 Hungarian students scream simultaneously.  They were much more focused after that, wondering what the crazy American might do next.

The other two classes were a blast.  One class had less knowledge of the English language, but made up for it in their outgoing effort.  I did an activity with both those classes where I gave them a few minutes to come up with about five questions they wanted to ask me -- anything they were wondering about.  Then, when they thought I was about to answer them I asked for two volunteers.  I made these two sit at the front of the class, right in front of me, and answer the questions as if they were me.  It worked wonderfully.  They are high-school students, so while they were writing their questions with their friends, they would look at me and giggle.  Everyone had wide eyes when they realized two of their classmates would have to guess these answers about me, but they all enjoyed it.

Here's what they came up with:  I'm 26 years old (or late 20's) with a wife who's pregnant with twins.  I came to Hungary because I wanted to drink Pálinka (the famous Hungarian brandy made from a variety of fruits), and I'm going to stay here forever.  I studied History, Literature, Teaching, and I'm an Engineer.  My favorite parts of Hungary are the sausage, the Pálinka, and the nice people.  I wanted to be a baker as a child and my favorite food is some Hungarian dish that I've never heard of (that was consistent in both classes).  I have three sisters and one of them is watching my hamster while I'm here.  I enjoy Kung Fu and the only people I know in this city are the other teachers.  I think Hungarian women are the most beautiful women in the world and my favorite movie is Titanic (I obviously cried at the end because it's so sad).

I'm impressed, they're quite creative.

However the most interesting question was, "What do you think of the financial crisis?".  This was answered with, "I was in America when it started, so I didn't really like it.  But now I have come to Hungary so I am rich and don't care.".  This one question made the whole exercise worth it.  If I were to ask them that question directly, they would never have given an answer like that.  It was only after having some fun and letting down their guard that they said this in front of me (at the beginning, they were visibly uncomfortable guessing my age with me listening).  This was a sentiment that I wondered if the Hungarians would feel.  Now I know to do by best and not act like a "rich American".

In other news, my shower has seemed to become friends with me and decided to do it's job.  For two days in a row it hasn't tested me by giving hot water for 24 seconds and then freezing cold water for five minutes.  My strategy has been to turn it on and rinse myself off, then I would shut off the water to save any heat that may exist, next I would use my soap and shampoo, and finally turn it back on to rinse off the soap in water that would make a polar bear shiver.  Maybe it was testing me to see if I'm really tough enough to live here.  The best part was how it decided to only give hot water when the caretaker was here.

Speaking of the caretaker, he's the happiest man at the school.  He walks around whistling with a big smile on his face and talks to everybody.  It's quite comical because everyone else has been running around like the building is on fire and there's no way out.  This morning as he was rolling a shopping cart through the teachers room (maybe it's a Hungarian thing, I don't know) he passed me and fired off a couple of sentences in Hungarian and shook my hand.  I looked at him and said "Jó reggelt" which is Hungarian for good morning.  Amazingly, his smile managed to get bigger and instead of letting go of my hand, he started shaking my arm with his other one.  Then he spent two minutes telling everyone else in the room that I had spoken Hungarian with him (they, surprisingly, were too busy frantically running around to hear him).

Finally, my last victory of the day was at the grocery store.  I was standing in the vegetable section for the 38th time trying to figure out how to buy the paprika peppers that are on sale (akció).  Just then I heard an excited hello and saw the lady that runs the coffee shop I've been to a few times and her daughter.  She's the only person I've met outside of my school who speaks any English.  Even if it is limited to saying hello, goodbye, and coffee terminology, she still managed to teach my how to buy peppers.

I can only imagine what tomorrow may hold in store for me.