Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm

Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm
Tucking the baby chicks in to their coops for the night. Actually, the coop on the left is currently empty, but in just a few days a new generation of baby chicks will arrive and set up shop.

I first arrived at Twin Oaks Farm three years ago, on an evening long after the sun had set. I checked my directions for the dozenth time and confirmed that they did indeed say to turn off the well lit highway when I saw the pitch black playground, down the unpaved gravel road lined on each side by trees, and onto the first driveway on the right. “It’s a long driveway, so you won’t be able to see the house from the road,” the directions warned. As I flicked on my brights and turned down the unpaved street, my travel buddy and friend, Alison, showed the same raised-eye-brows skepticism I felt. This was beginning to feel like the plot of a horror movie: naive college girls want to play farmer and are never heard from again. Continue reading “Sunset on Twin Oaks Farm”

Swept Away in Vienna

State Hall

There are thousands of century old books in the State Hall of Vienna's National Library.

As an English teacher living in South Korea last year, I developed a tired habit. Week after repetitive week, I mentally promised myself that I would really, truly contact local Wisconsin newspapers in search of one that might grant me the space for a column. I managed to deftly avoid 52 self-imposed deadlines, but I have finally broken the cycle of procrastination. It just took moving to Kaposvár, Hungary to finally get my act together.

Each month I write a column entitled New Beginnings: At Home and Abroad, for Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s local newspaper, The Sun Prairie Star. This month I wrote a piece about that priceless moment in every good trip where you get swept away in a moment, and how I found that instant of genuine awe is Vienna’s National Library. You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website.

After a week of exploring Vienna, the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived. I was utterly swept away. The woody scent of books found its way through the chilled air to my nose as the soaring crescendos of Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier played in homage to its debut a century ago. Overhead stately figures in Grecian robes leaned over a balcony in a warmly painted fresco, and old globes with sea creatures poking out of seas begged to be spun.

Yet all of this decadent beauty was only a secondary compliment to this room’s main attraction: books. Lining shelf upon shelf stretching two stories up were the crinkled pages of books dating back hundreds of years. I was in the State Room of Austria’s National Library, one of Europe’s best, and among the books filling the shelves were pages churned out by the press over 500 years ago.

You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website. If you’re interested in reading more, rest assured, more articles wait just a click away. Like my October piece about the contrasts between building a new school in Sun Prairie and rural Hungary, or my December column, about spending Thanksgiving with a 30 pound turkey and a dozen ex-pats. And of course, there’s more to come next month.

Ruminations on the Hungarian Language: Take Two

Due to a potent combination of distraction and procrastination, here is part two of a short series on the Hungarian language, belatedly posted and slightly aged. Interested in reading part one? You’re in luck.

Attempts at Hungarian
Who knows how far we'll get with the infamously elusive Hungarian language, but when June comes around, the goal is to at least be able to honestly say we tried.

Not speaking Korean in Korea was easy compared to not speaking Hungarian in Hungary. Korea’s population is remarkably homogenous and there was no mistaking me for a compatriot. As a result, I was rarely forced to speak Korean and, I’m a bit sheepish to admit, coasted by on “Annyeong haseyo” and “gamsahamnida”. One look and the cat was out of the bag that I wasn’t Korean, and thankfully kind Koreans often came to the rescue with English. Suffice it to say the language expectations of foreigners were low.

Yet now I find myself in Hungary, a land of fellow light haired, light eyed people, and the plug on my neon sign blinking, “Foreigner, please talk slowly or stick to charades” has been yanked from the wall. Now when I walk into a store, people don’t treat me like a toddling three year old. Of all the nerve, they treat me like an adult. Continue reading “Ruminations on the Hungarian Language: Take Two”

Nem Beszélek Magyarul: Ruminations on the Hungarian Language

Making my way past the supermarket’s overflowing crates of pale green paprikas and stacked tubs of sauerkraut, I found one phrase sliding through my mind.

That's salt and pepper to you, or pronounced something like "show aysh borsh" to you.

With a storm of graduate school admission deadlines approaching, I’ve been a patchy blogger at best. Forgive me for posting pieces months late (including the apologetic preface that follows). Over the past couple of weeks I have had lots of time, and reason, to ponder the Hungarian language, specifically my inability to express myself in it. Between lack of Internet and the exhaustion of miming in as many ways as I can think of, “Please don’t bite others,” to first graders, among other tiring demands of teaching, I’m a bit behind on updating the blog. This first post was written in my first couple of days in Kaposvár. Even since then, my survival Hungarian has improved. Still, the message on biting and how we should only do it to our food and not our friends has yet to reach at least one member of the first grade. All in good time.

Making my way past the supermarket’s overflowing crates of pale green paprikas and stacked tubs of sauerkraut, I found one phrase sliding through my mind again and again, like a slideshow with a solitary picture: “Nem beszélek magyarul.” I don’t speak Hungarian. Continue reading “Nem Beszélek Magyarul: Ruminations on the Hungarian Language”

A Dog for the Night

A vizsla puppy dropped by for the night.

Újhold
Puppy slumber party

Meet Újhold, the Hungarian Vizsla that became our temporary roommate for the night. Our friend Franky found her wandering unattended in the Penny Market parking lot. He is a sucker for all dogs, but especially Vizslas since he has a very loved and sorely missed Vizsla of his own back in the United States. It’s little surprise then, that everything she did reminded Frankie of his own dog, Luna. He even christened her Újhold, a possibly rough Hungarian translation of New Moon. He couldn’t leave the parking lot without knowing she had a place to sleep, which turned out to be the foot of our bed, since Frankie’s not allowed dogs in his building. I’m not the hugest fan of dogs, though I have to admit, she was a perfectly polite guest. The real question is, does anyone know her owner?

The Best of Budapest: The View from Hostel Hill

Some cities are easy to love. Budapest is one such example.

View from Hostel Hill
Another look out our window shows the Turkish style domes of the historic Gellert Hotel and Baths.

Some cities are easy to love. Budapest is one such example. With Korea still lingering in my mind, I’ve unsuccessfully resisted the temptation to compare my last home with my new one, and the differences are many. Seoul is like an intimidating jigsaw puzzle that you stare at for weeks before finding a corner piece, but the evolving image is striking. No need to toil over a card table, Budapest’s puzzle comes put together and all visitors are left to do is enjoy it, which is exactly what we’ve done. Continue reading “The Best of Budapest: The View from Hostel Hill”

Seoul, Hope, and Mustard Seeds: A Short Film on Philanthropy

You don’t have to be in South Korea long to notice two things: there is a large population of foreign English teachers and it does not have the best reputation. Truth be told, it is no struggle to find examples of ex-pats who show more interest in late-night drinking than day-time teaching. When you look a little deeper, though, there are plenty more examples of appreciatively respectful foreigners engaging with the people and culture in all sorts of meaningful ways. This short film made by Bodeene Amyot, a Canadian teacher and filmmaker, is a testament to the positive influence foreigners can have in South Korea. Seoul, Hope, and Mustard Seeds is a short glimpse into the many philanthropic organizations that foreigners give their free time to. Continue reading “Seoul, Hope, and Mustard Seeds: A Short Film on Philanthropy”

Gyeongbok Palace: A worthwhile stop

Kayagum players
The sound of the Kayagum, a traditional stringed Korean instrument apparently invented 1,400 years ago, played at Gyeongbokgung Palace. They were part of a large group reenacting a ceremony for court elders.

Home Again

Having recently returned to the land of parking lots and fast food, bread and cheese, and friends and family, I find myself in the United States with an an abundance of both sentimentality for all things Korean and newfound time. This blend lends itself perfectly to reminiscence about the last few month’s with the time to write about it. Continue reading “Gyeongbok Palace: A worthwhile stop”

Boseong’s Green Tea Plantations

Bamboo Fences
The green tea leaves of the Camelliea sinensis plant peak through bamboo fences, the bush that gives the world oolong tea, black tea, and of course, green tea.

Traveling from place to place, I often marvel at the luckiness of creatures who call some of the best places the world has to offer their humble homes. A mere human couldn’t scrounge up enough of anything to land themselves the right to set up shop in Spain’s Alhambra. Yet a number of pigeons air their morning coos  over the Sierra Nevada Mountains everyday, nestled among the bright mosaics of that ancient palace. And just imagine the view those plump marmots enjoy each morning, hunkered down like carpet across the alpine terrain of the Rocky Mountain’s higher elevations. Continue reading “Boseong’s Green Tea Plantations”

Biking among the cherry blossoms

Gyeongju's tree-lined streets
After a record-setting winter proved just how cold the month of April can be in Korea, there’s nothing better than seeing a tree, or a street brimming with them, blooming with the signs of spring. If a passerby wasn’t approaching a walk on this street with enough grandeur, the speakers blaring melodramatic classical music were sure to push anyone in that direction.

The timing of our trip to Gyeongju couldn’t have been better. We left on the tail end of the first week of April and a cycling challenge I am participating in called 30 Days of Biking. It was also smack in the middle of cherry blossom season. Continue reading “Biking among the cherry blossoms”