I’m not sure why I didn’t think it would be hard. Life in a new place, a new language, a new culture. Here, literally EVERYTHING is new, well… except me! Perhaps I bought into the myth that the well-traveled expat wouldn’t struggle to adjust. Its one thing to enter a culture, another to experience it and life-changing to embrace it. For those of you that don’t know, my passport has stamps… lots of stamps: China, Australia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Switzerland, Peru, Ukraine, and now the longest standing one: Hungary. I could make a coffee table photo book about these trips, but this time I’d like to share words (and a couple photos) on three of them.
I visited Rwanda in 2009 where my friends Lindsey and Blake live. They not only invited me into their world but I entered homes of families touched by genocide, cooked in the outdoor kitchen, pumped for water at a well, walked through dimly lit dirt roads in a “city” and ate avocados off trees and was fitted for clothing in a local market. In the same breath, we visited a beautiful lake, went on a safari and visited a genocide museum. I had a glimpse of “real life” but only as an outsider, I merely entered the culture.
In 2013 I experienced a culture for the first time. A 3 month time in Ukraine, I sat in an office as the only English speaker, taught photography classes through an interpreter and traveled on non-climate controlled trains throughout the country. My sense of adventure was fresh and many Ukrainians not only invited me into their homes, but most importantly into their lives. I traveled to Peru for 2 weeks during that time and even became “homesick” not for America but for Ukraine. Riding marshrutkas, refilling my cell phone at the ATM and wandering through streets full of cyrillic letters (and taking medicine) I barely could read became a way of life. These moments I will not forget, but while three months is a long time I knew Chipotle, family & friends were waiting for me and the end of my 90 days abroad.
Since arriving in Budapest 5 1/2 months ago, it surely hasn’t been all joy [but maybe in the end I can see it as all joy], because embracing a culture, thats something altogether different. Here I stand with a foot in two different Budapests. One is the Budapest most Americans enter: the city of enchantment: golden lights, fine wines, a thousand years of history, and of course paprika. The other foot is in a simple city: predictable public transit, shops closed on Sundays, clean streets, langos, and daydreams of lake Balaton. These are all on the surface. To embrace the culture is to embrace the people. Its hard to make a friend here, yet once you’ve made one, there’s an air of faithfulness. Coming from a world where friends are instant and can be lost just as quickly, I’ve needed to change my attitude and actions. While on one hand, its incredibly difficult; as an extrovert, it has challenged me to not take people for granted but rather to relish every moment.
In fact, you’ll notice no pictures from Hungary in this post. Why? Because now, I choose to take my fingers off the keys and celebrate in the city. Today, we all stand on the verge of a New Year, it’s a time where resolutions are made, and the past is easily put behind. Look at where you are, wether that be a University, Germany, Africa, America, or anywhere else in this beautiful world. Examine yourself and ask: Am I embracing where I am living, or simply here for a visit? Lets live wholly in 2016 friends, what are you going to do about that?