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The Mayor Takes Us to Kindergarten!

In Budapest, there is a mayor for each of the districts who acts like a superintendent of schools.  What luck–we got to meet the best one!  No really, he was so passionate about education and proud of the work his teachers accomplished–which is every teacher’s dream, right?  After a talk at his office about how the school district works, we were off to visit a kindergarten school before an elaborate lunch in our honor.  Wow.

Here is the necessary background: Kindergartens can be public or private–many parents opt for private ones because they want the best for their kids (such as smaller class sizes and foreign language instruction…)  However, schools in Hungary are not designated by district, but by choice, so teachers and principals work hard to make their programs attractive.  This is also important because with twice as many teachers and schools than needed, the threat of having your school shut down is always real.  Nonetheless, schools are half funded by the state and the other half comes through district taxes.

Kindergarten is a three year experience; children are approximately 3 to 6.5 years of age.  As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on reading and writing–more on alphabet knowledge before primary school begins at age 7.  As you can see, there is naptime for all!

In this case, the children seen in the photos are kindergarten age, but they are part of a summer “camp” that acts as daycare for working parents.  The children are allowed to be in the program for as much as 10 hours a day, but most of the school building was closed off since the majority of kids are vacationing with their parents for the holiday.

My favorite part was seeing how much of the school is cared for by the teachers–you can see them embroidering more pockets for the children while they nap.  All the paintings, organizers, cubbies are labeled with little pictures to act as identifiers for everything from cups to combs to art folders.  Each room has a theme and teachers take pride in the results of parent satisfaction surveys, which are posted in the lounge for all to see.

In the end, there was a sense of familiarity about the place.  Pictures of special events in the hallway, schoolwide “zoo” for biology study, a playground full of equipment and even a daily attendance board with name tags.  Also familiar are the issues the school faces: children who have unstable homes or learning difficulties are given extra attention and planning.

Every child should be so lucky to be part of such a caring community of learners–the building was almost empty, but the sense of pride was still tangible.

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A Day in Sopron

The weekend was a whirlwind and Sopron was yet another stop on our very busy tour of the East.  These pictures are from the main town center, minutes from the Austrian border (see the Pan-European picnic pictures…)  Interestingly enough, it seemed like the whole town was under renovation.  Nothing like watching the construction being carried out one stone at a time–there was such care being taken to return every stone back to it’s place where it has stood for hundreds of years before.

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Quick History Lesson

The Hungarian Parliament is the third largest in the world, but considering it is made of entirely Hungarian materials like marble and a heck of a lot of gold, you could say it’s the most extravagent.  They really only use half the building because they have a unicameral system, and it houses the holy relics like the crown of St. Stephen.  Why the cross atop it is crooked, no one will ever know, but I personally like to think that he dropped it and then didn’t want to fess up.

A note about the flag with a hole inside it: after the Russians left, the people wanted all things hammer-and-sickle gone, so they sinply cut it out of the fabric.  No one had ever asked the Hungarians if they had wanted it there anyway.

Time for me to eat breakfast before heading off to see some schools.  Yay!  Felling hungry yourself?  Check out the pictures of the two lunch options at Stex Haz.  Which one did I have?

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The First Few Sights…and Opera House!

I was not content to sit in my room on the second night I was here…so I decided to do what any good Hungarian would do–visit the Opera!  What an experience.  I really have so little Opera knowledge, but I did recognize some of the songs titles and melodies.  We literally got the last tickets in the house–our own private box–for the last performance of the season.  Talk about luck…

The highlight for me was when one of the tenors started to dance like Michael Jackson!

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The First Day Gallery

Thanks to some overseas help from my husband, I was able to make a photo gallery of my first day.  I regret that I didn’t take my camera to the Sczechenyi Baths, though, which were expansive and the perfect way to wash off the stress of air travel.  Now that I have internet in my room for free, I am looking forward to posting more often, but I originally thought I would have a little more time to do so.  Today is going to be busy, and I am already late in getting ready for breakfast.  So, I must get going so I am ready for the two sightseeing tours, coffee in a cafe, and then finally the Opera tonight!

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The Hungarian Cultural Center

We ate dinner here last night...

I had my first taste of Hungarian food last night–well, the truth is I ate the more familiar part of it:  Buckwheat pasta, salad, and fruit.  The meat and gravy diet is going to be a challenge, but I’m told that there is plenty of fried vegetables for me to try when I am there.  This is why I am happy to be making friends with some serious exercising folks…

Here we are on a walk between lectures…which is very hard to do when you’re used to being up and running around a room of five year olds.

Fortunately there are lots of sidewalks in New Brunswick. These are some of my new Fulbright friends.

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Coming Soon…

So it turns out my hotel in NJ makes you pay for the internet, so I am very lucky my roommate is letting me use her computer tonight. I’ll splurge tomorrow when I have some more pictures and then I’ll post.

Interesting thing I learned today: The US military has more musicians than diplomats.

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Hungary, Here I Come!

Just one more week until I fly from JFK to Budapest, and I haven’t even started packing yet.  First I have to figure out what gifts to give the people I meet…

It won't be long...

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Keeping in Touch…

This blog will be devoted to my travels as I participate in the 2010 Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad: Educational Reforms in Central Europe.  I will travel with 15 other US educators we study the similarities and differences between our schools.  I will begin my orientation at Rutgers on June 23rd, leave for Hungary on the 26th, and return from the Czech Republic August 7th.  I am really looking forward to my time abroad!  Check back here often to see pictures, read about my experiences, and keep in touch while I am away.

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