Friends and Colleagues:
Midway through my stay here, I thought that you might be interested in my observations about university life in Hungary. I am at Debrecen University in the city of Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary. The university was founded in 1538 and has been in continuous operation since.
My colleagues here work extremely hard. Each full-time person teaches six classes per term, and while those classes meet only once at week, it is for 1 hour and 45 minutes per session. The pay is so low here that many of them have part-time jobs in addition to their university appointments. They are also expected to be, and are, productive scholars as well. In spite of all of that, they have all been friendly and helpful. My department chair helped Sheree and me lug luggage into our temporary apartment, then helped us take it all to our permanent apartment two weeks later. He and his wife took us to dinner and have taken us grocery shopping twice (we have no car here). The former rector (provost), a very well-know scholar and educator, has taken us to lunch, and he also has taken us shopping a couple of times; last weekend, he took us and two other American professors here to Tokaj (Tokay) for wine tastings at two wineries that produce the famous dessert wine--and others as well.
The students here take about 30 hours of class per week and are always busy. They work very hard and are extremely polite; only once have I seen someone text messaging during class, and if they have them, they do not bring in laptops and surf the net during lectures. The students (and the university) are quite poor. My Fulbright award included about $1500.00 for research materials, but forewarned about the students' lack of funds and the university's lack of books, I spent all of that money on classroom sets of books for my students (the US State Department paid for the shipping). As I am teaching in a North American Studies program, everyone--students and faculty--speaks English, but because it is their second language, my students sometimes have trouble expressing themselves (although I have more trouble than that just pronouncing their names) and can be reticent to speak up in class. Upper level classes are "capped" at 12, but mine have 15 (I am a soft touch).
Like everyone else, even the department chair, I share an office with other professors--although it, like all the others, is a window office. The window is important as the building is heated by steam through radiators and is usually way too hot for us; so, there being no way to turn down the heat, we often have the windows open, even on cold days. Much of what we take for granted in the states--paper, pens and pencils, copying, and the like--must be specially requested here. One of the boxes I sent over here had just such supplies in it for my own use.
We Americans are very much strangers in a strange land here as Hungarian is, supposedly, the second most difficult foreign language (after Chinese) for Americans to learn. I have never tried to learn Chinese, but I must say that Hungarian, even though I started trying to learn it last fall, has eluded me except for phrases of necessity--please, thank you, do you speak English, I do not speak Hungarian, do you have an English menu, I would like dark beer, where is the restroom, and the like. Shopping for groceries is difficult; I try to look up the Hungarian names for things before I go, but I have occasionally brought home something totally different from what I had intended to buy. Still, I bought a Hungarian cookbook (in English), and Sheree and I are managing quite well in a less than completely equipped kitchen. We travel by tram (trolly) and bus in the city and by train to Budapest (for monthly Fulbright meetings and other things) and elsewhere in Hungary. The apartment is a 25-minute walk from the university and more than that to anyplace else, and we walk as much as we can.
On the whole, this is a rich, challenging, and rewarding experience, and although it will be over in another couple of months and I will be glad to be back in the US for a lot of reasons, there are many reasons why I will be sad to leave Debrecen University and Hungary.
My best to you all,
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