The Hungarian housing crisis (Well, our Hungarian housing crisis…)
After our initial welcome tour in Budapest, we took a train to Szeged where we will be living and studying. There, we met a few Hungarian language students who showed us to our temporary rooms and have been helping us coordinate housing for the semester. The process has been gruesomely entertaining, the students have been exceptionally kind and helpful, and I would like to talk about the experience a little bit.
Evening Day One: Our welcome to the city included a humongous Hungarian dinner. The spread was incredible: chicken stuffed with ham and cheese, bacon stuffed pork, mushrooms and gravy, salad and fried vegetables. The Hungarians are serious meat eaters and they do not take kindly to people who turn down seconds. This meal was intense! Man, I’m sidetracked already. Anyway, the moral of this dinner story is that we met the students who would be helping us, went out after dinner and had a really good time. The following day, the housing location process began. Buh Buh Buuuummmm.
Late Morning: Day Two: After taking care of some early morning business, we split up into two groups – guys and girls. At this point, we’d been prepping all morning, discussing how awesome it would be when we all moved into apartments with friendly English-speaking Hungarian students. Jared, Nicki, our guide for the day, and I hopped on the tram and headed a ways out to this ghetto-esque area of town where we found our first potential property. The landlord, while speaking to Nicki in Hungarian, took us around a place that wouldn’t even meet the safety/sanitary codes in the U.S. Unpainted plywood walls, cracked floors, strong drafts through every window. In addition, he asked for a price higher than ANY other apartment we saw. Shaking our heads and exchanging worried glances, Jared and I said our farewells to the man, our dreams at least partially shattered.
Second Showing: Day Two: Things picked up a little bit with apartment #2, or so we thought. This was a relatively good sized room with access to a small kitchen, a view of a nice park, and a small pond nearby. The apartment mates seemed nice enough – a couple in their 30s who didn’t speak a word of English. Jared and I stood awkwardly by as Nicki chatted on and on cordially with the female tenant. We assumed the conversation was something like, “Well, the hot water takes a little while, but it’s usually good for a long shower if you let it warm up…” when really it was like, “Well, I really don’t want to live with these guys; they don’t speak any Hungarian. In fact, we’ve recently had a bug infestation, so they’re not going to want this place.” Seriously. Bust.
Redemption: Day Three: Apparently the girls hadn’t been having too much luck either, so all of our ears perked up a bit in the morning of day three when Mariann, one of the awesome Hungarian students, informed us that she had a room available in the apartment she shares with her sister. All ears except mine drooped when it was made known that, because it is harder to find places for boys than girls and they were looking for a non-smoker, dibs were mine. Later that day, we toured the apartment: a quaint little place with charming pink and light blue walls, a tidy sunlit kitchen with pots of blooming flowers. All this, in addition to Mariann’s delightful company, made this place the immediate object of desire. I tried to hide a smug smile while all of the girls gushed in spite of themselves. Lee’s room: check. Meanwhile, for everyone else, the plot thickened.
Drama: Day Three/Four: The whole situation, with the girls pitted directly into passive-aggressive competition and Jared finding nothing even remotely livable, turned our hotel into some sort of a quasi-reality show setting for a day or two. Hushed discussions were held: “Well, I’m pretty sure that Lauren’s crazy about the dome place, but Sarah put Mariann’s down for her second choice even though that’s not really an option. So now…” Instant messages were sent: “Well, we just assumed that you and Lee would want to move into the nice place downtown…” and drama ensued: “I just want this all to be over!” If this didn’t break our group spirit, certainly it would not be broken.
Resolution: Evening, Day Four: In the end, everybody ended up at least relatively happy (besides me, I was ecstatic!). I give our group a lot of credit; there were some concessions to be made, and they were made without excessive bickering and blithering. In reality, though, we owe a lot to the Hungarian students. Honestly, these few days were interesting and dramatic for us, but seriously exhausting for them (can you imagine riding on a crowded train with five 20-year old American girls?). However, through it all they never complained, and never rested until all of us had appropriate and suitable accommodations. We greatly appreciate their efforts, and thoroughly enjoy their company. I believe we are set up for a wonderful semester in Szeged.
Lee Bartnik, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point majoring in dietetics, is blogging about his study abroad experience in Hungary.