Hello From Hungary!

Hello From Hungary!

My name is Kellen Busby, and I’m a WSBE ’14 student currently studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary. WSBE sponsors a study abroad program here every fall semester, so far I’ve been here for about 2 months and Budapest feels like home! The architecture of this city is absolutely beautiful; yet when walking around the city, you can tell that this country was still under a communist regime only 20 years ago. The social attitude of communism still peeks through if you look close enough. It’s crazy to me that anyone over the age of 40 here was my age when Hungary finally broke free of communist rule. We don’t appreciate how good we have it. I witnessed some of the effects of communism on a recent trip I took to Northern Hungary…

This past weekend, two of my friends (Wietske and Craig) and I took a day trip to the Aggtelek Mountains (really they’re hills – who are they kidding?) in Northern Hungary near the Slovakian border. This is a Karst region which means there are numerous cave systems throughout the hills. We took this trip to explore one of the largest cave systems in Eastern Europe. It didn’t quite work as planned. We took a train from Budapest to a station called Josvafo-Aggtelek. It’s smack dab in the middle of  two towns: Josvafo and Aggtelek. Let me give you a tip of advice: if lonelyplanet.com tells you a bus will meet you at the train station and take you to the neighboring town 12 miles away, double check the bus times! The next bus from that train station to Aggtelek, where we needed to get was 2 hours away. Remember, we’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farmlands. We decided to hitchhike. I’ve never hitchhiked in my life and I decide to try it in one of the poorest regions of Hungary where no one speaks even a word of English? Okay…

It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve had in this country yet. We first got picked up by two guys who, creepily, changed the direction they were driving in just to pick us up. They spoke a bit of German which was quite helpful in realizing they wanted us to get out when they stopped at the first village. They just kept telling us “hier arbeit” which means “we work here”. Turned out they were friendly and very happy to help us out. They told us we had three more villages between us and Aggtelek, so we kept on walking. We walked through a very poor village and we were a bit afraid to take our cameras or phones out of our pockets. Halfway past the next village, which seemed much better off, I tried thumbing down a big old green truck, but I didn’t think that they would actually stop for us. As always there was a bit of confusion whether or not they actually wanted to give us a ride because of the language barrier, yet we got in and had a great ol’ time riding in that old piece of junk. The driver swerved around corners to entertain the little kid in the back with us, which made it that much more exciting (and scary). We ended up getting most of the way to where we wanted to go – and managed to see the cave – but my favorite part of the trip was definitely hitchhiking.

I liked it so much because of how friendly the people in these poor villages were. When I call them villages, I mean it. There were 20 or so small houses with people farming, goats and sheep on people’s porches, etc. Compared to Budapest where people often won’t make eye contact with you on the subway, this was most unexpected. I think Budapest was more affected by communism than were the countryside villages. After communism, unemployment and homelessness in Hungary spiked as jobs were no longer handed out to citizens. It seems to me that Hungarians in the countryside are happier because they weren’t as affected by the environment of fear that communism garnered in the cities. They live on their small plots of land and work the fields, living simple lives. And when they see three kids on the side of the road thumbing, they are more than happy to pick them up. I think we were the highlight of their day. It was a great trip and maybe our most adventurous so far!

Written by Kellen Busby, UNH Class of 2014