A Reflection of a Summer Abroad

Written by volunteer, Danielle Padilla

I wish I had the journal I kept of this summer in front of me, but it’s probably best I don’t. I want this to be a pure reflection of my summer as a student volunteer, not a report of what I thought I felt then. This is a reflection piece about my summer abroad and I want this to be about the now as well. Who am I now because of it? What was the point of it all? Was it worth it? If I knew what was going to happen this summer beforehand would I have still done it? The answer is nem, tu dom. Writing that phrase has made me smile because it is one of the only phrases I remember in Hungarian and means “I don’t know”. That has kind of been the theme of this whole summer to be honest. I didn’t know a lot before I left and – even though I learned A LOT – I feel like I still know nothing as well. So, since I suffer from the Jon Snow paradox, again I say nem tu dom.

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You’re probably thinking: “Wow, this was a waste then if she didn’t learn anything”. But that’s not true. As I stated earlier, I learned a lot. However, this does not mean I know everything. Instead, it helped me realize I know nothing. You’re probably itching for more details so let me explain myself. The lessons I learned are not really something I can write down. I can try to reiterate some of it, but these are lessons I learned with both my heart and my head. Okay, before you turn away this isn’t some lengthy prose about how I found a boy in Budapest, had an epic summer love, and like all summer romances it was extinguished when we both returned to reality and our regular lives. Gosh. I wish my summer was spent like that. That would have made this all so much easier and it would’ve meant I had some game. But sadly I don’t, so I digress.

I was a student as much as I was a teacher. I know that sounds clichéd, but I can’t properly articulate how much this summer taught me. I was like an anthropologist “going native” and immersing myself in a culture so different from my own. I never felt this more than when I lived with my host families and for three weeks was their daughter. They never once made me feel unwelcome and worked tirelessly to make me feel included. I was invited to birthday parties, weekend road trips, and even on occasion to a place the village called the “disco”. I sometimes feel that I’m too much of a cynic, but experiencing the kindness from my host families and communities was astounding. Their generosity and good heartedness is what helped restore a bit of my faith in humanity.

I get it, this all sounds too good to be true. However, I swear to whatever god, gods, or no god you have, it is very much a real experience. Living with these families and communities was real. Teaching my students was real. You know it is funny, I say my students, but I’ll admit that my students owned me. They didn’t know any English and I didn’t know any Hungarian, how could I possibly have forged a connection with these kids? Let me tell you, it’s possible. The simple act of playing with these kids made my Grinch-like heart grow three sizes. To this day, if you asked me anything about this summer I will 9 out of 10 times tell you an anecdote about my kids. The times that seemed hard back then are now comical and nostalgic. I can go on and on, but it would be a dissertation paper-length of a read.

I’m realizing now that I cannot just summarize my trip. It wasn’t just something I did one summer. LE Romania is something that still stays with me. It has helped me learn so many things about myself and has made me realize no one is ever really done learning. No matter how many degrees you accumulate, despite how many years you’ve been in school, this doesn’t mean you know everything. Sometimes the greatest teachers are the experiences you live through and sometimes the greatest lessons are taught outside of the classroom.

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