Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Fulbright in Hungary

Happy fall, Gainesville! It certainly felt like fall this morning, where the temperature did not hover above 70 degrees and I could finally don both sweater and smile on my two-and-a-half-mile bicycle trek to campus. "This is what it's like to feel comfortable," our own Jim Robbins said of the weather as I cheerfully, with a cinnamon pastry in hand, opened my inbox to discover a blog entry from Budapest. The author, Johanna Mellis, is no stranger to the CES Euro Gator blog, in fact she wrote to us last Summer as a FLAS recipient:
In the entry below, Johanna shares her adventures in Budapest, Szentendre and Visegrád as a Fulbright student. We are very pleased to get this account first-hand from Johanna, a UF Modern European History graduate student, who has achieved this widely-coveted Fulbright award.

Hello everyone! I was extremely fortunate to have received one of seven Fulbright IIE Student Grants to Hungary, enabling me to spend the 2014-2015 academic year in my all-time favorite city: Budapest. Moreover, my partner-in-crime and husband Greg Mason (another history PhD student), is accompanying me on this journey-of-a-lifetime too. CES has played a huge  role in affording me this opportunity. While learning Hungarian has not been easy I am so fortunate to attend one of the few universities in the country that teaches the language. In addition to the Hungarian language and history courses that I took on campus through CES I have also been able to take intensive summer language courses in Budapest by way of the FLAS fellowship. 
For my dissertation I am analyzing the role of elite sport and top-level Hungarian athletes in Hungarian Communist society. I study the athletes’ experiences and everyday motivations in light of several dynamics: their unique status-related opportunities, relative gender equality (for female athletes), and the athletes’ vital position in the Hungarian state’s sport diplomacy goals vis-à-vis both Western and Eastern Bloc countries. I am also interested in the politics of memory. More specifically, I examine how elite athletes and sports’ officials from this period conceptualize and remember their experiences under communism in today’s climate. This second focus places oral history at the center of my research, in addition the archival work I will be doing. And as I always tell people, who doesn’t like to hear stories about the “good ole days” from former sports’ heroes?
Before beginning the research, however, the Fulbright Committee here in Hungary treated the other Fulbrighters and me to an incredible orientation week. The orientation was both useful and entertaining. The lectures ranged from a history of Hungarian music (Hungary has a very rich music tradition) to a lively round table and debate about current Hungarian politics. The most enjoyable part of orientation lay in the excursions to Szentendre and Visegrád, replete with private tours. Szentendre is a small town north of Budapest known for its museums, galleries, and artists. Its history reflects the larger historical trends of Central European history: it was initially full of Serbians who fled the Turkish invasion and German Swabians who migrated there under Maria Theresa’s reign. Most of these inhabitants, however, were forcibly expelled after World War II. The town’s current Hungarian residents have successfully maintained its artistic nature, and it was a lovely place to visit.
Visegrád lays claim to an entirely different history and character. Situated on a high hill further north of the capitol city, several successive medieval Hungarian kings made the town their home beginning in the 1300s. King Charles Robert (Károly Róbert) made Visegrád famous by hosting a two-month conference there in 1335. He invited the Bohemian and Polish kings of the time in order to establish an alliance against the Habsburgs (note: the “Visegrád” tradition continues today: the post-communist leaders of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland met here in 1991). After being destroyed by the Turkish invasions in the mid-16th century, excavations began on it in 1934 and it is a must-see place to see today. We enjoyed fantastic views of the Danube, and were treated to detailed tours of the kings’ old bedrooms and jousting facilities. We finished the day with a welcome shot of pálinka (Hungarian brandy), medieval drum and horn music, and a delicious dinner at Renaissance Restaurant. To top it off, they offered us costumes and wine in fancy goblets to accompany the food. Who could resist either one?
Now that orientation is over, it is time to get down to work. Lucky for me, Hungarians adore their past and current elite athletes. More on that and my ongoing research in my next blog post!