Thursday, October 30, 2014

News from Polish Studies: From Polish Rock to a Polish Library

        On Tuesday, October 28th, the Center held a public screening of the 2010 documentary “Beats of Freedom: Or How to Overthrow a Totalitarian Regime with a Home-Made Amplifier” (“Zew wolności”) ( at the Hippodrome.  The film discusses the influence of Polish rock-and-roll during the reign of soviet communism in Poland. One reviewer of the film calls it a:

         “Spirited movie about the birth of rock music in Poland. An unforgettable musical journey in 
           time, which becomes real thanks to the preservation of the unique and sometimes harrowing 
           recordings of the past 50 years. The vivid memories of iconic musicians and their surprising 
           confessions will make this an unforgettable film. Tear it up with the sharp sound. Open your 
           eyes and listen as Polish rock makes ​​history.”

       We had a great turnout as 57 people joined us for the screening, including UF students and faculty, as well as members of the Gainesville community. A ton of thanks go to Lisa Booth for planning and organizing the evening – a sometimes Kafkaesque task that demanded not just obtaining a copy of the film, but the rights to show it as well.

       The Center is also in the process of starting a Polish library and reading room. About 50 letters were mailed to various Polish culture organizations around the country asking for books, dvds, posters, etc. to help stock the shelves with materials. We have already heard from several groups happy to help, including the Piłsudski Institute of America, The Kościuszko Foundation, The Sembrich, The Polish Mission in America, and the American Institute of Polish Culture. We should be getting boxes of books soon, so the bare shelves you see below will in no time be filled with Polish!

                                                                                                     Na razie! 

Jack Hutchens
Polish Lecturer, CES

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Life in Hungary

Greg Mason, former CES graduate student assistant and Modern European UF graduate student, who wrote to us last summer on Turkish language studies ("Why Study Turkish?"), writes to us from Hungary, where he now lives. Below find his experiences stretching from his flat in Budapest to Pécs, Eger, and Recsk, Hungary. 

As you may have seen in an earlier blog post, my wife, Johanna Mellis, and I are living in Budapest for 10 months while she is here on a Fulbright fellowship. We have enjoyed ourselves tremendously so far. For this post I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about our day-to-day lives here in Budapest. We are very lucky to have found a great apartment through a friend that Johanna met here two summers ago while on a summer FLAS! Our flat is in a quiet part of town, located five minutes by foot from Hero’s Square. The one bedroom apartment is somewhat small by American standards, but very nice. It’s actually been rather fun cooking in a small kitchen, converting things to Celsius and adjusting our recipes to the food stuffs available here in Budapest. Because the building, like much of the city, was built at the turn of the century, I have to duck through doorways – side note, I’m 6’7” -- but the ceilings are high, which makes the rooms seem bigger.
Budapest is lined with tall, grandiose buildings and something new and beautiful catches your eye
almost every day. The city’s iconic feature is the parliament building. Although it’s a bit cliché to point this out as a ‘must see,’ it really is a sight to behold and seeing it never gets old.

In addition to its beauty, Budapest is a very livable city. The public transportation system is very good and you can enjoy the city on a tight budget. We find fun and interesting festivals to attend almost every weekend. A number of excellent cafes and cool, artsy open air “ruin” pubs, built in the court yards of dilapidated buildings, can also be found throughout the city. 

In terms of cultural adjustments, it took a while to get used to the fact the Hungarians aren’t as smiley as your typical American, but once you get past the somewhat tough exterior Hungarians tend to be very friendly and generous with their time. I’ve recently started helping to coach a girls’ 9-11 year old basketball team. The head coach does not speak much English and neither do any of the girls on the team. Needless to say it’s been a challenging, but at the same time unique and rewarding experience so far. Johanna and I are helping out with a history graduate seminar on preparing for English language conferences at ELTE University in Budapest. We've become friends with people in the class who have helped Johanna out with her research and showed us around the city.

Finally, we’ve also been fortunate enough to see some really lovely places in other parts of Hungary. Our first voyage outside of Budapest was to Pécs. Located in southwest Hungary near the Croatian border, Pécs is about three and a half hours from Budapest by train. It is inexpensive to travel around Hungary and the tickets only cost us about 35 USD per person, round trip.
Pécs appealed to us because of its sheer beauty and interesting melting pot history. The city, whose motto is “the Borderless City,” was named as a European Capital of Culture in 2010 and, as such, underwent a major renewal project in which many of its streets and buildings were revived. Four years later the small Hungarian city remains in near pristine condition.

At the heart of the city is an absolutely beautiful main square. In the square you’ll find the beautiful Mosque of Pasha Qasim, now a Christian church, which serves as a reminder of the city’s Ottoman past.  One of the first things you notice about Pécs is that many of the roofs are covered in beautiful, ornate ceramic tiles. This is because Pécs is home to the famous Zsolnay family, who began producing world class porcelain and ceramics in the early 19th century. When in Pécs, it’s a must that you visit the Zsolnay museum. Here one can see a number of the amazing pieces and learn about the history of the family. In addition to the museum, the Zsolnay Cultural Corner -- which sits about 15 minutes’ walk from city center – is full of beautiful buildings and the original site of the factory. We decided to make the walk and were very happy to have done so.


 Another place that we really enjoyed was Eger.The small city, famous for its wine, sits in north central Hungary, about two hours from Budapest by bus. In Eger you’ll find a castle, natural springs and several wineries among its main attractions. On our way back from Eger with the Fulbright group we visited the memorial site of the Recsk labor camp, which was in operation in Communist Hungary from 1950-1953. This was a harrowing experience, as expected. However, the actual town of Recsk was quaint and lovely. It was great being there in October because the leaves were changing colors on the vineyard hills and in the valleys. Needless to say, it was all extremely picturesque and not something that I’ll soon forget.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope you’ll think about visiting Hungary if you ever find yourself in Europe. We are forever grateful that CES offers Hungarian language and Central European history courses, along with the FLAS awards. It not only played a major role in helping Johanna earn the Fulbright fellowship, it’s also enriched our experience living in Central Eastern Europe more than we realize.   

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A student, an intern and life as a local in Brussels

Shamica Shim wrote to us on her culturally-rich experience in Brussels, Belgium this past summer. Shamica is quite the achiever: she will graduate in 2015 with a double major in Political Science and Eastern Literature and Language-Chinese, minors in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance and European Union Studies, and a certificate in International Relations. She was one of fifteen UF undergraduate students enrolled in the Center's UF in Brussels study abroad program. Here are her experiences as a student, an intern, and a local in Brussels:
Brussels was an amazing place. It has such a laid back, yet rambunctious atmosphere.  It was easy to meet a number of people who worked for different European Union institutions because many of them hung out at local bars after work. So, I had a great opportunity to get firsthand experience of their role in their respective institutions. One of the things I love most about Brussels was that I met people from all over the world. It was one of the most culturally diverse places I have ever been to.  Some of the people, who I ‘m now able to call friends, were from Indonesia, Congo, Mozambique, and Zambia. Through their experiences, I learned a lot about their culture and family life.  The school I attended in Brussels was Vesalius College (VeCo), which is the international school of Vrije Universiteit Brussels. The classes there were similar to that of my own university (University of Florida). The class sizes were much smaller than UF, but they were, similarly, instructor-led. Some of my classmates were able to study under prestigious professors, whose experience in their field was very extensive.  My class took field trips to many of the EU institutions, listened to presentations from staff members, and toured the facilities. I enjoyed visiting the European Parliament the most because it reminded me a lot of the United States Congress.  Here is a picture of my class- both Vesalius and UF students- taken at the European Commission. 

I didn’t have the opportunity to travel as much as my classmates did because I was interning for the European Cooperative for Rural Development  (EUCORD). It was an interesting internship to say the least. I’ve done internships prior to going Brussels and they were more hands-on, workload heavy and stricter than EUCORD.  So, it took a while to get used to the ideas of being assigned work only when needed. Some days I did nothing and other days I was very busy, but, for the most part, a majority of what I learned about the organization was from my own research. One task I worked on for a while was one I suggested to my advisor. Because EUCORD worked on agricultural development in underdeveloped countries in Africa, I suggested conducting research on China’s role in African development. This research opened the door to EUCORD’s exploration of working with South African and Chinese development agencies to progress African development.
One maybe not so important thing to note is I was also in Brussels during the World Cup. It was interesting to participate in an important part of culture, not only for Europeans, but for Latin Americans as well. I had a lot of fun cheering for Belgium (except when they played against the US) and seeing how Belgians celebrated after making goals and winning games. Overall, I truly enjoyed my experience in Brussels and I would recommend it to any first-time and experienced travelers. (Picture below is of some of my classmates, VeCo friends and I celebrating Belgium’s victory in one of its matches.)