Saturday, September 13, 2008

Finding footing in the deep end of the pool

As my first week in Budapest draws to a close, life is going along swimmingly. True, the swim is at a Michael Phelps’ pace, but overall this first week has been quite enjoyable.

On Monday we began our orientation. In practical terms, that has meant a week of administrative laps back and forth across a swampy bureaucracy. I have stood in a diverse group of queues, been orientated, de-oriented, and then reoriented on practically every aspect of university life, and completed a novella worth of paperwork. They REALLY like paperwork here.

The positive result is that I now have a bank account, health insurance, stipend, public transit pass, access to the Open Society Archives, university ID card, student card, and temporary student card. (And yes, apparently it IS necessary to have all three versions of the student card. Redundant you say? Don’t ask…) For much of the week it seemed that I was barely staying afloat in this deluge of paperwork and bureaucracy, but looking back I can now breath a sigh of relief at my highly productive week.

Most of my limited free time has been spent in the library, reading the news, perusing journals, and wrapping up some tasks for Humanity in Action. I’ve actually had the energy and drive to read an article from Foreign Affairs each night this week. More surprising still is that I’ve actually found myself wanting to spend my evenings this way. In the depths of my thesis writing tension last winter, I felt burned out on school – this burnout was one of my prime worries heading into this year. But the respite of summer seems to have provided the needed break, and I’m now feeling more engaged as a student than ever before.

Time not spent in the library has been filled with making new friends and settling in at the university residence center. My accommodation in this residence has been the least enjoyable part of my new life. Forty-five minutes removed from the main campus in the heart of Budapest’s 19th century baroque beauty, the residence is in a suburb still bearing signs of the Communist era – while the car dealership beneath my window marks the gilded age of capitalism, the grey high-rises surrounding it are a reminder of grim Soviet blocs.

Yet even here, the negatives are fading as life settles into the comforts of this new home. The residence center is quite nice, and amongst its various other amenities it includes a pool and sauna. I’ve begun swimming as a workout again, something not done since my lifeguard training eight summers ago. True, it’s not the mindless fun of splashing around aimlessly, but just as my studies are finding new focus, so too am I finding new wells of energy for swimming as exercise.

As to new friends, I’m surrounded by interesting people from every corner of the globe. It’s wonderfully intriguing to be immersed in a group of students who are primarily from the region my studies emphasize. As of yet, they are still a bit baffled by what they view as my “excessive” library time. But just as those who know me back home will certainly not be shocked to read of my time in the library, I’m sure my new friends will soon accept that it’s simply who I am.

I may not have my footing yet, but then, life is too interesting, and the water starts to feel cold if one stands still too long. For the time being, I’m just enjoying the swim.

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