Food for Thought

“Why do you need an occasion to drink? Any good Thursday will work”- Head of the Lab when I told him that Halloween is a good excuse for Americans to get trashed.

It is always interesting to experience different food cultures, because even though Americans are incredibly similar and often historical descendents of Europeans, their food habits can still be wildly different from our own.

One of the major differences I noticed in this past week is the American habit of preferring to not eat the same meals day after day, whereas many Hungarians do not seem to mind. (This may be an adaptation to living in a much less comsumer based community.) I discovered this when I was asking my coworkers what they ate for dinner. Much to my surprise they all said sandwiches (literally every single one), which is what they eat for dinner every night. The idea was wild to me because I grumble when I have to eat the same thing for more than two meals (Variety is life.)

Another crazy thing I’ve discovered is that they have a different palate when is comes to the makeup of the meal. They like cheese, pork, and breaded things, mostly on rice or noodles. They have different combinations of flavors that we consider out of the norm in the States. One of the best dishes I can point to to explain this is a popular noodle one. This dish contains poppy seeds, sour cream, and plain noodles, to me (and probably many others who hail from my area) seems like an odd combination with no sauce. (But they love it!).

Aside from all of the comparisons, which I do because it’s one of the easiest ways to deal with culture shock and the feeling of isolation from normality, there were a few other cool happening sin the food world this week!

First and foremost we went to a chocolate festival this weekend, and it was literally the greatest thing EVER. (Because chocolate, duh). And I ate my weight in everything sweet and wonderful I could. (And then had an existential crisis about gaining weight about two days later). The pictures above are considered the art of the week because these connoisseurs of confections deserve it.

Directly after the festival I made encouragement brownies for one of my labmates who took her PhD qualifying exam (not the fun kind, don’t worry), and they loved them! Mostly because their brownies here are complete posers (chocolate cake in reality), not because I have extremely awesome cooking skills (I didn’t measure anything.) Overall however, with the limited resources I have they were delightfully gooey and reminded me of home.

My final experience for the week that directly relates to food is supermarket shopping, which has been one of the most entertaining aspect of my day to day life. On one hand, my wonderful partner does a lot of the shopping, however, I usually am the list maker, which creates a really interesting predicament. I leave the house with a set idea of what I will encounter when I get home, and I am never correct in my assumption (It’s like a fun grab bag of food). Nate often brings home at least one item that makes me question what exactly I wrote incorrectly that brings us to this reality, but it usually is the result of the supermarket not carrying the item or not having an easily recognizable packaging. So, usually in a moment of panic Nate grabs whatever he thinks will be a good substitute, to varying levels of success (Think asking for a potato and getting a chocolate bar). I’M KIDDING. (kinda). But I honestly understand how hard it can be. Imagine standing at a spice wall and trying to pick what you want based off of the package picture. (Which is sometimes a boat and nothing else.) It’s juat another one of those idiosncrasies of living abroad in a country with a language that looks like gibberish to you.

On that note it is time for me to go open that grab bag for the night and help with dinner. As a parting thought let me tell you that the most important phrase in Hungarian involves food: Szeretnék egy sőrt. (I would like a beer). (A phrase that one of the people over me ensured I knew.)

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Hungarian Education vs American Slang

The best way to explain the theme of an entire week is to start with a funny (but sad) narrative:
  After a week of relearning chemistry and getting oriented by the Fulbright commission, I was sitting in the office (the place in the lab where it is acceptable to ingest things) today, chatting with my former advisor Gergö. For anyone who hasn’t heard me gush about him, he is the Hungarian that taught me how to be a practical O. Chemist. I forget what exactly we were talking about at that point, but I know he corrected me about something I said in his normal snarky way, and I feigned being offended by “ignoring” him. Eventually he ignored my cold shoulder, and asked me some question offhandedly, and I continued to ignore him, jokingly. He asked me what’s up, and I responded with “I’m still a little salty…” Based on his perplexed face I concluded that he had no idea what this slang term meant, which led us into a thirty minute discussion where I taught him the essential language of my kind like fam, throwing shade, and lit. And after I got home it was sorta, funny to me, that the only education I could offer to this guy who had taught me so much, was slang. And thus the American Education system vs European Education.

No, seriously though.

I learned a lot this week, about a wide variety of topics, all surrounding this quaint little country. I heard talks about Roma, Fidesz, and Paprikas. I tried learning how to say enough in broken Hungarian to be understood at the meat corner, and I ate my fill of Hungarian pastries. And yet, through all of the information and retronasal smells (how you actually taste things) the one thing that stood out to me the most was how god awfully terrible American education is, let me explain it to you quickly through four comparisons.
Number One: Food Habits.

In public schools (and probably private too) American students are offered two meals throughout the day. One in the morning before classes, and one in the (semi) lunch region. They are given small portions of awful food, that is normally incredibly processed and has the health value of a tv dinner (My high school put sugar in our veggies because most people wouldn’t eat the “rabbit food” without). A half hour is allocated to each meal, and this is meant to sustain children in every developmental phase from Kindergarten to Senior. Also, if the child does not have money in their prepaid account, and is not on the relatively high standards for free meals, the barely nutritious food is substituted for a single piece of plastic cheese on white bread. (Yum)

In Hungary, all the way up to high school the children are offered food no matter of the living situations, if their parents couldn’t make it that week, the government assured the kids still ate. (Radical idea to keep kids fed, slow down Europe) Until they are ten, and because most people understand growing required more energy, the kids are fed 4 times during school hours. They have Breakfast, 10 o’clocks (elevensies, duh), lunch, and second lunch. How freaking cool is that, not to mention healthier, because it is advocating smaller portion sizes and healthy snacking.

Number Two: Class Rigor and Consistency.

American school systems vary entirely on a population and  income basis, so much so that standardized testing has been the (seemingly) last ditch effort to have all school meet some low standard. (The Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell). I’m not entirely sure how to overview the education curriculum (home schooled), but I know that it is pretty lax, to the point that colleges spend the entire first year ensuring that everyone can exist at a college level. (Gen Eds are 1000000000% not a thing here). And still many students go without having a basic understanding of history, math, science, or english.

Hungarians, on the other hand (Much to my surprise) start learning things like physics in fifth grade. (You heard me right, Newton’s Mechanics as ten yr olds.) And by the end of their high school years they have to be well read in all of the subjects we traditionally call gen eds, to even get into college, because they have exit exams. This allows them to go into undergraduate and focus all of their energy on the ONE SUBJECT they’ve chosen to pursue. (So many more science classes, less theater).

Number three: Language Fluency.

Americans: as long as they can pass two 100 lvl courses in college in any given language, who gives a sh*t. Not required, don’t care rest of the world speaks English anyways. (My god the entitlement.)

Hungarians (and the rest of the world):

Must be able to pass extensive language exams by the end of high school taught from (at the latest) 1st and up, and any high education degrees (PhD and perhaps Masters) must be able to pass a second set of language exams. (Partial to complete fluency in 3 languages.)

And FINALLY Number Four: College Affordability. 

The collegiate system in America treats students as a source of revenue (shocker), many students leave school with insurmountable debt (five figures right here, baby). The governmental help comes in the form of “low” interest loans, that have a set amount (won’t cover it) and a private servicer. Most private loans have rates from 8-13%, and all students must start paying a considerable monthly payment six months after graduation will little to no exceptions (Income-based alteration is a JOKE).

In Hungary, if you make a cut off in your high school exit exams and remain in good standing at your institution the government funds your college, you can also apply for living allowances if you are not in your hometown (to my understanding). If you do not make the cut off and still wanna go, you can but you have to pay for it. However, the loans are at interest rates of 2-2.3% and you have the option of deferring up until you’re forty and can afford loan payments. Granted, many students do not make much out of college, but they also do not get beaten to death from college.

WHAT ARE WE DOING AMERICA????????

It may just be the ample DCM I’ve inhaled in the past three days (Mmmm smells like cancer), but there is something horribly wrong with our system. (And thus ends my rant.) Sure, this wasn’t a cheery post, but this was a hard reality I faced this week. And our system contributed to a lot of strange feelings for me. Not being able to speak another language, alone, made me feel inadequate, let alone in all the other ways I felt less educated than my Hungarian counterparts. Hey, but… America is lit, fam, right?

(More cheery things to come. Perhaps a midweek post with art)

Reactants + Pressure= Products

Materials:

  • 1 g Fulbright Scholarship
  • 12 mth affordable foreign apartment
  •  13 mg Hungarian Visa
  • 450 kg of Funds
  • 800 g of loan deferments
  • 1 ng of a clue
  • 1 lab partner
  • 100 Mg of stress
    See section 14a for entire materials list (14 additional items needed for reaction)

Procedure:

  1. After initial notification of awarded scholarship, spend a month in denial.
  2.  Allow 2 months for previous reaction (LVC) to continue to completeness. During the final reaction time there will be an exponential increase in exothermic publicity and pictures (aggressive bubbling of congratulations).
  3.  Combine all materials in one three-month summer.
  4. Purify one prepared Fulbright Student.
  5. Send purified product and assisting lab partner to cooperative lab at MTA-TTK in Budapest, Hungary with no further assistance.
  6. Pray to whatever chemistry god that exists that products arrive safely and in working condition.

Results:

Let me start of the actual blog post with a question, did anyone actually think that picking up your life (and significant other’s life) up and moving across the world would be a difficult task? Oh good, yeah me either. But guess what….

We were so wrong.

Many people told me this year, that I’m at the very beginning of, would be the most challenging and rewarding year of my life yet, and I accepted that, because it appears to be sound logic to me. However, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to simply start the entire process. Newly graduated me was not equipped with the skills necessary to do things like: purchase an apartment abroad or apply for a visa, or really any of the other practical aspects of moving out on my own. (Tell me again, what is the use of that 100k piece of paper on my desk at home?)

But I figured it out.

And now I’m in an amazing country, attending an orientation (crash course) on how to tackle the rest of the challenges in front of me, and I couldn’t be more excited! Wait! Izgatott vagyok! (Sounds pretty Hungarian, right?)

The first thing I did once we landed in Budapest (well other than showering off all of the red eye grime) was begin to think about everything I want to accomplish while living in Budapest, because in front of me is a world of possibility many only dream about. I came up with a concrete list of five things that I really want to accomplish, and I feel like if I have this record of it I will be more motivated to truly succeed. (In case anyone asks at home.) So here it goes:

  1. I want to prove I’m a useful member of the international science community. (Aha probably enough to work on here for the year.)
  2. I want to create three pieces of art a month to continue to refine my expression and skill.
  3. I want to become significantly more fluent in at least one language. (I’m gonna pretend it’ll be Hungarian.)
  4. I want to provide something to my host country that leaves even a small part of the community better off than I am now.
  5. I want to become more aware of different international perspectives and mentality.

That’s a hefty list, but I think I can do it. (As long as I stay focused and don’t get lost in my obsession with Chicken Paprikash or Thai food.) So join me in this crazy journey of growing and living in Budapest! It’s gonna be wild, I can already feel it. (P.S. If this post doesn’t make much sense, sorry, jet lag is still a real thing. I’m sure it’ll get better.)

Piece 1.A

Sometimes the most delicate appearing creatures are the most dangerous.

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