May Newsletter

Hello family and friends! Attached is my fourth newsletter from my time in Hungary (how is it already May?!). I hope it finds you well and happy.
If you have any questions/comments/good puns or know of someone who would like to be added to my mailing list, please send me an email!
Happy reading and thank you for joining me throughout my adventures in Hungary.


Roma Szakkollégium Field Trip

Last week, I got to tag along with the students from the Roma Szakkollégium, a Roma youth community/scholarship/study university program that makes up a big part of my site placement here in Nyíregyháza, to visit communities in the area north of Nyíregyháza.

We visited a number of programs that are for, and primarily led by, Roma. It was a privilege and a beautiful experience to meet these communities and hear the stories of each place.

– – –

Dr. Ámbédkar Iskola (School)
Sajókaza, Hungary

The Dr. Ámbédkar School in Sajókaza works within the segregated Roma community in Sajókaza. Unfortunately, the Hungarian school system often fails Roma youth, especially those living in rural areas. In Hungary, it is required to take a cumulative exam at the end of secondary school. The results of this exam determine whether or not a student can then attend university. In the northeastern part of Hungary, where Sajókaza lies, the portion of students who take, and pass, the exam is less than 1%. This means, that at a young age, it becomes very difficult for students and youth to determine their future. The school in Sajókaza aims to raise the number of students that do well in secondary school and are able to take the university exam, and therefore, raise each student’s chance in a competitive labor market.

The school is named after Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was a famous Indian jurist, scholar, and political leader. Dr. Ambedkar was born into a poor family of the untouchable caste in India. He spent his life fighting against the idea of untouchability and the socio-economic discrimination that he and his family faced. The school takes his message to heart as the teachers and staff work to show a self-determined way out of poverty, while trying to make learning fun along the way.

The Dr. Ámbédkar School tries to focus learning around each student. The hope is that each student learns and practices topics in different areas (languages, informatics, and sciences) so that they gain a full knowledge those topics in the classroom (as opposed to being introduced to the subjects in school and being expected to do the learning at home with large quantities of homework). The school also “emphasize[s] the values of Romani lifestyle” and moves beyond academic learning to “provide students with well based confidence to commit their own chosen lifestyle”.

While, the school is situated in the segregated community, the hope is to involve Roma and non-Roma students so that everyone has access to a secondary education in an isolated area of the country.



Szalonna, Hungary

In Szalonna, there is a community farm. At one point it was doing so well, it grew enough potatoes to feed the entire village and employed many Roma people in the community. During it’s best times, there was a school to help students reach education requirements after the existing school system was unable to support the students to reach them.

The farm was able to rent land from the village so they could raise Mangalica pigs, a very furry pig that is very special to Hungary and whose meat is very famous and expensive.

In Hungary, the word szalonna means ‘pig fat’ (or bacon). So the meat that they sold also had the added pun as it was szalonna from Szalonna (pig fat from pig fat).

However, a while ago, the mayor of the town decided to stop supporting the farm. He took away the land the farm was rented from the village and the program lost a big portion of their income.

This meant that the school had to close down. While there is still a farm, it is much smaller than it once was and there are no longer any mangalica pigs.


Hernádszentandrás, Hungary

“Like one big family”. Bioszentandrás is an organic community farm in Hernádszendrás. Started in 2010, it is a project that strives to stimulate the local economy based on the resources and treasure available in the region, while promoting healthy living to the surrounding area. Bioszentandrás has partnered with 5 restaurants and a bakery across Hungary.

In an economically impoverished part of the country, Bioszentandrás has built a community around a village consisting of Roma and non-Roma, that allow inhabitants to take control of their livelihoods and futures.

Furthermore, the mayor of this town, Gábor Üveges, not only supports Bioszentandrás, but leads the farm. It was shocking to see the benefits of when a community truly comes together to support a project contrasted to the hardships that places like Szalonna face when the community, especially its leaders, are unable to do so.


Freskófalu (Fresco Village)
Bódvalenke, Hungary

Bódvalenke is home to a fresco village. Globally, the goal of Bódvalenke is to combat stereotypes of Roma people through art. Locally, the goal is to raise a town and all of its members out of poverty. At the start of the project, Bódvalenke was an entirely Roma town where inhabitants were living in deep poverty. Roma artists from all over the world were brought in to paint murals on the sides of many of the homes and buildings. The murals brought journalists and media to the town, turning Bódvalenke into a unique place of interest and a tourist attraction. The village was beyond beautiful.

Artists: János Horváth, Zoran Tairović, Kunhegyesi Francis, Joseph Ferkovics, Bogusha Deli ata, Blackthorn Robert, Csámpai Rosie, Gabor Varadi, B. Balazs Andras, and Barbara Elias.


Metodista cigánymissió (Methodist Gypsy Mission)
Alsózsolca, Hungary

The last stop on the trip was at the Methodist Gypsy Mission in Alsózsolca. The ministry here began in the 1950s. While this area was a center for heavy industry and a large source of jobs in the 1950’s, after the Soviet Union was dissolved, many people lost their jobs and the number of jobs needed have never been replaced.

The Alsózsolca Methodist choir regularly tours the country, performing worship music. The current church building was built in 2011.

From, “The Roma community wants this church not only to serve the congregation but also to strengthen the development of the town, support the Roma population in nearby villages, and emphasize the peaceful coexistence of the Roma and other Hungarians”.

March Newsletter

Hello family and friends! Attached is my third newsletter from my time in Hungary (it’s crazy that I’ve been here for 6 months now!). I hope it finds you well and happy.
If you have any questions/comments/good puns or know of someone who would like to be added to my mailing list, please send me an email!
Happy reading and thank you for joining me throughout my adventures in Hungary.

The Art of Pogácsa

In preparation for Christmas, many families in Hungary spent the days leading up to the holiday cooking. I was invited into the home of my site supervisor to help prepare pogácsa, a delicious and popular Hungarian cheesy biscuit.


Hungarian Pogácsa

This is how I learned how to make the best pogácsa in all of Hungary:

A very large wooden bowl full of flour. The size of the bowl, and thus the amount of flour, depends of the number of people you need to feed (read: love).
– A large chunk of cheese.
To make the best pogácsa, you really need the freshest ingredients. Hopefully you can find cheese, made from the milk of one of the cows in your neighborhood. If the dairy from down the road is closed or out of cheese for the holidays, it is acceptable to buy cheese from the local farmer’s market. However, please do not use the generic, store brand cheese. This is harmful to the local economy, as it was likely produced in a far away corner of Europe. Since you are likely to know the dairy that produced the cheese in your neighborhood or at the market, you know there was a lot of love added as the cheese was made (And if we’re being honest, tastes the best).
– About 2 cups of whole or fresh milk, heated to about 43 degrees C (110 F).
(For the best results, please refer back to the freshness of the proper cheese. Repeat steps for the milk.)
– A small chunk of dry yeast.
1/2 small spoonful of sugar.
– A few pinches of salt.
– 14 large spoonfuls of unsalted butter.
– 3/4 eggs. (These should come from your well cared for and loved chickens out back.)
Separate the whites and the yolks.

In the large, beautiful wooden bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Grate the cheese, mixing into the dry mixture. Make a large indentation in the middle of your mix.

Next, heat up the milk. This can be done using the stove top or microwave. The heater might suffice as well – if you are willing to wait a very long time – if you have the heating on max. Add the sugar and dry yeast to the warm milk and place the mixture back on the heater or in another warm place.

While you wait for the yeast to activate, you may have a lovely conversation about any number of things. Some suggested topics: the weather, the effects of global warming, and the scary effects of global warming in the last ten years (i.e how there is no snow for Christmas this year even though ten years ago, all the children spent the afternoons around Christmas sledding and playing in the snow).

Once the yeast has woken up, pour it into the small indentation you previously made in the dry mix. Add all of the other wet ingredients (butter, milk, and egg yolks) to the same indentation.

The next step is very important.
Mix the dry and wet ingredients together by hand. While it is possible to use a spoon or even a KitchenAide, the warmth of your hands will evenly soften the butter and result in a better tasting pogácsa. However, the most important reason to mix it by hand is that it takes more time and effort. The extra time and effort turns an act of creating something to nourish the body into an act of love that also nourishes the soul.

Roll out the dough until it is about 2 cm (.787 inches, according to Google) thick. Turn on the oven (if your oven has the option to fix the temperature, instead of just an on/off knob, this should be around 110 C or 338 F). Make a roughly checkered pattern in the dough with your knife. The cuts shouldn’t be very deep, just enough to break the surface of the dough. Next, cut out pieces of dough in small circles and put on a cookie sheet (or if you happen to be preparing for Christmas dinner, whichever pan is available). The biscuits will rise in the oven, so they should be small and far enough apart that they won’t turn your hard mess into a biscuity mess after cooking. Finish off by brushing on an egg wash before placing in the oven (Don’t forget to store the egg whites in a cold place and whip them frequently. I’m pretty sure this is important as my only, unsuccessful, attempt at whipping the eggs occurred when they were at room temperature. Although that could also just be user error.).

Bake for about half an hour. You can take this time to enjoy the first clear and sunny day in weeks, playing in the garden; you may also continue onto the rest of the Christmas cooking.

When the tops of the biscuits are brown and a scent of warm cheese has filled the kitchen, take out the pogácsa. Try not to get too distracted with playing with the farm cats or dogs, this could result in burning your lovely pogácsa.

Let cool for a few minutes. Eat 2-10 biscuits to make sure they are salted correctly.

Serve immediately or save for lunch on Christmas day. Share with the people you love most in the world.

Serving size: about 80 biscuits and a whole lot of love.


My wonderful site supervisor and I.

(To find a recipe with more conventional directions, you can check out:


January Newsletter

Boldog Karácsonyt és boldog új évet!
Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Hello family and friends! Attached is my latest newsletter from Hungary. I hope it finds you warm and well.
If you have any questions/comments/good jokes or know of someone who would like to be added to my mailing list, comment on this post or shoot me an email (!
Happy reading and thank you for joining me throughout my adventures in Hungary.


Sara/Sarah/Sára vagyok.

On most weekdays, I spend my mornings at the Túróczy Zoltán Evangélikus Óvoda és Magyar-Angol Két Tanítási Nyelvű Általános Iskola (Zoltan Turóczy Lutheran Hungarian-English Bilingual Primary School ), where I work assisting the English teachers. The primary school is a bilingual school so every year the students learn a new subject in English. By the fifth grade, they take science, gym, civilizations (history) – and of course english class – all in english. This means that along with English classes, there are also other topics I help out with.

I have quickly fallen in love with my mornings at the primary school. Even though I have no natural talent for teaching, the students I work with are so full of joy that it is hard for the day to not get a little brighter after a morning there.

A few weeks ago, the fifth graders were practicing how to talk about and ask questions about hobbies, favorite foods, and friends. To demonstrate everything that they had learned they made posters featuring their favorite American teachers (there are two of us at the school). To do this, they had to spell my name.

Now if you have a name that can be spelled and pronounced a number of ways, you may understand this particular struggle. Back home in the states, my name is spelled with an ‘h’ more often than it is spelled without it (I spell my name, Sara, without the ‘h’). Growing up, having a name that was spelled the less common way was always a source of pride and annoyance. I love names. I think the intricate reasons and meanings behind them is fascinating. In the Bible, Sarai (which is thought to mean ‘quarrelsome’, a name that I’m sure some family members would argue fits me pretty well at times), is changed to Sarah (which means ‘princess’ or ‘chieftainess’, leader of nations). This change signifies a promise of love, that God will walk with the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah is a pretty cool name, it’s a great name. But it is not one I have ever felt belonged to me. That extra letter has always made it feel separate from my identity.

Now add another version of the name to the mix. The Hungarian version of Sara/Sarah is Sára (pronounced Shah-rah). It is quite beautiful and I often introduce myself as Sára because it is easier for little kids and non-English speakers to recognize. I have come to love this version of my name as it has begun to represent my time and the people I have come to love here in Hungary.

When the 5th graders began to make the poster (they dove right in and went straight for the markers), I was surprised when they spelled my name not ‘Sára’ or ‘Sara’ (closer to the Hungarian spelling), but ‘Sarah’. My response was a combination of a mental eye roll and an amused chuckle but I didn’t say anything.

On my walk home that afternoon, I will still thinking about that extra ‘h’. Halfway back, somewhere between the bakery and the co-op, I realized why I couldn’t shake it.

In Hungarian, ‘Sara’ would never be spelled with an ‘h’. There aren’t any ‘silent’ letters in Hungarian. The extra h would just make for an awkward sound at the end of the name. So the class had to have searched to find the most common spelling of it in the United States. This small act to try and figure out who I was hit me as an act of such love.

I won’t be able to see that extra ‘h’ anymore without thinking of these 5th graders. Now I can’t help but love that extra ‘h’.

Sara/Sára/Sarah vagyok.
I am Sara/Sára/Sarah.


The poster the 5th grade class made.



Halottak Napja


The mist clung to the hoods of our jackets as we walked. Street lights shone through the haze, casting a dim yellow light on everything. It was the kind of light that instead of illuminating, makes everything appear more mysterious and sinister. For the first of November, it would have made for the perfect Halloween night.

In the fall evenings, crows grow from the branches of trees, cloaking the bare bones of the leafless trees. We followed the river of people continuously flowing into the cemetery. Outside the gates as visitors crossed the road amidst a symphony of car horns, as drivers on the already busy road tried to make their way around the never ending crowd. Walking through the gates, the noise of the cars immediately fell away. Looking forward, it was if I was suddenly gazing upon a still black pool, reflecting the light of each star. Thousands of candles danced on the tombstones of those laid to rest for decades or merely days. Families and friends sat with their departed loved ones praying, eating, singing, laughing, and remembering cherished memories of love.

It was impossible to walk through the cemetery gates without feeling the boundless love felt by those inside. Any thoughts I brought with me of anxiety, fear, or anger turned to the love I shared with the people that I did not know, but was now connected with in this sacred space.

The candles seemed infinite in the finite space. The insignificance of my own life hit me, in the relentless continuity that is life. For us, time may change it’s pace at times. Sometimes when we blink we miss it, it can fly by, it can trudge along, and at moments, it even seems to stop. But it never remains that way for any of us. No matter our understanding of it, it continues on. But that only makes each of our own flames burn all the brighter, dancing and burning brightly in the expanse of time.

“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19


Backpacking and Pancakes

A few weeks before I left for my YAGM year in Hungary, my family and I backpacked through the Chilkoot Pass in Southeastern Alaska. This backpacking trail, used by gold miners during the Yukon Gold Rush, is infamous for the half-mile stretch known as The Golden Stairs. The Golden Stairs rise about 1000 feet over half of a mile. Now this might not sound too bad, but it is hours of climbing and scrambling over large boulders, picking out the path that will cause the least amount of rocks to slide down the mountain. Bright orange markers lead hikers in a general route to get up the last bit of the mountain. On a good day, the fog only hides the pass and markers 20 feet out. On a normal day, you have to sit and wait for five minutes for the icy mountain winds to clear out the fog enough to see the next marker, or risk getting lost somewhere in the Coast Mountains of Southeast Alaska. Furthermore, the thick fog through the pass gave the illusion that we summited the pass five times before we reached the top. We would celebrate each false summit…and the fog would clear for a moment, revealing the trail that continued to reach up into the clouds. By the time we actually made it to the top of the pass, we had become jaded enough to doubt the environment surrounding us. Eventually, the fog cleared a little and we were able to make out a forgotten rusty wheel, marking the top of the pass. Even so, it took us a few moments of sliding down the snowy banks on the other side, to fully trust we had reached the top. Frustrating, challenging, and breathtaking; it was my favorite part of the whole trip.

The wheel at the top of the Chilkoot pass.

The wheel at the top of the Chilkoot pass.

As I slowly approach the two-month marker of my time of service in Hungary I am beginning to notice this pattern happening once again.

I have found that settling into my site placement has been somewhat of a challenge at times. The people I am surrounded by are kind and wonderful but settling into a new place with only the most basic of Hungarian language skills, can often make the simplest tasks impossible and daunting. As YAGMs, we trod the barrier between the people, histories, and stories we bring with us and those we live and love with during our year in our site placements. We try to bring the two sides we balance between together as we search for the path that will prevent rocks from breaking loose and harming those we walk with. It can become hard to look up and see through the fog of biases, communication, and every day struggles. After one thing is accomplished, it is so easy to only see the next thing that has to be done, becoming blind to the little victories that often mean the most. But when those tiny, significant, beautiful moments do become visible it makes all the difference; shedding light onto the beauty of every piece and struggle of the entire journey.

One of those little moments happened a week ago but wasn’t able to realize how beautifully wonderful it was until a few days later when I was writing in my journal.

Today I made pancakes. …Well I guess I ate them really. I was half way through Hungarian language homework when I heard a quiet knock on my door. It was one of my new next-door neighbors. She asked if I was hungry, before waiting for an answer she told me to come with her to make palacsinta (Hungarian pancakes). We sat in the kitchen for hours trying to get the hot plate to work, laughing, and eventually eating, when the pan finally heated up. People wondered in and out of the kitchen as the smell of fresh pancakes made its way through a hallway full of college students looking for any excuse to put off studying for a few more moments. When the visitors spoke English, I’d share a few words and jokes before they returned to their studies. When they didn’t, we mimed out full conversations of favorite hobbies and passions, sometimes carrying on for minutes before we realized we were having completely different conversations than the other though. There were moments of standing in silence and simply being with those around me (once as I watched a full game of poker, trying to learn both the rules of the game and catch some Hungarian words as it went on). Even when I didn’t understand the words, it didn’t matter. As we laughed despite of our misunderstandings, – and often because of them – I suddenly realized that I felt truly connected to these people; these wonderful people that I don’t always understand but somehow still know.
Today I felt love.
Today I felt peace.
Today I made pancakes.

Hungarian palacsinta. Think more crepe rather than American style pancakes. Basically just heaven wrapped up into a portable meal. (Ours didn't look quite this beautiful, this image was taken from

Hungarian palacsinta. Think more crêpe style pancakes rather than American pancakes. Basically just heaven wrapped up into a portable meal. (Ours didn’t look quite this beautiful though, this image was taken from

Musings from a Hospital Bed.

Language is a funny thing.

It forms our most basic ideas and informs all of our experiences. Through language we express our loves,
our joys,
our pains,
our wonderful little quirks,
our stories.

It has the power to both include and exclude; it can demolish biases and unite people beyond nations but it can also build towering walls that are impossible to climb. As many of my other YAGMs have probably come to find, I have found that learning an entirely new language is exciting, empowering, and absolutely terrifying. And I have come to the paradox that every student reaches: The more that I learn, the more I realize how little I really know.

But only as I sit here in a Hungarian hospital bed 39 km from familiar friends and half a world away from normal, I’ve come to realize how powerful language is.

Now let me put this into context first. I am currently in a hospital in Akja, Hungary;a couple hours away from Budapest and 39 km away from Lake Belaton where the rest of the Hungary YAGMs are probably puzzling through Hungarian class. This is a very new environment for me. In some ways the Hungarian hospital where I am at, recovering from an appendectomy, is very similar to those in the U.S. From the outside it is hard to imagine that this place could be anything but a hospital. Traffic through the building is at a continuous flow as visitors come to visit loved ones and cars and ambulances drop off new patients. Like every hospital there is a waiting room where hope hangs and frustration builds as friends and family await good news. There are beds in rooms separated by curtains, hospital food in plastic containers, an endless symphony of monitors, and the constant smell of disinfectant that hovers throughout the whole building.

But in a hospital bed oceans away from normal, it is hard not to also realize the differences. While talking with our wonderful Hungarian language teacher, I learned that many hospitals in Hungary do not have adequate access to financial resources. When I was admitted to the hospital here, there was only one doctor in the building. Family members and friends bring utensils, napkins, toilet paper, and soap for their loved ones in the hospital; and while it was not my experience, it is common for four patients to be placed in a room that would be used for two in the United States. The hallways were spotted with sporadic and tiny paintings of small town life but the rooms were sparse, empty except for the necessities: two beds, a sink, a window, and two cabinets for personal belongings. While this is only one hospital in Hungary (and not a universal experience for the whole country), this hospital is a place that I understand but it is not a place that feels familiar.

My hospital room in Akja.

My hospital room in Akja.

Now add on to this my total inability to converse or even fully communicate in Hungarian. Personally, I connect through language. It is through language that I make the unfamiliar familiar and form bonds with my surroundings. It is how I convey that I’m charming not just super awkward. Needless to say, it is a little difficult to do that when you do not share a language with your surroundings.

Surrounded by the unfamiliar and cut off from communication, I should have drowned in discomfort… but somehow I never did.

This could have been because of continual outpour of love I felt from the wonderful community from home I bring with me throughout this year and my fellow amazing YAGMs here in Hungary. It could have been because of the endless support, care, and prayers I felt from my country coordinator as she traveled by any means necessary to come and visit me in the hospital (a really big deal as it is more challenging in the Hungarian countryside than it seems). But I think it was also because of the complete strangers who surrounded me who were unafraid to show me their humanity, their good days and their bad ones. Two nurses in particular who worked the overnight shift would always great me with the warmest smiles and estet‘s (good evening). It was these two who I looked forward to communicating my incomplete and often incorrect Hungarian to. We exchanged English and Hungarian words for moon, sun, bread, and no pain and they graciously laughed with me when I most likely insulted their mother’s cooking instead of saying that I was a volunteer from the U.S. (pronouncing all the distinct vowels correctly in Hungarian is really hard). Even though we used language, what connected us, was our shared humanity. That connection is such a strong one that is so easily, and often purposefully, forgotten. However, it is something that I have found such power and comfort in. Even when I am telling a stranger they look like a frog instead of pronouncing a city name where one of  the other volunteers is spending the year or tell someone that I am crazy when meeting them instead of the intended ‘nice to meet you’ (both true stories), I’ll always rejoice in that.