SU Story: Lost in the Hungarian “Puszta” – a Survivor Guide for Beginners

One week before our European School Summer University (ESSU) had started, a strange thought occurred to me; are we really ready to face this challenge? I heard our last Summer University (SU) took place years ago (ending in a scandal!) and now not only I do not even know everyone in the team, but also we are planning to implement the concept of a European School – well, not fully aware of what the latter means.

This surely sounds like a good recipe for a disastrous event… so let’s do this!

Preparations for the arrivals started early in the morning and the curious waiting began to finally meet the people whose names and faces we were trying to memorise for days. After some awkward introductions and occupying their spots in the gym, the ice-breaking games began soon and the louder the laughter became, the more we grew to understand; the following 11 days would probably be the most exciting and exhausting period of our summer.

“Look at the happy faces of the children!” – some of us kept saying. Does it sound like as if we were guiding a bunch of kindergarten kids? No surprise, if you are trying to look at the whole event from an organiser’s perspective. From the city tour to the Hungarian folklore games, through the lectures at the University and the home-made Hungarian dishes, we were trying to keep them happy, well-fed, in a safe environment, and above all, entertained; doing our best to make this ESSU unforgettable.

And now, without further ado – and other borderline-derogatory remarks (“We are not children!”), let’s hear it from one of our participants, Paolo Ghisleni, President of AEGEE-Bergamo:

To tell you the truth, one week before my flight to Budapest I was still wondering why I had to spend two weeks of my summer in a no-man’s land, somewhere in Hungary.
As a matter of fact, my knowledge of Hungary was limited to the Budapest-Goulash Soup-Olympics 2012 trio. (It was early August and Hungary was fighting to get more medals than Italy). All I knew was just a few elements – barely enough to have a proper image about the whole country, and definitely not enough for me to be aware of the amazing adventure I was trying to miss. Luckily, being tired of everyday life pushed me to that gate at Bergamo Airport.

The first moments when we got to Debrecen were surreal: after travelling three hours by car from Budapest, surrounded by green hills and sunflower fields on the road, we found an empty city. (organiser’s note: Debrecen has a lively city life throughout the active semester at the university, but is turning into a ghost town during the summer.) Our GPS told us that our accommodation was supposed to be a church, so my mates and I felt a bit confused.
These moments of deep concern were perfectly matching with my first pre-departure mood, creating a bubble of bad thoughts which suddenly exploded when a bunch of organisers arrived, shining and smiling, to welcome us to our new accommodation.

I have to admit: we did not sleep between saints and altars. Our real accommodation was a gym next to the church, but this first surprise was a perfect sample of all the unexpected things waiting for us in the following 12 days. Do you want to have an idea? We had a relaxing day in one of the most famous Hungarian spas, we had the chance to enjoy the National Day’s Flowers Carnival and the world heritage landscape of Hortobágy, we were fighting to be the best team in the city rally and much more. We had the chance to enjoy and benefit from plenty of leisure activities and, of course, also many interesting workshops and simulations to be more effective within our antennas. This latter part was the most relevant part of this SU though, since it was a European School Summer University, the first one co-organised by AEGEE-Debrecen and AEGEE-Academy, as well as one of the first ones within the entire Network. It represented a responsibility that could shake the knees of even the most experienced AEGEE members, but that did not frighten the organisers since they gave us one of the best experiences of our lives.

Altogether, we were 20 participants and some organisers living in such a great mixture of different cultures, daily enriched by new tasty “ingredients” – thanks to the organizers and our trainers. This created a really positive mood that, paired with the newly-acquired knowledge from the workshops, has turned us from regular tourists into powerful and even more enthusiastic youngsters with pure European spirit.

Now, after my very first SU, I can officially ask myself: How could I have missed out on this experience so far?!?

Written by Paolo Ghisleni, AEGEE-Bergamo & Réka Salamon, Balázs Kovács, Nóra Abdel-Salam from AEGEE-Debrecen