Kaitlyn, a Columbus-native college senior tells us about her (pre-pandemic) experience participating in a one-month philanthropic program at a kindergarten in Hungary.
You completed a four-week philanthropic work placement in Hungary with an organization recommended by your college in Columbus, Ohio. What exactly did you do there?
The organization recommended by my college offers different programs for students every year. This particular one was titled "musical education in kindergartens", sending students to kindergartens in different European countries to teach languages and musical activities. I spent four weeks in a Hungarian bilingual kindergarten where we were supposed to speak English with the children as well.
What convinced you to travel to Hungary with this organization?
A professor who was also in charge of the project told me about it and it intrigued me. Six months before the start of the program, the students who signed up met with the coordinators to prepare projects together. In addition to me, seven other students completed the work placement. Two of us went to Norway, two went to Sweden, and another classmate and I chose Hungary. If Hungarian weren’t also my native language, I would have had to take an additional language course. Everything was very well organized. The program provided a weekly stipend to cover accommodation and meals. The supervising staff supported us throughout the whole process.
Where did you live during that month?
I lived in Budapest. The kindergarten was also located in the city. Even though the public transportation connections were good, it still took us an hour both ways to get to work.
Did you live with other students? How old were they?
I lived with a classmate from Columbus, she was 19 and I was 20 at the time. We got along really well and stayed friends afterwards.
What did a typical day look like in the kindergarten?
There were two shifts in kindergarten. The early shift started at 07:00 and went until about 13:00, and the late shift went from 12:00 to about 18:00. These shifts always alternated weekly. On the early shift, we always had to wake up at 05:00. We ate breakfast, took a train to the kindergarten and waited until the children slowly came in for the day. We always started with 15 minutes of playtime in the group, then we had a “morning circle” and ate breakfast together. Later we started rehearsing for our "summer party" project. We rehearsed English and Hungarian songs with the children. At around 10:00, we went out into the garden to play for about two hours. At 12:00, we had lunch, followed by naptime. After waking the children, we had dessert, then we went back out to play some more in the garden when the weather was good. By 6 p.m., all the children were on their way home with their parents.
How did you spend your free time?
On weekends, we always had free time. We went on sightseeing tours in Budapest and saw the city. On free afternoons, we went out for coffee or shopping. I also visited my grandma and cousin who live in Hungary.
What was your best experience during your time in Hungary?
We went on a trip to Margaret Island. There were many playgrounds for children there. A huge fountain played music in intervals. The children sang and danced, it was really beautiful to watch. The summer party on our last day was also really touching—the children became somewhat attached to us. We were both welcomed with such warmth and integrated into the group that it was very hard to say goodbye after four weeks.
How is Hungarian culture different from ours?
The education system holds on to old traditions. Here, kindergarten is more modern, but in terms of daily child activities, it is still quite similar I guess. In general, Budapest is a different world compared to Columbus (laughs).
What did your internship teach you?
Empathy for other cultures and educational systems. I learned not to judge too quickly. When you are in another country, you quickly tend to compare a lot of things with what you know from home. That's not good. You should give everything some time before you form an opinion.
Would you recommend the experience to other college students?
Yes, I’d recommend it to all students. I would always take advantage of such unique opportunities. Even if the experience turns out to be different than you’d hoped, you’ll still have learned a lot from it. I can also recommend Hungary as a country for an internship abroad. It’s a very beautiful place, the people are open and friendly. In addition, the weather is always good. It was a great experience that I can only recommend to others.
What advice can you give to students who are interested in participating in a similar program?
Always stay open to new things. You have to get used to other countries and cultures, but you shouldn't close yourself off or judge too quickly. Just enjoy the ride!