First-year Nate Stephenson on the Budapest, Hungary trip:

Right now, we’re in Budapest, the capital, but last week, we visited Prague for a few days in the Czech Republic, which was a really cool place. We’re in a big hotel here, and we stayed in a smaller bed and breakfast type place in Prague.

We’ve been learning about the history of Central Europe (mostly having to do with the Cold War era and communism), and we’re looking at how that history expresses itself in the local cinema and theater. We’ve been reading about the history, reading and seeing a lot of plays, and watching a lot of films, but also we’ve visited [some] historical sites, like the former headquarters of the secret police of the various regimes that used to control Hungary.

It’s really been incredible to see how communism, [a concept so foreign to] people our age in the United States, has had a lasting impact on the society here today. Anyone here will tell you “Hungarians don’t forget,” and that’s really become evident to me.

The hardest part for me has been operating relatively independently in a country where I know only the most basic words in the native language, but even that’s not so bad. For the most part, people here speak English, so it hasn’t been too hard of a time.

We’ve seen some really incredible performances here, which I’ve absolutely loved, and one weekend a bunch of us went to the Budapest Zoo [to] feed camels, which was pretty fun too.
The biggest difference [between Budapest and America], I would say, is the way people treat you. It’s likely that this is because we’re Americans in Europe, but when you go to restaurants, the servers don’t act as friendly as they do in the United States, even though (unlike many European countries) Hungary does have a tipping culture. That’s not to say that we’ve only met unfriendly people, but people are definitely much more distant at first than they are in the U.S.

Sophomore Gina Ciobanu on the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia trip:

I am in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the capital). Fifteen other students [and I] are staying at Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place. It’s a big [guest] house with a lot of rooms, and a family lives here and looks after the house, but it’s built to accommodate thirty people.

Our group is split between two sites, the Horn of Africa and the Somali Youth Literacy Center. These are two Somali schools in Ethiopia, and we are working as English teachers and teacher aides in classrooms. Most of the students we are working with want to move to a Western country, so they are intent on learning English. We are all working with different levels of English proficiency and different ages, but most of us are teaching basic grammar and common vocabulary words. Yesterday we taught a group of students the song “head-shoulders-knees-and-toes.” Another day we taught informal phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs” and “jump on the bandwagon.” The students are so excited to learn and have been very receptive of [us], appreciating our American accents.

My biggest take-away of this trip so far is that I am so incredibly blessed in the U.S. Every day we pass by countless homeless people and young children begging for money. It breaks my heart to see so many people struggling. There are also so many comforts that we are used to that aren’t a norm here. The power and wifi will often go out for a couple of hours, or the water will get shut off for a night, and people don’t think twice about it. Another big take-away I have is how excited the Somali students have been to learn and how thankful they are for everything they have.

The hardest part of the trip has been standing out in Ethiopia. For the first time in my life, I am a part of the minority group, and people take notice of that. Wherever we go, people will look at us or at times call out to us, saying things like “America” or “USA.” It is challenging being in a city environment and being guarded about where your money and phone are. It is different than the Bates environment, but I suppose similar to a city environment anywhere else.

The most fun thing we have done has been hiking Mount Entoto as a group. There is an absolutely incredible view of Addis and the country at the top, and there is a marketplace that sells hand crafted scarves, baskets and other handmade goods.

The culture and dress is much more conservative, with Muslim women completely covered up wearing hijabs, floor length skirts, and with arms covered. Even those who aren’t Muslim [dress] very conservatively. I have also noticed that women are viewed as second-class citizens in some instances. We walked into a restaurant that was segregated with the men in the common room and women in small back rooms.

Also, there is not much money in the schools, and many schools are getting by with the bare minimum. All they have are desks and one whiteboard at the front of the room.