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Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 25, 2014

The best teachers you’ll have in college

As my Flinn Scholars Program colleague Ruben Aguirre wrote last month, a primary component of the Flinn Scholar experience is being matched with a faculty mentor who helps the Scholar navigate the university, develop a personal path, and seize important opportunities to make a positive impact on the university community and beyond. The faculty who become mentors to Flinn Scholars are the master teachers of Arizona’s universities.

William Deresiewicz, one of the more provocative contemporary thinkers about education (see his impassioned argument for not going to an Ivy League university), focuses on such master teachers in his latest essay in Slate, “Spirit Guides.” 

Recognizing the trend in higher education toward greater reliance on part-time faculty and online coursework, Deresiewicz sees a general devaluation of teachers. “But,” he writes, “the kind of learning that college is for is simply not possible without them.” The kind of learning that college is for, he argues, is learning critical-thinking skills:

You learn them directly from another person. You learn them through incessant repetition and incremental variation and extension under the close supervision of an experienced practitioner. You learn them in classes that are small enough to allow for individual attention, supplemented by one-on­one instruction tailored to your own specific aptitudes and needs.

But is such an experience possible at Arizona’s universities? After all, they’re enormous. Northern Arizona University, the smallest of our three universities, has 20,000 students, more than Duke or Notre Dame. Arizona State University has topped 80,000. Really? Discussion-based seminars and one-on-one instruction? 


That’s where the undergraduate Honors experience comes in to play. I haven’t seen a better description of the courses at the heart of Honors education at Arizona’s three universities than this description that Deresiewicz provides:

The purpose of a seminar is to enable your professor to model and shape the mental skills she’s trying to instill. She conducts a discussion about the material, but she doesn’t simply let you talk. She keeps the conversation focused. She challenges assertions, poses follow-up questions, forces students to elaborate their one-word answers or clarify their vague ones. She draws out the timid and humbles (gently) the self-assured. She welcomes and encourages, but she also guides and pushes. She isn’t there to “answer questions,” at least not for the most part; she’s there to ask them.

And the Flinn Scholar’s mentor goes the next step, guiding the same kind of intellectual exchange at an individualized level, and often not just for a semester but for three or four years. It can be a life-changing experience.

Tags: honors education, mentoring, william deresiewicz
Ruben_aguirre2-small_thumb Ruben Aguirre
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Mar 10, 2014

A new SAT is on its way

Big changes are coming to the SAT in spring 2016.

The longstanding penalty for guessing wrong will disappear, just like obscure vocabulary words. The essay will be optional. And the scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale. In addition to the test changes, a new program will give low-income students fee waivers to allow them to apply to four colleges at no charge.

The new exam will be introduced in spring 2016.

Here are the changes, as presented by the New York Times:


  • Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”
  • The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.
  • The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.
  • The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.
  • Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.
  • Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.
  • Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”


Read More: A new SAT aims to realign with schoolwork

Tags: act, college board, sat
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Feb 25, 2014

Three Flinn Scholars named UA Pillars of Excellence

Three Flinn Scholars have been named University of Arizona Pillars of Excellence, the highest honor for a student bestowed upon by the university.

Congratulations to Scholars Leah Edwards (’10), Daniel Fried (’10), and Paul Thomson (’11), three of the 12 students and alumni honored for their academic achievements during a ceremony on February 13. Eight faculty members were also honored.

Edwards is a Flinn and Udall Scholar who will be graduating with a double major in political science and environmental and water resources.

Fried is a Flinn, Goldwater and Churchill Scholar majoring in computer science, mathematics and information science.

Thomson is a Flinn Scholar studying acting and Africana studies.

Read More: UA Honors 'Pillars' of Research, Teaching, Engagement

Tags: daniel fried, leah edwards, paul thomson, pillars of excellence, ua
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Oct 03, 2013

How to ace the Flinn Scholarship essays

A few weeks ago, one of the applicants for the 2014 Flinn Scholarship wrote me and asked a simple question: "Is it okay to be creative when I answer the essay prompts?"

Below is my response. There's no reason it shouldn't be available to anyone who's working on the Flinn Scholarship application:

You're absolutely on the right track with the essays, in this sense: There are straightforward, fairly easy ways to answer any of the three questions, and sometimes we've been rather prescriptive in terms of what we're expecting an essay to address.

We will probably receive 400 sets of essays that take those straightforward approaches, even with the "commencement address" prompt. The better among these essays will demonstrate that the writer has thought about the prompts and answered the questions they explicitly contain; these will be unremarkable essays that don't hurt the rest of the writer's application. The less-distinguished among these essays will be confusing, rushed, ungrammatical, and/or inauthentic. These essays will make it almost impossible to advance the writer's application into the second round of our review process.

So, you should most definitely find *some* way to make your essays creatively distinctive. Certainly, there is opportunity to do that with the "commencement address" prompt; much will change in the world in 40 years; you will change, too. We will get *lots* of essays written from the perspectives of politicians and doctors and entrepreneurs. Probably quite a bit fewer written from the perspectives of parents, community activists, classroom teachers, artists, ex-cons, professional magicians, or victims of terrorism, shark attacks, or Martian abductions. There's so much you can do.

There is room for the other two prompts to yield creative responses as well. For the "compromise" prompt, I hope that we'll receive essays that talk about group dynamics in school settings, in extracurricular activities like marching band and athletics, in religious organizations, in local politics, in junior-high student council, and on and on. I hope that some of the essays will reveal the writers' senses of humor, or emotional depth, or courage, or sense of personal moral strength. I hope some will be written in the third person. I hope they'll all take the question seriously.

For the challenge question, I know we'll get lots of responses about education, immigration, divisiveness in politics, health care, and economic development--as we should. Those are essential issues confronting our state. I really hope we'll also get responses about less well-known issues about which the writer really knows something important, issues in which the writer has a meaningful stake but about which the writer can still think and argue dispassionately. 

Hope that helps.

Tags: application season, essays
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Sep 17, 2013

Haven't yet taken the ACT or SAT?

Applicants for the Flinn Scholarship must submit scores from either the ACT or the SAT (or both). Our target minimum scores are 29 on the ACT or 1300 on the SAT (reading and math sections only, not writing).

Can you submit an application if your scores don't quite meet these minimums, but the rest of your application is exceptionally strong? Yes.

We review every application we receive, and occasionally an applicant becomes a Flinn Scholar with a score below our threshold. But this is rare; each year hundreds of applicants have scores well above our minimums.

What if you haven't yet taken the ACT or SAT, or have taken one of these exams but feel like you could do better? There is still time!

The final ACT that counts for our process will be administered on September 21. Students who take this exam can use Code 2175 to send their scores directly to the Flinn Scholars Program.

The final SAT that counts for our process will be administered on October 5. The deadline to register for this exam is right around the corner: Monday, September 23.

Students who take the October 5 SAT can use Code 2175 to send their scores directly to the Flinn Scholars Program. Although scores from this exam will be posted after our application deadline, we can add these scores to an applicant's file.

Tags: admission tests, application season
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 01, 2013

What's the typical path for a Flinn Scholar?

Trick question.

Sure, there are far more Flinn Scholar alums with PhDs, MDs, JDs, and MBAs than in the general population. But how they get there, or to whatever other destination, is a unique story, every time.

Late last night, I heard from alum Ke Wu ('06), one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and big-hearted people you'll ever meet. She let me know the next step in her "typical path." I'll let the post from the Public Interest Law Center at NYU speak for itself:

Ke Wu
Filomen M. D’Agostino Scholar for Women or Children

Ke was born in Wuhan, China and raised in Tucson, Arizona. A graduate of University High School, she has been deeply influenced by the liberating potential of a progressive public education. While studying biochemistry as a Flinn Scholar at Arizona State University, Ke travelled around the world investigating education initiatives on a Circumnavigators Club Foundation Grant. This research inspired her to deepen her understanding of issues in domestic education, leading her to join Teach For America after graduating in 2010.

As a chemistry teacher at John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles, she witnessed how school reconstitution, followed by large budget cuts, left students disillusioned with schooling. In response, she engaged students in discussions about the role of social inequity in education. These discussions shaped her role as the Academic Decathlon coach, through which she witnessed the transformation of her decathletes into social justice advocates. These experiences, along with the prolific encouragement of her students, led her to pursue an MPhil in Education on a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and now, a law degree. With a legal background, she hopes to improve the capabilities of all children, starting with the right to equal access to education opportunities.

Tags: 06, education, gates cambridge, ke wu, teach for america
Headshot-small_thumb Hannah Carlisle
Feb 20, 2013

Four Tips for Your Flinnterview

For our current Flinn Scholarship finalists—and all who hope to become one next year or the year after—here are some practical pearls of wisdom I would suggest you keep in mind in advance of your interview.


    Dress for the occasion. Show the Selection Committee that you want the Scholarship. This isn’t the time for dad’s old corduroy pants or mom’s 80’s neon orange blazer. For men: Your belt should match your shoes, and if your socks are white, do not color the tops in with a sharpie to match your suit. Really. For women: Business attire never means your homecoming dress with a suit jacket. And keep in mind that neutral colors or classic black are strong choices for your professional wardrobe.


·       Don’t look lost. Despite the pressure you may be feeling, you want to appear comfortable with your surroundings. Focus your attention on the Selection Committee members with whom you are speaking. If your eyes keep darting around the room, you may appear unfocused or give the impression that you’d rather be anywhere but there. It will help to have arrived well before your interview time.


    Make eye contact with everyone. If you only look at one person on the Selection Committee, you sacrifice an opportunity to connect with the other interviewers. Start by speaking to the individual who asked the question, but remember that the other panelists care about your answer too. And there’s a lot to be said for good posture, not fidgeting, and resisting the urge to constantly brush hair out of your eyes. And, smile!


·       Answer the questions you’re given. Circling around a question, diverting to a prepared talking point, defaulting to “I really want this scholarship,” or telling a story that isn’t obviously related won’t reflect well on the fantastic person you are. If you need to ask for clarification, that’s fine. Additionally, if you can, identify a counterpoint to the question and address it in your answer. Then acknowledge the counterpoint to your answer.


·       Own your opinions. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer when it’s true, but if you decline to disclose an opinion or answer, you are missing the whole point of the interview. In an effective interview, the Selection Committee will challenge you and make you a little uncomfortable. In an effective interview, you won’t be afraid to be yourself..


We look forward to seeing our finalists very soon! We know you will all deliver great interviews. 

Tags: interview, selection, selection process
Headshot-small_thumb Hannah Carlisle
Feb 04, 2013

Arizona Science Center Information Sessions

Each spring, the Flinn Scholars Program hosts two information sessions at the Arizona Science Center. 

This year, the information sessions are March 26 and 27 from 6-9 pm in the Flinn Theater inside the Arizona Science Center. If you are a high school student or parent of one who wants to know who we are, what the scholarship entails, and how to apply, please come!

RSVPs are now closed.

Tags: flinn scholars, information, information sessions
Composite-small_thumb In Their Own Words
Oct 12, 2012

A Bit of Advice from Stephen


Each year, Flinn scholars write letters of encouragement to students completing the scholarship application. Here is what Stephen has to say. 



Hey there,

My name is Stephen Bergauer, and I am from the Flinn Scholar Class of 2012 (and a 2016 Sun Devil, majoring in Math and Finance). At this point, it’s hard for me to believe that, just one year ago, I was sitting in exactly the same position you were in, reading a similar email encouraging me to finish my application, largely blank at the time. Growing up in Chandler, I had heard of the Flinn Scholars program in somewhat mythical terms – a benefit reserved only for students curing cancer in high school while holding down multiple full-time jobs and playing in eight sports. Reading through the Foundation’s website of past scholars only confirmed my suspicions: these people were traveling to Africa and Asia and Antarctica trying to cure world hunger, third-world dysentery/malaria/measles/cholera, and sociopolitical inequality—all at the same time.

As I’m sure many of you did, I attended one of the scholarship information sessions held during the spring of my junior year; if anything, this made me even less confident in my accomplishments. I thought that there was no way that I could be part of this select group—I had already made plans to attend an out-of-state school that was offering me a substantial scholarship and just finished my application out of a chance of a dream of a hope that I could be a Flinn Scholar. Six months later, after two rounds of interviews, I received that phone call in mid-March informing me that I was a scholar; I’m sure I wasn’t the first to laugh, cry, run laps around my house, and immediately accept all at the same time.

When you look over the Flinn program benefits, I’m sure you noticed the full-ride scholarship value, the extensive travel opportunities, and the networking events sponsored by the Foundation. While all of these are fantastic benefits, I want to stress one that can often be overlooked: the idea of a “community of scholars.” In high school, I was a complete and total nerd – president and state champion in Academic Decathlon, leader of my school’s We the People team, member of the Knowledge Masters club. Despite this, I had always felt like “the smartest man in the room” in my high school classes, like I could never truly fit in because I always seemed to know more than most of the people around me. As aspiring Flinn Scholars and excellent students, I’m sure some of you have felt a similar way and are afraid that you might face a similar situation at an Arizona university – still being the smartest person in the room, alone at the top, in a sense. Even though I’ve only been part of this program for a few months, I have already met more people that are not only dedicated to their studies but are also actively involved in issues that matter to them – whether on a global, national, or local scale. I’m not ashamed to admit that many of my fellow scholars are much smarter than I am and that I can only hope to equal their accomplishments. By being part of this “community of scholars,” you already have an established group of intelligent, dedicated individuals from day one on campus—an experience that no Ivy League or “better” school could ever match. Choosing to stay in-state and take the Flinn was probably the best decision I have ever made.

I’d like to close with a few pieces of advice, some specific, some general, about the application process. On the paper application itself, don’t hesitate to brag about yourself. If you’re applying for this scholarship, then you have obviously excelled in your classes and are involved in leadership activities both on- and off-campus; however, all the other applicants also have these same traits. What makes you different? What can you use the scholarship for that nobody else can? On the essays, try to think outside-the-box. Brainstorm a list of ideas about the essay, then cross off the first five; somebody else is already using them. To paraphrase my favorite physics teacher in high school, you need to “rise above the masses”—don’t be afraid to take a chance! The scholarship committee is reading hundreds of essays, and yours needs to literally jump off the page.

As far as the interviews are concerned, the best advice I can give you is to be authentic and passionate. The questions will range from your resume and accomplishments to interesting ideas presented in your application essays to your thoughts on current social, political, or economic issues, on scales ranging from global to local. Because this range is so wide, there’s simply no way that you can adequately prepare for them, so beyond learning about the world around you and current hot-button events (read a newspaper!), there’s not much you can do to prepare. What I think the committee is really looking for is passion and authenticity – two qualities that are fairly difficult to fake. You’ve been involved in many activities throughout high school; what drove you to choose those? What did you hope to get out of them? What did you get out of them? What issues are you passionate about, and how do you think the Flinn can help you achieve your goals? If you can answer these questions, I think you’ll be an excellent candidate for the scholarship.

I wish you all the best, and I hope to see you join our newest class of scholars next year! If you have any questions about ASU, business majors, the Scholars program, or transitioning to college in general, please don’t hesitate to email me.



Stephen Bergauer



Tags: application, stephen bergauer
Composite-small_thumb In Their Own Words
Oct 11, 2012

Greetings from Annie


Each year, scholars write letters of encouragement to students applying for the Flinn scholarship. Here's what Annie Carson has to say.




Hello hello hello!



I am so excited to be writing you this email. If I knew all your addresses and had a reel of stamps I would write this letter to each of you by hand just to express the degree of my happiness for you as you apply for the Flinn Scholarship. Only a year ago I was right where you were, on the receiving  end of this email, wanting so desperately to be the one writing next year’s. And here I am, a few weeks into my first year of college, loving life more than I ever expected. In between here and there, of course, there were hours of writing and revising, waiting-waiting-waiting, practicing interview questions with my parents in the long car rides to Central Phoenix, and one very happy phone call.


If you are overwhelmed right now, that means you’re doing it right. You are ready for this – entirely ready for the Flinn. Now your biggest task is to direct that brilliance. I’m sure that space to list activities and involvement on your application has you wondering what level of impressive they are looking for because you can only fill up half the spaces. To attack some of those blank spots on my application, I included “making claymations in high school” in my activities list. During my interview this came up and I got to spend 4 of my 20 minutes explaining the creative process of fashioning figures out of clay, the patience of taking 1,500 photos for a 5 minute clip, and my craziness to do this process multiple times. The moral of this vignette is not only that claymation movies are awesome and worth their time, but that Flinn cares about what makes you tick, what has you staying up till 3 am to get just-a-little-farther. You are not made up of the long list of activities you’ve ever considered, but the few interests you really care about.


That’s why I chose to study in Arizona as a Flinn scholar – this community invests in the interests I really care about. Before Flinn I wanted to go to the out of state liberal arts colleges: I was sure my heart belonged to Scripps or Kenyon College. But for me to study creative writing at these colleges, I would be accumulating a serious amount of debt before even embarking on my planned journey to medical school. With the Flinn, I can study creative writing while I prepare for med school, consider adding a double major in Global Health or Chinese, and hopefully spend a semester in Africa. The possibilities here are endless, being part of a community designed to fan your spark of passion into the brightest flame it can be.


As you embark on this long and rigorous and rather scary application process, let that flame of passion guide you. Focus your brilliance. You got this.


I can’t wait to write these letters with you next year. If not by hand, let’s track down a typewriter.




Annie Carson



Tags: annie carson, flinn application
Composite-small_thumb In Their Own Words
Oct 10, 2012

Letter from a Flinn


Scholar Jeannie Wilkening reassures us that radioactive spiders aren't necessary to become a Flinn.  


Dear Flinn Applicants,

My name is Jeannie Wilkening and I am a freshman Flinn Scholar majoring in Chemical Engineering. Just one year ago, I never would have imagined myself writing that sentence.  For a number of reasons, I was convinced that the Flinn was not for me. My only real motivation for even finishing the application was just to make my parents stop bothering me about it. Since you are all undoubtedly intelligent people, I am sure that you can tell things have changed since I submitted that application.

Coming from a high school without many Flinns, I was sure that Flinn Scholars were all mythical super humans who were pretty much the closest thing to a real world Justice League.  Feeling that I was more ordinary than extraordinary, I didn’t think I stood a chance. After actually meeting Flinn Scholars, however, I can tell you that my original idea is only partially true. Yes, all the Flinn Scholars I have met are awesome people who do incredible things. They are, however, still human. All Flinns have awkward moments, make mistakes, and possess their fair share of faults. So if you are still looking for that radioactive spider to give you an edge in the application process, you can stop. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t good at everything. And we definitely would not be able to pull off all that spandex. Don’t worry about not having some fantastical achievement on your application. Just let them get to know the real you.

The other main reason that I discounted the Flinn initially was that I was sure I did not want to stay in Arizona. I knew I wanted research experiences, access to faculty, and a challenging and stimulating academic environment. I thought the only way I could get that was to go out of state. As I went through the application process, however, I learned more about both myself and the opportunities available to me in Arizona. I could not be happier with my choice to stay. After only being on campus for six weeks, I have already discussed environmental issues with award-winning faculty, analyzed trace contaminants in water samples in a research lab I work in, and met countless other students who share my passion for learning. I have truly found everything I wanted and more right here in Arizona. 

For me, the Flinn application process was really about discovering more about myself, the Flinn community, and Arizona as a whole. I know the same will be true for you. Even if you aren’t sure the Flinn is right for you, I encourage you to finish the application.  Write the essays. Fill out the forms. Think about what you really want from your college experience and where you can find that. You might not change your mind, or you may be like me and realize what an incredible opportunity the Flinn Scholar program is. Either way, just do it and give yourself the opportunity to find out.

Good luck,

Jeannie Wilkening




Tags: application, jeannie wilkening
Ellsworth-small_thumb Matt Ellsworth
Aug 28, 2012

Free advice! Writing application essays

We say this over and over again for a reason: The essays on the Flinn Scholarship application are well worth every second you spend on them.

There's nowhere else in the application that you can do more to show reviewers who you really are. And believe me--the selection committee is not going to choose a Flinn Scholar designate whose personality and intellect remain opaque to them.

What's the formula for writing a perfect essay? I can't tell you, because there's no such formula. There's no most appropriate structure, no ideal tone, no preferred focus. Unlike some of your assignments at school, you won't be able to earn a top score if you cover all the points I'm expecting you to cover with minimal spelling errors. We like accurate spelling, but we're not expecting that you cover any particular points.

What are we looking for, then?



A unique perspective.

A memorable voice.

A story so compelling that reviewers will say, "We have to meet this student."

All in 200 words? Sure. You can do it. Write a couple of drafts of each of your essays, without worrying about the length. If you have 400 or 500 words, you're in a wonderful position--you get to trim out the throat-clearing introduction, the irrelevant vignettes, the least-resonant lines. What will be left, I hope, is a great story. Depending on the essay prompt, it may be a story about you, or a story about something in the world that matters to you.

Want more help?

There was a great blog post in the Times this morning that you should read. It's "The Yellow Test," by Lee Gutkind, who lovers of good writing know as one of our foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction. His post offers excellent advice about scenemaking in nonfiction writing. This is just what you want to be doing in your application essays.

From Gutkind's post:

Notice — and this is critical — that something happens, no matter how trivial, in each scene excerpted here. The beginning engages a reader, makes a promise. The end of the scene fulfills the promise and makes the audience want to know what will happen next, moving the action forward, ideally to another scene, another block of yellow, until the whole story is told and your point is established.

Do you know how much I'm looking forward to reading your essays? I'm really, really looking forward to it.

(On a side note: You'll notice that Gutkind is right under your nose--teaching at Arizona State University. And one of the stories he excerpts is about the extraordinary clinical oncologist Daniel Von Hoff, previously director of the University of Arizona Cancer Center and now physician-in-chief at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. Like we always say, Arizona's universities possess some of the most amazing faculty talent in the world.)

Tags: application season, essays
Globe-small_thumb Travel Dispatches
Jun 17, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Twenty Two

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Olivia Marie Valencia (’11)

Sunday, the final 24 hours of our nearly month-long trip, served as the last ditch effort day for all the Budapest activities that we had talked about but still hadn't gotten around to. The morning started with the usual rummage for clean-enough clothes and a trip to the Hotel Medosz breakfast buffet. Groups then splintered off and ventured here and there in the hot and humid weather: some hunted for last minute souvenirs, some relished gelato molded in the shape of roses, and some took one last sight-seeing lap around the city.

After an afternoon of hitting the pavement, we traded tank tops and gym shorts for dresses and slacks and attended our farewell dinner. We were hosted in a local art gallery and treated to live Hungarian-Spanish flamenco music and tasty appetizers and entrées (buttered dough balls and ginger ale, anyone?). As is tradition, Ben and Aubri then presented us with our personalized certificates which ranged from the “first-world daddy” award (Paul) to the “most unlikely to like rap music but actually does” award (myself, as many of my fellow Flinns were surprised to learn).

Those who avoided a crème brûlée coma (or those who succumbed and woke up) wrapped up the night a “Fleepover” (a sleepover Flinn-style, meaning polishing off the remaining cheese-flavored Lays chips and Nutella in our pajamas). Conversations revolved around a month’s worth of YouTube jokes (“put the team on your back!”) and the incredibly fast pace of the trip. We mapped out the various post-Hungaromania travel plans (train trips to Prague and flights to London and Benin) and began our bittersweet goodbyes with those not leaving for Phoenix with the group. One by one, we reluctantly trudged back to our rooms for a final Battle of the Bulge with our overstuffed duffel bags. Although our hotel departure was only two or three hours away, we set our alarms and took a short nap before loading the bus for the last time.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, olivia marie valencia
Globe-small_thumb Travel Dispatches
Jun 16, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Twenty One

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Amy Umaretiya (’11)

Today started with a "find your own way" to the Széchenyi Baths for our first lecture. We heard about the magical healing powers of the thermal water used in a lot of the baths in Hungary. Unfortunately, I sat right in front of Aubri, who handed me the wonderful signed picture of our class and the musical video postcard of Arizona that we had been thanking all of our lecturers with, and my streak of avoiding being the person who had to awkwardly present these gifts at the end of the lecture finally ended.

After the lecture we had free time, which most of us used to explore the baths. Highlight: going into the 80-100 degree Celcius sauna room with Julia and Van and then jumping into the 16 degree Celcius pool. After making our way through the saunas, steam rooms, whirpools, and pools of every temperature we left the bath house to go our separate ways before the architecture tour we had later that day.

That tour was by far the best one we had all trip. Our guide fully explained the significance of the buildings and streets he took us to see, but what's more is that he tied them all into our theme of conflicts and resolutions. What stuck out the most to me was when we came up to his favorite street in Budapest and he said, "Every building on this street represents a different chapter in history." From baroque to gothic to communist to art noveau, every style of architecture spoke of a different mindset, time period, and story. That is a rare sight to see where I'm from in Chandler, Arizona. Though I'm sure the Bashas', Starbucks, and Wells Fargo buildings next to my house have some pretty interesting stories behind them too.

We ended up having dinner at an amazing restaurant after the tour was over. Cary and I went on missions to hoard cherries from the bowl they had on display and Olivia, Julia, Katherine and I had a great time looking at the intricate cabinets. And then finally, at the end of the night, Paul, Jacqui, and Patrick won the trip. Paul for his ability to multitask, Jacqui for her ability to be flexible, and Patrick for his ability to communicate with the group. All in all, a very good day!

Tags: '11, amy umaretiya, hungaromania
Globe-small_thumb Travel Dispatches
Jun 15, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Twenty

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Paul Thomson (’11)

You know, it's one of those things where you hear everyone say, "The time flies by!" and, "It'll be over before you know it!" and you never really believe them until you wake up one morning to sunshine streaming through your window and the sound of a car alarm just outside and you realize, "Hey! It's my blog day!" and then, "But I'm at the end of the list!" and then, "Oh my gosh, we only have three days left." But, time stops for no one on the Central European Seminar, and so it was with this stunning realization that I greeted the day. Good morning!

I am pleased to say that we are (finally!) back in Budapest at the Medosz Hotel. This place, with its high pressure showers (except on floor three...sorry, floor three) and its complimentary towels/soap/shampoos/biscuits/fluffed pillows and its continental breakfast to end all continental breakfasts, has become a sort of home away from home on this trip. It's foreign, for sure, but a familiar kind of foreign and I couldn't be happier about spending our last days here.

Today was a "back to business" day after the reprieve of yesterday's transition, and when I checked my itinerary at breakfast like the resourceful boy I am, I was somewhat distressed to read that we had not one, but two lectures on MY blog day. Welcome back to Budapest! But, I am overjoyed to say that my pessimism was proved a thousand times wrong throughout the course of the day. The lectures were two of the most fascinating--if totally dissimilar--lectures we have had thus far. The first was given by Gabor Bojar, creator of a booming computer software company called Graphisoft. Not only was homeboy successful like wow, but he also knew how to give a quick, concise, and engaging lecture. The business majors ate his entrepreneurial advice up, and the rest of us were drawn into his "success is a competition" motto, too.

We then met up with Geza Kallay for a crash course in Hungarian literature, and--I have to tell you--this was one of my favorite lectures so far. Actually, it's one of the only ones I haven't slept through. No, I'm totally kidding. Kallay was not just knowledgeable, but passionate. He was the kind of speaker that really gets to know his audience and--in so doing--makes them want to listen. The fact that he joined us for dinner and led a game of blind-telephone-short story was only a testament to just how much he really cared about us as a class.

Now, I'm going to be real with you: I am not always the easiest to please. I like my lectures fast but full, my meals nutritious but delicious, and my days to be stimulating but relaxed. Well, I guess today was my lucky day, because I genuinely enjoyed everything we did. Now, I don't really know what tomorrow holds, but I know it's going to be amazing. After all, you're only in Hungary once: YOHO!

Tags: '11, hungaromania, paul thomson
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Jun 14, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Nineteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Nick Synodis (’11)

As I write this, the musical stylings of the Dresch Dudás Mihály Quartett jazz up the confines of my comfy and cozy room at Hotel Medosz in Budapest, thanks to my stop earlier today at the Great Hall, where I picked up a metric megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért*-ton of souvenirs (including this CD) for myself and others. Today was a day of transition: Traveling from Romania to Hungary, converting from RON (Romanian New Lei) to Magnum Ice Cream (the official currency of Hungary), and transferring hours on a bus to hours upon hours of sleeping, eating Paprika-flavored Lay's potato chips, and playing "Who's Your Daddy?".

That's right, today we left Romania. Mixed feelings there. On one hand, Romanian currency looks fancy and Romanian restaurants serve copious amounts of delicious mushrooms and veggies for us vegetarians; on the other hand, everyone we met in Romania spoke Hungarian anyway (a side-effect of being in Transylvania, known to Hungarians as "East Hungary"), so it really wasn't much of a change. Nevertheless, it still feels surreal** to only have 4 days left in Budapest. As we discussed in our reflection session on the bus ride home (featuring questions such as "What is your one traveler's 'bucket list' item you need to fulfill before we return home?", "What do you plan to do with your free time in Budapest?", and "What was the biggest surprise of this trip?"), there simply are not enough hours left in the coming days to do everything we want to do, yet, somehow, we have done more in the last 19 days than any of us thought possible. Oh, and by the way, the "biggest surprise" of the trip goes to the van on the highway earlier today that attempted a U-turn (only to realize that the highway--surprise surprise--was split by a median) and was almost demolished by our bus.

Transitions aside, today was also a day of dirt cheap falafel, a day of picnicking on top of Gellért Hill, a day of Julia cutting her hand open with a multi-tool, and a day of late night*** shenanigans out on the town. And on that note, I bid ye "sziasztok," as I just heard a nasty high note on the CD I'm listening to, and it made me a bit queasy (or maybe that's just the falafel).

*Hungarian for "due to your continuous pretending to be indesecratable," but feel free to use your favorite four-letter word to fill in the blank
**Hungarian for "kinda sad"
***Hungarian for "ending before 12:45 a.m."

Tags: '11, hungaromania, nick synodis
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Jun 13, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Eighteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Katherine Richard (’11)

June 13th began with a truly atrocious breakfast. Who would have thought that eggplant paste, white bread, and cold slabs of butter would not have been a mouth-watering hit?

The day improved - I promise.

Bogdan Radu (arguably the most unanimously adored speaker of this trip) began the day with a lecture about Religion and Democracy in Central Europe, moving from a discussion of transitional democratic states, to one concerning the effects of religion on political participation. Following him, Cosmina Paul presented topics of the Romanian Holocaust, the Romanian dissidence under communism, and the Romanian Roma minority.

Where Bogdan's lecture was a fascinating investigation of a region that we still know so little about, Cosmina spoke about sensitive issues that have been greatly overlooked in our time here. She spoke of the ways in which Romania has avoided blame for their massacre of Jewish individuals, failing to admit to their true involvement independent of the Nazi Party's well-known practices. She spoke of the ways in which the Romanian people failed to revolt against communist governments unless under the wing of another people's instigation. She spoke of the forced relocation of hundreds of Roma people to a town built on top of a garbage dump just eighteen months ago.

In the afternoon, we followed these lectures with a discussion about minority issues with local Romanian students. This two hour conversation/debate/misunderstanding was, in many ways, a sobering experience, demonstrating potential for vastly distinct world views. Many of us were made uncomfortable and made others equally so. But being able to interact with our lecture material in such a personal way was invaluable - one of my favorite parts of this trip so far.

[These intense portions of the day were followed by some time spent drinking coffee on a terrace and eating together at the Romania farewell dinner. These were both great things, especially since no fried cheese was served.]

June 13th was not an easy day. It was a challenging day and a humbling day. What I write here does not adequately explain this day, maybe because our last full day in Romania was a sobering confrontation of injustice that remains ignored. I wish that we could have learned about these things earlier, just as I wish that we could have discussed them in more depth. But I am grateful that we were able to listen to such educated speakers, and I am thankful that I could experience this day with such an excellent group of people.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, katherine richard
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Jun 12, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Seventeen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Jacquelyn Oesterblad (’11)

If I’m being completely honest, I had a really hard time writing this (which is my excuse for why I’m submitting this twelve days after the trip ended). And I blame this difficulty at least partly on the events of today. Every day of this trip is a “good” day -- I spend every day surrounded by all of my best friends, being exposed to crazy and fascinating ideas. But we’ve also honed our critical thinking skills to a dangerously sharp point. To quote a speaker we had back in Pécs, we American teenagers know how to criticize everything.

And so I had a hard time writing about today because we have been critical of it. I’d like to think that we have made an honest attempt to think critically about every experience of this trip, and that those criticisms in no way detract from our appreciation of this opportunity. This spirit of questioning was my experience of the trip, and the one that I wanted to convey in this blog. But I also want to be completely fair to those who made today -- and this seminar as a whole -- possible. So I will sidestep this problem by saying that today led to a lot of discussion and that we all learned and grew a lot from that. And given that this is the way I choose to define a good day, today was a really great day.

With that aside, my mostly unbiased description of today’s events:

We began the morning with a lecture on the situation in Romania for the Hungarian and Roma minorities. After a short coffee break (I’ve consumed more caffeine on this trip than any college all-nighter ever required) we toured the facility of the Alpha Transylvania Foundation, a private charity dedicated to providing services to the region’s disabled populations. The lecture that followed was one of the most widely enjoyed of the entire trip – after Bogdan’s lectures, of course. Lunch was...nourishing (some kind of salty pork and cabbage rolls, with the vegetarians eating their favorite corn-meal-mush-with-cheese thing). Then it was onto a bus for the drive to Cluj-Napoca.

Cluj was my favorite of the cities we visited -- there’s something very comfortable and livable about it. We spent our first afternoon in the city touring some of the major churches and other sites (and eating gyros and falafel for the five-billionth time) with some students in the Political Science program as Babes-Bolyai University, an experience that resulted in some of the best stories of the trip. The thunderstorm on the walk home was the cherry on top. (Your opinion of rain will decide whether that was sarcastic or not.) I will now abruptly end this because I am already 150 words over the completely unreasonable 300 word limit.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, jacquelyn oesterblad
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Jun 11, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Sixteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Patrick Martin (’11)

Happy Birthday Shantanu! This beautiful day was spent half in Ti^rgu Mure(s,) and half in a nearby nomad camp. Our tour of the city brought us to three beautiful cathedrals. The first was a formerly Catholic, now Calvinist cathedral in which the only decorations were dozens of crests mounted on the walls representing important Transylvanian nobility, but otherwise the walls were completely white, contrasting with the ornate cathedrals of other faiths we had seen. After the Catholics had lost that church they built another one which we visited second, which was the most decorated church we had seen. Unfortunately we couldn't walk all the way in, but we could see the ceiling covered in depictions of Biblical figures and stories. Our final church was the Orthodox church, which was the most decorated church we had seen and ever saw. The walls were covered with portaits with highly reflective halos that I can imagine being even more brilliant at noon when the Sun would shine through the stained glass Jesus on the ceiling.

The second half of the day was spent at the nomad camp, which involved a short but steep hike up a large hill to a beautiful view. Wild mint grew everywhere, providing a wonderful smell to distract from the nettles that attacked a few of us. Shortly after returning from our hike we were provided with mountain trout for dinner followed by Shantanu's birthday cakes! Our time at the nomad camp finished around a campfire that could not pop microwave popcorn at all and the largest cultural shock of the trip: there are no marshmallows in Romania.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, patrick martin
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Jun 10, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Fifteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Lily Luo (’11)

I'm woken up at 8 am by a rooster which is 1. quite late by our travel standards and 2. reminds me that we are with are homestays in Petreni. Excited for the day, I'm too enthusiastic with my glasses and break them, which gives me an interesting perspective (or rather, lack thereof) on the rest of the day.

After my delicious homemade breakfast made by Ildie, we attended a Unitarian Church sermon lead by Kinga. The sermon was in Hungarian, so we participated by humming along to the accordion and praying silently. Our own Julia King played a beautiful song called "If I Stand" on the guitar for the congregation. I could hear from her breaking voice that she was brimming with passion, faith, and love. It was quite a magical time and place where people of different faiths--or no faiths--and of different cultures stood together with reflective harmony.

For the next hour, Kinga chatted with the Flinns about a vast array of topics, from gendered difference in assuming leadership, about her worries for her campaign work (I'm sure it was successful, though I have no way of checking the results), about the EU and Romania. She shared her personal experience with the negative impact farming subsidies hard on Romanian agriculture, a point that caught in the web of our collective minds. We also brought the discussion home to the U.S. with border issues. Kinga gently poked fun at us; it is indeed very easy  to criticize Europeans while ignoring the human rights issues in our own backyards.

With much food for thought in our minds, we turned to feeding our stomachs with more homemade dishes for lunch. I had the best vegetable soup in existence, followed by creamy mashed potatoes, cold rice with carrots and peas, fried breaded beef, grilled chicken, and sausage. This was topped off with an unworldly dessert: crepes filled with homemade jam, drizzled in vanilla pudding and chocolate shavings with half a peach. It tasted like heaven on earth.

It was then time to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts and Petreni village. As fun as it all was, nothing quite beats a great big nap following a great big lunch. I slept for almost the whole bus ride to Targu Mures, where we ate a dinner that was diametrically opposed to our wonderful cultural lunch: fried chicken, french fries, and pickles...a classic U.S. American meal, served in Hungary.

At night, we went off exploring the city for a bit, branching off into different groups. My group invaded a playground while Romanians observed our loud American-ness. Finally, we had some group bonding time, consisting of real talk, Whose Yo Daddy, What If, and other nonsense. All in all, a very satisfactory day.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, lily luo
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Jun 09, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Fourteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Donovan Lockwood (‘11

Jasmine AnglenEven on our "relaxed" days we do more than any day I would call relaxed back home. Today, we left the Deva Saint Francis Foundation and drove to Medias, an old fortified town. We had a quick lunch, and then we had a little while to explore around. Even though it was approximately 150 percent humidity and in the high 80s. We got a little group together and went to an old fortified church with some beautiful architecture.

After this, we got back on the bus and drove for three more hours. After so long on the bus, a few people were getting a bit stir crazy, especially Julia, who was a self-proclaimed "rage ball" by the end of the ride. Driving through the countryside was great, though. On either side there were rolling green hills and farmland for as far as the eye could see. The houses were few and far between, which was awesome, coming from a place like Phoenix.

Right when we arrived in Petroni, a small village with about 160 people, we were welcomed with fantastic homemade donuts. The hospitality of these people was so refreshing. They were so happy to welcome us into their lives, even though they had never met us before. After the donuts, we met our homestay hosts, and then came back to an excellent dinner of goulash made over a fire. We had a little bit of time to relax before we were taught folk dancing by some of the villagers. I'm gonna be honest, I wasn't very good, but Stella was rocking it.

Shantanu's BirthdayThe rest of the night was really relaxed, with some sitting around, talking, playing on a swingset, and an impromptu accordion concert. I think the part that is going to stick with me the most about this village is the amazingly vibrant community in such a small town.

The trip seems to be winding down, but in a good way. Just sitting around and having a chill night is something that I have definitely learned to enjoy through this trip. It's been great getting to know everyone better, and I'm excited to see what the rest of the Hungaromania 2012 has in store for us!

Tags: '11, donovan lockwood, hungaromania
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Jun 08, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Thirteen

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Ben Lang (‘08)

Ben Lang and Shanan ImmelThe day started early, with various Flinns taking runs or doing yoga in the hall. For those who didn't start their day at six thirty, the day began with breakfast at eight. While the cheese and eggs for breakfast left many of us wishing for more hot sauce, or at least some chorizo and tortillas, conversation was as lively as always. We then hopped on the bus for a beautiful drive through the Romanian landscape, alternating between rolling green hills, small villages, and abandoned industrial factories left from the reign of Chacescu.

Our first stop was Hunnedora, where we set out a picnic lunch in the shadow of a castle used since the 14th century. Our lunch was relaxed, only bothered by a few cute dogs looking for handouts. There was a festival taking place and we were soon invited to demonstrate our (lack of) archery skills, as well as take a swing with swords and other weapons. The group then toured the castle, which had been rebuilt at least six times over the centuries. While our guide had some different interpretations of stories we had heard elsewhere, we quite enjoyed the view from the castle walls and the beautiful architecture contained within.

Once we escaped the castle, even making it out of the torture room alive, we headed to Deva. Here we found a shelter for kids having family issues at home or wishing to continue their studies when their parents could not support them. The volunteers at the shelter gave us a tour, and then we were thrown into the yard for hours of playing with the children. Soccer balls, children, and other toys all went flying through the air. After a dinner to recuperate, we headed back out to the yard again to have the Americans get owned by the local boys in soccer and for even more playing and fun. We missed the opening game of the Eurocup, but our game was far more exciting. Even the least children-enthusiastic among us had kids hanging off of them by the end of the day. By the end of the night, everyone was worn out, and while we stayed up chatting for a bit, we soon fell fast asleep in our bunkhouse.

Tags: 08, hungaromania,, ben lang11
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Jun 07, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Twelve

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Gabrielle Lacy (’11)

Flinn Scholars in RomaniaJune 7th marked by our first full day in Romania. We woke up in Timisoara and our first sights included Victory Square, a beautiful plaza steps away from our hotel. The square was bounded by an Orthodox Church and a theater; the sides were lined with restaurants and gelato shops. We first passed through this area on our way to West University where we spent the majority of our day.

Upon arrival, we received a practical orientation of the following eight days and a general overview of Romanian history as well as a note on some famous Romanians. After lunch, we returned to the West University and attended a lecture given by a local professor pertaining to Anti-Development theory. The idea addresses issues that arise with conventional development approaches and local reactions to large- scale efforts. Later, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some local Master's students working in development studies. It was very interesting to hear their areas of study as well as their motivations for entering the field.

We continued these conversations as they gave us a tour of Timisoara.

Many of us chose to visit a restaurant situated alongside a river with the local students, while others found their way to delicious Italian food. But for most, the night concluded with gelato. At the end of our first day in Romania, we were all so very excited to see what our coming days had in store for us.

Tags: '11, gabrielle lacy, hungaromania
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Jun 06, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Eleven

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Julia King (’11)

The days here are very long. And not just, "Wow, what a long day" sort of long….more like "Three-lectures-in-one-day-and-then-how-about-a-four-hour-hike-followed-by-a-two-hour-tour-of-the-city" long. So after 12 of these days, it was more than a little bit relieving to have a free morning in Budapest. And where better to spend two free hours than at the Budapest Zoo with my esteemed colleague Eric Chang?

Right next to the zoo are the Szecheny Baths, where doctors actually send women to who are having difficulties getting pregnant; whatever minerals are in the water have been hailed for their ability to restore fertility for many the happy Hungarian mother. This particular jewel of information wouldn't have applied to Eric and I at the zoo, except for the fact that the water pumped into the baths is the exact same water given to all of the animals at the Budapest Zoo. I have never seen so many baby animals in my life.

After petting camels, goats, and even a sloth, Eric and I headed back to the hotel in order to pack up with the group and leave for Romania. The six hour drive included a loaf of ice cream, a flat tire, a dog determined to eat our soccer ball, and more than a bag or two of our favorite Hungarian snack, Duci Puffs. With six hours being the same length of my typical annual drive to San Diego with my family at this time of year, I also had plenty of time to realize how far I am from home.

So do I think that we are succeeding in one of the main goals of this trip, to teach us how to become independent travelers? At first glance, it probably wouldn't look like it. We will never again get to travel in a group of 20 plus. We will never have these people to rely on to always have a map and follow aimlessly wherever they may lead. We will never have a bus driver to drive forwards, backwards, and upside-down in order to deliver us from city to city in one piece.

But the herd that this trip set us up with can't be condemned too fast. These are the kids that we learned how to do bathtub-laundry with; they are the ones that helped devise a system for figuring out which stray dogs should be avoided and which are okay to pet (mostly the only factor in this evaluation is cuteness, but if anyone asks, no of course we didn't find any that met the standards because obviously petting stray dogs if just way to dangerous and risky); these kids invented the "gelato crawl," treating every dinner-on-you-own (doyo) opportunity like a five course gelato meal.

So at this point, we still look like goofy tourists when we travel altogether, looking far from independent. But in less than two weeks, this trip ends and the herd will be dispersed, some of us venturing out on our own immediately, some preparing still for future travels. We won't have the comfort of our giant group. But we will also remember how NOT to get rabies, how to always smell clean and shiny, and how to never go hungry. Sounds like a successful set of skills so far to me!

Tags: '11, hungaromania, julia king
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Jun 05, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Ten

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Lee Burke (’11)

Today can be split into two themes: EU politics and Hungarian music. Peter Balázs honored us with a lecture on Hungary's accession to the EU and its new place in European politics, and also lent insight into Hungary's current internal political problems. As a former foreign minister, among a long list of essential national and international offices he has held, Professor Balázs is the most informed, concise, and eloquent presenter we have had the pleasure of meeting. (He also happens to be Kata's father.)

Then we took part in a fun and informative workshop on EU politics--we formed four groups and respectively passed a constitutional amendment in Ireland, settled EU discomfort with the EuroCup's location in the Ukraine, investigated solutions to the linguistic disenfranchisement of EU citizens, and discussed whether the US Secretary of State should include Roma issues on the agenda of a meeting with the EU. We all seemed to have fun debating, and I for one am surprised how much I learned in such a short time. Thanks go to János Bóka from the EU info point for organizing the workshop.

After a “Lunch On Your Own”, we reconvened at the Ligéti building of the Liszt Music Academy for a lecture and presentation from Gyula Fekete, an internationally recognized composer. After a brief introduction to Liszt, Kodály, and other Hungarian composers, Professor Fekete introduced us to a couple outstanding musicians who play traditional instruments: the Hurdy-Gurdy and the Zither. They were both outstanding players, and hearing the sounds of folk music really reformed my conception of the Hungarian past.

The students' unusual sounds contrasted sharply with my favorite part of the trip: seeing Anna Karenina in Ballet at the Hungarian State Opera House. The music was compiled from the varied and diverse works of Tchaikovsky, from his Symphony No. 4 to the Souvenir de Florence, and performed by an excellent orchestra. But the dancers! I've never watched a ballet and I have to say, I'm definitely a convert.

That seems to be a common feeling on this trip: never-ending discovery and falling in love with our beautiful, huge, planet.

Tags: '11, hungaromania, lee burke
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Jun 04, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Nine

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Shanan Immel ('11)

This Monday was the last day in our newly-beloved Pécs. After a rousing breakfast of Hungarian meats and cheeses and coco puffs, we set out for the greatly anticipated Gandhi School. The Gandhi Gimnázium is a state-funded high school for socially disadvantaged teenagers, 95% of whom are Roma. Everyone who attends the school learns a normal curriculum coupled with Roma culture and two years each of the Roma languages Bayash and Lovari. As someone who struggles with political correctness from time to time, and was confused about the appropriateness of the word gypsy, I was fascinated to hear from the vice principle of the school, Maria, that the Lovari people prefer the word 'Roma' while the Bayash prefer 'Gypsy.' Who knew!

Next came time for a small group of the high schoolers to perform a song and a dance for us. The male and female dancer were both really good and made me want to hop up and dance with them. Our Broadway-quality rendition of Fun.'s song We Are Young followed. Although I must admit to a twinge or five of awkwardness, the song and accompanying clapping was a hit. A small group of students who knew a few words of English stayed with us for some cultural exchange. When we realized that none of us understood each other, I decided to asked the girl dancer to show us some moves. So we learned some Roma dance jigs and then Aman did the Dougie, much to the enjoyment of the group of kids.

With a few hours to explore Pécs a little bit, a few of us got prosciutto and fried egg pizza, which was amazing! We ran over to the Catacombs but they happen to be closed on Mondays. We returned to the hotel luggage room for a lecture on conflicts and solutions in Central Europe from István Tarrósy. Maybe by divine providence our wish was granted to stay in Pécs for a few more hours: there was a taxi strike in Budapest and so had to stay there for two more hours. After a heavy but quick rainstorm, we left this 2010 European Capital of Culture and went back to Budapest. Good bye Pécs!

Tags: '11, hungaromania, shanan immel
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Jun 03, 2012

On the Road 2012: Day Eight

Each summer an entire class of Flinn Scholars engages in a group study-travel seminar. This year’s seminar, held in Hungary and western Romania, runs from late in May to mid-June. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Dylon Gookin (‘11)

Something you learn about traveling with a flock of Flinns: there are two sides to every coin. We often agree on a lot, but it's the same issues one would think we could all agree on we tend to find ourselves most divided over.

For most of us, every moment, every experience, and every memory is to be dissected, discussed, and debated for analysis, followed by reference and cross-analysis, and of course, further discussed in regards to whatever subliminal controversy must surely lay beneath. Needless to say, we seem to deeply discuss everythin on a daily basis. Not a single day has gone by without my own mind being stretched beyond whatever bounds I had only the day before deemed comfortable. Yet, however we call the spinning coin of reality from our perception of every day, the experience that tossed it still does what it's meant to do - change us.

We opened the brisk morning in Pecs with a late breakfast followed by a lecture in the Porcelain Museum. We were led up to a generally inaccessible lecture hall (an occurance that is now becoming familiar to us) by Professor Frank Zsigó to discuss minority issues with a primary focus on the Roma community.

The vast room echoed with whatever sentiments we had to share, often solemnly turning to the disadvantages of minorities such as race, gender, sexuality and the like - and there was little argument over this. Yet Frank, always with a purpose, was keen to point out even our own most subtle stereotypes; facilitating criticism of our own thinking while keeping the discussion focused primarily on the Roma - their culture, trials, and small successes. Frank ended up joining us on our short drive to Alsószentmárton, a local Roma village past scholars have annually visited for the past twelve years.

At this point in our three week expedition, bus travels have begun to blend together, but even before we left our seats we could see a half dozen eager children sitting along the road, eyes wide-eyed and watching us through the windows as we pulled alongside their mess hall.

We got off the bus and were quickly ushered in where we promptly feasted on some sort of plain pasta, freshly woodfire-cooked bread, and plenty of tender boned chicken in broth. Delicious hardly describes the combination of all three in a single bowl. We spoke to Laci (read Lot-see) between bites who described his leading role in the village, his past experiences, and his numerous travels around the world. Even  more curious though, were the dozen or so children with their fingers intertwined in the wrought iron window grate behind our new aqcuaintance, waiting and whispering in giggles, clearly eager to play.

Not fifteen minutes later, balloons, beach and soccer balls, chalk and hundreds of stickers were being tossed around as we were casually led through dilapidated buildings strewn with blanketed windows and weather-torn bricks. We juggled our attention between the natural vibrance of the children and an otherwise sobering tour of poverty, but one couldn't ignore the overgrown flora the beach balls weaved through, or the battered buildings the occasional stray soccer ball would meet. Laci brought us to their local church which paled in comparison to most we had seen over the past days, yet stood majestic in its own right. It still held a certain importance for the Catholic based village, which held special sermons for the religious holidays, though they remarked on the bitter winters they trudged through each year to attend.

We met again at the main hall where we first ate. The number of children had at least tripled, though this wasn't a problem once we had a game of soccer going, not to mention the other small games of tic-tac-toe, chalk drawings or the like being passed around.

I took a break from the games at one point to speak directly with Laci, thanking him for the food - a meal he revealed isn't shared too often. He commented with a smile that they only eat like so for special occasions: Christmas and Easter for example, and apparently whenever we come to visit.

If you get a moment to speak with all twenty of us in the future about how we percieved that day, you'll likely be greeted with twenty different answers. There were debates of interaction in comparison to voyeurism, confusion with our purpose in visiting them, and even some stated qualms of awkwardness and discomfort due to the language barrier. For every claim however, someone was sure to argue the opposite.

We can't know how our visits will impact the Roma of Alsószentmárton. Beyond the coy smiles and mutterings of Hungarian from the children, all we could take from our day were our own freshly born perceptions, however they formed. In the case of the spinning coin, every Flinn called the day's toss a different way, but only time and effort will tell how the coin will actually land. All we can know for certain is that our visit affected not only the Roma of Alsószentmárton, but ourselves as well.

For whatever impact it had, the hours we spent with the Roma slipped by in mere moments. Too quickly, it seemed, we said our scattered goodbyes and left.

We looked back as we waved goodbye and slowly settled in for the bus ride back to Pecs.

Tags: '11, dylon gookin, hungaromania
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