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October 4, 2012

Local Voices From Around the Globe: Getting settled in and trying to fit in

Grace Heneghan

— For all who are reading, thank you for your support and interest in my exchange.

  I arrived in Hungary and all is well. I live in Urom, which is right outside of Budapest on the Buda side. Hungary is truly a beautiful place filled with thousands of years of history. For the short time that I’ve been here, I have grown to love my host country.

  I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived. I knew very little about Hungary before coming. As beautiful and exciting as everything was, I had no illusions about things being perfect. The people are kind and the food is good, but the language is very difficult. There were obvious differences (like the language), and not so obvious differences (like how asking an acquaintance about how many siblings they have is seen as invasive). My first few weeks here were somewhat a blur. I spent most of that time getting to know my family, sight seeing and finding my place in the household. I can now eat “properly” (fork in my left hand and knife in my right, napkin not on my lap and silverware neatly placed next to each other on my plate when finished), know were the recycling goes, and what trams take me right into the city (4 and 6). These little things may seem silly, but learning the small stuff helped me feel more at home.

  My first day of school was nerve racking. After experiencing what it is like to be the “new kid” in school, I will not hesitate to introduce myself to future kids in my situation. Exchange student or not, seeing a familiar face always helps. There are about 120 kids in my grade, separated into four classes. What class you are in depends on the second language you are being taught. I am in my host sister’s class. She is learning English. The others learn German, Italian and French. I am pleased to say that I like school. The school system compared to Cooperstown could not be any more different. It took me two weeks to get in the swing of things. I will never take a Cooperstown school lunch for granted anymore; the food at my school is terrifying.

  Now and again I will be struck by the realization that I’m in another country, then disbelief. Only once have I felt terribly home sick, but that passed quickly. During those 24 hours it really hit me how hard and challenging this exchange could be.

Then I realized if this was easy, everyone one would be doing it. I’ve grown used to awkward situations, small talk and meeting new people. These things are all part of exchange and like everything else I do, I embrace it. I plan just to enjoy and appreciate every single moment I have here, because I know this will be one of the best years of my life.          

Grace Heneghan is a Cooperstown student who traveled to Hungry through Rotary exchange. To read more about her adventures, visit her blog at