February 7, 2002
Today I had an interview with a gimnazium. Do not panic about my mental health, this has nothing to do with physical education, pleeeaasssee! A gimnazium is the equivalent to our high school, a fact that bypassed me when I sent the initial e-mail stating I was interested in a position. The Director of the Bilingual Program called me days after and asked that I call her in the middle of January to set an interview. It was difficult reaching her since she was never in her office, so I finally resorted to sending a second e-mail and we connected. The position will be available for September and is for one year and renewable based on work performance and the teacher’s desire. Did I have any aspiration to teach high school? That question kept rolling in my mind as today was approaching, but I still had not come to a definitive answer. The experience would be wonderful if and when we return to the States to live. I had taught elementary and also had a stint in seventh grade for one semester, but this was the age when the hormones and cocky attitudes were in full swing. It does not hurt to interview, so I decided to go.
Due to my paranoia of being late for an interview, I set out at 8:00 am for a 10:00 am interview. After consulting our new Budapest book of maps that is the size of the Encyclopedia Britannia, I realized this was going to be a journey. After getting on the blue metro for twelve stops, I then had to catch a bus or tram for further travel. Deciding the tram was a better way to negotiate the terrain, I hopped on. Trams stop at their stop for a little longer than the buses do and it would give me time to see the sign at the stop to figure out where I was. That was the logical thinking part anyway. The signs at the stops were in one area of the platform only. If you were not in the correct tramcar, there was no chance of seeing the sign from the window. Then I realized that if I were sitting directly in front of the sign, I would still need a giant magnifying glass to see anything written on it. My only option was to hop off, read the sign and hop on again. The stops did not coordinate to anything I had written down when the director have me directions, so I had to keep referring to my map. One of the problems is that we have a tendency to write names down phonetically, but they do not even come close to matching the real spelling, so you are lost yet again. After three times on and off the tram, checking street signs on the side of buildings that look like pre-WW II, the fear of being late was making my heart race. On the verge of hyperventilation, I found my stop with fifteen minutes to spare. Now I had to walk the rest of the way.
Walking down the street, there was a lovely old park on the left hand side, however, the statues looked like a throw back to the communist era. My side of the street looked like industrial complexes without the hint of an educational institution that I could recognize. The school street number was 7, but knowing this city, that could mean six blocks down the street. I was about to try to question someone, until I noticed a young man with a backpack on his back. Clue number one, perhaps he is a student at the gimnazium, so follow him. My love of reading mystery novels paid off. He indeed led me to the school.
As soon as I walked in, I knew I wanted to be part of this atmosphere. The lights were turned off, but the skylights lit the hallways. The energy level in the building was apparent from the first moment. The Director of Bilingual Studies is a charming woman with excellent English and we had a wonderful hour together. The Director of English Studies dropped in and she gave me an abbreviated tour since she had a class shortly thereafter.
The school is the first in Eastern Europe to have been selected by the Hungarian government and the United Nation’s World Bank to teach the International Baccalaureate program, a globally accepted university entrance examination. They boost that the grades of their IB students are the highest in the world. Their English students have surpassed the English requirements for entrance into Harvard and Yale. The school has 650 students in the bilingual Hungarian-English program and 350 in the Hungarian-German curriculum and 200 in the Hungarian only. Rigid entrance exams have to be passed prior to admission, but they do not need to know English to enter. For those that have not had English instruction, they start at a zero year, which is intensive English only for one academic year. They then follow that by the normal four years of high school with 50%-50% classes in Hungarian and English. Math and Science are taught in English and Hungarian to prepare them to compete worldwide. They have a well-equipped English library to complement their Hungarian library.
After my tour, I met with the director again who handed me a folder from University of San Francisco. She asked if this looked familiar. She said that one of the deans from the School of Education was there to arrange sending teachers in training there on an exchange program basis to study their bilingual program techniques. That made my heart warm, thinking that the connection would further advance my chances. From going as an exercise in interviewing, I went the full gambit of wanting this position. The director said that she would know for sure who was returning and who was leaving from the staff, in a few months and would be in touch with me. She gave me a school brochure and asked that I look at their website for more information about their programs, which I accepted as a good sign.
Returning was a breeze, since I knew the tramline started at the subway, so that was a no brainer. It took an hour to return home, a commute that I would do with bells on if I were offered this position. Back in the city center, I had to run over to one of the schools and pick up books for a new student for one to one classes. The director was not there and no one else knew what books she had in mind, so this would mean another trip back to the school before 5:30. With what I thought would be a couple of hours to spare, I returned home.
Ron had interviewed with what he at first thought was a pre-school, but it turned out to be a business that places teachers in schools throughout the area. They told him they had a pre-school that needed someone to do conversation classes. They are going to set up an interview if the school is still in need. In the meanwhile, one of the other teachers at one of my schools gave me the name of a student who needed private lessons. My evenings were filling, so I gave it to Ron. He will be meeting her on Monday for a mutual interview.
As we were sitting here discussing our plans, the attorney called. He anticipated having our tax number from the court today, but the court lost the connection to the fiscal office and they could not verify our bank account. It seemed pointless to question this further since we have learned that just because he speaks English there are many deficits in our comprehension of each other. The point was that our three million forints were tied up in the bank until Monday at least. It was going to be tight weekend financially. After paying all of the fees to the court, lawyer, notary, publication office, and assorted other agencies, we were depleted. We had transferred $300.00 to our Global Currency card a couple of weeks ago, but it never appeared and that was running on empty also. The attorney assured the court has approved our business, we were now incorporated, and as soon as they could verify our deposit, we would have our tax number. That would complete the process. We verified that he was still working on our working papers, residency permits, and he made noises and mumblings to give us the impression that that was an affirmative answer. This was followed by, “They are very difficult to get now, after January 1st.” Hmmm, we have a corporation in Hungary and possibly cannot stay to run it, therefore not generating income for the economy. That would not make sense, but it could be the scheme of things. Before we got to do anything else, Federal Express was at the door with the package from Daphnee. Ron’s TESOL certificate had arrived. We were half way there for the things that we needed. Now I just needed my diploma, which was requested in mid-January.
I had to run out again to visit one of the schools that I had observed classes for and give them my impressions. They assigned me my first student, a one to one with a man who had studied with them for years. My schedule is building for the mornings and the evenings, but no one seems to want classes during the day. Thinking of those that we have met at various schools who have not yet applied for anything and have been working illegally, I questioned the director about what others have done and she assured me the work permit is less than $20.00 and obtaining one is relatively simple. She gave me the name of someone who has gone through the experience and used an agency. Armed with information, this was to be my evening project. By Hungarian law, we have to have an accountant within seventeen days of having our business papers accepted by the courts, so that is Ron’s project and he is supplied with names and numbers.
Just as I got back home, the other school called and said the class was to be 5:00, not 5:30, so I would have to rush over for the books, then get keys to the building where I was to teach since it was in another building. This turned out to be a frantic week and my good intentions of writing every day have gone up in smoke for a while. Writing in retrospect has been a strengthening exercise for my memory.
My one to one student wanted Accounting English, but after the first lesson, she decided that that was too boring for an hour and a half, so we agreed on half accounting and half regular English lessons. I will have to go back to the school and get her more books. Hungarian only has three tenses: past, present, and future. Our array of tenses confuses and frustrates them, but having to remember the names of them is something they hate doing. I do not blame them in the least, but when the company is paying the bill and wants them tested on it, it is a necessity to study. Beata, my student has an enlarged ego and thinks her English is better than it is. It puts the onus on me to suggest corrections in her grammar in a gentle way, so that she is not leaving with a bruised ego. At the end of the session, we were both exhausted, but assured each other that we were looking forward to the next class with something other than pure accounting to stimulate the class.
That evening, I called Schule, a woman who was recommended by a school for having used a business to obtain her permits. The first call was unsuccessful since she was at the hairdresser and could not talk. She asked that I call back at 10:00 pm and I did. Schule was not concerned about the hour and kept me on the phone for quite a long time. As important as her information was going to be to us, my mind kept the meter running. Calling a mobile phone is three times as expensive as calling a residence or business and everyone provides their mobile phone rather than their home number. I did not allow her stories of being sent back to Israel by the immigration authorities upset me too much, but keeping the smelling salts under my nose was a great help. She gave me a business that she used and others that she has recommended and feels that they are the best. We will check them out.