Life Update: Living in Budapest

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It’s amazing how one person talking for an hour can be so inspiring sometimes; the thing is if you don’t reflect and act upon what you learned it can be so easy for those inspiring messages to get forgotten.

William Benko reminded me today of the importance of having habits and strategies for how we tackle life. I’ve been well aware of this concept for years now, and yet, as evidence of my lack of blogging in the past few years, I think I’ve allowed myself too much slack with what were once my daily habits. So at the very least, I felt it was time for a life update on my blog because I’ve been having some amazing experiences the past few weeks and haven’t done the best job capturing and reflecting on them.

DSC_0510.JPGIt’s been about 2 weeks since I arrived in Budapest, 4 weeks since studying abroad, and 5 weeks since beginning the Leadership for Social Good program. Since I’ve gotten to Budapest I’ve also been interning with Teach For Hungary. (Part of our program is that each participant is partnered with an NGO in Budapest who we intern with for the 6 weeks we are here.)

Teach For Hungary follows similarly with the Teach For All model where the basic concept is to get professionals committed to a two-year fellowship working within schools as teachers and mentors to kids specifically in rural/small town areas. Teach For Hungary is very much in start-up mode at the moment, being only about a year old, and one of my primary roles has been to help the team as they work on developing their hiring and onboarding process for new full-time staff members and later working on how to recruit and train fellows. 

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It’s been fascinating learning about the education system here in Hungary and so far I’ve also really enjoyed my work which has included a lot of strategic planning and brainstorming. Even the location I’m in, the Innovation Lab of Central European University, is just so fitting for me. I’ve been amazed by how much of my work in the gymnastics world has been applicable; for example, I’m currently working on the online test and accompanying assessment tool for the hiring process and I’ve been able to apply lessons I learned from creating the gymnastics assessment tool for evaluating gymnasts looking to enter one of our invite programs. I’ve also noticed my background in design thinking coming in extremely useful as I’ve been asked to give lots of feedback since I’m a fresh pair of eyes for documents like the onboarding information. Most of my meetings thus far have begun with a “Like, Wish, Wonder” feedback protocol, and I even looked up my old Innovation Diploma application earlier this week as an example of a “choose your own adventure” technical skills/thought process assessment. It’s always fun to connect the dots between your seemingly different worlds and I’m excited to see what other connections I make as I continue to work with Teach For Hungary.

IMG_7169.jpgIn addition to my internship, most mornings I’m in class, though I’m sure many people wouldn’t think of it as “class” per say. We have class Monday-Thursday from 10-12ish (sometimes we start earlier sometimes we end later), and our typical week consists of two guest speakers, a group presentation/facilitating class deep dive into any topic we’ve discussed thus far, and one activity/field trip to places like the historic baths and largest synagogue. Our guest speakers so far have been great! Each one has a story about their involvement with Hungarian NGOs and so far everyone has had such powerful messages I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of them.

IMG_9513.JPEGOne guest speaker, in particular, was from an organization called Bator Tabor. This is one of the most well known NGOs in Hungary, and in fact, it is one of the top 3 NGOs in terms of gaining public funding through Hungary’s special 1% law; this law allows for taxpayers to donate 1% of their tax money to an NGO of their choice from the approved list. Bator Tabor is a campsite for children with serious illnesses. They have an incredibly well-developed program and volunteer training process. What was especially cool is that last weekend we actually got to visit the campsite for our own leadership retreat! I love everyone in this program and it was great to work together to accomplish odd challenges like lifting everyone over a rope between two trees, climbing a rock wall and swinging between hanging tires, and a more complex archery session than I’ve ever done (including learning to shoot backward and off of a wooden horse).

IMG_3136.jpgIMG_3126.jpgAnd in terms of giving a full update, this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how beautiful Budapest is and how much I’ve loved exploring the city! My friends and I have had a number of random photo shoots and trips to hunt down the best-baked goods and ice cream. I even attempted to make paprika chicken (a Hungarian traditional meal) in our apartment and it turned out surprisingly good. I had never before considered how stressful grocery stores could be when you can’t read any labels and the store set up just doesn’t seem to make sense at all. And to top it off I finally feel pretty comfortable with the public transportation system which knock on wood is true since I’m about to head off to figure out where my bus stop is to take an overnight ride to Munich for the weekend!

Every day’s a new adventure, and I’m excited to see what new discoveries I make in the next four weeks! I have also found that the sense of adventure and exploration has reminded many of us that we need to spend more time being explorers in our own communities because there are bound to be hundreds of things we’ve yet to discover even in our own backyard.

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When You’re Lost

Sometimes the greatest things are found when you aren’t looking for them.

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It’s hard to believe it’s only been two full days since I arrived in Prague because it feels like we’ve already done so much and know the area pretty well. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at using the metro and tram to get around and we’ve gotten to that point now where we are wanting the “non-tourist experience.” And what I’ve realized is that some of our best discoveries and adventures so far have been the times we’ve gotten “lost.”

IMG_2596-1.JPGOne time we legitamently got lost by taking a wrong turn at some point on the way to the Charles Bridge (I’m still not fully sure where exactly we went wrong, but we got there eventually). We had a great time though trying to figure out our way back without the use of phones or communication. And then we went on a hunt for the Lennon Wall and found some weird status instead where we met some other people we were able to follow to where we actually wanted to be.

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Then today we intentionally got “lost.” We wanted to go to a new part of town rather than always going over by the bridge (the one area we felt comfortable that we knew), so we just decided to go down a random new road. This road ended up leading us to find beautiful buildings, including a theater, and we even found a little street market with food and crafts and live music which was awesome! Not to mention we had some great ice cream along the walk.

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It’s truly great to just be an explorer sometimes with no real mission or direction, just excitement for whatever might come up along the journey. Not to mention, getting lost really made us think quite a bit. We had to use spatial awareness and memory for figuring out our way back; critical thinking to make the best decisions when there was little info to rely on; communication and leadership to make sure the person with the best idea was truly heard; we even had to embrace our creativity and kid spirit when we found ourself in an interactive toy store.

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So much fun and learning happened while just wondering around and getting lost and trying to get unlost that it made me realize that some of my favorite learning moments have been when I “got lost.” Like when you lose yourself in a good book or lose track of time because your so absorbed in the prototype your building, or when you lose your bias/preconceptions about a character in a show. I wonder what school would look like if we embraced getting lost.

Tools for the Back Pocket

Every now and the Georgia Tech multimedia lab hosts workshops to learn new technology/art skills. I just happened to discover this fun fact when I accidentally opened an email from the school library the other day.

I noticed that there was a workshop for PhotoShop, and for me PhotoShop has always one of those tools I’ve wanted to know how to use, but haven’t necessarily needed to know how and thus haven’t learned. Therefore, when I saw this workshop was being offered at a time I could attend I decided I should look into it. But then the registration was full…

I left the event on my calendar anyway though, and all day today I was debating if I should just show up. I knew I had other things I could be working on, including studying for a test this weekend or trying to get ahead to limit my work over the long weekend. Plus I was very confused about where the workshop was actually taking place, which made me contemplate further if I should even attempting to go to it or just stay working where I was 20 minutes beforehand.

However, something inside me said that I would regret not at least trying to attend. So I packed up my stuff and wandered around the library until I found the right room in the back of the basement.

And man am I glad I attended!

PhotoShop is really super cool and I’m not sure when I would’ve learned the basics to this tool if I hadn’t today. I’m not sure when I’ll use this tool, but I feel like having it in my back pocket just in case will be an asset sometime down the road. Plus, often times the best teammates are those who come to a team with a random assortment of tools they can use even if they haven’t really needed to in the past.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance and not be afraid to show up. I got there early and was able to find a seat and there wasn’t a problem with me not having registered in advance. Turns out a bunch of people didn’t register in advance, so I’m not sure why the event invite was shown as “full”… I’m just glad it worked out and happy to add PhotoShop to my toolbox.

Sportsmanship

I just don’t get people sometimes.

I simply can’t relate.

For example, people who are bad sports. Just why? Sure no one likes losing, but how is complaining and calling stupid penalties and yelling at the other team really going to help you win in the long run? Keep your act together, calm down, work as a team, and move on.

Especially playing in what’s supposed to be a low-stress environment I don’t understand why people get so worked up about things.

We had a late night ultimate frisbee game tonight due to fall break re-scheduling, and while we may have lost the game, at least our team was a good sport about it.

While we were up the other team started getting so frustrated and yelling at us and each other, and honestly, it only made their playing worse so I’m not sure why yell at all. Then they started calling all sorts of penalties which I personally was unaware of so I stayed out of that decision-making process, but it really just wasted more time than necessary. They way I saw it if any player is willing to take a dive onto concrete in a housing intramural league to catch a frisbee, let him have the point for commitment, don’t try to call that he didn’t fully have possession in bounds before the fall. You may say I’m biased because it was my team that ended up not getting that point, but honestly, I’d feel the same way if their team would’ve made that catch.

Also, I want to clarify that I’m not going to be up all night thinking about this call or anything like that. I didn’t even bother getting involved with the call during the game. I just find it funny how much other people care so much about protesting things like this. It’s intramural ultimate frisbee at a tech school… just help the guy up and tell him, “Great catch, how’s your knee?”

I’m probably making the situation sound worse than it was because in actuality the team at least was nice at the end of the game, and they were still better sports than some of the other teams we have played. I guess I’m just choosing to blog about this today because not this is our third ultimate game and pretty much every team has had bad sportsmanship qualities.

I learned today that sportsmanship can count towards overall ranking and was happy to hear that other teams were getting bumped down for that while our team has been doing well. I’m really glad that I’m on a team of good sports because it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to be playing if there were a bunch of people taking a fun month-long tournament so seriously and over dramatically.

And hey we’re officially in the playoffs even despite the loss, and we had fun playing, so as we like to say, “We won in our hearts,” and we’ll likely see this team again in the playoffs so hopefully we’ll win when it really matters.

A Lil’Pupper

My family has always been known for doing things kind of spur of the moment. Like when I took a week-long trip to NYC with 30 minutes notice. Or when we just went for a weekend to stay in a cabin by a zip line place. Or when we planned a trip to Italy within a  month’s times.

Well, this weekend we started fostering a puppy. We had been talking about getting a dog for a while and actively looking for the last few weeks but we hadn’t originally planned on getting a puppy. Saturday morning we were at a dog park meeting another dog who didn’t work out because she was too aggressive towards other animals and we knew we didn’t have the skills to help re-socialize her. Then as we were getting ready to leave we saw a bunch of tents where a shelter had set up and had some pups out, so we took a look and as the story goes we fell in love with this pup and are now fostering her.

So needless to say it’s been a pretty random weekend full of going back and forth between home and school for me. Then add to that tap rehearsal and seeing a musical at the new performing art center near my house.  It’s just one of those times where you can’t really tell how productive you are or aren’t being and that’s just been my mood all weekend.

Sometimes it’s nice though to have random things happen in your life even if it does through off your original plans. I enjoy my family’s habit of making random decisions, and hopefully, this one works out well. So far the pupper has been behaving very well and it really sweet and smart which is a good sign.

Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

Missing the Meal

There’s a lot of things that aren’t so great about being a freshman, and the even more upsetting thing is that you often don’t appreciate the great parts until you are no longer a freshman.

So far the thing I miss most about being a freshman is surprisingly being forced onto the Meal Plan. I say surprisingly because it isn’t that the meals were amazing. (Though I admit I’m still on a Meal Plan because I did appreciate having a wider variety of at least decent food that you don’t have to cook yourself.) No the reason I miss being forced onto the Meal Plan isn’t because of the food, it’s because of the meal.

The experience of having a meal was more than just the food. You’d accidentally bump into people you knew while you were there and catch up after not seeing people in a while. Or if you knew you’re schedule was similar to someone else you’d intentionally plan to have meals together knowing there were really only a couple of options of where to go. It forced you out of your room and into society. You struggled together running through the rain or scorching heat because if you wanted to eat you had to walk there.

Now living in an apartment, only partly on a Meal Plan while basically none of my friends have one, I feel as if I hardly see people anymore. We’ve started living more spread out. Our classes are more major specific. And we’re just busy in general. It’s easy to want to just stay in your apartment and work through lunch, or not bother walking late at night to a dinning hall when you can make pasta a few feet away.

I miss the meals I had with friends. Sure it’s only a week in, but the first week is an oddly good predictor of how the subsequent ones will go in terms of your routine schedule. We’re creatures of habit and I imagine if I’ve not really bumped into people yet, then there is a good chance I will not for a while without intentionally doing so. It’s not that I’m against intentionally planning to meet with people, but sometimes the spontaneous or necessary part of running into people is what makes it especially great; there’s no effort involved so it doesn’t feel like anything is being forced or like there is any pressure on that conversation needing to be particularly memorable because you don’t know when you’ll have another.

I wish I would’ve better cherished those Freshman meals.

Off Again

It’s that time a year where people start going back to school, or off to a new school for those college freshmen out there. I still have another week before I start school, but several of my friends are starting to move back in already this weekend.

It’s hard to say goodbye again each year. One of the best parts of this summer has been reconnecting with old friends that I’ve not really gotten to see over the past year. Next year is going to be especially weird because now I also have friends who are studying abroad this semester. Some of my high school friends and I went to the lake this week as a last hurrah before we all go off to school again, and specifically before one of my best friends, who also goes to college with me, goes off to France for the fall. It’s crazy to think that it’s the longest I won’t see her since the 6th grade; as we all joke, “Who’s room will we have last minute study parties in?!?” (That may or may not have been a thing before every physics test we took last semester…)

At the same time, it’s been so odd to see my friends who are rising freshman starting to go off to college. I went to see the final performance of the 2 day Drama Bootcamp that MVPS hosted and I got the chance to see a lot of my younger friends, including a few who are recent grads themselves. Seeing the kids I remember as middle schoolers who we would pull into high school shows occasionally now as juniors and leaders in the theater troupe is kind of insane. Not to mention, see the recent grads was kind of a reminder that I’m now a sophomore. A whole year of college has gone by already, and now there are all sorts of new challenges ahead with year two. Starting off with living in an apartment instead of a dorm…

It was kind of a wake-up call these past few days of realizing that I have to be ready to move in next week and yet I’m nowhere near ready. Besides my mess of a room, I still have to try and change my schedule and get together with my roommates to figure out stuff for our apartment. It’s time to head off again and I’m curious for all the new challenges of another year in college.

Every year, no matter how old we get, presents new challenges and it’s good to remember to take time to consider how you will prepare for them. My first big challenge is move in and thus I’m off to clean my room and pack now.

Simply Lovely

Some nights you go have dinner with old friends and everything’s just great.

Doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how much we’ve changed over the years, we can always jump back into a conversation.

Tonight there’s no great moral lesson or new self-discovery; it was just a lovely night with people who make my life better.

Not All About Winning

I don’t understand why high school sports are taken so seriously sometimes. Realistically most high school athletes won’t continue much further with whatever sport they’re playing. I understand and appreciate wanting to be good and wanting to win, but sometimes you just want to play to have fun and it seems like there isn’t room for that in high school.

I was at my sister’s volleyball team meeting today and it was flat out said, “At this level in high school, it’s all about winning.” My sister is JV and honestly not amazing nor does she care to be, but she wanted to play because she thinks the sport is fun, her friends are doing it, and she wants a consistent way to work out. However, every year she comes so close to quitting because she feels like it’s taken way too seriously and all of her time becomes dedicated to the sport in an overwhelming way.

My sister quit competing gymnastics going into her freshman year. She used to train 12+ hours a week so when she quit she knew she was going to need to find some other sport to keep her active. Yet it seems it’s kind of hard to start a new sport once you get to high school.

I’m sure my sister isn’t the only person who discovered that they’re ready to try something new in high school. Shouldn’t high school be all about trying new things while you still can? It kind of stinks that everything is so serious and competitive and “top level” that it becomes hard to just try out new sports and stay active for fun.

I constantly wonder why high school’s don’t have intramural teams (or at least mine didn’t). Colleges have intramural teams and, while I’ve never played on one, I love the concept: form a small team that maybe practices once a week and then compete against other teams in a recreational way for a few weeks, then find a new sport to try out. I think it’s great that colleges have this option, though I find with everything else going on in college, it still can be hard to actually find time to play on a team. In high school though, it seems like it could be a perfect medium for those people who just want to have fun being active.

Imagine if every six weeks or so there was a new intramural sport offered, maybe even during the offseason of the varsity sport so people could use it as a time to have fun before getting super competitive. Maybe there could even be odd sports offered like Galic football or ultimate frisbee. The games could even just be in-house scrimmage style, or maybe small teams form at the school so each small team finds one day to practice that works for those x number of kids, and then there is one day set aside for matches between the small teams. Like soccer games are normally 11v11 in high school, but you could also just play mini-games of 5v5 or 7v7 or whatever really, the point is to have fun being active not to try and get college scholarships or win big tournaments.

It would also be a great way for kids involved in the arts to also be able to play sports. That was a big problem for me because I played soccer since I was 3 and enjoy the sport a lot, but I also loved theater and there was really no good way for me to do both for school. I’m sure if there was just a once a week commitment it would be much easier to work around with my theater commitment.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of students could benefit from a more recreational, short-term, low commitment sports team at school.

I’ve been having this same thought for years now actually. After finishing writing this post I just found a post from February 2016 essentially about the same topic. Maybe one these days the idea will stick with someone because at this point I’ve excepted it isn’t my challenge to take on, but it’s still one I find coming up as I continue to have friends and family in similar situations to me with the high school sports debacle.