Bets are placed early. We are mere moments away from meeting our new mom or dad, our designated Hungarian ‘guardian’. The person who will lead us out of the hostel and into our new lives. The stakes are high.
Hajni ushers us into the lounge. We stand in nervous clumps, trying at our best doe-eyed expressions of innocence. I briefly considered braiding my hair into pigtails and drawing on freckles hoping to ensure absolute cuteness factor. All thoughts of proper adultness fly out the window; I want my future mom or dad to find me adorable. The Hungarians remain stone faced on the couches, unmoved by our wide grins and bright eyes.
Behind me in the clump Robert sneers, “2000 Forints that you get Mr. Grinch in the far corner.”
I chance a glance at the man loitering in the shadows by the food. He is short with a protruding gut and a harsh green jacket, unnatural in this late August heat. He does indeed bear a striking resemblance to the illusive Christmas stealing Grinch with his sagging, pock-marked cheeks, greasy receding hairline, and jagged grin. I shudder. That sea-sick crocodile is starting to sound like a great option. “Yea, well you for sure are about to be calling Cruella over there Mom.” I throw back at him, nodding to the woman sitting front and center.
“Ouch. That’s cold. I bet she could skewer half the group with those stilettos.”
“And skin a litter of puppies.”
The process is simple. Hainji calls out the name of a teacher, one of us, then the name of a Hungarian contact person, a.k.a. mom or dad. The two meet, shake hands, Hainji hands the Hungarian a folder with all of our important documents inside, and the new family leaves the room, never to be seen again. I realize that I’m in the midst of a classic being-picked-for-the team scene. Immediately my hands begin to sweat.
Little Ray, Hawaiian Masters-degree-in-something-really-prestigious, reclusive Ray. Ray who I’ve only heard speak once during all of orientation and that was on the first night during introductions. Ray is 5’0” flat and the kind of guy you have to root for because you can’t bear to see anything bad happen to lost puppies.
He steps forward and is greeted by a young, sprightly woman in a red blazer. The group’s sigh of relief is audible. Except, “Shoot. There goes my number one choice.” Yes, Ray was paired with the only smiling adult.
Over the next several minutes the crowd thins as friends are shuffled away by strangers. Caroline and I scooch closer together, our eyes scanning the dwindling Hungarian numbers, while our palms begin to sweat in honest. We are part of the lucky few who have communicated with our contact person over the summer. Bea sounded cheery throughout all of her emails. I had hoped to recognize her the minute I saw her. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
“Which one of these ladies looks like a Bea?”
“Describe a Bea….”
We watch in silence as Roxanne is taken by Cruella. The Grinch has disappeared, confirming my suspicions that he was only here to steal the food. Just as I see Brenna exit with an old woman whose greying hair is so thin it reminds me of opaque rice noodles, I hear our names.
“Caroline and Bekah.”
We nearly shove Chas into the food table in our haste to reach Hajni. From an overstuffed armchair comes a young woman. Her hair is short and perfect in its windblown state and her clothing is light, neutral, and loose. She beams at us, forgoes a handshake, because her arms are full two gift bags and two potted flowers, and leans in with a quick, tight embrace.
Caroline and I lock eyes over Bea’s back: “Jackpot!”
Bea is as sweet and charming in person as in her emails. She hands us our bags, full of gifts from our future students. Hustling us out and away from the hostel she explains the day’s schedule. We drive directly to our school, Aquincum Atalanos Iskola, to fill out mounds of paperwork for the immigration office trip tomorrow. We aren’t supposed to head to the flat until four, but the landlady calls early and demands our immediate presence.
We don’t expect much from the flat. A rustic cottage on the Danube with multiple bedrooms overlooking the serene current and a bright kitchen full of inviting smells, with white French doors opening to a quaint backyard garden with yellow rose bushes in constant bloom would suit us fine. Heck, make the rose bushes pink, no complaints here.
Ending up in a minuscule flat on the fifth floor left no room for rose bushes, French doors, or the possibility of multiple bedrooms.
After hours of signing contracts, of which I couldn’t read a single word, we sit down to a bottle of red wine (each) and toasted our new life. We are no longer orphans. Due to the untranslated paperwork we’d just signed, we belong to the Hungarian government.
Rebekah (’12) teaches English as a second language at Grand Rapids Community College. She does not drink coffee nor purchase Apple products.