The first day of school is finished for Daniel and Angelina, and I can honestly say I am very impressed.
Here are my thoughts….
Last night before bed I was anxious. We had no idea what to expect from their new school and the rumours are that it is going to be strict.
French private school in Budapest…
Was it going to be a glorified babysitting service for the spoiled kids of diplomats and expats?
How are my children going to cope in a school where most of the students speak Hungarian at home?
Is this move purely selfish on my part because I already speak Hungarian.
Am I inflicting change on my children that actually might be damaging?…
I downed a cold beer, and an ibuprofen and called it a night.
I woke abruptly at 3:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was 4:45 when I finally succumbed to my fate, and climbed over Alfonz to get out of bed.
The rain had started during the night dropping the temperatures from well over 30 degrees to lows of 9 degrees leaving my back throbbing and my joints swollen with pain. I quietly slipped into the kitchen and made myself a strong pot of coffee.
Not long after, I heard an alarm sound from across the courtyard. The neighbour’s lights flickered on. Their family was well into the morning routine when Alfonz’s alarm went off and I woke-up my little lovelies to get ready for their first day at school.
I replayed our Friday morning visit to their school in my head.
We drove up to the school and my first impression was that the school was very large with manicured yards and freshly painted. I knew they had all levels from kindergarten to graduation all wrapped into one making their population well over 700. Class size between 20-27. The front sign read Liberté, Egaliteé, Fraternité in big bold letters.
Upon entry a lovely lady at the front desk welcomed us with a big smile and endless answers to all our endless questions. She handed us a form to fill out, and then she directed us to the student councillors room to get a copy of the kid’s weekly schedules.
Here we noticed a few errors on their itinerary right away. Both Angelina and Daniel were placed in beginners English, advanced Hungarian and Daniel had an extra class I didn’t count on, Latin which would be his 5th language.
Where was Angelina’s German class and certainly she would be a beginner in Hungarian?
Daniel is on his third year of German so he will likely advance a grade.
After another long friendly meeting between two Lycee Français Gustave Eiffel de Budapest organizers in three different languages, they thought it was time for us to meet the head secretary, and head counsellor. I was surprised that they made time for us without an appointment.
They walked us upstairs where we were met but yet another very nice woman who had just taken over the position this year. However she knew everything about us, made sure we were in the system filling in the blanks as we talked.
When we asked to have Daniel and Angelina placed in advanced English, advanced German for Daniel, and minus Latin class, she forwarded us to the head councilor Michael, who wrote down our requests, entered them into the computer and started to change the itinerary immediately. He was particularly nice, and told us about the region he was from in France and how much he loved Hungarian culture and the food; enough to stay here for over fifteen years!
Everyone was very helpful.
They had such a refreshing rapport and it showed how much they loved their jobs. They truly knew all the students by name and I felt that Daniel especially had found his place. Angelina could survive anywhere, let’s face it, that kid can adapt to anything, but still with all the languages and custom fit options for my kids, how could I feel anything but very good when we left.
I spoke in English, Alfonz spoke in Hungarian and the children spoke to her in French. Everyone who worked there was fluent in all three languages and a few spoke German too!
It was very interesting to hear the different accents from everyone we encountered. In mid sentence I would change to French to participate in one conversation, and back to Hungarian or English for another. I didn’t feel uncomfortable speaking in French in the slightest because I knew if I got lost I can always switch back and be understood. But I didn’t, I kept up with such confidence. Everyone was the same as us; from somewhere else, speaking as they could.
It was so refreshing.
French School of Budapest LFB it got some celebrity years back when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were filming in Budapest and the children attended the school. It probably explains the waiting lists to get in!
Monday morning came quickly and Daniel and Angelina were up at 6:00am to get ready for school. The day before we did a mad dash to the outlet stores (Angelina pronouncing them ‘oot-lay’ with a French accent) to buy them new runners with white soles not to scuff the gym floors.
Once we arrived (early to ask a few more questions) the lady recognized us and helped the children find their homerooms. We walked through the hallways and I heard groups of children some speaking in Hungarian and other groups in French.
I felt the anxiety of my children as we walked down the halls and they observed the children speaking in Hungarian. They looked scared until the lady found them each a child in their class to pair up with, like the buddy-system back in Canada, to help them get oriented with the new school and how things are run.
Daniel was very happy to end up with two pretty girls from his class and Angelina found a little boy in her class too but not so happy.
As I kissed them goodbye I walked out of the school and out of nowhere the tears silently streamed down my face, in relief of the weeks of preparation for this moment.
I felt so silly and of course Alfonz laughed at me. It was a release of built up stress and finally we were in the clear, they were in the school, we made it here on time, and they would be fine… et voila…
Had we made the right decision? Only time will tell…
At 16:40 we made the 25 minutes car ride back to get Angelina. She was supposed to stay an extra hour to finished her homework and wait for Daniel’s final class to finish at 17:20 but she called us from the counselor’s telephone to come get her. We happened to be near the school looking at houses so we came early and walked around the neighbourhood waiting for Daniel.
Angelina talked about her day.
She eagerly told us that she was approached by a group of four French girls asking if she would like to join them for lunch. She described their personalities, their outward appearance and the clothes they wore.
In my head I drew little cartoon versions of each of them as she spoke; blond frizzy hair, blue eyed and fair skin, tall, redhead, green eyes and very light skin, outgoing, chatty girl, with long dark hair, dark eyes and darker skinned, light brown hair, very shy, with some problems talking with light brown eyes and a golden suntan… She painted a detailed account of the group of kids who spoke French together, and they came from every corner of the world; America, Marseille, Paris, south Africa…
Angelina wasn’t the only foreigner, in fact she was just one of the bunch. And they all knew what it felt like to be the newcomer as they helped her get to class, made sure she wasn’t left out and filled her in on the gossip. She was caught up to speed by the end of lunch.
She told us that classes were easier than in France, the teachers didn’t raise their voices ever and the students played games on their breaks.
We made our way back to meet Daniel. He came out confident with long strides as he made his way to meet up with us on the path.
When he couldn’t find the vocabulary they helped him out.
He said the girls he met that morning were part of another group of four girls who took good care of him and introduced him to the rest of their friends which included two boys that had been going to the French school since grade 1. The pack ran together for the majority of the day. These kids were Hungarian and they spoke to Daniel in Hungarian, but when he got stuck they spoke in French. At this rate he will be up to snuff very quickly.
We asked about gym class, homework and teachers. And the most impressive part for me was listening to Daniel’s English lesson.
Everyone spoke out loud and read from their written homework. Everyone wrote a paragraph describing something and had to shout out the topic of their writing. He said it was fun, interactive, and the teacher was excellent. This was the advanced class and Daniel told us that there were kids from around the world and most were completely fluent.
He also told us that the beginner Hungarian class was too easy for him and that he would like to be moved up. Really? That’s great news! He had Latin dropped by midday!
On the car ride home I listened to my children beam with excitement interrupting each other to tell their stories; about their new friends, about which classes they love participating in, and how every student has a different timetable. We heard about the delicious lunch they enjoyed; fried fish, homemade pan fried potatoes, crisp salad and fruit only yogurt. We heard about the new track and field nearly ready for Friday’s gym classes and how everyone was anticipating the opening.
My conclusion so far was that my children are among their people; the children of globetrotters, international families with multi languages. I felt a huge sense of relief knowing that my kids will be just fine with this adjustment.
Money. Yes it is expensive, really expensive but compared to other private schools in Budapest it is one third the price. For us this is the only choice as placing them sink or swim at this age in a Hungarian school would be detrimental to their personal well being, not to mention they would be put back a year to start because of their age, (both being born after September) and another year because of their Hungarian levels, adding an extra two years on the 12 grade system.
Money comes and goes doesn’t it. I would much rather spend it all on them trying to give them a fighting chance. We don’t know what the future holds, so perhaps we need to teach them how to change and adapt, and communicate effectively.
Private school for my kids in Hungary is our choice!