Experiences at the Debrecen Summer School
Hubinou suggested I write about my experience of the Debrecen Summer School. The Summer School (Debreceni Nyári Egyetem) was founded in 1927 and is independent of the main University - although it is on the Lajos Kossuth campus. It teaches language and culture year round and attracts more than 1000 students from over 30 countries every year - the bulk in summer.
I have attended their 4-week course since 2014 (ie this year was my 5th year). The first year I stayed with family, then I spent the next three years in very nice rented apartments with my father, and this year I did it alone in a "normal" lakás (so I can add getting the landlord to fix a blocked toilet, negotiating public transport, topping up my phone, and shopping to my skill set).
However, most students stay on campus at the halls of residence (as it is summer the usual students are not there). The accommodation at the halls is very reasonable - although you do eat in a cafeteria - more than enough food just cooked for a couple of hundred people (think "bain marie"). Scholarships are available for tuition and accommodation.
The fixed language classes run from 9-3:30pm. Your level depends on how well you do in the written and spoken exams (if you have not been before). Last year there were 14 levels from absolute beginners to mother tongue. Class size is 4-12 people. This year our "special" class was allowed to drop to 3 in the second fortnight (many people only do two of the four weeks). We were special as we were older than most students (youngest was 58) and we knew lots of grammar but we didn't have a C level vocab and our spoken Hungarian was rough.
Lower level classes use English as an intermediate language (or German if there enough people at the same level). However from about half-way through the levels they switch to full Hungarian immersion. Teachers will not (and in some cases, cannot) speak English and non-Hungarian is not allowed within the classroom and discouraged outside of it. ("non-Hungarian" as one of my classmates thought he'd get around the "no English" rule by speaking Polish).
They use mostly their own text book - Hungar Lingua - but other material as well - and films, songs, poems, discussions of politics or palinka. Expect homework (my problem was vocab especially in the last couple of years where 30-50 new words a day was not uncommon - however I was in group 11).
In the afternoons there are optional language and culture classes (for an extra fee). Evening program includes cultural stuff like folkways or parties (this is included). Weekends include two excursions over the four weeks (included) or sightseeing and bike tours (for extra). The additional program is one way Debrecen differs from the "same" course in Budapest (the other is they do not provide accommodation in Budapest).
Who goes? As expected a large proportion are under 30s language students. However, the oldest student I know of was mid-80s. Many second generation Hungarians (often from 50s up) also attend. Students are mostly from Europe but also Korea, Japan, China, and the USA - plus a few outliers from NZ, Egypt, Brazil etc. Ironically, the language students are usually single timers while I have met three older students who have been 17 times or more.
Is it worthwhile? Yes - but you still have to work throughout the year to hold onto what you gain.
Here's a video I made about my experiences in school in 2017: https://youtu.be/h_YcPgsr35M It is a once over lightly showing the town and a brief clip in class (and along tail with folk dance which I took for my folk dance group here in NZ once you reach that you can stop if that isn't your thing):
Does that help?
Don't suppose you are in Chch so we could practice conversation? (I find it very hard to understand Hungarian over the phone)
Hello Judit, I am Hungarian and l learn English long time ago but the conversation is really hard to me. My progress is very slow. My opinon is same as yours the hardest to understand English by phone. If I have to call someone it's a nightmare for me.
Thanks for sharing this! It's probably not in the cards for me this coming summer, but I'm filing it away for future reference. Out of curiosity, what level courses have you taken in your five years there?
I think I started at A2 and this year just started C1. That was with 450 hours class time.
Thanks for posting this Judit, very interesting to read. I would really love to take language classes in the future, when i can manage it financially.
Do you spend time in Hungary besides classes, just for holiday or longer period of times?
I tend to go for 5-8 weeks at a time (36 hours minimum travel!). One advantage of being semi-retired. Outside the 4 weeks at school I visit friends and family, sightsee, and attend events.
Thanks a million times Judit !
It's a very interesting and helpful post ! It's a very serious game as I see, not for the weakest ;-)
It can be adapted to your own pace. I rarely attend the evening functions. One "serious" student I met spent most of her time partying and then sleeping in class. Others do what they can but don't sit the end of unit exams.