I arrived in Budapest completely unaware as to what I should expect. I saw it as a positive, as I was in a country I’d never visited and whose culture was completely alien to me. On arrival I attempted to be as open minded and objective as possible, taking in all of my surroundings, as well as contrasting it with what was familiar at home. Immediately as I entered the city centre, I was drawn tothe stunning neo-renaissance architecture, which despite its appearance was mainly built in the late 19th/early 20th century. In some respects, I found this particularly enticing, as not only has Budapest frequently historically been regarded as the ‘last outpost of the West’ it also featured buildings and monuments which wouldn’t have felt out of place in the skylines of Central/Western Europe such as Vienna or Prague.
I hadn’t travelled alone before, so this became simultaneously a life experience as well as an academic one. It was as much an exercise in demonstrating to myself how independent I could be, though that said I did nearly miss my return flight home. Moreover, living in a city would be a new experience to me albeit for only a few days, as would using the public transport system in travelling to and from the residence centre to the university.
Once I arrived at the university, the staff and the lecturers were very welcoming and willing to discuss anything about the conference or sightseeing in Budapest. Moreover, I was aware that I wasn’t to present my paper until the third and final day which provided me with the opportunity to gauge how my fellow students would present and streamline their papers to a more general audience. There were three sessions per day, which were then split into three distinct panels focusing around one particular topic such as post-communist nationhood in the former satellite Soviet states. Listening to these presentations undoubtedly furthered my own understanding of certain subjects, provided new and thought provoking perspectives, as well as also ones which I was less aware of. This final aspect in particular was perhaps my favourite, as I was able to greater understand both historic and current conflicts in areas I wasn’t too familiar with in a greater historical depth than previously. All in all, these presentations were an enlightening experience, which greatly aided how I would choose to present my own paper.
I was unsure if I should focus on one particular area, which was part of the ‘Framing the Nation: Religion and Nationalism’ panel. My topic was on the perceived secular origins of Israeli Political Nationalism (Zionism) and whether this movement despite its supposedly ‘secular’ beginnings had been influenced by religion in its development, evolution and current standing. As a result, I wanted it to be both digestible and informative, which would welcome those unfamiliar to the topic as well as potentially offering a different insight to those who were. I hadn’t previously spoken for this long before, and for the first few seconds all that I was concerned with was ensuring I didn’t slip up and make a fool of myself. However, as the presentation progressed I began to speak without referring to the paper as I became more and more confident. I have had experiences of public speaking before, but certainly not for this long or under this level of scrutiny and I definitely believe that as a result my own self-confidence in public speaking and presenting has increased. Following my concluding remarks, questions were asked which provided me with the opportunity to digress on certain points and expand in a manner which wasn’t previously possible. The responses I received I was extremely pleased with as many surprisingly praised my delivery (which I was nervous about) and my overall paper, as I was asked to delve more into certain areas, as well as being asked whether I would enjoy furthering this study in the future (which I would).
Following the presentation, I was able to further explore the city without any nagging worries about presenting the paper. We had seen beautiful architecture, such as the Basilica in the centre of Budapest and Parliament Square, as well as enjoying tours of the religious landscapes of the city led by two of the professors. That said, I also must emphasize the quality of the food, which I admit I was quite sceptical about on arrival, especially given my vegan diet (which is hard enough to cater for in the U.K, never mind a foreign country where I spoke none of the language!). We visited a Hummus Bar, many visually stunning ‘Ruin Pubs’ and a restaurant which is supposedly soon to gain a Michelin star where I ate delicious food for under the equivalent of £10.
I met many people from across the world, as far-reaching as the U.S to Russia and China, as well as even a few natives of Hungary. I developed a close friendship with a few of these in particular, which I wasn’t initially expecting, so not only has it proved to be an excellent academic exercise, it has also been a thoroughly enjoyable social one too. I learnt about their countries and their respective cultures, as well as how their papers would relate to the theme of ‘Faith and Power’ which ultimately gave me confirmation as to the power of religion as a transnational and transcultural phenomenon.
To conclude, I have only positive things to say about my visit to Hungary and the conference itself and would thoroughly recommend anyone to try and do the same if the opportunity arises. I must thank the History department themselves, as I wouldn’t have even known the conference existed if Lindsay hadn’t told me. Moreover, the department also provided a fairly large sum towards the travel costs, so once again thank-you. In addition, I would like to thank the CEU for hosting the conference and providing such a captivating experience, which I won’t forget. My final hope is that I can return at some point in the future!
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