‘Small-town’ student comes to Bricelyn
Bruce and Becky Anderson, of Bricelyn, were probably shocked when they learned the population of Gy?r.
Pinned halfway between Budapest and Vienna, the city is a regional center of Hungary, boasting nearly 130,000 citizens as of recent records.
And, believe it or not, it was identified as a “small town” by Renata Bognar, a Blue Earth Area High School exchange student who now calls the Andersons’ rural residence home.
To Renata, 17, Gy?r is but a fraction of the Western Transdanubia region, where she grew up alongside just under a million others in the area.
The transition to wide-open farmland in Southern Minnesota, then, has been a drastic one, although it is far from the only change that Renata has found herself embracing in Faribault County.
“Back home, I get up at 4:30 a.m. and study before school,” Renata says. “School there goes from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and we have lunch after school.”
The time change, on top of a seven-hour difference from Hungary to America, took some getting used to, as did the foreign concept of moving from class to class during the school day.
“The teachers move to us in Hungary,” Renata says.
Organized sports are another unfamiliar sight for Renata in Blue Earth, and she is at the forefront of that disparity, having run for the Buccaneers’ cross country team since the start of the fall season.
“There are no school sports back home,” she says. “But I like the meets, meeting new friends and teammates, and I always liked running.”
Renata is also an avid fan of swimming, so trips to Albert Lea for access to indoor pools are not out of the ordinary for the Andersons.
Neither are attempts to find new nail polish.
“I have about 100 bottles,” Renata says, smiling at the confirming nods of her host parents.
More nail polish is sure to join her collection once the family makes its way to the Mall of America, but Renata already got a head start on stockpiling new bottles early in the second month of her stint in Blue Earth for her birthday.
“Her friends sent flowers and balloons, and the one (nail polish) she’s wearing she got for her birthday,” says Becky Anderson.
Another part of Renata’s American celebration, Becky adds, was tiramisu.
And the Italian dessert is just one of several non-Hungarian dishes the family has shared since Renata arrived.
“I’m going to make something for them soon,” Renata says, hinting that a meat soup from her home country could be the recipe of choice.
In between all the other differences of a life in the United States, from the unusual presence of a dryer in the house Renata’s Hungarian family hangs just about all of their clothes after washing to the abundance of slang in the English language, Renata still has plenty of fun with her American companions.
She has been to University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football games, meeting Jonah Pirsig, the towering Blue Earth alumnus. She has, of course, paid a visit to the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth.
And in between weekly video chats with her relatives from Hungary, she has had a number of good times right at home.
“We play card games one called Farkle,” she says, laughing when Bruce tells her they let her win on her birthday. “And we watch ‘Naked and Afraid.'”
The reality TV show, in fact, is quite the bonding tool, Bruce says laughingly, noting that plenty of other family has come over to watch the show alongside Renata.
The program’s emphasis on survival, namely in the wilderness, correlates to hiking, too, and that is something Renata says she and her family often did in Hungary.
“I have two sisters, one older and one younger,” she says, “and a younger brother.”
They, along with Aniko, their mom; and Ferenc, their dad; would find just about any area they could find to hike.
And Ferenc, knowingly or not, may have sparked Renata’s interest in America years ago when he went on a hike of his own a trip all the way to the country in which Renata now goes to school.
“We went to New York City, Washington, D.C. and Miami,” she recalls. “It made me want to study in an American school and know the American lifestyle.”
Rural Minnesota may not have crossed Renata’s mind at the time, and the Andersons joke about how their town compares to the “small” size of Gy?r, but the destination has proven to be a pleasant surprise for everyone.
“It’s been very good,” says Becky Anderson, who has hosted other exchange students, including one from Denmark, with Bruce before. “She was very quiet when she first got here, but her English is already getting better, and she’s had a lot of fun.”
Whether racing friends on the cross country team, catching up on “Naked and Afraid,” trying new foods or relaxing at home with her first-ever pet and the Andersons’ dog, Moose, Renata stays busy.
And there is more on the way, as Becky plans to bring her along for a trip to Southeast Iowa.
Also in the works is a venture to Florida a place where Renata just might be able to swim outdoors and perhaps also experience another (huge) “small town.”