‘When I was a kid I liked the summers best, maybe that’s why I became a teacher’ – an interview with Ms Jennifer Tusz

Our Canadian teacher, Ms Jennifer Tusz was willing to answer some of my questions about her childhood and also to share her overall opinion about Hungary. I think she has a really unique story and has some interesting thoughts about life, so it’s definitely worth reading.


My first question is what it was like to grow up in Canada. Can you tell me about your childhood?

Growing up in Canada was fun. When I think about my childhood, what comes up most that would make it Canadian is the fact that we did a lot of stuff outside in the winter. I kind of miss that here. I did a lot of sledding, playing in the snow outside, a lot of skiing (cross-country and downhill) when I was a kid. Obviously, we spent a lot of time inside too, it was really cold! I think it was a little bit different how my generation grew up here, considering also that we weren’t under communism, maybe it was more similar to Hungarians who grew up a decade ago or so, we watched a lot of television, things like that.

It must have been a lot of fun. What did you like most about your childhood?

I think the freedom I had as a kid, that I liked. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, biking and going to the seaside. I liked the summers best, maybe that’s why I became a teacher. (laughs)

And what are the things that you miss most about Canada?

Proper winter. Not as long, I like short winter, but you don’t experience that much snow here. Also, the easiness of going downhill skiing, so from Szeged it’s hard, I mean it’s doable, but far away. Mentioning Szeged, the distance to get to hills and good places for being outside, I miss that. Of course family, friends… not a whole lot else.

Why did you decide on Hungary and what brought you here?

Well, I’ve always liked travelling, so when I finished university I wanted to travel. At the university I went to they had a place called The International Office, where you could find exchange programmes and work opportunities abroad. Towards the end of my degree, I went there and I was looking at stuff when I found a paper about a biological research program here in Szeged and I applied for it. I didn’t really think I’d get accepted because the way the form was, it made it look like it was really hard to get accepted, that you had to have a lot of experience and I had just finished university. I didn’t have any huge experience, but I filled out the form. At the same time I was filling out applications for many, many jobs, and I kind of actually forgot about it. Months passed, then my mom phoned and said that this letter arrived from Hungary and I’d been accepted to this program, so I filled out the paper and sent it back. It was an eleven-month program, so this is how I ended up here in Újszeged at the Biological Research Center.

What things surprised you when you came here?

There were lots of little surprises. I like eating, so the things that come to my mind are usually food related (laughs). One of the very first surprises was that you could eat pasta that was sweet. I’d never had pasta with poppy seeds, walnuts or jam.

And did you like these pastas?

Some of them, but I don’t really. It doesn’t feel like lunch, it feels like dessert to me, so it was kind of weird.

Good point, it really feels like dessert to me too.

Locsolkodás was a surprise. Nobody warned me about it, which is kind of odd because it’s so very Hungarian. What else… Christmas actually was a bit of a surprise. The first year I was invited to spend Christmas with some people outside of Budapest and there were actually small children in the family and I wasn’t aware of the ’Jézuska’ bringing the Christmas present. The whole baby Jesus thing, to me was very confusing and it wasn’t explained to me so that I would understand it. Afterward, when I found out, I was like ‘Oh, I hope I didn’t ruin that child’s sense of what Christmas is.’ So these little things, but I think that it is the little things that make up the cultural differences.

What are the things you like or don’t like about Hungary?

One of the things that deeply struck me very early on when I came to Hungary, a very important difference, is how very close-knit Hungarian families seem to be. It might be partly the distances, people don’t move very far from each other. But I think it’s more than that, it’s attitude. Before I came to Deák, I remember I went to see a movie with a friend. It was called Fargo, and in the movie the father hires hitmen to kidnap his wife and he’s not supposed to kill her, but he does. I hope it’s not a spoiler, but it’s a 20 year old movie so it should be okay. So, the end of the movie is this great shock and when we walked out from the movie theatre we were like ‘That was intense!’. I was shocked because the woman got murdered, my friend on the other hand, was shocked that the little boy would be so rude to his mother. But I went ‘That was totally lifelike! So realistic.’ and he replied ‘Huh, I would never talk to my mother like that!’. There was this complete difference about how the generations interacted with each other – that really struck me. And when I came to Deák, I spoke with students and I was struck once again when they were talking about their family, there was a level of respect that just didn’t really exist in Canada. Obviously, Canada is a country made up of millions of people with different backgrounds, but in general, I would say that was a really big difference that I felt and I think it’s really positive. I’m worried it’s changing, but I hope not.
One thing I found difficult and I don’t know if it was just a language barrier, because I notice it less now, but what I often felt was that people told you what you wanted to hear, not what was true. That got me into some awkward situations sometimes, because I took everything at face value, so I believed what people said to me.

Yes, I understand that, it’s hard for us sometimes too. So you came to Hungary, but you weren’t a teacher yet. Why did you decided on this profession?

When I was at university studying biology, my mom couldn’t quite wrap her head around what a biologist does. It didn’t matter that I could show her, you know, National Geographic specials with biologists in them, her big concern was what I was going to do when I finished. I came home for university and she would say: ‘What do you think you can do with a degree in biology? Why don’t you become a doctor? Why don’t you become a musician?’ That was her other potential option. And ‘getting a degree in education is really good for a woman, because you can stay at home in summer with your children.’ So that was my mom. Every day, she presented those three options to me. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a doctor, and I was very sure I didn’t want to be a musician. I was really tired of my mom saying that I should get a degree in education. The university offered courses that you could do beside your main degree, and so I did that to please my mom. Also, I promptly decided I would never ever be a school teacher because that was not the thing for me, I was going to be a biologist. I did come and work as a biologist for a few years here. Eventually, my colleague’s wife, who worked at Deák, told me that they really needed a part-time English-speaking biology teacher for half a year and I should go and try. Miss Jakucs was one of the vice principals at the time, I gave her my resume, she had me teach a class that they watched, and then they approved to hire me to teach those 6 biology classes a week. And then they asked me to teach some conversation classes, and some biology the following year so it kind of grew from there.

Otherwise, how come you love biology?

That is a tough question to answer, because when I was your age if somebody would’ve told me I’ll teach biology I would’ve laughed at them. I did fine in Biology in high school, I quite liked it in grade 10, also I liked my teacher a lot. Then in grade 11 and grade 12 it was a bit boring, so I don’t particularly remember liking biology class at all. When it was time to decide where to go to university, I basically started to ask my friends where they were going, what they were planning to study. In Canada you can start your degree in general arts or general sciences and for the first year you just take a selection of courses and at the end of first year you have to pick what you’re actually going to major in. Because most of my friends were going into general sciences, I decided I’d too. In first year I took all different kinds of classes, but biology was the one I found the most interesting and again the teacher there was hilarious and he was a really good professor, so I decided to go on with biology. I always tell students stressing about what to pick to study at high level to pick the class they love, it may be their best bet. I mean, I always liked learning about nature, I always liked biology, I also see the same thing in my own kids.

Yes, I agree. It’s really hard for us now to decide what we want to do in the next 2 years and also after that as well. So, another field, you’re the form mistress of 10A right now. How did you find this role, what are your thoughts about the class?

Firstly, I have a hard time being organised, that’s probably my biggest challenge. Telling students things when they need to know them, remembering all the details, deadlines, these things in general. Otherwise, I think it’s okay, sometimes I find the system a little bit confusing, though. So this is the second time I’m a form teacher but this class has been a challenge for me. I thought it would be a fresh start for everyone, but in a way it was unfortunate that so many of them knew each other so well, because many of them came from the same school – which is actually quite unusual – and so the other half of the class tried to fit in and it was hard for those students too. I think now, maybe, it’s starting to change a little bit, though. So that was hard for me too, and I often feel like I don’t communicate with the people in the class in the way I’d like to. And despite the rumours about the class, I think that there are a lot of positive things that should be what we focus on, not the negatives. But things look like they’re improving in my opinion. Do I like being a class teacher? Yes, it’s alright, despite the whole organisation part which is the hardest for me.

I see, it must be hard. But I’m glad that you have such positive thoughts about the class. Also, do you have a special memory or story about the students or about the school since you’ve been here?

The problem is that I have a lot of memories which kind of blend together with multiple years and events. What comes to my mind, is that Deák has a tradition of the teachers doing a performance for the grade 12 students before they leave. I haven’t been to all of them, but to me that’s such a nice tradition. Teachers sing, and there used to be a geography teacher who would collect and then read out all the stupid things they wrote in tests or said in class with the student’s name. Geography is in grade 9-10., so by the time you hear it it’s simply just funny, and I remember laughing so hard… so for me that’s such a positive Deák feeling. Now it is a little bit of stress for me that I have 2 years to figure out what I’ll do because of the performance, oh no!

I mean, you can definitely be a shark again.

Yes, that’s also my favorite memory about the class. Doing their Australia part at the freshmen’s week, and I dressed up as a shark, I was perfectly happy with that. The whole thing surrounding it and the effort you guys put into it. Also the song the class picked was good. I have a lot of very, very positive memories about a lot of classes and a lot of students, I can’t really pick out one or two.

It’s more like a personal question which you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to: how do you feel about your children growing up here in Hungary?

I have mixed feelings. I think there are lot of things that are good about it. For example, my son is very musical and I think the musical training here is very good and I’m very grateful that we’re here, for him. In the sense that in Canada to learn to play the violin would cost us an arm and a leg, violin teachers are very expensive, there are no music schools run by the state. I would say on a teacher’s salary, you can have your children take music lessons but then you’re doing that at the expense of them or the family doing something else. So I think access to things like music or sports is really good. I understand that people in Canada earn more money but you also spend more of that money on these kind of activities. With my older two kids I haven’t seen big problems with the school system, I hear all the complains and I work in the system. I know, and I do see things where a part of me would say it should be a little more relaxed, it should be a little different, but both of my older kids are fine. My youngest is now in grade one, and she’s not the kind of kid who deals well with 45 minute lessons and ringing bells, so she might be the one where I’ll say that this is not the system for us. Other than that, I don’t have any problems with them growing up here. I think they’re much more aware of how various and multicultural the world is than than I was at their age. Living in Europe is a huge advantage, that you don’t have to travel very far to meet people who speak different languages. Although it’s true that Canada is a multicultural country, but I would say even though kids meet many other kids whose families come from elsewhere, so are Asian or African or European, they aren’t necessarily exposed to their classmates’ home cultures. Here you are just a short trip away from experiencing a different culture.

I agree, you can just travel a few hours and you’re in another country.

Yes, you see lots of different things. All the people around you in school are Hungarian, but get in a car, travel 6 hours and you’re in a totally different country, seeing things like the Mediterranean Sea in Croatia, but you could go to Italy or Germany. So you know, there’s a lot of culture, a lot of stuff to see and experience.

And have you been to some of the countries in Europe?

Yes, I really like to travel as I said. I’ve been to all of the countries in Western Europe except for Spain and Portugal, I’d like to go but just not have made it there yet. And also, I haven’t been to the Baltic countries either although I’ve been to Denmark. Going East, I haven’t travelled a lot, only Romania and I think that’s it. So I have some countries left to go to on my list.

That’s quite a lot though. My final question is whether you want to stay here permanently then?

Life is a pretty changeable thing, I don’t want to say yes or no to this question because I would probably be lying. I came for eleven months and then I decided to stay for another 3 years… Then I decided to get married, and even then I never thought that I’d stay here, so I don’t know. It’s sort of more what life brings, right? We’ve had other foreign teachers here too, some of them who from the very start said they’re leaving right away and then they stayed longer than they’d planned. Others who had no intentions of leaving and then life changed and they left. So I’m not going to answer that question, I would like to stay till you graduate, how about that? (laughs)

Then, I suppose, we’ll see. I hope you stay at least until we graduate.

Yes, 2 years, that’s sort of a decent amount of time. Sometimes even my kids say they’d like to move! One of my kids often says ‘Yeah, it would be better to live in Canada, people are nicer there’. But that’s not fair because he’s only there when we’re on holiday, of course people seem nicer then. My daughter too, she watches vloggers who are from Canada, and have horses and are homeschooled. She asks why we don’t homeschool, but I told her if we did, that would mean I don’t work… Then how would we live? Also, the Hungarian regulations make it really hard to homeschool, that’s not something they do here. I never planned to stay this long, just life happens. Also we’re living in a world where so many things are changing so very quickly that if you make a decision today, 10 years goes by, and you might find that you don’t really like that because it’s not what you thought it would be or that there’s a whole bunch of other possibilities that didn’t exist 10 years ago. So because of that it’s a big challenge to decide what you want to do or make long-term predictions, because you can’t see where that path will lead.


by Alexa Kereső

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