I had no idea what to expect from Hungary. I’d never been to Central Europe before and knew nothing of either the culture or the climate. As it turned out, they’re both pretty welcoming this time of year.

It was my second APV so I went in with more understanding of what to expect. A big part of what I learned though is that it’s a little different every time. Our host organisation was a long-term Momentum World partner, Fekete Sereg, based in rural northwestern Hungary in the village of Nagyvázsony.

Nope, it’s not pronounced how it looks.

Anna and David met us at the airport in Budapest, representatives from seven different organisations across Europe. After quick introductions, we piled into a minibus and headed out of the city, as the last of the sun bobbed blood orange, to a restaurant where tables were pushed together to accommodate us.

Before our meals had arrived we’d already enjoyed a round of pálinka, the traditional fruit brandy of Hungary renowned for its all-to-predictable potency. It certainly gets the conversation flowing. I always think how great it is to look around a table and see completely new faces, from countries near and far, united by a common passion. It makes me feel distinctly that I am at the right time and place and all the most important things in the world are happening right there and then.

It was a double-APV, two short-term EVS exchanges for three and eight weeks respectively, where volunteers would work closely with local formal and non-formal education facilities, including the youth club where Fekete Sereg has its office.

The APV ran back to back with a two-day conference designed to augment the APV experience. But we weren’t the only ones invited; it was open to the public and numerous locals joined us, alongside invited guest speakers from Budapest and beyond. The furthest afield came from the town of Pradera in Colombia; the Mayor in fact.

This meant that translation was going to be a major consideration, but the Fekete Sereg team had anticipated such and were trialling a clever system where either David or Anna would translate directly into our ears through a headset. It worked well, apart from the huge mental strain on whoever was translating!

We enjoyed some interesting speeches from a varied range of guests, from a Hungarian diplomat who started his international story with Fekete Sereg, to the very first EVS volunteer the organisation hosted over ten years ago, to a Hungarian National Agency representative shedding light on the upcoming metamorphosis of EVS to ESC (European Solidarity Corps).

The Mayor of Pradera helped remind us all that as much as we face challenges in engaging with today’s youth, there are those who face greater challenges every day and still succeed.

I also checked in with Harry, our current EVS volunteer living in Nagyvázsony, who’s doing very well, living in a share house with two other EVS volunteers from Germany and Austria. Harry was responsible for documenting the conference, to be used as an educational and a promotional resource for Fekete Sereg.

Before I knew it, my trip was coming to an end. It was a beautiful five-day bubble, turning the clock back on the waning summer, if only for a little while. It’s rewarding to maintain strong relations with our pre-existing partners, Fekete Sereg, putting faces and personalities to email addresses. Equally valuable is it to lay the foundations for new relationships with organisations across Europe. A strong network will be a bulwark against the coming turbulence which Brexit will cause. Lastly, it is always a blessing to step foot in a new land for the first time, to see one more corner of our beautiful world, to see the mountains and the trees and the sky and to see, most of all, that the people smile the same way we do.

By Joseph