Szonja Gagyor hoped her experience as a camp counselor in New Jersey would resemble the American life she’d seen portrayed in Hollywood movies back in Budapest, Hungary.
“I was really interested because I had a dream about seeing New York City one day and going to the ‘new world’ I knew from the movies. But at that time it was nearly impossible for students to go overseas and travel around because it was expensive and it wasn’t easy to get a visa either,” she remembered. “This provided a great opportunity and it has become much more than just being a tourist in the Big Apple.”
Gagyor spent the past four summers at a Christian day camp in New Jersey where she lead sporting activities, arts and crafts programs and games for the campers.
“I had my same group of girls for all four years so I basically saw them growing up. It was an amazing experience,” she said.
“It took time to adjust to the cultural differences and we had some misunderstandings too, but we became more patient and tolerant,” she added. “I liked the positive attitude I saw wherever I went, and most of the people were welcoming and helpful.”
Now Gagyor said she has a much better understanding of day-to-day life in another culture.
“I’ve learned that movies are fictional,” she said, laughing. “I became familiar with the history, the traditions and the way of living in general. I really like the mentality of the people. I made many friends and I keep in touch with my closest ones year around.”
She encouraged others to apply for this “awesome adventure.”
“Leave your preconceptions behind, forget the movies’ idealistic pictures and get ready for something better but real,” she said. “It was one of the best decisions in my life when I applied in 2007, and I have never regretted it. In fact, I give thanks for it day by day.”