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Good Old American Hospitality : Fullerton Union Senior Plays Hostess to Three Hungarian Friends

August 19, 1993|BRIAN SINGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Brian Singer, of Fullerton Union High School, is a regular contributor to High Life

What began as a plan to deliver a cat has turned into a lasting overseas friendship for a Fullerton Union High School senior and three Hungarian teen-agers.

Last summer Eden Garisek, 17, planned to travel to Hungary to deliver a silver Persian cat bred by her great-aunt, who lives in San Marino. Because the Hungarian government prohibits citizens from sending money out of the country, the Endre Horvath family of Szekszard, Hungary, had invited Eden to their country for a month as payment for the animal.

But after arrangements had been made for Eden's travels, the cat deal fell through because of quarantines and unanticipated fees. So, after a series of transatlantic letters, the families--none of whose members had yet met--decided that following Eden's monthlong trip to Hungary last summer, the Horvaths' daughter Judit, 16, would travel to Fullerton this summer to stay with the Gariseks for a month.

Eden had fears about her first trip to Hungary. "I was both excited and scared," she said. "I didn't know anything about the country. I didn't know any Hungarian or how good their English would be."

The language barrier turned out to be minimal, and Eden toured Hungary, Germany and Austria not only with Judit but also with her brother Endre Jr. and his friend Petya Hajdu, both 19. "All four of us got along great," Eden said.

So great was the bond among the four that yet another adjustment was made in the plans for the U.S. visit. Instead of Judit traveling alone to America, her brother and Petya tagged along.

When the Hungarians arrived last month, Eden took her job as hostess and guide seriously.

"The goal was to exchange. That was the whole point," she said. "When I was in Hungary we traveled extensively. I learned about their country and in turn would expose them to a different culture. I wanted them to see as many aspects of American life as possible."

So, in addition to the usual Southland tourist route--Disneyland, Los Angeles and Hollywood--Petya, Judit and Endre Jr. watched a Superior Court in action, saw the locals enjoy the Orange County Fair and took a four-day trip to the Grand Canyon.

A trip to Fashion Island Newport Beach was the first destination for the youths as they began their monthlong tour, which ended Aug. 8. Petya and Judit much preferred the Brea Mall, which they said was far less stuffy--and less expensive.

An outing to Huntington Beach was a real example of culture shock for the European teen-agers. Because their recreational experience in the waters of Hungary, a landlocked country, is limited to swimming in Lake Balaton, the three were taken aback at the power of the waves and the saltiness of the Pacific.

The fair-skinned teen-agers also discovered--the hard way--the potency of the Southern California sun. "They each got burnt to a crisp," Eden said. "They didn't listen to me about sunscreen."

Aside from raw skin, the Hungarians' only negative experience was occasionally being "treated like cavemen" by some Californians. The three speak English well, having learned it in boarding school in the city of Pecs. Yet people would address them very slowly and loudly, Eden said, and ask preschool-age questions such as the name of that big ocean to the west of Orange County, and the name of that famous amusement park in Anaheim.

"In a lot of ways their education is better than a lot of Americans," Eden said. "They're trying to transform into a capitalistic state from a Communist country. When I visited there, I couldn't believe at what an early age, and how extensively, they begin subjects like chemistry and higher math."

But it was an entity even more potent than schooling that really prepared the Hungarians for the sights and sounds of California: "We saw it on television, so it wasn't a big surprise," Judit said.

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