Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Someone Left the Door Open


Wouldn’t it be incredible if Hungary has to be maintained by non-Hungarians? What would that do to nationalism? Would all of you Hungarian ex-pats return to the homeland to hold the support poles in place? 

According to a Hungarian news report that was translated into English, “Around 72,000 Hungarians left the country in 2012… According to the latest Eurostat figures, 230,000 Hungarians live in different European countries - in officially registered status.” The article continues to fill in the blanks lest anyone should forget that there are worldwide destinations besides Europe

Just as I was reading this article a second time, I received an e-mail from a former student who has been living in Canada for the last two years and is not planning on returning to Hungary other than for a family visit. Last week, I received two e-mails from two former students who were sending me their updates on their life in the USA

Athough the article clearly states that the return statistics are difficult to master. There are no reliable sources for colleting this data; but what they are finding is that the nation sending the most immigrants to Hungary is Germany. The older Germans have some affinity to the country and culture. Probably country living makes the retirement euro go farther too. 

If you want to read the whole article brimming with numbers Google Will Hungary become a country of migrants? May 23, 2013
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Monday, May 27, 2013

Guess! Can You?


I was coming back from the gym the other day and has a woman approach me wearing a shirt like this one. Before she could say anything, I said 
“Okay, let me guess. One you are way too old to be wearing that t-shirt, but with your make-up and high heels I would guess you think you can get 20,000 Huf for a half hour. Well, guess again, honey.”

Guess what happened next. 

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Peace Corps Allows Gay Couples


The Peace Corps announced they are now accepting applications from gay couples for the program. A pity this is 10+ years too late. This is something that I had thought of back when we were still in CA. Ron was willing and I had always had it in the back of my mind. There is a short article here.

Lillian Carter was 68 years old when she applied and was accepted. I am not near there yet, but Ron has passed it as an age and as an interest. 

It should be a fantastic opportunity for other young gay couples though, so I applaud the change. Boy Scouts has changed their position on gay scouts, so there is social justice momentum in the US. When they allow gay scout leaders, it will be a real success.

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Budget Ways to See the World


I love it when I come across some information that I not only find useful for myself, but can be shared further with others. Included in one of the newsletters that appear in my mailbox daily, there was an article on cheap travel. Well with a moniker Budget Nomad, how could I resist reading it?

I loved the tidbits it included. I believe some items in the story are not well known so I will include a short examination of them here.

WorkAway – Don’t be confused by the URL. The suffix is .info, not .com. This remarkable website is a collective of places where one can either look for volunteer work as an exchange for room and board or, one can post their work opportunity with the room and board that is provided. The article claims the site's database has more than 4,500 participants from 115 countries. However, when I looked at the dropdown list, I certainly did not see that many countries listed. Supposedly, you are able to search by job and/or country, but when I put in ‘teaching’ I received results that did not include the word ‘teaching’ in the descriptions. Generally, the work week is four to five days with time to travel or explore the city.

On the flip side, you can choose to be a host and post a job with the accommodation. I posted our small room for 3-4 nights in exchange for someone knowledgeable in online marketing and current SEO trends. That was only a few days ago, but no bites yet.

Cost: There is only a sign-up fee for those who want to travel. The membership cost is 22 Euros for two years (minimum time frame) or 29 Euros for either a couple or two friends for the same two year period.
There is no fee for signing up as a host.

WWOOF is the acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It is similar to WorkAway, but is restricted to being an exchange program to pair volunteers with hosts who are organic farmers in different parts of the world. A typical day will have the guest working 4-6 hours, giving you additional time to travel the rest of the day and days off.

Cost: This is a pricey option. There are two different categories. If a country has a National WWOOF organization, you need to join the country group. If you want to do an extended stay on a continent, but not necessarily in one country, the memberships could run you some big bucks or pounds. For example, Germany has an online membership for 18 Euros; Greece is 15 Euros while Argentina and Brazil are $30 for each country. Hungary is a bargain as membership is free.

If a country does not have a country wide organization, hope is not lost. There is a category within WWOOF for “Independents”. The cost of membership is £15 (British pounds) to register as a WWOOF volunteer or £25 for two people travelling together. Membership gives access to the WWOOF Independents host list for one year.

HelpX is similar to the two above, but includes bed and breakfasts, ranches, and hostels in their list of opportunities. 

Cost: There are two levels of membership for volunteers. The free membership offers listings while the premier upgrade costs 20 euros and lasts for 2 years worldwide for both single and twin memberships. Hosts only receive the free membership.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?


For many years,  we have been involved with the Fulbright awardees who arrive to Hungary for a semester or a full year. Depending on their needs, wants, and desires, we have become friendly with those who choose. 

One such person was Nicole Fiore. She was here half time as a Fulbright counselor for potential US recipients as well as those who wanted to study in the US with the rest of her time working at Central European University. The reason I mention her now is because she sent me the note below. This just so happened to come in at an optimal time allowing me to connect it with something else.

Hi Ryan,

I saw your latest blog posting and just wanted to let you know that if you ever want to give some property away I would be more than happy to take it off your hands!! Just kidding!

I hope you and Ron are well and enjoying some much deserved time off from teaching.

I love reading your blog postings as they come into my inbox. I imagine you telling the stories at the kitchen table as we are all drinking wine and playing apples to apples. The thought puts a big smile on my face.

Have a great time traveling this summer and be safe.


Nicole imagines me telling these stories at the kitchen table. Well, in the same batch of e-mails, there was an article about a program called Podcastomatic that will convert blog posts into podcasts. Instead of reading them, you can listen to them. You can find the online program here; there is nothing to download. I tested it out and can say it is marvelous for the short-term or perfect for those with vision issues. So you don't miss a thing, it shows:

“New episodes added since this page was loaded: 9 (please reload this page to show the new episodes)”
Actually, the voice sounds somewhat like me if I had a cocktail of Thorazine mixed with a touch of Ativan before recording. Regardless, it is worthy of checking out. There may be other blogs you want to hear.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

When the Spirit Hits


Today is Pentecost Monday, which is strange that it is a double day holiday over Sunday and today as all current researchers show that Hungary is Catholic just about in name only. Well some are “Hey, any excuse for a party!” while some countries are “Hey, any excuse for a holiday!” When I was in elementary school, I asked my mother if we were Jewish; the Jewish kids had more school holidays than the rest of us. When she said no, I asked about conversion procedures.

Well, this has been a productive time here at the homestead. After joining the gym at the Marriott Hotel, my mind has been surprising my body by actually getting there five times a week. After walking the treadmill at 3.5 miles per hour, I complete 10-25 repetitions on 7 different machines. There is only one machine that actually shows miles rather than kilometers per hour. I didn’t realize this at first. I had been using the other machines cranking it up to 6.8 kph.

When I first started on the other machine, the speed almost sent me into the Nautilus hip adduction machine, hip first. It took a couple of seconds to realize why I was moving faster than a thoroughbred in training, when the sign stating the obvious was visible. Although I am fairly adept at speed reading, reading at high speeds is a different story.

A gym work-out takes a real chunk of time out of the day. It takes me a solid twenty minutes to get there, at least an hour and a half exercising, twenty minutes in the Jacuzzi, and then another twenty minutes rewarding myself at Starbucks when I finish. 

There was a book publisher that offered to have me send in a proposal for a book they wanted to have rewritten and updated. They were graceful enough to wait patiently until the semester was over before I turned something in for their evaluation. Finally, it was sent off today. If it is approved, it is something that can be completed over the summer.

With that in mind, there has been another block of my time spent working on a new professional website that should debut in another week or so. Details will follow as things progress. The other irons in the fire including marketing the Feri apartment, updating my CV, and making travel plans.

We will be going to Florence for a week next month. Ron’s great niece is getting married in Tuscany. She and her beau rented an entire villa for the wedding, but we will only stay 2 nights and the rest of the time in Florence. We have both been to Florence in the past, but one cannot tire of Florence.

At the end of August, we are returning to Italy, but traveling through to make our way to San Marino, to spend a couple of nights. Planning ahead, we booked our tickets to Panama for our December/January get-away with a side trip to Nicaragua.

Holiday or not, I spoke with a lawyer in the US today about making out a will. It is complicated since we have a bank account and Ron’s retirement in CA, a property in FL, we are registered voters in NJ, and my credit card goes to NM. When we finally whittled it down, the attorney asked who would get the property if something happened to both of us. That hit me like a trick question. I hadn’t thought about it, and we certainly hadn’t discussed it. I guess we will just donate it to the Tea Party! Joking!

On Facebook, someone had posted a link to a local videographer company called ICandyFilm. Some of the samples were fabulous, so I sent them a note saying as much. One thing led to another and they are coming over to discuss filming the apartment. It will be great adverting and if we ever decide to sell, it will be ideal.

It hasn’t even been a week since I finished school and already there has been so much accomplished. If this momentum continues, mountains will be moved.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

I See Dead People


Yesterday, as I was walking from the metro to my private student's home; the street was blocked off by 2 ambulances at weird angles. There were no police cars, which was confusing as to what was happening. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw the corpse on the ground almost to the point where I had to walk around him.

How could I be certain it was a dead body? How could I be certain it was him and not her? The body was wrapped in black plastic and taped up with masking tape like a poorly wrapped oversized Christmas gift. The ankles and feet donned with boots were sticking out at the bottom. They were undoubtedly male. Now unless they wrap up sick people like this for transporting to a hospital, this guy was dead.

The question remains as to why there were no police on the scene. This street corner is visible from my student’s 5th floor apartment window. He mentioned he could see the ambulances, but was uncertain what was happening.

This is not my first dead person experience in Budapest. A few years ago, I was getting acupuncture treatments in Buda. Rather than wait for the tram after a treatment, I decided to walk to the metro. As I was passing a sliver of a park, there were ambulance workers fitting another male person into a body bag. Then, it was a regular “as seen on TV” body bag, not some Hefty bag from the local market.

Seeing dead people is not new for me. I spent 16 years as a medical social worker, so I have seen my share of people who have left this plane. Still each time, it still has a gripping effect.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It Is Over When the Timer Rings


I had a countdown calendar on my laptop desktop; it was set to the end of the semester. More accurately it was set to the last minute of my last class. When students noticed it as I frequently use my computer to project their tasks, magazines, blogs, and websites on the wall, I did not comment on the reason for having the calendar there. I did acknowledged its existence, but since they never asked other questions, I did not offer addition responses.

The calendar on my school laptop, a computer I bought myself to use for school, was as a visual reminder for them. It meant to say the semester is ending, time is running out to pad your grade with participation points by speaking out, write the best essay since it is your last one, spend extra time with the final creative writing a short story, or add something spectacular to the blog for the blogging class which would truly impress me and others.

They didn’t seem to get that subliminal message. What they did not know is that I had the same counter on my home computer’s desktop. This was for me and only for me. It reminded me that there is relief to this burnout I was feeling. As the minutes ticked away, I knew the pages of editing I would have to do were decreasing. I know that there were hours, minutes, and seconds of passing by that I no longer had to try to make students understand that I only want what is best for them that my being a taskmaster is for their good, not for my own jollies.

When the time finally arrived to say good-bye, when the countdown clock alarm sounded, I reminded them that the only time I would see them in the future is when they sign up for their internship, but contact would be minimal. Some rushed out the door as the words were fading from the air after I spoke them. Others stayed to present me with a lovely tin of 72 teabags, consisting of smaller packages of eight in different flavors. I love tea, so this is a perfect gift for me.
As I gushed with appreciation and enthusiasm, I mentioned that if any of them want to practice their English over the summer, I am more than willing to meet up for a coffee. I added that I knew some fabulous coffee shops.

It was later that I realized what I had said. Here I was, getting mushy over getting the tea, but then suggesting we meet for a coffee. Just according to the old instruction manual - Open mouth, insert foot! Then I thought about it realistically. Quite honestly, I do love tea, but I love drinking it at home. When I am out, I never order tea, I order coffee variations. There is something about the coffee at home, regardless of the brand we buy; I am never satiated by the flavor. Tea never lets me down when home brewed. Hence, to get my coffee fix, I need an outside expert to prepare it for me. 

At least now, I have 72 reasons to stay home and enjoy a cup of tea and remember the students who thought enough to give me the gift while I renew my batteries.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hungarians in Duquense, PA Video


Our nephew came across this video and shared it with us. He lives in Pittsburgh and was here to visit with his new wife on their honeymoon trip.
This is a short video of Hungarians who went to PA to work in the steel mills. When they interview people, it is in Hungarian, but the English narrator does give an overview.

From YouTube " This documentary, Krisztus Vándorai, filmed in the United States by Debrecen Televízió, aired in Hungary in 2009. It recalled the Hungarians' plight within their own country from which they fled for a better life, leaving their native homes of Northeast pre-Trianon Hungary (present-day Slovakia and Romania).

This 10-minute excerpt from the four-hour-long production, documents the congregation of my home church, the Hungarian Reformed Church of Duquense, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), for which I am the Assistant Chief Elder. Appearing in this portion of the film are Rev. Dr. József Posta, Marian Balázs Nagy (1920-2010), Olga Balázs Darnay, and Julius Nagy.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dog Dancing Competition


We went to a dog dancing competition sponsored by the local kennel club. One of my students is an international judge. All the photos were taken with my phone, so the quality is not superior.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Deadly Fulfillment


There has been an article sitting on the desktop of my computer for a couple of weeks now. It has
been patiently waiting for me to give is some attention by referring to it in a blog post. The reason it has taken so long is because university chores have taken precedent. Yes, ‘chores’ is the correct word, not a single word that has less tedium intonation could fit the bill.

The article that I have been procrastinating over is called “Plan Your Digital Afterlife with Inactive Account Manager”. The irony of this is that a few years ago, I created a business called “Good-bye Friends”, but it never took off. What set this in motion was when friend of mine had passed away, but I had not heard about it for weeks later. By chance, one of his nephews was savvy enough to send out notices to all of those individuals in his e-mail contacts. If it had not been for this nephew, I would never have known why communication suddenly stopped.

I had another friend in Tennessee who did not have a home computer and only read her e-mails sporadically during her teaching day. She and I regularly sent small presents to each other over a number of years. When I wrote my first book, I sent her a copy with an invitation to visit. It was strange that I have never heard from her again. I would have written to the school where she teaches/taught, but she had changed schools and districts the year before.

My idea for “Good-bye Friends” was to create a database for clients who had lists of people to be notified upon death. Two or more trusted people would be the messenger for alerting me that it was time to act. That is the idea in brief. Shortly after getting this little venture up and running, I found an article on the Internet that listed and reviewed 9 similar services. Apparently, my idea was not all that unique.

Now Google is getting in the act with their own slimmed down version. I guess it is true that death is a powerful business.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Any Avaible English Teacher Out There?


I often check out Craigslist Budapest for possible writing gigs. In the past, I have found several freelance travel writing jobs listed. 

I also check the Education section just to see what is happening. This is what I found.

Do you think this person is avaible as a
spelling bee judge? 

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Don't Hang in the Closet Any Lonter


Every now and then someone asks me to check out their product for a possible promotion. I received a note about a free download for an eighteen page booklet explaining how to put old coat hangers to good use. What I expected was some run of the mill tips, like use it to open your car door when you lock yourself out if you have the antiquated type locks.

If you have an abundance of hangers just, well, hanging around, there is hope for innovative solutions to recycle them. It was surprising that I found a couple of tips that I could undoubtedly use. The belt organizer and the scarf holder are brilliant ideas. The latter is especially good for getting those winter scarfs out of the way in an organized manner, come warmer weather.

Time to get out of the closest and be resourceful. If you want the free download, click here.

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Read and Red, But Finally Done


Well, I did it! I finished reading the last thesis for this semester. During the semester, I have 13 students in my thesis writing class, so I was reading and editing their work all semester. After they all get turned in, we are assigned theses to read and grade.

I was actually hoping to get one or more of the theses from within my class; I was not the advisor for all 13 students. This would have cut some of my reading down a bit since I already knew their work intimately. However, Lady Luck was not to be my friend this time around. I received four BA theses and one MA thesis.

These arrived on the heels of my completing the essays for both the Race and Ethnicity class as well as the Religions Born in the US, but concurrent with the short story assignment for the Creative Writing class. This was all juggled with reading the students’ blogs and websites for the Blogging and Website class. Those in my Mystery Novel and Corpor-ocracy classes were severely neglected.

I read and read, so my eyes are red. However, I am almost finished! I am seeing the finish line up ahead and it looks spectacular. The only exercise yet to read will be one more creative writing piece and that will end the semester.

As of now, there are 11 days, 4 hours, 28 minutes until I am crossing that finish line.

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

The HIghs and Lows of Teaching


What you will read here are the actual e-mails that went back and forth with one of my students. This particular student was in my thesis writing class as my advisee in addition to being in my Religions Born in the US class. I had her last semester for Social Problems in the US. The first part is in regard to her thesis and my having edited it before submission. I did not change language, grammar, or spelling, so all mistakes are part of our human nature when writing an e-mail.
Dear Professor James,
Thank you again for all your work.
I am so sorry for all the stupid typos! It must have taken you forever to correct all this I feel so bad.
April 15th will be here soon and part of your torture will end.
For the record, I have learnt a lot from your comments and corrections. Wish I had learnt from you from the beginning of University. My writing would be much better.
Only 28 days left and 1 chapter to go.
See you tomorrow,

I should have you speak to my journalism class. They think I am the devil incarnate.

I would talk to them. They should be glad to have you. I have had teachers at ELTE who demanded nothing, gave me 5s, but I learned nothing. That is not how it should be. This results in students becoming so lazy that they end up hating a teacher just because they have to do something. Even though your comments sometimes make me want to jump into the Danube I greatly appreciate them. There is always room for improvement and I strive to be the best I can be. You can motivate me and I am so thankful for that.

Student: after the thesis was submitted:
Dear Professor James,
Here is the very final version of my thesis.
I can't believe that it is done!
I am so happy that you accepted me as your advisee and I got to work with you. I couldn't have hoped for a better supervisor. You have helped me so much and I couldn't have done this thesis without you!
Thanks for everything!!!

I have faith in you. I think you could have done it alone! But thank you...

Having someone believe in you when you don't believe in yourself makes all the difference!


Bear that in mind for the exams. I continue to believe!

I have been thinking how to respond to this email for the past hours but still haven't been able to come up with anything except for a huge thank you. You made me cry.. I am going to print this, put it in my notebook that I take everywhere, and every time I feel bad or sad I will look at to feel better.

Thank you so so so much. Really!!!

Dear Professor James,
I just found out that Professor X is going to be my opponent. 
Frightened does not even describe what I'm feeling right now.

Well, we both know you did an exceptional job. Reading a thesis can be subjective, so remember no matter what she says, we know you are 5 (A) quality.

Then she received her grade for her Religions Born in the US project. Things had a slight turn-around.

Dear Professor James,
Thanks for the feedback and the evaluation!

I was just thinking. Right now I am at -10 points in the course. We have still 3 classes - 6 points for participation plus 30 for the quizzes. I think there is no problem with my participation so I should have no problem with getting the total points. However, I stink at quizzes. Of course I will prepare for them but for some reason I always mess something up.

The questions are (in advance): Can I do anything else to still get a 5? I can do another essay (although I’m pretty sure you don't want to read any more than you already have to) or whatever extra work you can give me. Grades don't really matter to me, I just want to learn as much as possible, but having a 5 in your class is a prestige thing. I prepare the most for your classes; your courses are the ones worth taking at this university so I want to leave ELTE with not being just one of your average students.

With that said, I am going to try my best to ace those quizzes.

I have been thinking about this all day. I am still reading student papers and have 5 theses to read and grade still. I was supposed to write a book proposal for myself over 6 months ago, but never got to it. It has to be done by the middle of May or I stand to lose a great deal of money. Do I want anything else to read? NO WAY!

Confidentially, I had some talks with other class members about their performance, grades, and potential outcome with their grade. All of this reminded me of something that happened to me in my doctoral program. I took a course on Psychology of Education. I loved the instructor and the course. The only assignment for the entire semester was to write one 60 page research paper. I cannot remember what the topic was now, but I was so engaged with it that I knew I was doing my best work. This was still in the days of Windows 95, not even Windows 98. I didn't have MS Word back then; the main program was called WordPerfect. About six times, during that semester, my computer crashed and each time, I lost all of the work I had done up to that point.

By some stroke of luck, I had backed up part of the psychology paper on a floppy disk. This was before USB ports or external drives. After I continued writing where I had left off, I printed the essay and turned it in. I was thrilled with the way it turned out and knew the professor would be just as excited with reading it as I was with writing it. When she returned the papers, she made nice little comments to each person as she handed them their paper. "Nice work on this" or "I really enjoyed your topic" or other things in this vein. When I received mine back, she just looked at me without a word. I received a B-. I was horrified and wanted to cry. As I looked through the essay there were red marks everywhere. I could not understand it at all.

When I took a closer look, I realized that the first part of this essay that I assumed was the latest version was an older unedited version. I had not bothered to reread it since the deadline was so close and I was so certain it was a good copy.

After class, I went to the professor and apologized for giving her substandard work. I offered her an explanation. She offered me the opportunity to rewrite it and turn it in again. At first I said, yes, I would like to do this. Then I changed my mind and said this has been an important lesson for me that I will never forget. As much as I don't want that grade, it will be a constant reminder that I need to check, double check and if need be triple check my work before turning it in.

After all of this thinking about your grade today, someone posted this on Facebook. Not that you did not do the work, but I think this will be a lesson you will never forget.

Dear Professor James,
I just found out that Professor X gave me a 5 (A) for the thesis. I am beyond happy!! Thanks again. If this makes you 1/10 as happy as it makes me that would make me even more content.

Congratulations! I had a feeling… The last time she read one of my student’s thesis, she suggested it be published.
Does this now make up for you being upset with me about the potential Religion grade?

Thank you! I am very happy!! She had some minor remarks - she especially disliked the fact that I did not refer to myself as "I." She said it was "awkward" :-) Oh, well. Overall, she said she really liked it.

Well, I won't say that it makes up for it. I am so frustrated. I can't even tell you. I have to be honest regarding the quizzes. I feel like no matter how much I study, I will never get a 100%. I worked my butt off and studied for the whole weekend and made two outlines for the 3 religions. I have a nice word document besides the highlighted texts. I wouldn't say this is it weren't true. I knew everything that was to know about them. I reread everything, did extra research and even found some online tests. I knew everything except whether only psychologists, anthropologists, or sociologists use the term cultural relativism. Also, I don't know how to interpret when only half of a statement is true. If you say Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions for medical reasons only - this is partly true. They do refuse it for medical reasons as well but mainly for religious reasons.

I had the same problem with the quizzes last semester and I cannot tell you how frustrated and sad this makes me. If you asked what cultural relativism was or to write a short essay on any of the religions, asked to define any of the terms I could do it. I am 100% sure of that.

I know life isn't fair but I just feel stupid. The fact that no matter how much work I put into it, I won't get a better grade. I cannot help but feel like an idiot.

I don't mind the studying and I am happy that I am so motivated (even though I know that I screwed up the last quiz as well) to learn. This is a great thing, really. I hope you know that I have learnt a lot and will continue to study this hard for the rest of the quizzes as well. I am not upset with you particularly. I am upset because I cannot seem to change anything regardless how much effort i put into it.

Your quizzes are my enemy, not you. You are a great teacher.

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