Three Americans walk into an English club… and this is not a joke! One of our most loyal native speaker visitor, Sara, has been stunningly eager to advertise the club ever since she first joined us. About a year ago she rushed back to her homeland after hearing Balázs using his late-night Scottish accent, but now she’s back and fully recovered. (The rest of the organizers are on the mend.) Sara has made our heart melt with one of her Facebook posts in which she explains how difficult it must be for anyone without a great support system to immigrate to Hungary. “TAKE FIVE – English Language Club has been my safety net for sanity when things seem rough…” These kind and reassuring words could be considered a present for our 6th birthday.
6:17 pm. The spotlight is gone forever, and there’s no way to replace the bulb. Only a spherical lampshade on the ceiling is scattering some light around the club room while half a dozen of lamps are timidly glowing in the background as moral support. We should already be sitting around the table introducing ourselves, but probably thanks to the unexpected deluge raging out on the streets, only a few people are wandering around bemused. What we have in common with TV series: every season begins with the appearance of interesting new characters. I am more than excited to welcome three newcomers. I’m used to hearing “oh, my friend told me about the club” from new visitors, so my heart skips a beat when Józsi tells me he just googled “English club Budapest”.
“The crowd is overwhelming,” said I to greet tonight’s guests. Balázs kindly encourages me to drop the irony. He is right.
What thoughts or feelings does fall/autumn evoke in you? We agreed this would make a good introductory question for today. The room is soon filled with laughter as most people associate this season with fairly depressive thoughts. The dramatic effect could be boosted with the pouring rain… if the place had any windows. I can’t seem to smother the urge to share my favorite quote from David Letterman: “Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.” A heartfelt giggle erupts from four people as a way of showing empathy towards the aspiring club organizer.
We have new cards for forming groups. Balázs very wisely pointed out that orange cards with only numbers on them are easy to mix up. Therefore, he created cards of different colors. We had to polish our negotiation skills to find the golden mean between practicality and enthusiasm. His original plan was to put numbers on the colored cards in order to provide a “multi-sensory experience” for the people. I suggested we should not get carried away with such luxurious dreams. Colors will be just enough. Era helps us out by joining a two-member group in one of the corners. Today’s topic is “ALL BY OURSELVES?”, an experimental topic about extraterrestrial life. We decided to try topics that rely more on our imagination than our up-to-dateness on current issues.
Balázs and I are standing at the bar. The door opens and she walks in: a lady with ginger hair and glasses. She’s no stranger, she’s our lovely colleague with whom we joined forces to organize a six-day English course a month ago. I’m wondering if she’ll spot the outline of Mark Hamilton’s dead body on the club room floor – a prop that served as an important part of our murder mystery game for the English course.
Before we go on a fifteen minute break, we announce the launch of an unprecedented TAKE FIVE contest. Whoever attends at least four sessions or sends us a topic during the fall season will be put on the list of possible winners. In the end, we are going to pick a random person who wins a TAKE FIVE T-shirt. (Something I didn’t manage to find after having washed all of my clothes.)
7:55 pm. Let the fun begin! Just to get the ball rolling, we bring back our “whacky invention” game, but this time the groups have to invent a piece of equipment that helps defend ourselves against hurricanes. To all language learners’ delight (that is, all of the non-natives), by this time there are three Americans sitting in the room. What an ironic coincidence that we are dealing with hurricanes. The selected speakers from each group take the hot seat on the podium to present their inventions. They never fail to amaze me with their creativity and exceptional sense of humor. One of the things is a ukulele which, when being played, generates a protective bubble around itself.
For the last 45 minutes we put on a storytelling show – a kind of thing we usually have mixed feelings about. The concept of one person speaking while an audience is listening does not necessarily harmonize with the concept of a conversation club. Nonetheless, this one seems to work out well as we have spiced it up with an interactive feature. The game is the following: one person takes the hot seat and begins to share a memorable summer story with the audience. At random moments, Balázs rings the bell and the storyteller freezes. Anyone from the audience can guess how the story is going to continue. We can hardly breathe as born stand-up comedian Jake presents his story of a weird girl chasing him with her love. It seems that Americans are here to bring our talk shows up to standard.
9:00 pm sharp. Let’s give a big hand to Jake! The podium is empty now. I glance at my phone and call it a day. We always take pride in being so precise. I thank them all for being here tonight, concluding my brief monologue with a modest, almost undetectable bow. Meanwhile, I’m very awkwardly trying to avoid making eye contact with them.
Where are we heading? I came to realize a while ago that running an English club requires an incredible degree of innovation and creativity. If we set out to be up-to-date with our topics, and we respond to several events as they are happening in the world, it is then inevitable that we constantly redefine ourselves as time passes. After six years of persistent (and at times painstaking) work, we have now decided to raise the club to a whole new level. From this season on, TAKE FIVE is diving headfirst into the world of charity. Not only do we want to donate money to certain organizations, but we also plan to appear at carefully selected institutes with special tailor-made club sessions.
If everything goes according to plan, the first such institute will be the Tüskevár school where I currently work. It would be a great honor to bring an extraordinary TAKE FIVE session to the school at the beginning of February.
Written by Zsombor