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COLUMN: A Hungarian who has never been to Hungary



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Shoppers can find locally made gifts, one-of-a-kind clothing and intricately beaded linens along Budapest’s streets.  Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Adventure author Jack London writes that, for some, adapting to new customs and ideas is another fleeting time of excitement, while for others, the pressure of an altered environment is almost unbearable. 

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land,” London said.

As I sit in the library of my northern Indiana hometown of Chesterton, I wonder about the implications of how I will change as I prepare for my spring semester studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary. The 10-hour plane ride still seems three weeks too far away to be considered real. My mind continually alters between calm and apprehensive imaginings of what life will be like in a country I’ve never stepped foot in before.

My original and spontaneous decision to study the Hungarian language came to me during orientation before my freshman year at IU. My schedule was about to be finalized with intermediate French, but I switched at the last minute to Hungarian for beginners. At first, it may seem rather random, but I should add that my family roots come straight from Budapest, the Hungarian capital. 

My grandparents left before the revolution of 1956, immigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois, raising my father and uncle. I grew up listening to my nagymama (grandmother), conversing in Hungarian with her sons. I had no knowledge of the language, aside from the Hungarian word for dog (kutya), until I began college. I never imagined that I would eventually make the decision to study abroad in Hungary, nor did I imagine that I would grow to love how familiar the words felt as I learned to pronounce them. 

Hungary is located in Central Europe, bordered by Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Ukraine. Thousands of years of conquering and being conquered has led Hungary to where it is today, governed by the laws of a parliamentary representative democratic republic. 

This April, as I am studying at Corvinus University on the eastern side of Budapest, Hungary’s parliamentary elections will be taking place, and, as a student from the U.S., I’m sure it will be more than interesting to compare Hungarian and American elections. 

Before I finished up fall semester, my Hungarian professor Valéria Varga, stressed that I must put myself in unnecessary conversation in order to reach greater fluency — a challenge I find difficult even in English. Even so, my goal as I’m abroad for the next four months is to reach a higher level of language learning as well as a more colorful life experience, so: challenge accepted. 

I’m hoping to connect with Indiana University, friends, family and strangers as I begin writing this travel column, and I hope to share stories of Hungarian culture, history and my day-to-day life journeying around Hungary and other parts of Europe. I plan to use this column as a tool to mark intentions and progressions as well as give readers a 500-word snapshot of how my point of view changes and grows as I put myself into Magyarország (Hungary).  

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