Discovering Immense Beauty Among Darkness: Life in Budapest
Szia! A nevem Christina és Magyarországon élek. Put in more widely understood terms, my name is Christina and I currently live in Hungary. To be exact, I am living in Budapest, where I will be until I finish my Master’s Degree, one year from now.
So how does this American girl end up studying in Budapest of all places? Until 1989, Budapest was firmly in the control of a Communist regime and therefore closed off to most of the world. Western ideas, thoughts and people were all fairly unwelcome in this former satellite country. Opportunities to visit as a Westerner — let alone stay here for a more extended period of time — were few and far between. Even today, Hungary isn’t the most well-off country compared to its Western European counterparts.
I visited Hungary for the first time during the summer of 2009. Even though I am technically not Hungarian, part of my family is. Long story made short, before the Second World War, my mother’s family was part of the recognized German-speaking minority, which lived predominantly in the Hungarian countryside. When the war broke out, minorities such as my family were heavily targeted, with the result being their forced removal. While one half of my family made the risky decision to flee to modern-day Germany, the other half chose to stay in Hungary, fearful of the uncertainties that would likely lie ahead. The half that stayed had to integrate into Hungarian society. Communism later forced them to stay for good.
Living as an expat here is easy even given a student budget. For a local however, the reality is much different, with many leaving the country each year in search of better opportunities.
Hungary is a country steeped in rich history and culture, both amazing to read about yet also incredibly sad at times. Records of its distinctly unique civilization date over one thousand years. It is home to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as a completely linguistically different language, which bears absolutely no resemblance to any other European language with the slight exception of Finnish. The city of Budapest is the country’s crown jewel.
There are endless ways to live an extremely high-quality life in Budapest while enjoying many of the distinctly unique aspects of the city. From unbelievably fun summer festivals to museums to its famous “ruin-bars,” Budapest offers endless ways to enthrall even the hardest to appease. Simply walking around the city center yields so many beautiful places of both historical and cultural significance. However, the obvious downsides cannot be ignored. Living as an expat here is easy even given a student budget. For a local however, the reality is much different, with many leaving the country each year in search of better opportunities.
Additionally, Budapest, like many other cities in the country, struggles with its own extremely dark history from about seventy years ago. The Seventh District (Budapest’s Jewish Quarter) is perhaps the best remaining visual of what used to be and what currently is. Even today, politicians debate over the country’s national narrative from that time. It is a legacy that is still very much unfortunately contested.
It is with this combination of family and further time spent in the city through an internship as well as a fascinating history that I fell in love with Budapest. Being able to study for my master’s degree here (taught in English and accredited in the States) combined the best of both worlds. I remain cognizant however of the country’s past as well as its current struggles, as those things alone are so important in understanding the status quo in Hungary.
For now though, Budapest is home, and I couldn’t be any happier to be learning as much as possible about this country over the next year.