Hungary for Adventure
March 3, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Are there any opportunities for me in Budapest?

My Hungarian boyfriend of a few months is moving back to Budapest and has asked whether I'd consider moving there. I'm not really taking the idea too seriously, but I am longing for an adventure, so I'm trying to get an idea of what it might be like socially and in terms of finding work as I don't speak Hungarian. It seems like a very difficult language to learn, which makes me think that it would be just too much of a hurdle to eek out a life there.

Also, I'm Indian and am a bit concerned about possible discrimination as I have no idea how forward-thinking the city is, but my boyfriend claims that people would just think I was a Roma gypsy and I would blend in alright.

In terms of work, I don't have a particular career (I'm currently a receptionist) so I wouldn't be particularly skilled to work in a specific industry/field. However, I would obviously be employable as an English teacher, I assume.

At the least, I might go visit him for a few weeks, but it would be nice to get some feedback about the potential good and bad of moving there longer term.
posted by oceanview to Travel & Transportation around Budapest, Hungary (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I realize I shouldn't move to a foreign country for a new romantic partner, I'm just kinda looking to daydream a little here.
posted by oceanview at 3:14 PM on March 3, 2012

Hungary is not doing well economically. It's one of the most monolingual nations in Europe. The political climate is increasingly oppressive, and there is a substantial radical right-wing element. I am not Hungarian and do not live in Hungary, but I would want to explore these issues in detail with a selection of expats to see how much of an obstacle they might pose.
posted by Nomyte at 3:59 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Then again, most of this can be said about Japan, and lots of people from all kinds of backgrounds go to Japan and seem to like the experience…
posted by Nomyte at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2012

Do you have any way of getting a Hungarian work permit? I think that might be complicated, especially for an Indian national.

There's actually a lot of international companies that have branch offices in Budapest, and they mostly use English as their language of business rather than Hungarian. A good friend of mine lived in Budapest for years working for an American multinational and he never learned more than basic Hungarian and seemed to get by fine - when I was there there in '09 there seemed to be a decent-sized expatriate community from all over, who mostly used English as a lingua franca (though I'm not sure how much that's changed as the economy's grown more difficult in the past couple years), and in Budapest at least a fair number of young Hungarians speak English.

I don't know that people thinking you were Romani would actually be an advantage, though. Unfortunately there's an incredible amount of racism against Romani people in central and eastern Europe, and Hungary is no exception.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:06 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My SO responded to your question with "No, that's not a good idea." A little bit of research dug up:
Then the militant units of the self-styled “Hungarian Guard”, an affiliate of the far-right Jobbik party, began marching through settlements with high Roma populations, provoking brawls. In eastern Hungary, a small group came to be charged with the murder of several local Roma; possible connections with the intelligence services remain unexplained.
The self-declared “anti-democratic” Jobbik, which had agitated throughout the campaign period with open hostility to the Roma and veiled racist slogans, received twelve percent of the vote.
from Speaking with double tongues: what’s gone wrong in Hungary?
posted by Orb2069 at 4:43 PM on March 3, 2012

Yeah, you do not want to be mistaken for Roma. Dressing a certain way might alleviate that, but do you really want to live in a country where people who look like you are treated like garbage?
posted by chaiminda at 7:36 PM on March 3, 2012

I am not a Hungarian, but I'm an American who has lived in Budapest for over two years for work.

Hungarian is in fact very difficult to learn. I took language classes when I first moved here and I can get by, but I would not consider myself fluent by any means. Part of the problem is that my work environment is English-speaking, and if I had forced myself out of my comfort zone more often and/or socialized with Hungarians more, I would probably have developed my language further. I also could have continued on with the classes, but honestly, the language is so difficult that after a certain point there are diminishing returns. Since I am leaving this summer there didn't seem to be much point in pursuing the classes further after the second year, but I would love to speak better. If your boyfriend is Hungarian that will really help; all of the foreigners I know who speak fluently have Hungarian partners.

Echoing and confirming that you do not want to be mistaken for Roma. The fact that your boyfriend would even suggest that it's a good thing makes me think it's been a while since he's been in Budapest. I have an Indian friend who had a knife pulled on her at our local market because a group of men thought she was Roma. Keep in mind that I live in the most liberal district of Budapest, and she dresses like a middle-class American, which is what she is! Crazy racists don't notice small details like how you are dressed. On the other hand, one of the graduate students in my program is from India, and she has never mentioned having any problems. I am ethnically Chinese and I have definitely noticed an uptick in overt racism over the last couple of years. The city is not at all diverse (aside from my friends, I rarely see other non-White people walking around, other than tourists), and although there are relatively large ethnic minority populations, they are not well-assimilated into society, which is why I get a lot of stares and comments for daring to go about my business like a normal Hungarian.

That said, if you still really want to pursue a life in Budapest, you're right that probably the easiest way is to get certified to teach English and either find a job with a language school or strike out on your own with private students. There are a number of places that will train you to teach English here. A friend of mine went with International House and recommended it, but there are surely others. All of the expats I know who live here by choice (as opposed to those who moved here for jobs, like me) initially went the teaching English route; although the economy is lousy, demand for English teachers is still high, and even climbing.

You should definitely at least visit. Budapest is a beautiful and underrated city, and I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here. there are many things I have loved about living in Budapest, but the country is in such a parlous state right now that it seems like a good time to get out.
posted by dropkick queen at 12:28 AM on March 4, 2012

Should you decide to try for the language, don't forget to try the free Hungarian resources from the Foreign Services Institute. Tax dollars paid for them! Yay public domain.

that people would just think I was a Roma gypsy and I would blend in alright
Yeah, because THAT doesn't invite a lot of discrimination, or people crossing the street to avoid you, or shopkeepers and restaurant owners following you around until you leave the store, or police asking for your papers, or people afraid to give you directions or the time of day lest you steal their wallet, etc etc. (I live in Paris and dated a Peruvian guy who faced such problems because of the same assumption.) "blend in" is not the phrase I would have chosen.
posted by whatzit at 10:19 AM on March 4, 2012

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