Expats first year in Hungary


It is a year today that we left southern France for Budapest Hungary and I cannot tell you how fast it has gone!

As Canadians, I guess we are always pretty optimistic, always focussed on the positive. It makes things easier being laid back and letting the change come to us and not trying to force things to happen in any given way. It will happen as it will happen, because, as we know, it is already written. Believing in this does make things easier. Knowing that whatever I actually do will eventually puts me in the exact same place.

We have done so many things in the last 12 months, to try and wrap my head around it makes me crazy; more change than most people do in a lifetime! And that’s just the last year. Don’t get me started on the last six years, because then I will never shut up.

We landed in our apartment on September 1st after driving our car loaded to the brink only stopping once in Italy for the night. We dragged all our suitcases upstairs and fell into our beds. Poor Elvis our cat didn’t know if he was coming or going!

The very next morning we went straight to the children’s private school. They already knew we were coming. They happily made a spot for Daniel and Angelina as our children identify as being French after five years of French public school in France. It was the only option for our French schooled kids.

Then, that very next week, the children’s school offered me a job as their native English teacher. My predecessor dropped out at the last minute wanting only 8 hours per week and they gave her a 12 hour schedule spread out all over the week. It was too much for her to mange, and one rowdy class put her over the edge, and off she fled.

I happily took her 12 hour position and started teaching the following Monday, but only officially on the Wednesday. I hadn’t even had time to unpack our bags and already I had found myself work.

I had no idea what a profound moment this was at the time, but this would lead to my own personal development in such ways I could never have fathomed. 

Alfonz drove us to and from work/school most days, sometimes waiting for me to finish class, and we would hit the ground running to explore different neighbourhoods to find ourselves a home. Any down time we were looking at houses, but he also had to buy me a car to make our lives easier and not for both of us to spend our time in traffic between District VII and District II in Budapest. And the traffic in the bustling city is very busy, especially in the mornings. We were lucky to be going against the traditional ‘rush’ hour traffic heading into the city, but I couldn’t tell the difference.

He bought the car just before the Christmas break from Germany, and that eased off a lot of the pressure. Our second car is a wee black VW Golf five speed, a stick shift much like my first car. I already have plans to give it to Daniel when he gets his licence.

Now we narrowed the search area down to land us close to the French school. It made the most sense as my drive would be minimal and the area would only go up in value from an investment standpoint. We looked in the vicinity of about two or three miles in any direction when we discovered Solymár. The funny thing was that I had already picked out my house online a year before while living in France, and guess where it was? Solymár! And sure enough it was still available and we went for our first viewing in September.

At an enormous 3000 square feet, we definitely had enough space for students and visiting family, and it was perched on top of the Pilis mountains, an area that was used throughout history to knight, and crown royalty. Some historians even believe that it is a sacred spot where “The Garden of Eden” was said to have been. True or not, it is very beautiful which is enough for me.

By the first week of October we had our offer in on the 80% nearly finished house and the previous owner accepted it by October 26th! Two weeks later the house was ours, signed, sealed and delivered.

Alfonz started finishing the house immediately.

His friend came and helped him put in the water, and electricity. Alfonz orchestrated the work on the walls, floors, windows, tiles, stairs, iron railings, finishings, bathrooms, painting, kitchen, closets; and miraculously 6 weeks later we moved our family into our new house in Solymár. On December 24th, 2016 we were right in time for Turkey dinner with all the fixings.

It was a crazy time; assembling furniture and moving the cat over from the apartment, settling the children into their new rooms and making quick trips to IKEA.

It would take Alfonz another three months to complete, if that is ever really possible. You know the endless little things like my pantry, getting all the paperwork in order and the dreaded taxes but slowly over the Winter and Spring we made the house a home.

Meanwhile I was covering sick time at the private school and taking up to 17 hours of private students a week! I was run off my feet, but loved every minute of it! Busy wasn’t even the word to accurately describe our situation.

I thrived in my new environment. I felt an energy take over me when I taught my classes. I had finally after 43 years on this planet, found my thing. It was exactly what I was searching for my whole entire life!

I couldn’t wait to get to school, and at home I searched the internet for creative lesson plans. Even being inside the school itself gave me a purpose and a long term goal. I was really connecting to something I truly loved to do. Not just a job but a calling or a career. And I knew I was good at it. I could feel it whenever I was in front of my classes.

Unfortunately work is never always a bed of roses, especially when it comes to different cultures, different traditions, and of course three very different languages. However, eventually I found my little place, and I developed a routine. I participated in the events, I learned, and maybe even made a friend or two.

I wouldn’t say I was loved by everyone, I think most had no idea what to do with a Hungarian- Canadian who lived in France for five years. I mean how can anyone stomach such a happy cheerful person all the time. Yesh! Annoying.

During our February break we were running around getting stuff done for the house, but by Spring break we managed to make our way back to Capestang France to film the TV show House Hunters International. This time they covered the ‘why are you moving from France to Hungary?”. That was a great two weeks! Although the weather didn’t cooperate in France on our time off and our timing was off. The children in Capestang were already back to school when mine were on their break. We made the most of it!

It was a good moment of closure for me personally too. We left in such a hurry after the summer holidays and 40 homestay students later, that it left a little hole that needed to be closed. After long last goodbyes, my last few tears shed, and one last look around, I was ready to move forward.

Of course since landing in Hungary we also started our own homestay company LivEnglish where we host students in our home during vacation breaks from 1 to 3 weeks at a time.

I really enjoyed our first students in Hungary. We decided early on to only take two students per week and give ourselves a bit of breathing room. Six kids all the time can be daunting let alone draining. There are two reasons for this, one is that money goes farther here and we wouldn’t really be needing to work quite so hard, and second, I have never lived in Hungary during the summer before and I wanted to explore those little places that only locals know about.

And we did!

We travelled all over Budapest; to Balaton, Dorog and Velence Lakes and the Romai beach along the Danube River, to the downtown core monuments and tourist attractions, to Hungarian restaurants and our favourite burger joints. We shared Hungary’s best with them. Shopping and bowling at Mammut, the great market hall and the city park, cycling the foot trails of the Pilis mountains, the outdoor historic house museum of Skanzen, Veszprem city and zoo, Saintendres and Esztergom… honestly it was an endless amount of activity so I really have nothing to complain about work wise. I wake up every morning believing that I have the best job in the world!

And Elvis, well I love watching my cat become healthy, going from a skinny sliver of a feline to a big bulky boy with shiny fur. It was a sign of good things to come.

During our vacation we went to a wellness centre and we visited our Bakonysárkány cousins and the children even went away for a week to visit them alone to have an extra break. Going there for us feels like going home in many ways. I don’t have to worry about what they think of me. It is a very soft place to fall and recharge.

The children are adjusting to life here with the easy of professional changers. Yup that’s what they are; kids that can adapt quickly, and find their way.

Daniel took a little longer, but he has managed to find himself a group of kids that I could not be more pleased with. All those visits to Hungary while in France paid off quickly as he has learned the language enough to get by. He is the funny kid that can backflip his way into your hearts.

Angelina hit the ground running and academically she is very strong in her school, and her circle of friends consist mostly of French girls with a few Hungarians peppered in. She is the engine that moves the group, always energetic and happy. She and I have become very close as she approaches her teenage years. Almost 12, I can see the lady she will become.

On a personal note, I had a few opportunities to sing with the amazing pianist Eszter from school. I loved our time together and felt that her and I made an excellent musical team. I was sad when she left the school heading towards New York no less.

The primary English teachers is where I found my salvation this last year. They together gave so much of themselves to me and I hope I did the same in return. I was so grateful to have had them to speak to all year long and learn many different skills when working with the little ones. We put on a year end show, and spent many hours singing and dancing together. We also had a weekly coffee break which turned into two or three weekly breaks.

At home Alfonz had to pick up the slack as I worked nearly full time. He started cooking which he seems to have a knack for! For his birthday I bought him a Broil King and he hasn’t looked back.

I took up yoga again, each morning before work and after when I come home. I also started my garden which takes up hours of my time weeding.

I wish I could say that writing was a priority this year but sadly it has been put on the back burner although I did write a 40 page guide book for teacher on how to teach Generation Z and beyond. I guess I wanted to write down all the neat things I learned this last year.

I feel as though I am going into a new phase of my life. I can feel my body slowing down, little aches and pains find me, and my endless energy that makes people crazy is down to human levels. I have a new and renewed desire to learn. I find myself exploring university options in my spare time, reading endlessly about lessons and how to be a better teacher. I also have a fierce desire to master something. A desire to be seen and heard as an expert; I mean here I am at nearly 44 and I should have gathered enough information to be an expert at something by now!

I have been thinking if things go right this school year, I would like to take on some more education. The CELTA four week intensive is in the plans, and my A2 levels in French at the institute.

This last week I enrolled at the Open University in the UK. I start my Education Studies October 7th part-time! I should have my first of three higher education certificates completed by next September. Not bad for this old girl!

One year down! Looking forward to the next. Bring it on world, I am ready for you! 

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