Hungary to learn – an API student connects with her heritage in Budapest

Kathleen Karika is participating in API’s Business and Economics Program at Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary.

Feeding the swans along the shore in Balatonfüred is an annual tradition


My name is Kathleen and I’m a senior at Texas A&M University. I’m also a second-generation Hungarian. I’ll be studying at Corvinus University in Budapest in the Business and Economics Program for the 2010-11 school year.

I chose a year long study abroad program in Hungary because of my heritage (I have family and friends here) and my desire to learn the language. To join a program in Budapest is perfect because I’m familiar with the city, but only on a very basic level. Budapest is historical, cultural, beautiful, and well located. I can easily take a train to visit family, other cities in Hungary, and surrounding countries. My main focus this year is to learn the Hungarian language, which is considered among the hardest in the world. It is unlike the language of any surrounding country and many believe it to be related to Sanskrit. People tell me it takes a year to gain fluency so I decided to come for the full school year. My family, both American and Hungarian, has talked about me studying here for many years, and now everyone is very excited it’s finally happening.

In 1956, my grandfather fled Hungary after the Communist Revolution because he was placed on a Russian hit list. As an eighteen year old, he was granted asylum in the United States. I was seven months old the first time I traveled to Hungary so my great-grandmother could meet one of her great-grandchildren for the first time. We stayed at her house and I slept in a traditional bassinette with a hay mattress. Since 2004, we have traveled to Hungary each summer to spend time with family. This year, my great-grandmother is 96 years young.

Looking up at our house from in the vineyard

Our family owns a small vineyard with a little house on a hillside overlooking Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe. One section of our vineyard is over 100 years old. My grandfather now visits Hungary for three months every summer. His vineyard and house are just up the hill from us so we often have dinner together and, at night, we play games or sit and talk. My grandfather acts as our personal historian, translator, and cultural expert as we learn about Hungary then and now. Both the houses have a similar layout. Downstairs has a kitchen, dining area, living room, and half bath, while upstairs there is a full bathroom and one large bedroom and we also have a cellar. We try to keep our house as traditional as possible but we have some modern conveniences. I fought the hardest against these additions because the houses in Hungary traditionally don’t have things like air conditioning or Internet. I’ve now embraced these luxuries and they are slowly becoming more common in Hungary. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen Lake Balaton’s shore go from individual vendors with wooden carts on gravel selling traditional Hungarian trinkets to hotels and permanent shops with paved walkways and fountains. We enjoy watching Hungary’s gradual transformation from a country behind the Iron Curtain to a flourishing democratic, capitalist state.

View from our house with the vineyard and Lake Balaton in the background. You can see the Tihany Peninsula on the right

Although there are only 10 million Hungarians living in Hungary, there are nearly 4 million living elsewhere. My family constantly hears the language and runs into Hungarians in the most random places. Many people don’t realize how many things come from Hungary-paprika, the Rubik Cube, BiC Pens, and the current French President to name just a few. Hungarians, whether full blooded or descendents, either at home or abroad, are very proud of their heritage. After this year, I hope to spur some interest in a little country in Central Europe that is so important to history and to me.

Gig ‘Em Aggies!

Traditional Hungarian dinner complete with lecsó and wine on the veranda surrounded by the grapes

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  1. Hi Kathleen,

    I love this post!! I am a 1st generation Hungarian, so I certainly understand your desire to spend time immersed in the Hungarian culture and to learn Hungarian!

    Keep us updated throughout the year, I’d excited to see how your adventure unfolds (and to live vicariously through you until perhaps one day I can follow suit! (; )

    Kedves egészségére!

  2. Great story! It’s true that Central Europe is an often neglected destination for study abroad and travel, so I am happy to see more students express an interest in this wonderful part of the world.


  3. I, too, will enjoy your blog. My parents came to the United States in 1948 (I was just an infant at the time), but my first language, till I started elementary school, was Hungarian. I have visited Hungary twice, and – believe it or not – after over 45 years, still can understand conversations in Hungarian!
    How wonderful that you still have relatives there and will have an opportunity to study and become fluent in the Hungarian language! I will eagerly read your posts and hope to continue learning about our Hungarian heritage as you continue your studies there.
    Best of luck to you, and thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

  4. Mit eurem neuen Beitrag habt ihr in mir wohl einen neuen Stammleser gefunden


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