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When family is so far away, a journal is where memories can stay.
Photo courtesy of Bianca Repasi.

For most college students, seeing family means a couple hours on the road or a quick flight that gives them the time to finally finish that book they had started a while ago. My family visits are a little different.

To escape the socialism brewing in my parent’s home country, my mother and father moved from Hungary to the U.S. 20 years ago. My extended family, though, is still rooted in the beautifully rustic country and lives in various cities all over Hungary.

I visited Hungary this summer because as I grow older and my relatives age, I know every second I spend with them is something to cherish. During my stay I kept a journal to document my experiences with the culture and language contrasts.


May 5:

Today’s the day before I leave for Hungary, and I’m frantically pacing around the house, gathering my clothes sprawled across the floor, the couch and God knows where else.

I begin to stress out about the language difference because I practically speak Hungarian at the level of a toddler, but at least my mom will be there to help interpret for me so it doesn’t get too confusing. It’s always at times like these that I regret never fully learning the language. After my previous trips to Hungary, I would come back motivated to become fluent in Hungarian, yet I always shoved these plans aside because of my busy schedule or out of sheer laziness.

Before I know it, it’s midnight, but I’m too riled up and anxious to even think about sleep.


May 6:

The nearly deafening and obnoxious sound of my alarm clock jolts me awake, and I’m instantly in a state of panic. Do I have everything packed? Did I forget anything important? Should I have brought that other jacket?

Regardless of the pre-travel jitters, I’m eager to begin the 20-hour journey to Budapest, Hungary. Yes, 20 hours. I anticipate 16 hours of flight time: from Phoenix to Denver, Denver to Germany, and Germany to Hungary, with four hours of layovers in airports. Unlike most people, I absolutely love flying. The anticipation and excitement of traveling to a new place outweighs the awfulness of being enclosed in a cramped airplane for hours on end.

Partly cloudy on the way to Hungary.
Photo courtesy of Bianca Repasi


May 7:

After enduring a sleepless night on the plane and ingesting a strange mash-up of what seems to be chicken and salad, we land in Budapest. It’s a dark, rainy and humid afternoon — a lovely change from the usually unbearable Arizona heat. While waiting at the baggage carousel, my mom and I make bets about whose bag will be lost. This misfortune usually befalls onto me, but for an exciting change, my mom’s bag doesn’t arrive. We find out it’s lost in Frankfurt.

After starting our trip on that low note, we walk out of the airport and find my aunt, whose lived in Budapest all her life, eagerly awaiting us. We kiss each other quickly on both cheeks, and she lovingly embraces me. Since I’m not entirely fluent in Hungarian, my first encounter on the trip with my aunt is somewhat awkward but pleasant nonetheless.

We drive to my grandma and grandpa’s apartment in Szolnok. My Ica Mama and Pista Papa live right on the beautiful Tisza River. (Most Hungarian grandchildren call their grandparents a combination of their first names with "Mama" or "Papa" at the end). Due to an exhausting traveling day, my mom and I immediately fall into our beds.


May 8:

The day is filled with long, scenic walks along the Tisza River. The crisp, fresh aroma of the green vegetation envelopes me as the cool breeze whips my hair back and the subtle sunshine warms my skin. People leisurely lounge in the grass along the river while others are sprawled on picnic blankets, munching on sandwiches and fruit. I see a small group of men, fishing and enjoying a beer together during the calm evening.


May 9:

I spend most of the afternoon helping my grandma make her famous sour cherry bread, essentially a slice of heaven. Though common in Hungary during certain seasons, sour cherries are usually hard to come by in America. Although the language barrier makes cooking a little complicated, I speak and understand enough to make a fantastic and delicious treat. When my grandma asks me to pass the flour and I mistakenly grab the sugar, she warmly smiles and helps me understand my mistake. The sweet, doughy smell of the bread and the tart, fresh aroma of the sour cherries travels through the apartment, and soon everyone is ready to sample our creation. We enjoy our last meal together and take the train back to Budapest.

Szolnok train station in Hungary.
Photo courtesy of Bianca Repasi

The ubiquitous trains tracks course through the countryside and embed themselves in the rich scenery. From talking to my mom, trains have become one of the most convenient and affordable ways to travel across the country. I remember when I rode second class, I had many similar experiences as I have had on the Metro Light Rail — men who sit a little too close and strike up conversations a little too strange.

For this trip, my mom and I decide to sit in first-class seating, which is comfortable and clean for the most part. The passengers avoid direct contact with each other and generally mind their own business.

When we arrive in Budapest, my aunt picks us up and drives us to Lake Balaton where my cousin owns a stunning lake house nestled in the hills. From his house I can see an incredible panorama of the lake sprinkled with boats, reflecting the setting sun onto the water. The weather is perfect for a dip in the Balaton.


May 10-11:

From sun-up to sun-down, I spend the next two days working on my tan and flopping around in the chilly yet refreshing Balaton water. I take in this beautiful scenery of lively, green shrubbery encompassing the lake, but along with that comes the not-so-sightly people enjoying the water and the sun. Grandmas and grandpas alike confidently stroll the sidewalk, donning teenie-weenie bikinis and frighteningly revealing speedos. No matter what their size and shape is, they show not one ounce of shame. Although somewhat visually disturbing, it’s a refreshing difference from the constant body-consciousness in the U.S.


May 12:

My mom and I visit Gyor, the birthplace of my mom and the current home of my other grandma whom I call “Nagyi,” a nickname for “grandma” in Hungarian. As I step onto the rickety, old bus that takes us to Gyor, I’m overwhelmed by the stench. I wander past rows and rows of tired, sweat-glazed faces and find a seat near the back of the bus. I suddenly realize this bus has no air conditioning, but I’m not really shocked. Most apartments and public transportation in Hungary don’t have air conditioning. After a dreadful two hours, we arrive in Gyor and reunite with my over-joyous, little grandma. I’ve already spent about two weeks in Hungary and feel much more comfortable with the language. When Nagyi asks me about college, I give all the details.


May 13-22:

The days go by very slowly here, however, I welcome these calmer days in exchange for the jam-packed, travel-filled days I previously endured. With all of the delicious yet sadly fattening foods I’ve been eating, I need a run. I seek out a pleasant track that weaves through the arching, overgrown trees and spend the rest of my mornings jogging in this comfortable weather.

The daily jogging trail in Gyor, Hungary.
Photo courtesy of Bianca Repasi

My mom and I venture into the more hip downtown where she attempts to purchase an Internet access card. This proves to be the most impossible endeavor to date during our trip. Hungarian customer service is notoriously terrible and not just in computer stores. From what we’d seen, employees impatiently and condescendingly address their customers, showing their irritability for having to work for someone else. And if you’re not interested in buying something, then you’d better get yourself out of the store immediately because the sales associates have no time for your “suspicious” window shopping.

After the lackluster shopping experience, we strolled through the busy streets, and I noticed that most girls my age rock the latest fashion: skinny jeans and high-top Nikes. Though I thought I looked reasonably fashion forward, I realize that trends thriving in America differ from the trends surfacing in Hungary.

While in the city, I encounter a homeless man who asks me for forints, the Hungarian currency. I inwardly panic, but I manage to explain that I’m American and I have no money on me. He laughs, pats me on the back and walks away. I just can’t seem to escape my popularity with the homeless population whether in downtown Phoenix or in a foreign country.

Out of frustration and hunger, my mom and I indulge ourselves in my favorite food of all time: langos. Similar to Indian fry bread, it’s topped with garlic, sour cream and cheese, it’s the most delicious food I have ever eaten. And not to mention, extremely fattening, but undoubtedly worth every single bite.


May 23:

The day has finally come — it’s time to go home. Packing this time seems much less frantic, and I get a decent amount of sleep my last night in Hungary. As we drag our luggage out to my aunt’s car, Nagyi slowly makes her way down from her apartment to say a final goodbye. Her eyes well up, and she somberly waves goodbye to us as the car exits the parking lot.

Our flights from Budapest to Munich, Munich to Charlotte, and Charlotte to Phoenix seem shorter and less stressful.

Although I look forward to reuniting with my friends, I realize I’ll dearly miss all of my relatives. Without always being able to fully understand each other with words, my family and I found ways to express our affection and happiness for each other. I look back on this trip to Hungary in a positive light because regardless of the language we speak, my family embraces the differences in more ways than one.


Reach the writer at or via Twitter @brepasi

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