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Alumna in Hungary: Doetie Talsma

‘It’s only a small step from a reasonable life to poverty here’
Doetie Talsma

‘We could never have had a place like this in Amsterdam’, says Doetie Talsma (33) about the house in Budapest where she and her Hungarian boyfriend Gabor live. It is in the middle of the city, in the old Jewish quarter, where dilapidated front doors conceal the most fabulous courtyard gardens. Two years ago, the couple traded their life in Amsterdam for the Hungarian capital. ‘The end of my contract with the broadcasting company seemed like the perfect time to take the plunge.’

In the Netherlands, she worked as a journalist for companies including NTR Radio. In Budapest, the University of Groningen graduate in journalism (2009) teaches at the Dutch Language and Culture School of Budapest. They are disappointed that Gabor has been unable to find work as a teacher of English or history in his native country. This is largely due to the education climate under the authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, a controversial figure in the West. ‘This new government only recognises one book for teaching history’, says Doetie, ‘which makes it difficult if it’s not the history you want to teach.’

Before Orbán announced his plan to keep refugees out of the country by building a fence along the border, he was already attracting attention with his Media Act, which aimed to tighten the government’s grip on the press. ‘You can’t help but notice the unilateral media coverage’, says Doetie. ‘Gabor often switches the radio off, because it reminds him of the communist era. “Things are going well”, we are told, “the economy is booming” and stuff like that. But that’s not what you see on the streets.’ All the migrants from the Middle East have now left the centre of Budapest, but last summer, the city was awash with refugees. Doetie noticed that all media coverage relating to this group was negative.

Gabor is now teaching English privately. You can’t make a living teaching in the regular education system. ‘You earn up to € 350 per month; that’s not much, even by Hungarian standards.’ They never expected to be rich, but they hadn’t realized just how tough life in Hungary would be. Doetie: ‘The Hungarians are worried. It’s only a small step from a reasonable life to poverty here. And there’s no safety net to speak of. You have to work hard in return for a meagre wage.’ A lot of Hungarians find it hard to understand why the couple left a rich country like the Netherlands to go to Hungary, when so many young Hungarians want to leave the country.’ Doetie and Gabor plan to stay in Budapest for the time being, and she has cautiously resumed her old job as a journalist. She made a report about the refugee crisis for the EO radio station, for example, and is currently working on a project called Sounds of Budapest for the VPRO. ‘I’ve already got footage of a street musician outside the metro station playing a cimbalom, an instrument that resembles a table with strings.’

Hungary may well be poor, and the younger generation may think that Western Europe is the Promised Land, but Doetie sees how much they love their city. And she couldn’t agree with them more: ‘I love wandering through the city, getting to know everything about it. Lots of historic buildings, the sun, a great atmosphere. It really is a beautiful place.’

Text: John Hermse
Source: Broerstraat 5, the alumni magazine of the University of Groningen

Last modified:19 March 2020 10.14 a.m.
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