I often find myself staring off into space when I’m traveling alone on the tram, coming home from my friend’s apartment across the river. The Danube River splits the bustling city of Budapest into two respective parts: Buda and Pest. This view above greets me every night as I make the trek back home to my own flat. What’s not to love?
The Hungarians are good-humored people, and even with my broken Hungarian, I still manage to have small conversations with the people I meet in the grocery store. I only know two words (Hello and Thank you), and the name of my tram stop to get home, but I use my body language and the nice ladies who ring me up at the local store usually understand what I’m trying to say. The language barrier can be a little discouraging at some points since it’s hard not being able to communicate clearly all the time. However, my program’s organizers are always willing to teach me Hungarian, and recently I learned how to swear. Not because I’m going to swear at people, just in case someone’s swearing at me, I don’t want to be standing there smiling like nothing’s going on.
My Computer Science program here in Budapest, Hungary, made physically transitioning to my new home so easy. We were picked up by a designated driver right from the airport and brought to our apartment which was homey and cozy. I was one of the first people to arrive in my program, and the anticipation to meet the rest of the incoming students was at an all-time high the first couple of days. For the first time in my life, I went out on a Tuesday and stayed out until 4:00 a.m. I was SHOOK by how late people stay out on weekdays, and I had made one striking observation by the second day I was here: Budapest never sleeps. No matter what time of the day I take the tram, there are always crowds of people (usually inebriated) rushing to get on to get to the nearest bar.
Despite being surrounded by people, I felt incredibly lonely. I found myself getting waves of homesickness in the middle of class, so much so I had to leave to go cry in the bathroom. I wouldn’t be able to sleep until very late at night, and in the morning, I would wake early, hands trembling with anxiety. I didn’t realize that I was going to miss my friends at Vassar or my family so much. When I was applying to study abroad, I was so pumped about going somewhere completely new and experiencing life in a way that I had never done before. Everyone comes back and tells stories about how awesome of a time they had, and I thought that would be me too. I felt like in some ways I was let down by my own expectations–that I would have a flawless and smooth-sailing assimilation. My mental health quickly crumbled into pieces. I felt stuck. I found myself looking at plane tickets back home. I didn’t want to feel this way for the entire time I was abroad.
Thankfully, I have wonderful friends both back home in California and at Vassar, and even a couple of friends here in Budapest that have given me the encouragement to pull myself out of this slump. After seeing me being catcalled by random men, my friend here has traveled back on the tram with me despite living 20 minutes away. A girl who organizes my program who realized I was having a hard time made me a journal to write down positive thoughts. The many unexpected FaceTimes from beloved friends, the occasional texts checking in on me, the long conversations with other friends abroad with similar experiences, these things have helped me so much in taking care of myself. I went to a psychologist, and I’ve been using my positivity journal every day. I’ve been trying to work out and eat regularly. I’m traveling to see different countries. I’ve been hanging out with positive and understanding people who make every day feel better. I realized being abroad is such a unique experience that I might never have again in my life. I am going to make Budapest my home.
It has only been a month into my journey abroad, and I have felt like I’ve grown and learned so much more about myself as a person. This doesn’t go to say that I don’t fall back into my slump from time to time, but I’ve learned it’s okay to be sad and to cry. Thank you to all the people who have supported me during some of my hardest moments, and the view from the tram every night back gets more beautiful each time I pass it.