Hungarian society

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In his second year Ábdel helped to found the Hungarian Society; since then it has grown into a community where members can share their experiences, culture and language. After his first year he realised that he was only speaking Hungarian on Skype to family and friends and did not know many Hungarians in Durham. After joining a small Facebook group and meeting other Hungarian students, the idea was formed and the society bloomed with 20-25 members to date.

Running these events provides a space for people to share and discuss opinions too

The society normally tries to run an event per month which range from a trip to the pub, film screenings or gatherings with food at member’s houses. Every year they plan a collaboration with other societies, in the past this has been with History society and Jewish society. In these collaborations they invite speakers to present and they show films.

Running these events, provides a space for people to share and discuss opinions, too. This year they are planning a conference to mark and openly talk about the 100th anniversary of the Trianon Treaty. Although most members are Hungarian, the society opens up their events to anyone that would like to come along, and strives to be as inclusive as possible, by putting up subtitles when they show films. They also provide information on their Facebook in English.

Asked whether food plays an important role in these events, Ábdel explained food is often a centrepiece of their gatherings. There was a strong sense that food brings people together as a piece of culture to share and transfer into the university setting. For example, at Christmas they held a meet up at a member’s house and made gingerbread together. One of the biggest events is the yearly carnival, held in February to early March. The carnival event features two main traditional dishes: Chicken Paprikash and Lesco as a vegetarian option.

As an international student Ábdel talked about the differences between the food here and at home. One of the big differences is that a lot of Hungarian dishes involve a lot of meat and he noticed there are a lot more vegetarian and vegan people here with a different set of diets.

At university, he tries to re-create family recipes because he misses his mum and grandparent’s cooking. When asked his favourite dish, it was a definite family favourite called Rántott Hús which consists of fried breaded meat with mashed potatoes. He tries to keep making Hungarian food and sometimes makes dishes for his housemates. When he is cooking traditional food he recommends a Polish shop in Newcastle, which has some key ingredients. He also says he finds substitutes for certain products we do not have, such as using crème fraîche and sour cream instead of Tejföl.

When discussing the importance of societies like this, interestingly, Ábdel expressed that in second year finding a space to remind him of home was key. In his first year being in Durham with lots of new people and new experiences, meant that homesickness was less pressing, but in second year he and many other students felt more driven to find others from Hungary to connect with.

Food is a very important aspect of culture, it is a good way to socialise while also engaging in an activity that is a performance of your culture.

Living abroad changed his view of his national identity, nationality and pushed Ábdel to come to terms with who he was. In the process of moving abroad to university, he said that you choose which parts of your country you take with you, and food was one of them. In America, for example, he has noticed a lot of Hungarians connect strongly with their culture through food specifically over other parts of their culture. Moreover, he explained, ‘Food is a very important aspect of culture, it is a good way to socialise, while also engaging in an activity that is a performance of your culture.’

Together they have built a society which celebrates their culture and allows them to find others they can relate to and connect with. He hopes that this carries on when he graduates with new waves of students.

Last year they tried to reach out across the UK and connect with other university Hungarian societies and create a network, and they hope this will continue to be worked on. They met up with the Edinburgh Hungarian society and had a tour of the city for the day, showing the power of these groups to bring people together. In many ways, this is their legacy and a way they have made their mark at university, and it is clear how proud he is of their work.

Photographs via Hungarian Society Facebook

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