Nick Levitan graduated from college in May of 2011 with a degree in philosophy. With no headhunters banging on his door he decided his options were to move back in with his parents, go to grad school or see what opportunities were available outside of US borders. He chose the latter option and has been living in Budapest ever since.
Here is a bit of his story.
What appealed to you about living in Budapest, Hungary?
I had a professor my senior year in college who lived half the year in Budapest and he told me it was a young, international, and happening place to be. That was all I needed to hear to get out.
How did you end up getting a job in Budapest?
I contacted AIESEC my senior year of college. They connect would be interns with internships all around the world. Among other things, they set people up with jobs teaching English worldwide.
How much do you get paid teaching English in Budapest?
Teaching English isn’t the most lucrative occupation in the world, but it’s enough to get by. I was going to get paid 500 dollars a month which you can live on in Budapest. I have friends in Thailand who are making 700 to 1200 dollars a month. I got offered a job in Costa Rica that was 600 or 700 dollars a month. How much you get paid depends on where you are teaching, if you are teaching in schools or in businesses, as well as a number of other factors.
In the email you sent me you talked about how you switched gears from teaching English to working in online marketing once you got to Budapest. How did that happen?
As soon as I got here I realized there were [other] opportunities. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy teaching English in fact, I loved it, but I knew there was so much more I could do to expand my skill set. I met a couple of guys at a bar who were starting an Internet marketing and SEO company. After a couple of months I sat down with them and told them I would love to get involved, after about a month they offered me a job.
How does the Hungarian visa process work?
It is not an easy one. AIESEC took care of it for me for the most part, but it was never as easy as they said it would be. With Higher Click it was a little more complicated because of switching one work visa for the other. I had to get a temporary three month visa, but now we are working on getting a full two year working visa.
Was there a cost to you in either process?
How are your Hungarian language skills going?
Hungarian is wild. It is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and that paired with the low amount of Hungarian speakers worldwide diminishes my motivation. Fortunately the majority of people in Budapest speak English and with the little Hungarian I know it is easy to get around.
How does socializing look for an expat in Budapest?
I got lucky because the apartment I moved into was full of wonderful people from all over the world, five people, five nationalities, and I work with a great mix of expats and Hungarians too. So I’ve developed a really solid group of friends. But I also meet people all over the place. It’s a different scene abroad, people are more friendly, more approachable, and almost everyone has a fascinating story.
What is the cost of living in Budapest?
Not high at all. The first apartment I lived in was about 220 dollars a month and now where I live is about 220 Euros a month.
For 220 Euros a month, what kind of apartment is that?
It is a three bedroom apartment with a big living room. My room is enormous and has its own balcony. It is a bizarre old Hungarian apartment with some IKEA furniture thrown in there, but it has character and I love it.
What is the weather like in Budapest?
Generally it is four seasons. It is cold and snowy in the winter and really, really hot in the summer.
What advice do you have for others who would really like to live in Europe or Budapest?
I wish people would have told me to just do it. It seems really difficult when you are at home and you have never been to Europe. Obviously getting a job is a big deal, but what I would tell people to do is to go to the country and find the job while they are there. If you are an intelligent American there are a lot of people that need you. Brain drain is a big deal in Budapest.
Now, people in the US are realizing they can leave and go to emerging markets and find jobs they would not usually get in the US. If you can find a job working outside of the country while you are in the US – fantastic do it. But don’t be afraid of the opportunities that will arise just by crossing the Atlantic.
What resources should people use to look for available jobs in Budapest?
I would suggest using couchsurfing.com; oddly enough people find jobs there. I got lucky I met guys in a bar. But there are some good websites that are good for English teaching jobs such as http://www.eslcafe.com/. There are a lot of countries that are looking for English teachers. It is a lot easier than it seems. The longer I am here, the more people I meet, the more I realize people are in need of intelligent English speaking employees.
What about salaries in Budapest? How do they compare to what you would have in the US?
They’re lower, without a doubt. But so is the cost of living. I’m now making double what I was teaching English, so things are quite comfortable.
What does a week of groceries cost in Budapest?
That is a lot of groceries. I cannot think that far in advance.
I know, not very European to buy so much at once.
Groceries would be about 10 dollars for two days of food.
What about the cost of going out to restaurants in Budapest?
It almost makes more sense to go out instead of going grocery shopping because restaurants are so cheap.
How would someone find an apartment in Budapest?
Check out roomatesbudapest.com or http://www.apartmentsofbudapest.com/en/budapest-apartment-for-rent. Finding apartments and roommates is not a difficult thing to do.
What about cultural differences between the US and Hungarian work environments?
The jobs I’ve held in the US were a lot different than the ones I’ve had here so I wouldn’t claim to be an expert here. Obvious differences include the language and the amount of smokers. Other than that Hungarians are hard workers and good people, the two aren’t as different as you might imagine.
What about the daily, social cultural differences between the US and Hungary?
What I love about traveling is that you realize people are pretty much the same everywhere you go. There are jerks everywhere, but there are very nice, kind, personable people everywhere you go also. I knew nothing about Hungarians when I came here and I will walk away from this loving not only the country but many of the people.
How do you communicate with people from home?
I work online, so needless to say my communication with friends and family is all over the computer. I have a ton of different social profiles, and Skype with the ones who are still willing to talk to me.
Do you have any recommendations on books or websites people should consult about living and working in Budapest or outside of their own country?
I think I would steer people away from this route, if you’re thinking about relocating to a different country you clearly have a sense of adventure. Forget guide books and book a flight, it’s easier and more rewarding than you can imagine.
How long will you be there?
Until I get bored or [am] asked to leave.
It seems that it is not extremely difficult for US citizens or other foreigners to get jobs there. Is that a safe analysis?
Yes, for an educated person from the UK or US there will always be a job teaching English here. And there is a little tech bubble building up here as well. So Hungarian companies like Prezi, a competitor to PowerPoint, LogMeIn, or other little start ups will always need qualified people.
I am assuming the language at work is English.
That is correct.
Do you need any certifications to teach English in Budapest or Hungary?
When they brought me over I was supposed to get a certification, but I never did it. This being Hungary you can let a couple of those things slide.
How are you received as an American?
By other Americans or by Europeans?
Is there a difference?
I think so.
My American friends at home see me as a vagabond, as a guy who may never come back to the US. But that is not the case. I don’t think Americans who have never lived abroad understand the draw, but for the ones who have, they recognize it’s a humbling, educational, and truly brilliant experience.
When I meet other Americans here it’s with open arms, there’s a certain sense of solidarity between American Expats and travelers.
Europeans are always a mixed bag. Many are excited to meet Americans, just like American’s at home are excited to meet Europeans. Different is always appealing.
It’s funny though, I’ve met so many Europeans that wholeheartedly believe the stereotypes associated with the US. It’s always a pleasure to convince them we’re not all fat and uninformed.
It sounds like you have a lot more patience with it than I do. Sometimes I am like, ‘You REALLY think there are 310 million Americans running around their country acting like what you see in the movies??!?’
They really do think that.
Who is the dumb one?
I feel the same way.
People really think there are 310 million Americans walking around with shot guns. I cannot comprehend how people can think that. I am always like, ‘You really think that?!?!?’
They do. They think we all have guns, beer bellies and carry McDonalds around.
How do you feel about safety in Budapest?
Budapest is exceptionally safe, but just like any capital city, there are districts to avoid.
What are the frustrations?
The apartment I am currently in. It is not the best apartment in the world.
How do you feel your life is different living in Budapest than perhaps your peers lives are in the United States?
I think there is a certain immediacy living in Budapest. I think it is because we all realize that people come and go. Some will be here for only six or nine months. We will not be living here our whole lives. There is an air of this ‘will not be here forever’. When the weekend comes it is all about getting something going. I think it really adds to the quality of my life. I appreciate things more and I am more grateful.
How much vacation do you get?
There are 10 or 11 Hungarian holidays. Then I get 21 days of vacation.
Who is living in Budapest not for?
I do not know if there is a name for it, but there are certain Americans or people that can’t hack it. There are people that can’t be outside their comfort zone or be 3000 miles away from their family and friends. These are things I really like to do and really thrive with.
How was teaching English in Budapest?
I had to get up at 630 in the morning because I was teaching business English. I went to companies before work hours started. I got to meet a lot of locals. It was fascinating. I enjoyed the process of teaching. What I did not love was the logistics and traveling all around Budapest to get to the offices.
How is transportation in Budapest?
They have buses, trams and a metro here. You can get anywhere you need to go.
Do you have advice for others?
If you are thinking about doing it, do it- especially if you are young and you have nothing holding you down. What I learn in one day in Budapest is exponentially more than what I would be learning in one day in the US. My advice is to step out of your comfort zone and look into going abroad. Spend a day searching for places to go and jobs. It could be something that is not only valuable but could end up changing your life.
Do you have any favorite nuances in cultures?
I am pretty happy and usually have a smile on my face. Hungarians are different and I think it is because of their history. They got screwed over and over again during the last 150 years. I think because of that history they have the feeling that things are going to get worse. Once you get to know them they really come alive but at first they seem down and depressed.
When I lived in Amsterdam I would smile at everyone on the street and kind of get this look that was like, ‘Why are you smiling at me?’
I can’t tell you how many people have said that to me. I met a Hungarian girl at a bar and she told me that she could tell immediately that I was a foreigner because I was smiling.
How is dating over there?
The people are beautiful. The scene is young, interesting and hip. The women are fascinating. I hope this does not sound sexist, but there is a difference between Hungarian and American women. Women here are raised to make sure everything is good for the man. Hungarian girls are more maternal than American girls, they cook, and they clean. It is almost like here the woman’s focus is different than a woman’s focus in the US. Does that make sense?
It sounds like more of our parent’s or grandparent’s generation.
What do you enjoy the most about living in Budapest?
There are a bunch of things. I’ve been playing soccer with a group of internationals for the past year, connecting with strangers over a mutual interest is wonderful, especially when you consider the differences in our upbringings and cultures. The more people I meet the more I’m convinced we’re all pretty similar. We all have similar concerns; we all have things that make us smile. I’ve learned so much from people I thought I’d have nothing in common with, and made friends that will undoubtedly change the rest of my life.
To learn more about Nick please see: http://www.nicklevitan.com.