Interviews: How Expats Coped With The Covid-19 Shutdown In Hungary - Part 2

  • 14 Jul 2020 4:02 PM
Interviews: How Expats Coped With The Covid-19 Shutdown In Hungary - Part 2
By Alexandra Ivanoff for XpatLoop. March 16th 2020: None of us will ever forget it. Hungary’s theatres, mozis, bars, schools, churches, and restaurants, all closed their doors that day. Everyone marooned themselves at home, with no idea how long self-isolation from the approaching Covid-19 would last.

Click here to read part 1

5. Ari Santeri Kupsus (Finland) - Entrepreneur, Cultural Projects in Budapest - pictured above

Home is here - for 20 years! It wasn’t even a question to leave. Plus, I don’t have an apartment in Finland anymore. But I’m in touch every day with my elderly parents, who are still in quarantine there.

The March 16th shutdown really affected my businesses and projects — very suddenly. We had scheduled Indonesian artists to visit Budapest for 10 days prior to a March 26th opening, so of course their air tickets had to be cancelled immediately.

The Artists Exchange Program exhibition was to feature four Hungarian artists and seven Indonesian artists, and was intended to celebrate 65 years of diplomacy between Hungary and Indonesia. The wives of the Indonesian and Hungarian Presidents would have attended too.

All the paintings are stuck in Indonesia right now. I’m feeling very sorry about this. A partial version of the exhibit is being shown online, and will be fully reassembled at the Ari Kupsus Gallery here, and the Cemara 6 Gallery in Jakarta, when the Covid restrictions are lifted.

I had to cancel all my summer art and music events at my summer castle, the Amadé-Bajzáth Pappenheim Chateau in Iszkaszentgyörgy. May 30th would have been our eleventh season opening, with the Ambassador of Indonesia in attendance.

The first week in June I had scheduled performances by 12 student singers from the Finnish National Opera. Then on June 10th, the International Art Camp, featuring Russian artists this year, had to be cancelled. Later on June 20, we were going to host World Yoga Day, with 400 yogis assembling in the Baroque Garden to also offer folk dances, saris, and jewelry, from India.

And my Salon Concerts here in Budapest would have celebrated their 20th year of presenting live music in my salon. I’ve presented 10-12 concerts per year since 2000. The intimate, friendly atmosphere makes them quite popular; in fact, at least 10 couples have met there!

Believe it or not, I actually loved my isolation. It was the first such quiet time in my life, which is normally totally full. I spent the first 2.5 months at home, cleaning it. I also ate pizza and white chocolate and watched movies. My first week alone I was very active; second week, the mess is tolerated (with wine); third week, the shaving stopped; fourth week, I got on the scale…

I realize now how important it is to take time for yourself and get out of the giant whirl. My vision for the future: Health, Happiness, Positivity, Looking to the Future. Plan it!

6. Clive Wilton (Britain/France) - Entrepreneur, Tech industry

Hungary is my country now. I feel more at home here than in either of my countries of citizenship. I have my business here, my friends here and my life here. Also, I have to say that, I’m very glad I did stay, as the response of the Hungarian government to the Covid-19 pandemic and the behaviour of the people led us to have a much easier and less restricted life than many other countries including France, which would have been my alternative. I felt safe in Budapest before Covid and felt protected by the Hungarian people and the administration.

I’m fortunate that my work is just as easy to do from home as from an office. I had regular calls, both voice and video with colleagues and friends.

I met personally with a very small number of close friends and even played card games online. I didn’t experience loneliness, maybe because for many years I have worked in multinational teams, based all over the world, where our only contact was the regular video calls that we had, so really it was almost business-as-usual for me.

I think the pandemic should be a wake-up call to everybody. Those who say they want to get back to normal should ask themselves if “normal” is such a great thing. I believe we have a huge opportunity to redefine “normality” and should not let the chance slip through our fingers. Some leaders have shown themselves to be excellent and others have been exposed as pretty useless, and I’m sure most of us can say the same about some of the people in our own lives. Situations like this often expose the truth about people and we can be surprised both negatively and positively by how people behave.

7. Miriam Nic Eochaidh (Ireland) - Kodály Concept Music Teacher, Dublin Public Schools

I was studying for my second diploma in music education at the Kodály Pedagogical Institute in Kecskemét when the government issued the shutdown orders. The school closed quickly. My studies there included voice, piano, conducting, score-reading, folk music, philosophy, and methodology. In mid-March we had a meeting and the director told us that we would not be allowed to have lessons for the time being. We wanted to take our Spring Break first, and then come back the next week. We had great plans to travel, so we said OK we’ll go into lockdown and see what happens — not knowing how long it’s going to be. Then, we were told everything would be online. 

So I decided to stay in Kecskemét for the whole lockdown, as it seemed the best option for the remainder of my studies. The teachers did their best to maintain the sense of community and made the smooth transition to online learning.

Online lessons have given me invaluable insight into teaching and learning music on a virtual platform, a challenge which I will be faced with on my return to teaching in Dublin. The Kodály Institute kept us informed of the situation as it unfolded and offered their full support to all students, to those who remained and those who went home.

Singing with others, whether in person or online, was unfortunately not possible and I really missed attending live concerts. For me, the Kodály Concept is an approach to music education for all, one which values discovery-based learning and active participation in meaningful, quality music-making, reading and writing. Singing lies at the heart of it with music as nourishment for the soul.

On a personal note, my extra time was spent chatting with family and friends on Zoom, along with experiments in the kitchen, perfecting my banana bread recipe!!

8. Hussein Abdelkarim (Egypt) - Entrepreneur, Health & Wellness Industry

I remained in Hungary simply because Hungary is one of my multiple homes around the world. I don’t view myself as an expat here, nor as a local. I rather view myself as a nomad human who is home everywhere he goes. As a child, I grew up in many different places, as my dad was moving for work almost every 2-3 years to a new country. I can’t forget him telling us “together we’re home anywhere.” So my global citizen philosophy is one that I practice wherever I am.

If you dig deep into human history, there were no countries, borders, paper-based identities — those concepts are relatively new to us. We were living in tribes, perpetually moving and integrating with other tribes. This was how we evolved as wild species roaming around, honing our skills to survive and thrive in the most difficult circumstances.

Now, we’re living a domesticated life-style that is more detrimental to our human genome than beneficial. Our bodies are getting weaker since we’re not using them in the way they’re designed to be used.

We’re becoming more susceptible to an increasing number of diseases that never existed a couple of centuries ago. I believe our lack of immunity can be blamed on our sedentary way of living that has been developed for our own comfort — but in fact, it’s causing us great discomfort. 

Here, during the lockdown, I attended a variety of online courses on human nutrition and how to grow nutrient-dense flavorful foods. I was also cooking new recipes and enjoyed video chats with old friends and family members around the world that I haven’t seen for a long time. I managed to leverage the loneliness by reducing all kinds of distraction in order to focus on online self-study and self-observation.

What I learned: I used to believe that we’re social animals and socializing is a basic need of humans — like food and oxygen — but I found out that it’s not that much of a need for me.

I was surprised by how I managed to get by days and weeks without talking to a single person, and it was just fine as long as I was using my time for my best interests. I know it’s personal, but it worked perfectly for me.

9. Manon Laveau (France) - Ecology studies

I started a six month traineeship in Budapest mid-January. My parents suggested that I go back to France during the lockdown, but I refused because I knew the Covid-19 situation and lockdown restrictions were worse in France. I also preferred not to stay with my parents during that period in order to avoid any risk of transmission.


What helped me survive during this unusual period was cooking a lot more nice recipes that I liked, and going to the park on the weekend to reconnect with nature and walk a lot, as a compensation for staying home all week working all day without moving.

Luckily, I didn’t really experience loneliness, as I was living with other flatmates. I was also calling my friends and relatives on a regular basis as well as work colleagues.

I baked a lot of risotto and pancakes, which became my guilty pleasures. I also bought a lot of fair-trade praline chocolate and many pistachios to boost me during work days.

During this period I experienced a welcome shift in my career direction: I decided to go back to studies and start a Master of Sciences in October 2020 around ecological redirection and transformation of public and private organisations. The aim is to help them adapt to uncertain situations just like Covid-19 and climate change related future consequences.

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