Xpat Interview: Mechthild von Knobelsdorff, Director of 'Hungarian For Expats'

  • 15 Jul 2019 4:42 PM
Xpat Interview: Mechthild von Knobelsdorff, Director of 'Hungarian For Expats'
Mechthild ("Maggie") is the founder and director of Hungarian For Expats and she started Budapest Women Entrepreneurs.

A German expat herself, she discovered that available language classes were not meeting expats’ needs, because they are too focused on grammar and theoretical knowledge without teaching the vocabulary needed in daily life. As she’d been looking for another challenge, she decided to start Hungarian For Expats.

Together with a Hungarian teacher, she prepares the material for the modules which combine three features. First, each module focuses on a single theme, such as Food, Socializing, or Health. Second, each module defines a list of common words relevant to this theme, which students then learn through stories and interactive exercises. Finally, every module concludes with a real life practice where students apply their newfound knowledge.

The model works: What Mechthild loves most is to hear students’ stories about positive interactions with Hungarians.

1. When did you arrive in Hungary and what brought you here?
I arrived here two years ago, in summer 2017 as an expat spouse. I loved the city from the first moment, but not speaking the local language felt overwhelming.

2. Have you ever been an expatriate elsewhere?
Yes, I lived as an expat in Belgium and the US.

3. What surprised you most about Hungary?
I was quite surprised about how much Hungarians help each other out. Just the other day I was stopped twice in the street. Once, a lady stopped her car to offer me a ride up the hill, because it was too warm. Later the same day, another lady stopped and offered me a lift down the street, because it was raining.

4. Friends are in for a weekend - what must they absolutely see and do?
Cross one of the Duna bridges to enjoy the wonderful view, if possible by night. I would also take them to a cake shop or let them taste my own túró gomboc (cottage cheese desert).

5. What is your favourite Hungarian food?
I really like lecso, a kind of ratatouille with green peppers, especially if cooked over the fire.

6. What is never missing from your refrigerator?
Mustard and nail polish.

7. What is your favourite Hungarian word?
I love of the words that have a lot of "e"s in them, such as remélem (I hope) or egyetem (university). My favorite is “következik”, which means “comes next”. I find it funny that there is a proper word for this.

8. What do you miss the most from home?
If by home you mean Germany, where I haven’t lived for 16 years, it would be my parents.

9. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?
I find programming pretty fascinating. But I am sure that I would miss social interactions pretty quickly.

10. What's a job you would definitely never want?
To work as a cashier or in a factory line.

11. Where did you spend your last vacation?
At Lake Tisza. It is a beautiful nature reserve and a great place to bike. For me, it was also good to practice Hungarian. I remember buying bread from a mobile bakery that drove around town every day, just like the Tesco delivery cars. The quality of the bread was ok (yes, German people are bread snobs ;-) ), but I felt good for talking to the driver in his language.

12. Where do you hope to spend your next one?
In Transylvania. That’s a place that I would never go to from Germany, simply because it is too far. Several people recommended it strongly, especially for its scenic landscapes.

13. What was your favourite band, film, or hobby as a teen?
I really liked Nirvana and Bon Jovi.

14. Apart of temptation what can't you resist?
I can’t put down a really good book - my self-discipline simply goes down the drain. There have been evenings where I switched off the light, then got up again, read some pages, went back to bed, just to get up to continue reading.

15. Red wine or white?
As long as it is high quality, definitely red. I have tasted wonderful wines in Hungary.

16. Book or movie?

17. Morning person or night person?
Morning, unless you wake me up at 5am.

18. Which social issue do you feel most strongly about?
Climate change, because it affects all aspects of our lives and will distort whole communities.

19. Buda side or Pest side?
Buda for living, Pest for going out.

20. What would you say is your personal motto?
I have two:
1) Be the change you want to see in the world
2) You can’t fail if you don’t try.
That’s why I started my business and encourage other women to do so as well!

  • How does this interview make you feel?