Life in Two Countries: the Leila Fletcher Story
by Leila Fletcher
Each year of my life, I have left my home in America to fly across the Atlantic and spend my summers in Hungary.
mother was born in Hungary, but she came to America to learn English
when she was in her twenties. She left her whole extended family behind.
Years later, I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, where my mom met my dad.
My parents decided to settle down in Madison after I was born.
mother did not want to abandon her home in Hungary altogether, however.
She wanted me to know her family and her culture. That was when my
parents decided that my mom and I would travel back and forth across the
ocean each summer. Through my experience living in both Hungary and
America, I have noticed many differences between life in one country
versus the other.
To me, one of the most fundamental differences
between Hungarian and American culture is the language. My mother taught
me Hungarian and English simultaneously, so I grew up bilingual.
Although Hungarian is a phonetic language, the grammar is extremely
difficult for foreigners. One such difficulty is that there are four
different ways to pronounce “o” and “u,” depending on the accents: o, ó,
ö, ő, and u, ú, ü, ű.
The meanings of Hungarian words vary
greatly with the length of the vowels, too. Take the following two
sentences for example—with small changes to the vowels, their entire
meanings change: “a nagymama megörült amikor meglátott” (“grandma became
happy when she saw you”), as opposed to “a nagymama megőrült amikor
meglátott” (“grandma became crazy when she saw you”). Specifying whether
a vowel is long or short is very important when speaking Hungarian.
Although English is fairly difficult to learn, Hungarian—with all its
conjugations and word-endings—is definitely one of the hardest languages
to learn, at least in my experience.
Modern Hungarian culture
is, in fact, relatively similar to American culture and most other
modern Western cultures. Many of the music, film, and fashion trends are
the same in Hungary as they are in the United States. Hungarian people
listen to American music and watch dubbed or subtitled American movies
and TV shows. Hungarians even take some English words and “Hungarianize”
One main cultural difference visitors to Hungary might
notice is that Hungarians are much more straight-forward than Americans
are, especially toward their family members. Foreigners might find the
candor of most Hungarians rude, yet usually their blunt remarks come
from a place of love, and their intent is to help fix whatever they
think is wrong. It has been a slight challenge to get used to my
Hungarian family’s readiness to immediately call out my flaws, but I
know that they mean and want the best for me.
Whenever I tell
someone that I go to Hungary every summer, I often get the follow-up
question: “Where do you like being more?” This is an extremely tough
question for me to answer, because each place has its pros and cons. My
grandmother in Hungary is the youngest of seven in her family, so I have
many relatives there, some of whom I have never even met. Most of those
we visit live in a different city and relatively far from where my
grandparents live. So, when I live in Hungary, that usually leaves me
with my mom, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my two baby cousins and
my great-grandmother. I don’t spend time with many people my age during
my time in Hungary. In contrast, in America, I am constantly surrounded
by friends and other teenagers.
While I was in kindergarten in
the U.S., my parents decided to homeschool me for my elementary
education in America. This allowed me to engage in a variety of
different activities, from acting and singing in a choir to writing
articles at Simpson Street Free Press. My extracurricular involvement
also introduced me to many new people. However, my mom didn’t want me to
be totally school-free, so she enrolled me in a school in Hungary. As
soon as I started school in Hungary, going became more than an annual
family reunion; it became a necessity.
I usually attended school
in Hungary for the last few weeks of May, June, and the first few days
of September. Then I would bring my Hungarian textbooks back to study
them throughout my time in America. However, due to the amount of
extracurricular activities I am involved in, I didn’t always finish
studying by the time I went back to Hungary. Many years, I ended up
finishing most of the years' worth of material in the summer months and
took the Hungarian year-end exams in August. Since I was busy studying
most summers, I haven't formed many close friendships in Hungary, which
is very unusual for me. While my American life is full of driving to
different places and being with different groups of people, my life in
Hungary is relatively solitary, with only my close family and tourists for company.
common misconception among my circles in America is that my mom and I
go to Hungary each summer for vacation. But these trips are not a
vacation. When I was in Hungarian school, I spent a lot of time
studying. And my mother runs the Hungarian bed and breakfast she built.
We live by the Lake Balaton there, one of the tourist hubs in Hungary.
Unlike in the case of a vacation, it doesn’t really feel like I’m in a
different place when I’m in Hungary. It’s as if I have two totally
separate lives, but I never really finish either of them.
being in both places. In Hungary, I have my whole extended family. In
America, I have my dad, my grandmother, my aunt, my friends, my school,
and all of my activities. Yet, whenever I am in one place, I am always
missing something, or someone, from the other. It is true that wherever I
am, I always love something about being there; however, I am never
totally fulfilled. This is why I think that it might be easier for both
my families in Hungary and America than it is for my mom and me: either
they miss me when I am gone, or they are happy and fulfilled when I am
I am often told that I am very lucky because I get to
travel to Europe every summer. Although I don't normally consider my
situation unusually lucky, when I think about it, I realize that I am
very fortunate. Since I am so used to it, getting on a plane twice every
year and flying across an ocean does not seem out of the ordinary.
Living in America for a while and then going to Hungary just seems
Nevertheless, I know that my parents' decision for me to
live this kind of “split life” has afforded me many opportunities. I
now have friends and connections on two continents, I have been exposed
to many different European cultures, and I have the advantage of being
bilingual. I am grateful to my family in both America and Hungary for
making this lifestyle possible for me and my mom. Despite the hardship
of always leaving things I care about behind for a long time every year,
having a life in two countries is an experience that I am very thankful
for. It is also an experience that I believe will help me throughout
the rest of my life.