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Watching History Happen: Studying Abroad in Budapest

Watching History Happen: Studying Abroad in Budapest

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Siena student Kenny Tousignant in Budapest
Siena student Kenny Tousignant in Budapest

Siena student Kenneth Tousignant is currently studying in Budapest, Hungary at Corvinus University and has a unique opportunity to learn about a culture largely unknown to many Americans. His courses in Hungarian language and culture are offering him a glimpse into the relationship that Hungary has with the rest of Europe and the progression of its artistic culture throughout history, including during the Communist regime. When asked why he chose to study in Hungary, Tousignant replied, “It really came down to the fact that I wanted to study abroad in a place off the beaten path. I wanted a place that would show me a part of the world many Americans do not know as well.”

While Budapest may be off the beaten path for many Americans, it has been a path well-traveled for recent Syrian refugees.

Due to recent events and conflict in Syria, many people have been fleeing the area in pursuit of refuge in Europe. While some countries in Europe are offering asylum to these individuals, some governments are concerned about the mass influx of people entering their country. This has resulted in a concentration of refugees in Budapest, Hungary as refugees travel towards Germany, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered them asylum. At this point, the Hungarian government has not offered asylum to the refugees.

Refugees in Budapest are centralized in the Keleti Train Station, one of the most important stations in the city. They are predominantly concentrated in the section of the station that deals with international trains out of Budapest as they attempt to travel to other areas of Europe.

Despite this influx of people into Hungary’s capital, Tousignant says that the daily life of the city may not be as altered as one may assume. “Arriving here, I was under the impression they would be everywhere and that could not be further from the truth. While at first there were hundreds of refugees camped out, that has dwindled down to maybe a few tents from the last time I was there about a week ago.”

Though Tousignant may not have interacted extensively with the refugees in the city, he has been able to talk to the Hungarians he interacts with about the situation. “The Hungarians that I have met are very disappointed in the way their government has handled the situation, and rightfully so,” he said. “They are also not afraid to voice their displeasure and shock with how their own government is handling such a sensitive matter.”

While the courses that Tousignant is taking act as an excellent formal education, his close proximity to this situation is also serving as an informal, but still meaningful, education. His interactions with the Hungarian people and the refugees he does encounter will aid in the formation of his own opinions in response to a complex issue and continue with him into the future.

“The times I have encountered the refugees, they are for some reason all smiling and laughing and playing soccer. It truly is inspiring to think of the torment these people have gone through and they can smile through it all,” says Tousignant. “These people have been through it all and the least they deserve is an opportunity to find a little peace.”

-Jenna Kersten, Class of 2017