Fulbright Spotlight: Bence

The Fulbright Program is one of many opportunities that allow students, faculty, and young professionals from the United States to study, research, and teach abroad while allowing people from one of the 160 participating countries to do the same in the United States.

Bence X. Széchenyi is one of the bright and creative young professionals currently in Budapest, Hungary with the honor of receiving a Fulbright Grant. Originally from New York, Bence is a 2020 graduate from Bates College in Maine with an English Literature major. He is taking on an interdisciplinary approach of researching the life and contemporary legacy of the famous István Széchenyi as Bence is a descendent of this 19th-century historical figure and political writer. Read more about his project, his adjustment to life in Hungary, his enjoyment of cafes, and his overall Fulbright experience.

The Fulbright Program is one of the United States Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs. Through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants are provided for study/research projects or becoming an English Teaching Assistant during one academic year in one of the participating countries outside the U.S. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program provide grants for graduate students and other young professionals to study and research in the United States. Learn about this special U.S. government program through current Fulbright Grantees and their experiences in Hungary.

Bence X. Széchenyi was granted a Fulbright Grant for 2021-2022. Being a descendent of István Széchenyi, Bence chose Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary as his host. As a highly motivated and ambitious student, Bence graduated in 2020 from Bates College in Maine with a major in English Literature. Currently while in Hungary, he is focusing on the legacy of Széchenyi István in different perspectives such as history, economics, and politics. Read more about his experience with Fulbright and studying in a different country below.

Interviewer: Kaitlin Berger

Why did you choose to come to Hungary?

My family is of Hungarian origin and I was born in Budapest but never lived here. It’s not just living abroad for me, it is also a sort of homecoming.

How did your education or experience in the U.S. prepare you for this experience?

I received an excellent liberal arts education from Bates College. Through my work as an English major I became skilled in critical analysis and writing, but my liberal arts background made me a well rounded scholar in general. This is what allows me to execute interdisciplinary research like I am working on now.

What has been the biggest differences between the U.S. and Hungary in general and within academics?

I cannot speak for the US in general, the size and diversity of the country makes any comparison with a small country like Hungarian impossible without gross generalizations. However, I have appreciated the pace of Hungarian life quite a lot. I greatly enjoy the traditional longer lunches and meals in general, and have found the pace of the work day to be very pleasant.

Have you been able to participate in activities outside of your studies and research?

Yes, I have been playing for a football club (or soccer team, depending on your preference) with my cousin which has been a great opportunity to practice my Hungarian.

Were there any difficulties adjusting to life in Budapest?

I only experienced small adjustment difficulties, like having to learn to live without CVS (a convenient store and a pharmacy). I have been to Hungary and Budapest specifically a number of times growing up so I knew my way around a little bit.

Considering your Hungarian roots, how is Hungary different than your expectations now that you are finally here?

Hungary has always had a semi-mythic status in my mind as a vague ancestral homeland. As a result, I had a romantic view of my family history. Being here and gaining a practical understanding of the country and its people has contextualized my ancestry and allowed me to begin to understand it realistically.

How do you fill your free time?

Budapest is filled with a wonderfully diverse selection of bars and cafes, so in my downtime you can usually find me in one of them reading over a coffee or a beer, depending on the time of day. I also frequent the thermal baths, which is the finest method of relaxation I have ever had access to.

What are your future plans and what role will your time in Hungary play a role in that?

I intend to pursue an MBA and am interested in working in private equity or venture capital in the future. My time in Hungary has deepened my ability to work well in foreign settings, bridging language and cultural gaps, which is vital for these often international industries. Additionally my research has dealt significantly with issues of national economic development which will be a useful background in my future career.

Do you have any advice to someone who is about to study in a different country?

Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel comfortable and productive right away. Transitions of this sort are hard for everyone, so allow yourself space and time to adjust.