It’s difficult enough to get a job when you can speak the language of the place you currently live in. If you don’t… well that’s an added bonus on the list of things that can and will go wrong while fishing for a job. I talked to two of my friends on the matter, to try and come up with a solution. At the very least I could see two very unique points of view on the topic of working that I feel might be valuable to anyone before setting out hunting for a job.
First I sat down with a friend of mine who was born and raised in Hungary and had multiple experiences in the world of working thus far. I asked Berci about the difficulties of finding a job as well as maintaining one as a full-time student.
Have you always lived in Budapest?
“No, we moved here in 2005.”
So you’re pretty much in the loop of things by now.
“No, I never left the house until I was 15 to 17. I always wanted to get a job but my mum didn’t let me, which is such a middle class struggle!.”
Okay, when did you have your first job?
I was 18, it was in 2019, it was my first job and I was so excited! I was a temporal salesperson at Vision Express. I could only sell the sunglasses because obviously I didn’t have any knowledge [to do anything else] and they didn’t bother to teach me. “It was the first job I ever applied for and I got it right off the bat. I honestly never really got turned down because… it’s the language thing I think. Although, it’s not everything. I had certificates but I also had the experience to back them up.
What languages do you speak?
English and Spanish. Besides Hungarian, of course.
Do you think speaking Hungarian made your situation easier?
“I think it [speaking Hungarian] was a baseline. They wouldn’t even have considered me without it”
They didn’t even think to put it in the job description. Sometimes it is required to speak one or two languages, but it is never Hungarian.
Are you working through a headhunting company?
Yeah, I am registered with two of the better, official ones compared to what I had when I was first starting. You can have a part-time job, but you can’t have a student job without one of these. The reason why a lot of people choose these is that you can get registered online and you only have to go into their office if you get a job. So it’s highly convenient. I first started with [my company] when I got my first job and I recall earning quite well — my PE teacher told me I earn almost as good as her.
What can you tell me about working as a student?
Student jobs are a lot of times advertised as a way to earn pocket money, but students are not working for pocket money.
“If a student needs to work, it’s because they need a wage to sustain themselves.”
Maybe because their parents can no longer support them, or because what their parents can give is just not enough. So it’s kind of a scam if you ask me. I obviously am not working for pocket money! And if I did, it shouldn’t take up most days of my week! Most of these are a proper part time job that you hold beside university. I need to put in 20-30 hours a week. And ever since I’ve been working, I have been neglecting my studies. The company I work for — that’s built on student work — advertises understanding and flexible working hours, yet they require me to tell them my availability 3 weeks in advance!
How much of your study hours have been pushed aside due to work?
I mean, I didn’t really have time to study before, but I even neglected to go to class because I was so exhausted from my job. I think a job is incredibly easy to get sometimes. But there are a lot of students who struggle to get one, and that’s because they don’t want to neglect their studies.
If you’re ready to neglect school and work any time, your employer will love you! So basically if you want to earn enough to sustain yourself, you really need to put your studies aside. For me, it’s the pressure of being the Miracle Twenty-Something, that’s pushing me to do all this. A friend of mine learned a programming language when they were in their teens and now employers and headhunters are clawing after him — because he has 10 years of experience in that language. Most of us are not like that.
If someone still decided that they needed and wanted to find a job, do you have any tips for them?
Don’t take any crap. You really have to decide what works and doesn’t work for you and draw your boundaries accordingly, because the less boundaries you have, the more likely you will get hired — but also the more likely you’ll be exploited.
Next, I decided to talk with a friend of mine who is from abroad and has been living in Hungary for a while. Ayesha told me about her experiences trying to find a job and having to settle for something less than she wanted, as well as the differences between her home country and Hungary.
Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hungary?
I am from Pakistan, a South Asian country, and I have been living in Hungary for almost 3 years.
Have you ever had a job in Pakistan?
No, because I’m just a bachelor student. If you guys have a different system, you may or may not have options to do volunteer work in your high school, but in Pakistan, we do not,; unless you are from a really, really privileged background. I never got such opportunities, so I did not work.
Do you work here in Hungary?
I started working here just recently.
So, you’ve been living in Hungary for 3 years and you just started working now.
Yeah, and it’s not even an intellectual job, as people would say, it’s labour work. Just recently I found a waitressing job.
Did you find it difficult to find a job in Hungary, or did you just not need to work before?
I found it absolutely difficult. Like it was really, really hard because the first thing that everyone asked was language requirements. And unfortunately, I do not speak the language. Hungarian is just too difficult for me to learn, and the thing was, that I wasn’t applying for a waitressing job or any other labour work. I was applying for “intellectual jobs”, something that would benefit my career in the future. Like something related to writing or an editorial role or administrative role, because I’m an English major and it could help me in the future. It would give me some experience I could put on my CV, but unfortunately, I could not find such jobs. So it was really really difficult for me. Even this job, I only got because the environment didn’t require me to speak the language. I am waitressing at a brunch place.
So you have to engage and communicate with customers, and yet it wasn’t necessary for you to know Hungarian?
No, because my workplace is an American brunch restaurant and the place where our restaurant is located is in a really rich area and the people who visit are mostly foreigners. All of them are from privileged backgrounds and even those who are Hungarian, speak another language. Even if they don’t, you can communicate with sign language.
Would you agree with the sentiment that anywhere in the world, it is the baseline requirement to speak the language of the place you are at to get a decent job?
That’s a really interesting question, and I’m not sure I’m equipped to answer that because I have not traveled the world to make that generalization. But if I’m thinking about Hungary, I think it is.
“Because people have a bias towards people who speak the language or who are from their country.”
Even if I send my CV anywhere, I’m filtered out in the first round just because I’m not Hungarian.
If you were to give any advice to someone who doesn’t speak Hungarian and wants to find a job, what would that be? How would you encourage them? Or would you even discourage them altogether?
It sounds discouraging, but I want to be realistic. It’s all fun and games traveling here, having a good life, exploring the cultures and whatnot, and I think as far as travelling is concerned, this place is nice, but if you want to establish [yourself] here, you need to learn the language. If you want to have a really well-paying job and a nice apartment, learning the language — like you said — is the baseline. Other than that (and it’s a really derogatory term), but you are just gonna slave away; work at a job that you’re not happy with, work yourself to the bone and still not make enough money. And you’ll still face racism, but you can reduce the effects of racism by learning the language. So if I were to give anyone advice, I’d say, be realistic and if you do want to work abroad, go to a country where you can find a larger community and one where you speak the language of.
So there you have it, two sides of the same coin. I chose these people to interview because I found they had valuable experiences in the world of working, but remember, no two experiences are the same. Just because one person struggled, doesn’t mean that you will too if, and when you get into the hunt for a workplace. However, both Berci and Ayesha had interesting thoughts showcasing a spectrum of the same incident. Just keep trying and maybe take these tips and stories with you on your own journey to remember while hoping to find the perfect student job for you.