"It’s hard to say but before I moved to Hungary, I was ashamed to say that I’m Roma. Everyone else knew. I couldn’t hide it, but I preferred not to talk about it. My father taught me and my brother that we’re not Roma. He did that because he had been discriminated against his entire life. I started working in the field of Roma inclusion, but I wasn’t happy with my workplace, partly because of the rather sexist, all-male leadership. My professor told me about a program for Roma university graduates at the Central European University in Budapest.
When I came here in 2011, I thought “Oh my God, I’m gonna die”. I couldn’t speak English or Hungarian. My friend from Serbia lived here and she asked her Canadian boyfriend to pick me up at the train station. I was terrified, thinking “OK, he can come here but I can’t communicate with him either.” I just said “coffee?” and “cigarettes?” to him because I desperately needed these before he’d put me in a taxi and send me to my new home. But then the first person I met at the dorm could speak Macedonian (a very similar language to Serbian) and she was also from the same program. From that point onwards I felt safe.
The Roma Graduate Preparation Program was a life-changing experience. I overcame my identity issue, learned a lot and made great friends. It was a specific environment because we understood and supported each other. I used to be ashamed because your environment teaches you that it’s not good to be Roma. You hear bad things about Roma and you don’t want to be connected to what people say. I felt bad about myself and I felt bad about saying the word ‘Roma’ in public. But I’m not ashamed anymore. And I say this in public whenever it makes sense, not only because now I’m free to say this but because it’s political. It’s important because it still happens that people wonder “how come you are so educated?” It’s offensive because they say these things believing they will make you feel good by differentiating you from “other” Roma. I want to attach more positive values to the meanings of the concept.
Hungarian language is an issue. I never tried because I don’t need it for my work and my friends are still mostly from the same international environment. But sometimes I feel like I miss out on small things that are actually really important in life. For example, I had very nice elderly neighbors. They tried to show their kindness in different ways even though we couldn’t speak to each other. I had moments when I wanted to give them something I made or brought from Serbia but I couldn’t, I was feeling uncomfortable.
I established very strong relationships with people here. I met people who are close to me in terms of experiences and interests. It’s not about belonging to a community racially, ethnically or nationally or having a common culture but we have experiences, fears and hopes to share. It’s about constant learning."