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When a leaf turns to yellow, it falls down

Son Pham
His specialty is organic chemistry. He plans, develops and produces those catalysts which are needed during chemical reactions. Son Pham feels himself at home in Hungary and he managed to fit in.

Why does a 19-year-old Vietnamese guy chose Hungary for studying in a university?

I was interested in chemistry and medication. All the remedies, which cured the injured people during the Vietnamese War, and the Plus Tablet which can be found in every household in my homeland, came from Hungary. That was the only thing I knew about Hungary.


So if I get it right that was your push factor which influenced you to come here.

Yes. I studied at a university in my hometown, Danang. In Vietnam, based on the educational results two students are appointed in every city (all in all 10 persons) who can study abroad, Russia, Japan or Hungary. When I arrived at the airport I could not speak a word in Hungarian. I could not read, write or pronounce anything. I was so lucky because in the Hungarian Language Institution, where I learned before the beginning of the university semester, I had a perfect teacher. She taught us the basics of the Hungarian grammar even if  the students came from different countries and sometimes she had to play Activity to make us understand what she wanted.


Could you easily get used to the language?

No! I was afraid to speak or to contact people. Yet my teacher said to me: “If you do not speak, you will get into trouble! You should talk to those people who walk along the streets or buy a cup of coffee. You have to talk to everybody!” And I did as she said to me.


What did you experience when as a foreigner you tried to get in touch with Hungarian people?

Honestly the Hungarians are really friendly, kind and helpful. I got to know some of my friends when I was only able to mumble some silly questions such as “What's the time?” and I am very proud of that!


So do you think the Hungarians are nice?

Yes, they are and as well insistent.


Insistent? What do you mean?

I live here since 12 years and I have Hungarian friends, neighbours and colleges. Based on my experiences if Hungarians want something, they fight for it and keep on until reaching their aim.


How was your life as a student in Budapest?

I am glad that you did not ask how my life as a Vietnamese in Budapest was.



It was the same as if I were a Hungarian. It was very exciting to study at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. I also made the MsC and after that the PHD there. In Vietnam we studied just theories due to the low quality of the equipments in the laboratories. Here in Budapest all the necessary circumstances were given to become a chemist such as perfect teachers, conditions and fully-equipped labs. I have never felt outsider during my studies except for my difficulties in the Hungarian language.



Never. Once I had problems but bad people can be found everywhere. This is not a question defined by geography.


Have you made friends during your lessons in the laboratories?

I got in touch with my best friends there. We have been friends, group mates, roommates and finally colleges and these people are all Hungarian. They taught me the language, I explained mathematics to them. In conclusion we became a great and convergent community.


Do you believe that Budapest is a multicultural capital?

Absolutely. Here lives Turkish, French, British, Ukrainian people together without serious problems. There is also a great variety of national and international cultural programs, gastronomy, entertaining and educational opportunities. According to me life in London, Wien or Berlin is as satisfactory as here. I like living here, in Budapest.


Would you like to stay here?

Sure. We stay, you and me who call this place home.


Would you define yourself as a Hungarian?

No, I am a banana. When I’ve visited Vietnam, my friends told me I am a banana. Outside yellow, but inside white. I am not Hungarian but not fully Vietnamese. I belong here. I was born in Vietnam, I have my relatives and friends there. But I represent Hungary with my job.


You feel you fitted in?



Do you plan to go back to Vietnam?

Currently Hungary is my home country. I will go back sometime in the future, but I don't have certain plans. There's an idiom in Vietnam: When a leaf turns to yellow, it falls down.


What do you like the most in Hungarian people?

Firstly they are smart, intelligent. 11 Hungarian received Nobel-Price. In China the population is more than 1 billion and there is only 1 person, who got this price. Secondly, I really like the goulash soup. Nobody thinks that the goulash soup is as famous and popular as it is. I participated in a conference in Tanzania in 2010 and in the first restaurant, which I found, I ordered Hungarian goulash soup.


Why did we meet here?

Because now I am hungry and I would like you to have lunch with me.


Where are we?

On the Veress Pálné Street. This is a tiny Vietnamese restaurant. You should try the Pho soup and a traditional desert too. Do not afraid of the seasoning, every dish can use a bit of anise.


Maybe the food is the only thing that I miss. I have been “hungry” in the past 12 years in Hungary. I had an idea to open a restaurant which offers dishes not only for Asian people but also for Hungarians so they can try out our food.


The article was written by: Veronika Szőnyi


Translated by: Orsi Csizmazia

Published: Wed, 09/10/2013 - 09:05

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