We are happy that you have chosen Hungary as the place of your AFS year and that you are interested in our country, its people, history, culture and the way we think and live. We are looking forward to meeting you soon!
In order to help your orientation and preparation for the coming AFS school year, AFS Hungary prepared this site for your information. You will find sections, which give you a brief introduction to our country, its people and a basic vocabulary of our language and some facts that help you during your daily life. Please read it carefully. We hope you will find it helpful. Have a good preparation for this upcoming unique experience and see you soon here in Hungary!
Basic Information about Hungary
Geography and climate
Hungary is in the geometrical centre of Europe, so Hungarians prefer to think of it as being in the heart of Europe, rather than Eastern Europe. The country is located in the Carpathian Basin surrounded by mountains. Hungary shares its borders with Austria in the west, Slovakia in the north, the Ukraine in the north-east, Romania in the south-east and the former Yugoslavian countries in the south.
The territory of the country is 93,932 square kilometers (35,920 square miles); slightly larger than Austria, but half the size of the US states Oklahoma or Missouri. Hungary is divided into three main regions: the flat land of ”Alföld”, the mountainous ridges of northern Hungary and the hilly terrain of Transdanubia where the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton is situated. There are two big rivers crossing the country: The Duna (Danube), which is the second largest river in Europe, and the Tisza. Both play an important role in the life of the country, as water way for trade, and as holiday resorts.
Hungary has a dry continental climate. All of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn) can be found here. Generally there is not too much rain, and the temperature can be extremely cold in the winter, in January -15 Celsius, while in the summer it can rise above 30-35 Celsius.
We advise you to check the weather forecast just before departure, in order to make your packing easier and your stay in Hungary more convenient.
Population and religion
The population of Hungary is around 10 million, of which 93.6% Hungarian, 1.6% German, 1.1% Slovaks, 0.5% South Slavs, 0.2% Romanians and 3% Gypsies.
Approximately 5 million Hungarians live outside of the country; some 2 million in Transylvania, half a million in the northern and southern neighbouring states and a big number of emigrants around the world.
About 20% of the inhabitants live in the capital and around 60% now live in an urban environment. The largest cities are Budapest (cca. 2.5 million), Debrecen (cca. 240,000) Miskolc (cca. 210,000), Szeged (cca. 175,000), Pécs (cca. 170,000), Gyõr (cca. 125,000), Székesfehérvár (cca. 100,000).
Currently the life expectancy of Hungarian men is 72.1 years, while it is 78.6 years in the case of Hungarian women. On average, more than one kid lives in one family, because 107 children fall on 100 families.
Hungarians are mostly Roman Catholics (65%), but in bigger or smaller numbers all religions can be found here including 25% Protestant, 1.1% Greek Orthodox and Jews, and 8% others.
Between 13 BC and 430 AD the Romans established a province in the Carpathian Basin, which played an important role for a long time. After the fall of the Roman Empire, several nomadic nations moved into the Carpathian Basin belonging to the Franc Empire. The Hungarian tribes occupied this territory and settled here in the 9th century.
The ancestors of the Hungarians lived in a tribal society and finally settled down in the Carpathian Basin in 895 – 896 with the leadership of chieftain Árpád. His son, Duke Géza and his grandson, King Stephen I, the first king, established Hungary as a Christian kingdom. Under the rule of their royal dynasty, the Árpáds, Hungary thrived and became a flourishing and modern country of that time. Hungary had to defend itself against several attacks, among others the most important were the Mongols in 1241 – 42, and the Turks, from the 14th century onwards.
In 1526 the Turks advanced into Europe and defeated the Hungarian army at the battlefield of Mohács. As a result of this, one-third of the country came under Turkish rule for more than 150 years. From this time on the western part of Hungary was under the rule of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, while Transylvania kept a relative independence as a principality.
The Turks were driven out of Hungary by the end of the 17th century (the capital Buda was recaptured in 1686) and the kingdom was again ruled as a unity by the Austrian Habsburgs. Even though the Hungarians had several uprisings (for instance: the ”Rákóczi” Independence Uprising in 1703-11, and the Civil Revolution and War of Independence in 1848-49), the Austrian Habsburgs consolidated their rule as the Austro – Hungarian Monarchy until the end of the First World War. The Monarchy was among the defeated empires, and that caused a tremendous loss of territory (two thirds) for Hungary. Between the two wars the country officially remained a kingdom ruled by the Habsburg family but a governor exercised power.
Hungary entered the Second World War on the German side in order to gain back the territories lost in World War I. the Germans were driven out by the Soviet Army in 1945. The following 44 years of the country was influenced by Soviet dominance. There were attempts to change the direction of the country’s development, which led to the 1956 People’s Uprising. Although this uprising was defeated, circumstances slowly consolidated and in 1989 Hungary became a republic with a multi-party system.
In 1999 Hungary joined NATO. Since 2004 Hungary is a member state of the European Union. Since 2008 Hungary is part of the Schengen Area.
The Hungarian language with its more than 3,000 years of independent existence many believe belongs to the Finno – Ugrian branch of the Uralic language family, but through the centuries it has been influenced by the Turkish, Slavic and German languages in its vocabulary. It is said to be one of the most difficult languages in the world, but don’t panic, if you ask people to speak to you slowly and if you stop them trying to talk to you in English then you will pick it up easily and hopefully you will be able to speak this unique language by the end of your stay. It is worthwhile to learn, as Hungarian ranks 40th among world languages as regards the number of those who speak it as a mother tongue, and 12th among European languages; and in 1999 it was taught at 87 universities in 34 countries. Want to know more? Click here: Hungarian language and Linguistic Family Tree.
You will have the opportunity to take an accredited ECL language test. This certificate is accepted in the European Union- Universities, colleges and employers can accept it as a proof of your Hungarian language skills. Please take some time to consider this as an option. Our National Office also organizes a non-accredited language exam at the University of Szeged and at the London Style Language School in Székesfehérvár for students who apply. The fee is approximately EUR 70/USD 95/ FT 21.000 (for both the oral and the written parts of the exam), which has to be paid in cash by the students on the day of the exam.
National holidays and public holidays observed in Hungary
Making phone calls from a landline phone in Hungary is rather expensive. Check with your host family what are their ”rules” about this. You should not make long distance calls without asking your host family’s permission and you should let them know how you intend to pay for international calls.
We suggest you to use Skype or other programs of the internet to make international calls, as they are free and there is internet access in most of the Hungarian homes.
How to make an inland long distance call directly:
after picking up the receiver wait for the dialing tone
wait for the second dialing tone
dial the area code and the number you want continuously
When using mobile phones, use the international format: +36 1 234-5678
How to make an international call:
after picking up the receiver wait for the dialing tone
wait for the second dialing tone
dial the country code, the area code and the number you wish to call
When using mobile phones, use the international format: +(country code), (area/provider code), (phone number)
For others to call you, the telephone country code for Hungary: +36
We recommend that you calculate with USD 100/month for your personal use and for the trips your school or chapter will arrange for you during the year. The trips are optional, but we recommend going along.
You might find that Hungary is relatively cheap at the very beginning, but be careful before you go to the extremes in spending lavishly your pocket money. Please be careful to consider how and on what you spend money. Be sensitive to the economic level of your host family and spend accordingly. Spending more money than your host siblings could make them feel uncomfortable. Your host family will most likely provide you with the things you need daily, such as toothpaste, soap, etc., but don’t take their generosity for granted.
You can open a bank account with the help of your host family in Hungary, in which case your parents can transfer money to you. You can also bring a credit/debit card with you from home. Debit cards and credit cards are widely accepted. In restaurants, museums or chain shops you can surely pay with credit card. You can also retrieve cash in each town from an ATM /cash automats/.
The currency could be volatile against the Euro, and the usual rate is 1 USD= 260 HUF. See the exchange rate here – best to check it before departure.
Regarding the local social etiquette, it is a custom to give 10% tip at restaurants. However, we advise you to check the receipt before paying, because there are some places which automatically add the service fee (10%) to the final sum.
How much does it cost? Examples in forints/US dollars/Euros
McMeal at McDonalds
1500 Ft – $5.2 / 4.8€
a soft drink
300 Ft – $1.1 / 1€
500 Ft – $1.8 / 1.6€
210 Ft – $0.8 / 0.7€
3000 Ft – $10 / 9.6€
1 pair of jeans
9000 Ft – $32/ 29€
a movie ticket
1700Ft – $6 / 5.5€
an exercise book
500 Ft – $1.8 / 1.6€
Educations & schools
There are various types of secondary schools in Hungary: ”gimnázium” (similar to grammar schools and mainly prepares for further studies, it can be a 4, 5 or 6 grade school), ”szakközépiskola” (a 4 grade school specialising students in a certain area, i.e. economics, mechanics, commerce preparing its students for working in that field); and ”szakmunkásképző” (a 4 grade vocational school, which trains skilled workers). AFS Hungary usually places the exchange students into 4 or 5 grade grammar schools, although few can attend ”szakközépiskola”. Keep in mind that even if you are attending a grammar school, it can also offer specialisation’s in academic subjects depending on the school’s accreditation (e.g. more foreign language, science or humanities classes).
Schools in Hungary require motivated students and provide fewer extra-curricular activities than in some other countries do. Students accepted into secondary school take their studies seriously and devote much time to lesson preparation, since a lot of home assignments are given out for the afternoons. Note that in Hungarian grammar schools there are 12 compulsory subjects. At the end of the school leaving year (equivalent to 12th grade) students take a school leaving exam („érettségi” = ‘A levels’ (UK)/school diploma (US), which is necessary if they want to apply for university.
Most schools start in the beginning of September and the first term of the academic year ends on 31st January. The second term begins the 1st February and lasts till the middle of June. Schools usually start at 8 a.m. and there are about 6 or 7 lessons a day each lasting 45 minutes. There are short breaks of 10-20 minutes between classes.
Students can eat lunch in school or bring something from home. That depends on the host family and in case that they take the offers in school, AFS is compensating for the needed money.
AFS students in Hungary have to attend classes regularly, even if they find it difficult first. AFS participants must go to school daily and will each be a member of a class with whom they must attend all the lessons. Non-attendance is registered and may result in the dismissal of the student from the school. If it happens it leads to an early return to your sending country. Hungarian schools do not grant diplomas to AFS students, however, if they work hard and their host school gives permission, they may sit for a final exam and can receive a transcript of subjects they passed. Several students are placed in schools that require a high level of academic excellence.
The Hungarian grading system:
5 excellent/outstanding/very good
4 good/above average
Teenagers in Hungary do the same things as students all around the world. You may notice that Hungarian students take school very seriously, and that is why a considerable part of their afternoons is spent studying on weekdays, so you cannot expect them to go out with you all the time. But they do go out at the end of the week (Fridays and Saturdays), mostly in a small group with their friends. They usually go to a movie, a party, a club, to have a pizza, or just go to someone’s home to have a chat. Please keep in mind that most of the Hungarian parents doesn’t let their children go out for all night during the weekends, but till around 11-12 pm. It doesn’t mean that they’re strict, but this guarantees the children’s safety and the active family life on the next day (Saturday or Sunday).
If you want to make friends, you can join sports teams or you can find different kinds of clubs: i.e. special interest groups (folk dance, folk arts, arts, music and hiking etc.), scouts, churches. Do not be shy! If you are friendly, smiling and interested in other people, you will soon find friends and can join their activities.
Almost all kinds of sports played in Europe can be practised either in school teams or sport clubs. Apart from sports, music can be enjoyed, practised and performed. Local choirs are also accessible. Almost all towns where our students attend schools have libraries, discos, and cinemas. Aerobics and folk dancing are popular pastimes among AFS students.
Family and special events
Obviously, a typical AFS host family doesn’t exist. However, it is certain that you will have times of joy, times of sorrow or even conflicts, and times of just being together. Be open and frank in the relationship with your family! Ask your family to be honest with you, too! If you do not understand something because of language barriers or cultural differences, ask your family to explain it to you again! Don’t hesitate to ask questions! Be fully aware that AFS expects you to respect the rules of your host family (e.g. curfews, meals together), even if you are over 18! Be aware that you will have to fit in with the lifestyle of a family, which may be totally different from that of your own!
Holidays and other family activities are spent together in many families. You are welcome and expected to participate in them, and should not behave as a tourist. Consult with your host family when planning activities! This will make them feel that you are part of their life and vica versa. Last but not least remember that they host you on a voluntary basis, without being paid for their hospitality, therefore they are interested in you, in your country and culture, as well. Be ready to share your knowledge and your cultural heritage with them!
Besides birthdays, in Hungary we do celebrate name days as well. Each day of the year is attributed to a name, and if you cannot find yours in our calendar, pick a day together with your family for yourself. Flowers and sweets are usual gifts on such occasions.
On the Eve of Saint Nicholas, on the 6th December kids are supposed to clean and polish their boots or shoes and put them in the window-ledge so the MIKULÁS (Santa Claus) can leave some presents, such as nuts, sweets and chocolate in them. You can also join and practice this tradition and surprise your family members and friends with some little chocolate ”mikulás” – it will be highly appreciated.
Please keep in mind that Christmas is a family event in Hungary. The family members don’t go out to celebrate with friends, but the close family has a peaceful celebration at home on the 24th December and visit almost all the family members between 25-26 th December.
Hungarian people usually spend New Year’s Eve with friends. They go to a house-party or organize one themselves. Some of them go to clubs or to the streets.
Most Hungarians take a shower every day, but they usually do not wash their hair daily. When washing it, except for summer time, they do not go out before drying their hair. The same applies to you. We suggest you not to go out with wet hair. Especially during the winter months.
Hot water supply is usually limited and expensive in Hungary, so it is advisable for you to ask if it is appropriate to have a bath or shower. If you need to take a shower more than once a day, please talk about this with the family so you can reach an agreement. Please consider other members of the family and don’t use all the hot water. After using the bathroom you are supposed to leave it the same clean way as before. If you use a sponge or washcloth, it is better to bring some with you as it is not easy to find them here.
Most of the host families wash the students’ dirty clothes together with their clothes, but it’s better to ask them about it on the first week. Maybe you would like your clothes to be washed separately; therefore it is advisable to talk about that with your host family. Keep in mind that Hungarian people are changing their underwear every day and it is also not very usual to wear the same clothes for several days.
IMPORTANT: Yes, Tap water in Hungary is safe to drink.
Power sockets, plugs, the metric system and time notations
Hungary Voltage & Outlet Type:
The standard voltage is 230V and the frequency is 50Hz.
Hungary power sockets are type F. Europlug, Schuko