Overcoming language barriers in his first days in the U.S.

János Szanyi came to the United States at age 29 in 1987 from Hungary. (Photo courtesy János Szanyi)

János Szanyi immigrated to the United States at the age of 29 to pursue his passion: chemistry.

He had already obtained a doctorate in chemistry in his home country of Hungary, but an American professor invited him to do research at Texas A&M. The chemistry program at A&M was top-ranked in the country at the time and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Szanyi embarked on what he would later call an “adventure” that lead him halfway across the world from the city of Budapest to the quintessential, American-college-town atmosphere of College Station, Texas.

On the night of February 2, 1987, Szanyi landed in College Station and was shocked by the nearly-70-degree “shorts-and-a-T-shirt” weather that greeted him. It was below freezing when he left Budapest.

While the language barrier proved to be a substantial challenge, as is often the case with immigrants, Szanyi eventually overcame it, and in the early 2000s, he became an American citizen. Month-long summer visits home to Hungary and to Italy, his wife’s home country, became routine. While Szanyi is happy with the life has built here, he still sometimes wonders what life would have been like had he stayed in Hungary.

(Giulia Szanyi is János’ daughter.)

This story was produced in partnership with the First Days Project.

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