„…a career I could have never dream of if I had stayed in Hungary”

The post written by Ágnes Erőss

„Oh, I’ll give it all up here… I’d rather go to England and wash dishes!” – one could often here such exclamations in Hungary, especially before the Brexit. Indeed, thousands – lacking any clear ideas or job offers – left the country and started employment as bar tenders, waiters, or dishwashers in the UK. Often discourses on migrant workers are dominated by brain waste and downward social mobility (Aziz, K. 2015, Vianello, F. 2014). The case of female migrants is further complicated by the persistence of traditional gender roles or the gender-based discrimination in employment (Fedyuk, O. 2015). However, migration may also lead to empowerment, steps towards emancipation (De Haas, H. and van Rooij, 2010).

When talking with settled Hungarian migrants in the UK, we could also encounter cases of underemployment, and how difficult it is to climb the career ladder in certain professions if someone is not a native speaker. However, in this blogpost we would like to concentrate on the stories of career advancements and – looking at from Hungary, which is characterized by low social mobility – fairy-tale stories.

Izabella was 38 years-old when we contacted her in 2020. She has been living in the UK since 2010. First time she just came to visit a friend, but she decided in a few days to only return to Hungary to sell everything she had owned there and resettled to England. For a year she worked as an au-pair, looking after a relative’s son. However, she graduated as an engineer, she never wanted to work in her original job. Rather she started a night shift in a hotel and worked in parallel several jobs in the next ten years. She always had at least two jobs; the maximum was four part time jobs. In 2015 she started to learn accounting, while in parallel she kept working in a clothing store as a shop-assistant. When the owner of the store learnt that she pursues studies in accounting, he offered her to work as an accountant assistant. During the Covid Izabella could finally graduate, and she has been working as an accountant for the same clothing store. In her account, the support of the boss and a lot of options for flexible hours and part-time employment contributed to her step-by-step career advancement.

Similarly to Izabella, Jakab is also graduated as an engineer. But in contrast to her, Jakab loves his job as engineer. In fact, his dream was to work in the construction of seaports. A dream that he could only fulfil outside of Hungary, as it is a landlock country. When we conducted the interview with him in 2020, he was working for a big engineer company, in a lower position as he had occupied in Hungary. Although he was not satisfied with the position and with the career advancement possibilities at that specific company, he accepted it. He had a firm belief that after gaining practice in one specific field of engineering at that company, and by gaining the British passport, he would be able to move to a different country and work in a position that would better suit his level of expertise.

Finally, let us recall the conversation with Nóra, who was in her late twenties when we interviewed her. Nóra chose a UK university to pursue studies in a special field of art. In parallel, she was working part time in a gallery both to build social capital and to gain practice. For her the migration to UK was not simply a shift between educational institutions, but a shift in lifestyle, and – to put it simply – a change of horizon: from a small town she ended up in the buzz of a cosmopolitan metropole, living the life she had dreamed of in Hungary.

These three cases are only short illustrations of how migration may empower individuals to change, fulfil or advance their careers.

Aziz K. (2015). Female Migrants’ Work Trajectories: Polish Women in the UK Labour MarketCentral and Eastern European Migration Review 4(2): 87-105.

Fedyuk, O. (2015). “Growing Up With Migration: Shifting Roles and Responsibilities of Transnational Families of Ukrainian Care Workers in Italy”, In: Kontos, M. and Bonifacio, G. (eds.), Migrant Domestic Workers and Family Life: International Perspectives, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: NY Palgrave Macmillan, 109-129.

De Haas, H. and van Rooij A. (2010). “Migration as Emancipation? The Impact of Internal and International Migration on the Position of Women Left Behind in Rural Morocco”, Oxford Development Studies, 38 (1): 43-62.

Vianello F.A. (2014). Ukrainian Migrant Workers in Italy: Coping with and Reacting to Downward MobilityCentral and Eastern European Migration Review 3(1): 85-98.

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