Interview in writing: Zsuzsa V. Karsai
Translation: Péter Várkonyi
Dear Péter, thank you for accepting to do the interview with me. First, I will ask you some questions about your current occupation, hobby and goals, then a bit about your integration history.
What is your current occupation?
I am a coach for the Luxembourg Table Tennis Association (FLTT), I coach players on the youth and adult national team.
What was your job in Hungary? How did you start your career and when?
I was head coach of the Hungarian national women’s table tennis team.
I began my coaching career very early. I was attending the table tennis coaching program at the University of Physical Education in 1993 when I joined Statisztika PSC.
I worked there from 1993 to 2015. I was coaching various youth national teams between 1997 and 2005 (U15, U18) and I was head coach of the women’s national team from 2005 to 2017.
Although I wanted to play football as a kid, I ended up in table tennis, I took part in competitions and from here, with the help of my youth coach, András Tarján, who was a coach at the club at that time, I ended up at Statisztika PSC, the manager of which, Dr. László Ormai, was my professor at the university.
What do you consider to be the greatest achievement in your activity so far?
The women’s team won the gold medal at the 2007 European Championships in Belgrade, in 2008, Krisztina Tóth and Georgina Póta became doubles European Champions. Furthermore, we won a number of European Championship medals and positions at the World Championships (5th and 6th places). I succeeded in taking part in three Olympic Games with my players (2008 Beijing, 2012 London, 2016 Rio).
I am very proud of having won European Championship titles with Hungarian players in both youth (U15, U18) and adult classes during my career.
How did the opportunity come to move to Luxembourg? Was it a difficult decision to make?
I was approached by the sports director of the FLTT, Martin Ostermann in 2015 at the European Championships in Yekaterinburg, saying that they were looking for a coach and thinking of taking me on. At the time, I declined by telling him that I was under contract at home until the 31st of January, 2017. He said that shouldn’t be a problem and that they would wait for me. I’ve had offers from abroad before but usually I did not take them seriously. After the conclusion of the competition and further discussions by telephone and e-mail exchanges, I was invited for a meeting and received an offer. It took a long time to make the decision, I thought about it a lot. I never planned to work abroad, I loved my work and my players, we achieved a lot of success together, it was a very successful period in my life. I have never lived abroad before, I was eager to go home after a few weeks of competition or training camp abroad. It was after long consideration, before the Rio Olympics, that I decided to start a new life and I signed the contract.
What do you say are the biggest differences in your current and former job?
The biggest difference is that, whereas I would coach separate age groups at home, here in Luxembourg, as there aren’t as many players, boys and girls, men and women often train together. At home, they are separated according to age groups and gender.
The other important difference is that, as table tennis does not have the same tradition here in Luxembourg as at home, expectations and goals before competitions are more modest than they were in Hungary.
What are the challenges related to the Luxembourgish national team?
To catch up with the frontrunners in Europe, to constantly improve and to encourage as many children to become professional athletes as possible.
What are your plans and goals with the Luxembourgish team?
The goal is to have two female players qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and for our male players to improve their positions in the current world rankings. Of course, for this we will need a larger pool of youth players, more kids coming to trainings regularly, in a professional manner.
Do you keep in touch with your former Hungarian national (women’s) team? Do you plan to return to coach them in the future?
Of course, I maintain relations with colleagues and ex-players, and we have often met at competitions since then. At the moment, I am committed here by a 2,5 year contract, with an option for a further year, but after eight months, I believe I would plan for the long term here in Luxembourg.
If one would like to play table tennis as an amateur in Luxembourg, what do you suggest them?
I would recommend getting in touch with the FLTT or even with me, as there are clubs in a number of towns in Luxembourg, where it is possible to play ping-pong. We welcome everyone and, above all, children.
Thank you. Now a bit about your integration. When exactly did you move to Luxembourg?
I moved here on the 29th of January, 2017 and began work on the 1st of February, 2017.
Before arriving, what did you know about Luxembourg?
I knew the players from the competitions. Before London, the Olympic qualifications were held in Luxembourg, so I had already been here. I also knew that it is a small, pretty country where people have a high quality of life. The weather isn’t the best, as it rains quite often. I didn’t have a lot of information.
What were your biggest challenges as an expat in the beginning of your new life in Luxembourg?
Truly, it was starting over alone in a foreign country, in another language, I guess, that was the hardest part, but I think I was able to quickly adapt, I love my job and I feel great here.
What surprised you in this country in comparison with Hungary?
People are more relaxed than at home, one can already feel that while driving, there aren’t as many stressed out and anxious people running around on the road as at home. This is obviously connected to the fact that the quality of life is high and they don’t have the types of problems that most people have to deal with at home.
What do you think would have helped (or actually: did help) you in the integration process?
I think that, speaking German and English and finding it easy to communicate with people, this has helped me a lot in integrating very early, almost after a few weeks, and not feeling like an outsider. Of course, this was helped along by the fact that my colleagues and the kids accepted me very quickly and helped me a lot at the beginning.
Do you have contact with fellow Hungarians in Luxembourg? If yes, in what form?
Thanks to the Internet, I am able to get in touch with more and more people. I joined the Hungarians in Luxembourg group on Facebook, where you can find lots of useful information, help and programmes.
How do you find the Hungarian community of Luxembourg?
Although I have not been here long, my experience is that Hungarians are much more cohesive abroad than at home. I don’t have any personal experiences yet, as I could not attend the first meeting for Hungarians living here due to the European Championships organised here in Luxembourg, but I won’t miss the next one!
How would you describe your current life in Luxembourg with 3 adjectives?
Stress free, calm, balanced.
What would your advice be for Hungarians who have just arrived in Luxembourg?
That nobody should come without speaking the languages (French or German), if you know you want to live and work here, learn a bit before you come. And that you can stay calm, this is a good place!!!
Thank you very much for the interview! : – )