How will the teenager of a town of 8,000 in Hajdú-Bihar county become the international project manager of the Principality of Monaco? How does the dance take you to the forefront of multinational missions? How can a Hungarian girl come to Hungary with Erasmus? The life of Fanni Mercs took an exciting turn at the age of 18, thanks to an opportunity: she got into an international scholarship program that launched her on a world trip with hip-hop dance. Interview by Éva Hutóczki-Orosz.
When Fanni Mercs alight on hip hop dance in Nyíradony, and she realized that it was going to be a big love, she might not have thought that thanks to her hobby, she would give me an interview from Monaco in a few years. Perhaps even in his first performance, she had no idea that she would become a true world citizen, and travel would become as natural in her life as shopping. There is a long, meaningful, and challenging journey behind her. The hurdles of which have been jumped one by one. She dropped the flag to the big world at the age of 18. Yet, she tells about the past years with such modesty as if her story were every day. But it is not at all.
It was hard to ask her because the more she told, the more interested I was in every single detail. Her career so far would fill out at least three articles, so I was forced to frame my curiosity.
- You come from Nyíradony, a medium-sized town of Hajdú-Bihar county. When did you decide to cross the borders? Not only of the county but also of the country to study, develop, see the world and possibly find your profession.
I was 18, so seemingly I’ve grown up. I was selected by a smaller organization of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 2008, thanks to dance. I had the chance to go to Toulouse for a year and take part in an international project there. The so-called Youth of the World organization allowed me to finish the end of my high school years outside, and dance, knowing that hip-hop was an essential element of my life at that time.
When in our year-end performance, the director of the organization saw that I was dancing hip-hop to an Indian piece of music and how I was hand and glove with my Senegalese girlfriend on the stage, he offered to both of us to stay another year.
So, I graduated from Toulouse, and then it went without saying that I was going to university in France. Thus, I went to Strasbourg, where I was already teaching dance, and on the other hand, I completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in Languages and International Communication. After 4 years abroad, I went home to Budapest with Erasmus, which sounds funny to many, but it was the best decision of my life. After 2 years of soul embalming at home, I completed my Master of Arts degree in Brussels. And since the end of 2017, I have been living in Monaco.
- How slam dunk was it to continue your studies abroad? What hurdles did you encounter? How long was the process?
As I mentioned, I was just seemingly an adult at the age of 18 most people are still inexperienced for life.
I was too. I would say it was hard to integrate or learn a foreign language and especially not high-school graduation. Although I went to a French-Hungarian bilingual school in Debrecen, the ordinary French language is completely different from the academic language. Thus, embarking on the journey was difficult with the teenagers, who spoke absolutely in slang (as everywhere in the world). In addition, the deep end was the analyzes of Baudelaire and Molière art in the first year.
So basically, it was a long process, but many of my classmates helped me learn.
In addition, I had an extraordinary welcoming family where my dad was a journalist, so my vocabulary developed steadily during my time with them. In addition, it was interesting for me that in the canteen we talk much less about easy topics with my classmates than in Hungary. In contrast, politics and economics were daily topics because I also had the opportunity to study in one of the best high schools, for which I am very grateful. So, my personal experience was that when I went home, I looked at how parliamentary elections work in Hungary, how much GDP there is in Hungary, and what the main economic sectors are. As strange as it sounds, these were needed to make it easier for me to fit in.
However, the most interesting, and at the same time, the longest process was to learn how to learn well.
It means that while in Hungary you learn almost everything word for word because they expect it and hear the lesson, the French people teach in a completely different way. There was a subject where the test was often only one question.
“Do we always have to tell the truth?” That was my graduation item, for example. And that’s where you start, and you feel like all the webs in your brain need to be connected to put a complex image on the paper in 4 hours. This method benefits the person. I experience this.
- If you could start again now, would you still choose France?
I would probably not choose France as a starting point. I prefer Belgium, which I also already know.
I think that at a young age, as a stepping-stone, Belgium is much more livable and open-minded.
- The dance set you on your way to your goals. What happened to this activity? How long did you worship it? When it just became a hobby? Is it still present in your life in any form?
We are separated naturally. I grew, I became more feminine, I became a woman. I put down my loose pants and sneakers in stages.
At university, I also wrote a big assignment about hip-hop going through a kind of institutionalization, as it was the first style mélange on stage and in theaters at the time. Dancing is sometimes missing, but then I used to let myself go in front of a mirror at home. And I never want to get away from the hip-hop culture itself. I’m just listening to this style of music, I’m interested in what’s going on in that world, and I’ve read with just a sore heart that the world said goodbye to a hip-hop legend, DMX, nearly a month ago.
- How multicultural was the medium where you studied? How easy was the integration?
The scene was not international at all. We were two foreigners throughout the grammar school in Toulouse. There were more foreigners in Strasbourg, and it felt there that the Alsace region itself was open. And in Brussels, I was one of many, which, strange as it may sound, was fantastic. We were there in a bustling capital, yet a small town; Thousands of accents zigzag on the street. And the Congo town makes the whole multicultural environment even spicier. I loved it.
- What about homesickness? Is there any? Or did you find your home? Which place of your life gets into your mind when you hear the word home?
My homesickness comes in waves. It is a difficult question. The home as a warm family nest is my parents’ house in Nyíradony. However, I still feel at home in our current place, but in another way.
I feel excellent when I have a balance between the two places, and I can commute. I have learned to deal with homesickness over the years because that is the only way someone can move forward. It’s different for everyone: I needed time and a lot of self-education and work to separate memories from reality.
- What is your profession, and what are you doing now?
I work for the Monaco Economic Board (MEB) as an international project manager. The MEB has 3 missions. One is that, like every chamber of commerce, we organize local and international events for members, that is, for companies in Monaco, to stimulate domestic and foreign trade. The second mission, Invest Monaco helps foreign companies or individuals settle in the principality. The third mission is to coordinate the simultaneous movement of cultural, sports, and economic representations in foreign economic missions. It will also help build the image of Monaco abroad.
I take on the organization of international missions, and I also work a lot in Invest Monaco with companies wanting to open an office in Monaco. I was in Siberia just before the pandemic.
- How many countries have you lived in since you decided to study abroad?
A total of 4. France, Belgium, Russia – although it was only a month and a half – and Monaco.
- Is there a place you want to go back? A country you feel you will still have work to do (whether in terms of work or moving).
Hungary. In the other places, I brought out the maximum during my stay.
- What advice would you give to those thinking about studying abroad? What is the most significant thing to keep in mind before they go?
It’s completely different when someone goes out with Erasmus or goes out and doesn’t really know how long they will stay. On Erasmus, you have the time in your head, and you want to get the most out of your travel. Most teachers at the university are more lenient with you because you’re an exchange student. So, you know that if you party 5 times a week, you won’t have a problem because it won’t have consequences if you get a bad grade. I think it gives students a sense of laziness to take advantage.
If someone decides that they want to do a BA or MA training abroad, it is a bigger task.
Let’s say you feel less lazy. It’s hard to give advice, and not like it. Perhaps, what I would pay attention to is that we know as much as we can about the culture before we go out. And what obviously needs to be considered: money. It is important whether someone is helped by their parents, and they get financial help. Or you go out and decide whether you might apply for a scholarship or work alongside the university. These are all factors to think about before you get into it.
Abroad alone, the formula is relatively simple: no matter what problem you run into, you must find a solution (except serious health issue). That should be the only option in your head. Only this will move you forward and make your life story more and more varied.
I will have plenty to tell my children too.
- If you could start over, would you do everything the same?
I get this nostalgic question many times. I realized it didn’t matter what I would do differently. The past has passed. I’m focusing on putting every missing mosaic piece into my life, and then I will know that on my deathbed, I won’t think about what if, because it doesn’t matter when, I put the piece I missed in my life. I never understood when someone says they have no choice.
After all, if we are free in something (at least here in Europe), that is individual free choice.
It’s such a luxury that people don’t even notice. However, I also see today that not everyone likes to decide. People like to be drifting, and at the end of things asking what if. It is also a decision… From the moment one takes control of one’s life and puts down with the fatalistic approach that our lives are pre-written,
I think there are millions of opportunities before us.
As I wrote earlier: there are still many, many questions left in talon about difficulties, doubts, successes, impressions about Fanni’s story. One thing is for sure: I highly recommend this interview not only to teenagers who are before the further study, who are ogling some of the foreign universities; not even only to their parents who are trying to support their child with a stomach clenched with anxiety. I recommend it to everybody, as the great opportunity is not only at the dawn of our adult lives, but it can knock at any time, and it will not send an invitation in advance. And if it is here, it is up to us what we bring out of it, where our story develops. Thank you for the conversation.