The Black Lives Matter movement opened Dorka Juhasz’s eyes after coronavirus had closed her border. Combine protests with the pandemic and the Ohio State forward from Hungary is maturing in ways no one could have predicted.
What is college if not a chance to gain perspective and adapt to life away from home? That both are happening for Juhasz simultaneously in a compressed six months of upheaval is difficult for the 20-year-old to comprehend. But the Buckeyes’ leading scorer and rebounder as a sophomore last season is hanging in, even if she must hang out alone.
With COVID-19 padlocking the borders between the United States and many overseas countries, including Hungary, Juhasz has been "stranded" in Columbus since mid-March, unable to fly home to Pecs, a city of about 145,000 located about 130 miles south of Budapest.
Even though she uses FaceTime daily to connect with her father, Zsolt, mother Hajnalka Balazs and yellow Labrador retriever Jackie (named for actor Jackie Chan), it is not the same as being there.
"To be honest, it is getting a little worse," Juhasz said last week. "Right after the season, it was bad because all my teammates went home and I couldn’t. Then it got a little better, but now we are getting closer to the end of summer and it is getting worse."
There is homesick, and there is homesick without knowing when you can get home.
Juhasz hopes Hungary eases travel restrictions in early July, but even then she is not sure she wants to risk the possibility of leaving the U.S. and not being allowed back in for fall semester and the beginning of basketball.
Finding your footing on foreign soil does not make things easier. After two years in Columbus, the United States does not feel so foreign to Juhasz anymore, but it is not home. It is not her grandmother’s goulash or being able to hug Jackie around his neck.
"Sometimes I make chicken paprikash or Hungarian crepes, so I try to cook a little bit, just to not miss Hungary that much" she said. "But it is different from how my grandma or mom makes it."
Loneliness is an issue, too. When OSU students were sent home in March, Juhasz spent two months in a dorm room before moving into an apartment in May with Slovakian teammate Rebeka Mikulasikova, who is now staying with family members in Colorado, leaving Juhasz to fly solo.
It could be worse. She has visited friends in Columbus, has been able to maintain social distancing via Zoom calls with teammates and coaches and began basketball workouts last week. But she desperately needs time in Hungary to relax and replenish.
"Just that time home helps me, mentally and physically," Juhasz said. "It’s a 16-hour flight, but I would take it just for three days there."
On the plus side, Juhasz has been alone with her thoughts, which has led to deeper introspection and understanding again, a benefit of the college experience.
Juhasz grew up surrounded by white people. Her only interaction with Black people came in bits and pieces through playing on a Hungarian professional team that competed against international opponents. But that did not prepare her for the past few months, when U.S. racial discord bubbled to the surface and teammates filled her in on "The talk," how Black parents teach and warn their children what it will mean to be Black in America.
"Growing up in Hungary, we looked at America as a unified country," she said. "That is how we talked about America. No one talked about problems with racism. It was really eye-opening for me to come and realize what’s going on, to hear and read about it. It’s so different from looking at America as that perfect country with justice."
Culture can benefit from an outsider view, which often exposes a "nothing to see here" mindset that holds fast to the status quo. Similarly, a non-American like Juhasz has benefited from being transplanted into U.S. culture. Her preconceived notions of U.S. perfection have given way to a more realistic outlook.
"I can’t understand everything (Black teammates) are going through, but I have learned a lot," she said. "And it’s not just happening in the United States. I have learned about more stories and incidents in Europe, as well. It is everywhere, and it has opened my eyes."
That may be even more important than opening borders. Even so, here is hoping Juhasz soon gets home and back again.