Photo: megan cope

You could say I’m a fool and by many accounts you’d be right. Last September my wife and I sold our small but successful window cleaning company in California. In late January, we packed up and left sunny California for bitterly cold Hungary.

The primary reason for our move is that my wife is Hungarian. Following seven years in the U.S., we figured it was time to live near her family. Our other reasons include a strong desire to create our own homestead and raise a family free of debt. We want to buy our home outright. And in Hungary, with the limited money we have, this is a realizable goal. In short, we seek a sustainable life of financial freedom, food independence and simplicity. This is our “American Dream.”

For the most part we lived a good life in California. We worked hard, made decent money, set our own schedule and traveled often. We lived in Ventura, a beautiful beach town blessed with a Mediterranean climate, countless palm trees and serene ocean vistas. Our business was stable and poised for growth, but something was missing. We were aimless. The idea of owning a house, having two cars in the driveway and raising a family seemed the next step — except the more we pointed our compass that direction, the less it made any sense for us.

Homes are hideously expensive in most of Southern California. Sure, many people make it work and live the California lifestyle that millions seems to covet. However, the idea of working for 30 years to pay thousands of dollars a month for a home sounded like a prison sentence to me. I’ve seen firsthand how a family’s whole world falls apart when someone can no longer pay that crippling mortgage.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen many very successful people living lives most only dream of, and doing so seemingly with ease. Even as I sit here writing this, my mind flops back and forth over whether I chose the right path — if I gave up a privileged life that could have been.

However, having the freedom to easily change and adjust our life’s design is something my wife and I cherish. The ability to find income from various sources and keep our expenses at a minimum is greatly appealing. Having a steady income is lovely — don’t get me wrong, but being at the mercy of a ruthless corporation in exchange ? No thanks.

And more than just a tract home, we’ve always talked about having a piece of land — a place we could grow our own food, raise animals and try our best to lead a more grounded lifestyle. To be independent of worldwide financial markets, politics and a system that fails us in favor of corporate profits at every turn. In many ways moving to Hungary was a way out; an escape from the familiar rat race, someplace to be anonymous.

Call me idealistic, say I’m naïve of the way the real world works. But I’m not interested in how the “real world” works. I’m interested in a lifestyle of true abundance and satisfaction. I seek a slower pace, centered on simple pleasures. Money is necessary, no doubt, but not a means to an end. Of course I’m very conflicted in my own mind about this. I truly wish sometimes that I could quiet my altruistic voice and live a normal modern life, without constantly second guessing the impacts of my daily purchases and choices. But then I would be somebody else, wouldn’t I?

My wife and I spent many hours over the years talking about our dreams, usually over a bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s. We discussed moving to cheaper states, like Oregon or Colorado in pursuit of our homestead vision. But decided we would then be close to neither of our families. The more we searched for parcels of land, the more we realized that Hungary was not just affordable, but it also offered us the tantalizing opportunity to travel throughout Europe with ease. Plus, Hungary represented a new adventure, a fresh start and an exciting challenge.

My American Dream is certainly not typical. But watching the sun set behind the gentle peaks of the Bukk Mountains yesterday, I envisioned our little piece of paradise.

That being said, life in Hungary is hard. The economy is in the toilet, unemployment is rampant, and the general public is greatly dissatisfied with their government. Compared to the manicured lawns, beaming smiles, and sparkling housing tracts I grew up around, Hungary is very rough around the edges.

Then again, America has no shortage of serious issues. The country is hopelessly divided politically. And from rampant shootings and environmental destruction, to California’s epic drought, there’s enough to make your head spin. It’s how you live your own life that matters, however. Regardless of the endless carousel of evening news bullshit, each of us has our own path to follow. My heart told me to move to Hungary. It was an impulsive decision and its consequences—positive and negative— will rain on me for the rest of my life.

If there’s one thing America taught me, though, it’s to take chances, go for broke, and hope for the best.

Every day since arriving here in Hungary I’ve questioned my decision. I had been here many times before this recent move so I knew what to expect, but self-doubt still creeps in daily. Many young Hungarians are leaving the country in search of work and the political situation here is slightly worrying. I’m focused on my own vision though. And now that the winter has passed, we’ve begun to visit potential properties. It seems our ‘American’ dream is within reach.

At the moment we live with my father-in-law on the outskirts of Miskolc, a city of 170,000 in northern Hungary. His happiness in our company is openly visible. We’ve dug up the garden and planted kale, chard and arugula. The weather is pleasantly warm and pink, white and yellow blossoms embellish our neighborhood. The nearby forest has exploded with green. Countless birds provide the soundtrack. It’s a welcome relief from the monochrome of winter for this California boy.

My American Dream is certainly not typical. But watching the sun set behind the gentle peaks of the Bukk Mountains yesterday, I envisioned our little piece of paradise. As the wispy clouds turned the color of peach sorbet, a wave of happiness and complete freedom washed over me. You could definitely say it was like a dream.

While my self-doubt comes like clockwork, there is that most American of characteristics that keeps me going: irrational optimism that everything will work out just fine. With faith, hard work and determination, anything is possible. And for that, I’m truly grateful and proud of where I’m from even as I explore my American dream abroad.

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