Gabe Balazs, in his workplace, is the picture of contentment as he forges ties between Toledo and one of its sister cities, Szeged, Hungary.
Gabe Balazs had always wanted to go to Szeged, Toledo's sister city in Hungary. He was a college student there studying to be an English teacher when he heard about Lourdes College.
The Hungarian applied for and received the Sylvania college's presidential scholarship, which brought him to the Toledo area and its deep ethnic ties to his homeland. "It was only going to be one year, but things were going really well," Mr. Balazs recalled.
Thirteen years later - after graduating from Lourdes followed by receiving a master's degree in educational technology from the University of Toledo - Mr. Balazs, 36, lives and works in South Toledo. And while he visits Hungary and his family there once or twice a year, he continues to teach Hungarian here, help travelers, and maintain relations with Szeged.
This year, Toledo and Szeged are celebrating their 20-year sister-city relationship, which is to be commemorated here this fall. The Toledo International Youth Orchestra will perform in Szeged on July 11 as part of the sister city celebration in Hungary, and Mr. Balazs is helping the group prepare for its trip.
"Gabor is really the best example of how successful this relationship is," said fellow Hungarian Elizabeth Balint, project manager for the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development in Toledo.
Since coming to the Toledo area and its Hungarian community, centered in the east side's Birmingham neighborhood, Mr. Balazs has widened his activities.
Photography is among his burgeoning interests. Although his first love is nature shots, he has started a real estate photography sideline to provide interior and exterior shots of houses for sale.
Mr. Balazs started teaching Hungarian soon after arriving in the Toledo area, at first at Calvin United Church of Christ in East Toledo. For the first couple of years he taught with another Hungarian native studying at UT who later returned with her family.
When groups visit from Hungary, Mr. Balazs often escorts them and helps translate. In recent years, he has presented slide shows about visiting Hungary.
Since graduating from UT, Mr. Balazs has worked full time at South Toledo's Emedia Solutions Inc., which designs computer-based training materials.
His boss, Dan Young, was part of one band he played guitar for, Fat Mannequin, which did a tour in Hungary. Mr. Balazs also plays electric guitar for other rock bands, as well as writes music.
An avid soccer fan, Mr. Balazs joined the Hungarian Club team soon after arriving here. That league disbanded, so he joined the Bavarians, noting that it at least is a European team.
At first, Mr. Balazs communicated by mail with relatives in Hungary, including his parents and brother. Now he can speak with his nephews on Skype.
"I still don't want to commit to either country," Mr. Balazs admitted. "I'm really happy here, but if for some reason I have to move to Hungary, I would not be sad or depressed about it."