As she approaches the first anniversary of her new role, we meet the Ambassador of Hungary to Singapore, H.E. JUDIT PACH, to find out how the job is going – and to get her thoughts on everything from memorable encounters with world leaders to the best vegan food on the island.
How long have you been an ambassador, and how did you get started in the role?
I started my first posting as ambassador in January 2015, in Jakarta. Previously, I was working as the Head of the International Communication Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister.
In 2014, Hungary started a new foreign policy with a very strong trade and economy focus; the newly chosen Foreign Minister was looking for agile young ambassadors with a business mindset who could boost our bilateral trade relations, especially in Southeast Asia. I wanted to go to Indonesia as a diplomat and he asked me to be the ambassador instead. After finishing my posting in Indonesia, I became ambassador to Singapore, since economic and business diplomacy is even stronger here.
Did you always intend to have a political career?
No, I never really wanted to go into politics. I studied economics and wanted to go into international business, but immediately after finishing my second university degree, I got an offer to work in the international press department of the President – of course, this was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and since then I’ve stayed in the government.
You’re 39 – are there pros and cons of being an ambassador at such a young age? What reaction do you get from people?
When I started my career, most people didn’t believe it when I said that I was the ambassador; they assumed I’d used the wrong word and would ask, “What work do you do at the embassy?” In a sense, this is a benefit, because usually people underestimate you as a young woman – so it’s easier to surprise them and to reach the outcomes you want in meetings. In our field of work, it’s important to have a broad network and to be known, so it’s also a benefit to stick out from the crowd and to get noticed (in a positive sense, of course). You can be sure that, in most places, everyone knows that among the elderly gentlemen in dark suits, the little young blonde ambassador is the Hungarian!
What do you love most about being the Ambassador of Hungary, and what’s the most demanding part?
I’m fond of my country and my people, and I believe it’s a privilege and a great opportunity that I’m able to bring Hungary closer to the people in Singapore. I love to show the young, innovative spirit of my nation and I’m proud that I can contribute to achieve great cooperation and business deals between Hungarian and local businesses.
The most demanding is probably that it’s also a huge responsibility, and it’s a job that demands full dedication in every part of life. There is no real break from being an ambassador.
What has been your most memorable meeting so far? Do you get nervous before meeting high-ranking politicians?
I did get nervous when I started, but with time you get used to it, like anything in life. I remember my first speech –I practiced for hours in front of the mirror – now I only need a couple of minutes before an event. I believe you can get used to anything; it just needs practice. Working in diplomacy is just another job, maybe with a bit more responsibility.
I’ve had a lot of memorable encounters with Heads of State, including the American President, the Belgian, Jordanian and Spanish kings, and several great personalities from the scientific and cultural fields. But what I’m really proud of is that, during my tenure in Indonesia, we finalised the biggest Hungarian technology export when a Hungarian company won the Indonesian government tender to establish a new electric tolling system on Indonesian toll-roads. The competition was strong and it was a big achievement – a US$300 million project and a 10-year concession.
Is there a big Hungarian community here?
It’s one of the biggest Hungarian communities in the region. I don’t know the exact numbers, since they don’t need to register at the embassy, but we estimate about 350 to 500 adults – and most of them are here with family and kids.
What would you like to achieve during your service in Singapore?
I want to bring Hungary closer to the people living in Singapore. I want to raise the awareness of the potential that lies in the diversity of Central-Eastern Europe and the resilience and creativity that is so characteristic for my people. We’ve faced so many historical setbacks, yet we are among the economically best performing countries of Europe, attracting the highest FDI, having the lowest unemployment rate and having a constantly growing trade with Singapore.
What is a typical day for an ambassador and how do you stay stylish throughout the day – especially in this tropical heat?
My schedule is usually very busy and I have several meetings a day. I love the tropical weather and the heat, so I have no problem with that. I usually like to wear bright colours and clothes from local and Hungarian designers. What do you like most about Singapore? I really like the diversity of Singapore, from the food to the culture; and I also love the tropical weather, the lush greenery and the array of outdoor activities.
We’ve heard that you’re vegan, and that you love sport! Is it easy being vegan in Singapore? And what’s your sporting regime?
There are a lot of vegan restaurants and eateries in Singapore, and there’s also quite a big vegan community on Facebook where I always get informed about new places and shops. I have my favourite vegan hawkers as well; one of my favourite dishes is a vegan version of laksa.
I used to do rock climbing, but nowadays I don’t do so much extreme sports; I’m still active in sports every day though. I have a daily routine of doing at least 30 minutes HIIT training in the morning followed by some stretching and meditation. In the afternoon, if I have time, I go to a yoga or Pilates class and sometimes I play tennis or squash with my husband, or we go cycling.
Have you picked up any Singlish?
Just a bit, lah! But I do speak Bahasa Indonesia, which makes it easier to understand the words which originate from Malay.
About the Ambassador
After earning her first degree at Budapest Business School, Judit finished her studies at the Université March Bloch de Strasbourg, as an interpreter. In 2005, she joined the Office of the Hungarian President serving as chief of press and spokesperson, and, in 2011, became a chief of cabinet at the Hungarian Ministry for National Development. In 2012, she was asked to head the newly established International Communication Office at the Office of the Prime Minister, before becoming Ambassador of Hungary to Indonesia, East-Timor and ASEAN in Jakarta in 2015 – a post she held for over six years.
For her outstanding achievements, Judit has received awards from the Minister for National Development (2012) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2016); she has also received state decorations from Lithuania, Belgium and Poland. Personally, she is engaged in women empowerment, mentoring and supporting female leadership, as well as being a strong advocate for sustainability.
This article first appeared in the August 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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