James and Erika had two wedding ceremonies in 2005 - one in Harrogate and one in Patmos.

Picture courtesy of James Marjoribanks.

A valentine's tale: Exeter exchange students find love after 20 years

Exeter alum, James Marjoribanks (Education and French, 1983), met his first love on an exchange trip to Hungary but lost touch after graduation. He shares the story of how they were reunited after more than 20 years. 

I was a student at St Luke's 1978-1983 (BEd Hons Education and French).

While I was at St Luke's there was an exchange program in the summer term (1979) led by Jim Norman who taught the comparative education course in which we studied education systems in different parts of the world. The exchange was to Hungary (Eger, Pecs, Lake Balaton and Budapest). We went there in June/July and the Hungarians came to Exeter in February/March poor things!

I can't remember exactly my reason for going other than to get out of lectures three weeks early! Anyway off I went to Budapest with a group of 28 undergraduates and PGCE students at a cost of £130 all in. Little did I know how the trip would change my life.

I met and fell in love with Erika, one of the host students in the English department of the teacher training department at Eger university. We spent no more than just a few days together because it was exam season and she had to juggle exams and revision with finding time to join me during the week in Eger and then the final few days in Budapest.

On my return to England we wrote letters every week for months but it took three weeks to send and receive a reply.

She applied for and gained a scholarship to South America for a year and we lost touch until 1982 when after a bit of old fashioned research I called her at her work number in Budapest and arranged to Inter rail my way to Hungary in September. We spend a wonderful three weeks together before I returned for my final year in Exeter. And then we lost touch after six months or so as our lives returned to normal routine.

I got married in 1992 and then divorced in 2001.

I never forgot Erika and wondered about her frequently imagining the life she was living and how we had let our special love slip through our hands.

The internet arrived and I idly searched for her once or twice without success wondering what I would do or say if I should find her phone number.

One day, May 9th 2004, a Sunday as I remember, I found a Miklódy Erika in Budapest on a esoteric website... with a phone number. How many people with that name could there be? It wasn't the Hungarian equivalent of a common English name.

I wrestled with what to do. She was beautiful so probably very happily married with the three gorgeous kids we talked about back in 1982. How dare I be so arrogant to think that just because I still held a candle for her she might feel the same? What if she still loved me but had put it behind her and had forgotten me? I was risking playing with her emotions. Eventually after a lot of heart searching and a bit of Dutch courage I called the number, convinced that it was an office number and would be closed on a Sunday. I would leave a brief message with my name and email address and see what happened.

I dialled the number. Someone answered. "Miklódy Erika, kérek" I said into the phone. My heart was beating out of my chest and into my eardrums. Something was said that I didn't understand and the phone went quiet.....before a new voice came on the line. "Hallo?"



"Hi! It's James."


"Yes. James, James Marjoribanks."

"James? Oh ... James...!!!" She seemed genuinely surprised (happy?) to hear from me.

There then ensued a long telephone conversation during which we recounted what had happened to us over the intervening 22 years. We established that we each had two children but it took a while to establish that we were both divorced because neither of us dared to ask the question!

£250 of phone calls and three weeks later, I was on a Malév flight to spend four days in Hungary with Erika. Third time lucky?


We got married on a Greek island beach in 2005 and we have enjoyed a wonderful time together ever since.

Erika had never been to Exeter despite our efforts to get her on the exchange back in 1980. We made it to Exeter, and to St Luke's in May 2016, staying in the Royal Clarence before it sadly burned down later that year. We had lunch at the Diggers' Rest, in Woodbury Salterton, where I lived for the year 1981/82 and I showed her some of my favourite haunts in Heavitree and the town.

I am now about to retire (early!) from my career as teacher and Prep School headmaster and we will relocate to Hungary where we have already bought and established our home.

I know that Erika and I are not the only couple to have found love as a result of the exchange. Thank you, Jim Norman and St Luke's.


James Marjoribanks, St Luke's 1978-1983


Erika and James in 1979


Date: 2 February 2017

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