Home » News » The Power of Perseverance: From Hungary to Washington

The Power of Perseverance: From Hungary to Washington

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The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) continually searches for ways to offer programming to students and future leaders from around the globe. One way TFAS accomplishes this is through partnerships with organizations like the Hungary Foundation. Their Széll Kálmán Public Policy Fellowship gives young Hungarian student leaders the chance to participate in a TFAS D.C. Academic Internship Program in the summer or fall.

Verkmann, Savanya and Hajas convene at TFAS headquarters.

The prestigious scholarship is awarded to only the best and brightest. Selected students read supplementary material prior to the program and engage in additional discussions on Hungarian-American relations during the TFAS program. This provides greater depth of knowledge on topics like democracy, freedom, liberty and leadership.

Three Hungarian students received the Széll Kálmán fellowship for the Fall 2021 Capital Semester on Leadership + the American Presidency: Boldizsár Hajas, Csenge Savanya and Zsombor Verkmann. The three intelligent, courageous, liberty-minded young leaders enjoyed their semester in the U.S. because it provided each of them new insight and direction for their future.

I absolutely loved my experience overall, as I believe I did not only learn professionally a great deal from the courses I attended, but also on a personal level it was amazing to get a chance to get to know many young Americans, whom I am able to now call friends.” – Zsombor Verkmann ’21

The group took classes in media, economics and public policy and interned at various sites. Hajas and Verkmann both interned at Americans for Tax Reform, and Savanya interned at both The Madison Coalition and the Hungary Foundation.

Overcoming Obstacles

The semester brought many challenges. It required flexibility and adaptability, but the students faced every obstacle with grace and a determination to succeed. They made the most of their three months in the U.S. capital and returned to Hungary ready to share the lessons they learned.

One significant challenge for Savanya was learning to balance so many responsibilities. She interned at two sites in addition to classes, professional development courses, mentorship opportunities, networking events and other extracurricular activities. The busyness of the semester required her to practice diligence, to use ingenuity and creativity to devise solutions, and to work hard, which were some of her greatest takeaways. TFAS staff recognized Savanya’s strong work ethic and awarded her the Outstanding Student Award at the closing ceremony in November.

Hajas first applied to TFAS in 2019, so he was excited to finally participate in 2021 and to learn more about American culture, society and democracy in depth.

One of the greatest challenges for Hajas, on the other hand, was the patience and persistence it took to make it to D.C. in the first place – he originally applied to TFAS in 2019. Though his opportunity was delayed several times, he kept a positive attitude and retained optimism that one day he would make it to America.

Hajas had never been to the U.S., so he was excited to learn more about Western culture and democracy. He was especially excited that TFAS provided more than a holiday vacation, but rather the opportunity to get to know the U.S. and American people, culture, society and democracy in depth.

Their life stories and personal experience inspired me and showed me that I can achieve something like that too.” – Boldi Hajas ’21

When he finally arrived in Washington, everything was better than he imagined. He said his classes, professors and classmates were amazing. He enjoyed getting to know everyone and constantly absorbing new information. He deemed his peers inspirational.

“Their life stories and personal experience inspired me and showed me that I can achieve something like that too,” he said.

Verkmann agreed that the people he got to know throughout the semester made the experience extra special.

Verkmann enjoyed getting to know so many outstanding young leaders during his TFAS Capital Semester program.

“I absolutely loved my experience overall, as I believe I did not only learn professionally a great deal from the courses I attended, but also on a personal level it was amazing to get a chance to get to know many young Americans, whom I am able to now call friends,” he said.

The three students had preconceived notions of what the U.S. would be like and were often pleasantly surprised at what turned out to be true. For example, Hajas didn’t realize how important civil society and citizen participation is in the U.S. Something else each student noted was how optimistic and generous their American peers were.

“Everyone is so generous here,” Savanya explained. “It took me two months to get used to receiving others’ generosity!”

Whether it be classmates, professors, guest speakers or anyone she met, Savanya says everyone was kind and helpful.

“Everybody tried to connect with my field and projects, they immediately offered help or nice advice, I just had to tell what I was working on,” she said. “This welcoming environment truly made my semester.”

Lessons Learned

The students noticed several differences between TFAS courses and classes in Hungary. One of the greatest differences was the discursive element – class participation and interaction is expected at TFAS to enhance student learning. In Hungary, on the other hand, the professors provide the information and the students receive it.

Hajas, Savanya and Verkmann celebrate the end of an enriching semester at the TFAS closing ceremony alongside Anna Smith Lacey ’07, ’08, PPF ’12, in November 2021.

Another difference is the openness and transparency of TFAS professors, especially in terms of personal politics. Savanya said the professors were able to talk about politics in an unbiased way without trying to change students’ opinions. They encouraged the students to use their brains to evaluate new ideas, which was refreshing.

Hajas said it’s hard to pick one lesson that had the greatest impact since everything came together so nicely. Something that stood out to him was the significance of the human factor, an idea conveyed in all his TFAS classes. He especially liked the class he originally knew the least about.

“I really did enjoy all the classes, but Dr. Richard Benedetto’s media class was especially great because he exposed me to something I’d never learned about before – media, media policy and its financial surroundings,” Hajas said. “The class operated in a way that exposed us to questions of current events, and the professor was great company.”

I learned so much and would definitely encourage other Europeans to travel to the U.S., especially through a program like TFAS, which provides a cultural base to understand everything happening in Washington.” – Csenge Savanya ’21

Savanya is grateful for her time with TFAS because of the lessons she learned and people she met.

Apart from classes, Savanya said she loved being in D.C. for the semester because it introduced her to new concepts and new ways of thinking. Learning about liberty and leadership from an American perspective altered the way she perceived the two concepts. All in all, Savanya reflected on her time in D.C. as a gift.

“I learned so much and would definitely encourage other Europeans to travel to the U.S., especially through a program like TFAS, which provides a cultural base to understand everything happening in Washington,” she said.

Hajas said he would also recommend TFAS to other Hungarians because it gives students real-world experience.

“I think a great sign of the TFAS program is that it provides the opportunity to engage with the city and with the society of the U.S., and to see the inner workings of civil society,” he said. “It’s a really meaningful and fulfilling experience.”

TFAS looks forward to hosting the next cohort of Széll Kálmán fellows this summer, Bence Szabó, Dorottya Zsiboracs, Márk Vad and Domonkos Kovacs.

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