Four American professionals began a ten-month intensive training in Hungary. The Hungarian Initiatives Foundation’s new scholarship program would like to help form lasting positive relations between the U.S. and Hungary. The program also considers it important to create a sound and level image of Hungarians and Hungary in America. Bocskai Radio was present at the opening in Budapest. We asked HIF Director Anna Lacey, about the background, past, and future visions for the program.
The Budapest Fellowship Program is part of the Liberty Bridge Program launched by the Hungary Initiatives Foundation (HIF) in 2020, which aims to revitalize U.S.-Hungary relations through person-to-person dialogue. HIF will support scholars who will serve as bridge builders between the two countries. Anna Smith Lacey, Director of the HIF, told Bocskai Radio that they had turned to fellowship-type programs in the last four years. Their mission is to provide talented Hungarian youth with scholarships and to strengthen American-Hungarian relations for the long term.
The co-organizer of the Budapest Fellowship Program is Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC). The MCC brings twenty years of experience in talent management. Their international reputation and network of contacts allows them to provide quality public, educational, and scientific training to those from primary school through doctoral programs. The fruit of the joint approach and work of the two aforementioned organizations is the Budapest Fellowship Program. The latter could be defined as a transatlantic scholarship opportunity in Budapest for young American professionals. The organizers decided to have the majority of the event take place at the Budapest-based MCC.
Over the past three years, HIF has consciously expanded scholarship opportunities from Hungary to America. For these opportunities, Hungarian students and researchers were selected for periods ranging from two months to one year. Applications ranged from undergraduates to PhD candidates. The Andrássy Fellowship Program sent Hungarian colleagues to the United States. This framework program helped them understand the American political system, the political and philosophical fundamentals that made it easier for them to navigate the world of Washington. Zeöld Zsombor, the director of the Budapest Fellowship Program, was among the researchers in America last year for a year. He is currently not only the director of the Budapest Fellowship program, but also an alumnus of MCC.
Applicants had to meet certain requirements: American citizenship and active research activity. Additionally, it was extremely important that they be interested in Central-Eastern Europe and Hungary, regardless of their scientific or personal motivation. They presented their interest in a professional work plan. Although the entrance requirements did not mandate that a participant have Hungarian ancestry or connections, the program still managed to select such an individual.
There were 32 applicants for the four places, which were eventually filled by three men and one woman (one junior and three senior fellows). Their youngest specialist, Stephen, is at the end of his master’s course; the oldest, Ryan, already has a family, who accompanied him to Hungary. The organizers created the possibility for any applicant to move to Budapest with their spouse and children so that they too could acquaint themselves with the culture and make it a part of their daily life. Below we briefly present each of the fellows.
Ryan Brockhaus, senior researcher at the National Civil Service University, will research American-Hungarian military relations and themes in common defense strategy. He graduated from Arizona State University and is currently working on his master’s degree in global security. Stephen Sholl will be investigating the confiscations of the Rákosi regime at the Committee of National Remembrance. He earned his first degree in international conflict and security studies. His research is primarily focused on historical background as an explanatory factor in current events and conflicts. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree. Dr. George Bagden holds a Ph.D. in law from the New York University School of Law. At the Danube Institute, his host organization in Budapest, he will investigate the issue of pandemic management. George is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law and Liberty. Nicole Nemeth, who has been stationed at the National Policy Research Institute, is interested in minority rights, especially those of Hungarians in Transylvania. She would mostly like to deal with legal issues concerning Hungarians living in neighboring European countries and in the wider diaspora. The California lawyer studied at the University of San Diego’s Law School, where she specialized in civil litigation.
The tight year ahead of the fellows will be focused on research, teaching, learning and networking. The aforementioned topics of interest will be investigated with the help of mentors. Mentors can connect them to key individuals in their chosen field so that they can establish professional relations with the Hungarian academic elite. However, they can also teach as part of MCC’s specialized programs. They can act as lecturers on leadership development occasions by sharing their knowledge and contributing to MCC’s post-graduate courses. In terms of learning, an intensive history seminar awaits the scholarship recipients. Lacey Smith said that historical and linguistic knowledge are foundational to acquiring a true knowledge of Hungary. The program, therefore, places special emphasis on learning the Hungarian language, which is not only a footnote but an integral part of the program. From the conquest to the present day, the participants will get to know different chapters of Hungarian history through a series of seminars with pre-eminent historians.
The cultural focus of the Budapest Fellowship Program will not be neglected either. The purpose of the monthly trips is to allow participants to personally experience the minority issue. Wandering in the Carpathian Basin, they can feel the specifics of being in Transylvania and Transcarpathia and see the nature and difference of Hungarians on both sides of the border. The same emphasis will be placed on domestic travel and visits to Hungary’s closest geographical partners, the Visegrad countries. A basic Hungarian language course is intended to support easier integration and cultural deepening processes. The scholarship provides, among other things, the cost of living, accommodation, book and research support, and excursions for each of the four.
The opening event and orientation day served to introduce the HIF, establish the atmosphere of the program, and enable management to outline its plans. Participants were able to get to know each other and their partners with the motivation they set for this expected great period. During the roundtable discussions and the presentation of Balázs Orbán, Parliamentary and Strategic State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, public policy, political philosophy, EU affairs, the placement of minorities and human rights, as well as history, were discussed.
“An important goal is to find out what is thought of us in the most important civilian hubs of the world, to bring in knowledge from outside. We are regaining our ability to explain to foreigners who we are and how we think.” At a press conference on the opening day, Balázs Orbán, who, in addition to his aforementioned role, is also the chairman of the board of trustees of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, expressed these thoughts. According to him, the Budapest Fellowship Program is of strategic importance not only to the MCC, but also to the cultural-diplomatic life of Hungary.
Upon completion of the program, participants will be integrated into the activities of HIF alumni in Washington and Budapest and will be recalled to Hungary to participate in events organized by the MCC. “I want all fellows to feel that with the professional knowledge and relationships they have gained through this experience, they have forever become part of this network.” With the completion of the Budapest Fellowship Program, in addition to the development of political, economic, and scientific relations between the two countries, the spiritual and emotional ties of the diaspora and the Motherland may also be strengthened. The programs of the Hungary Initiatives Foundation will not adopt the character of common education in the future but will continue to focus on the talent and interest of the individual.
By Zsófia Dorgay
Translated by Miklós Boros