Scholars of the Stipendium Hungaricum program were oriented at the Embassy of Hungary, Manila, earlier this month. Stipendium Hungaricum is the most prestigious higher education scholarship program offered by the Hungarian government, offering bright Filipino students the opportunity of studying in Hungary.
This batch of scholars are preparing to leave in September for their studies.
At the orientation, staff of the embassy discussed what the students need to prepare, providing them with books and pamphlets to guide them in their journey. The embassy is helping the students process their scholarship requirements.
In her opening remarks, Hungary Ambassador Dr. Titanilla Tóth said that “the orientation day is special for the scholars because it marks the beginning of their journey with Hungary.”
Tóth labeled this a historic year—the Embassy is celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Hungary and the Philippines, and the 10th anniversary of the Stipendium Hungaricum program—and declared that this batch of scholars are part of history.
She had words of encouragement for the students. “It’s really a difficult journey, I know, to start. But after that you will have new friends, new memories and a lot of new experiences. Maybe it’s a little bit frightening in the beginning, but I’m sure that from now on, you’ll have another special country in the world. Of course, you’ll never forget your homeland, but I hope that one of the best friends [you make] … will be Hungarians.”
Philippine Ambassador to Hungary Frank Cimafranca, who had just gotten back from Hungary, also had a message for the students. “It’s going to be an exciting journey for all of you,” he said. “Hungary is a good place to study, the quality of education is quite good, especially in the technical field.” He said he looks forward to seeing the students in Hungary.
While in Hungary, the students will get the chance to travel to various places, even neighboring countries, thanks to their Schengen visa. They were told that visiting other scholars in different places and touring the various attractions is made easy by the modern systems of transportation, which are readily available.
Consul Balazs Ratkai, who helped the students in the visa process, said that “the Hungarian government teamed up with the Philippine government, through CHEd (Commission on Higher Education), to help Filipino students to study in Hungary.”
Ratkai commended the continuous efforts of the scholarship program in the Philippines during the pandemic, during which it was conducted online. He said he sees the resumption of face-to-face learning as a move forward, bringing along with it the experiences of cultural exchange, knowledge-based exchange and people-to-people exchange.
“The idea is to have student ambassadors all around the world who are making the link between their home country and Hungary. And when they finish their studies, they can go back to their own country, first of all, with the enriched knowledge they can help their own country, and also be mini ambassadors between the two countries,” he said.
With a small population of just 9.8 million, the safety of living in Hungary is said to be among the highest in the world. The language barrier is also practically nonexistent, because it is English-speaking friendly.
The orientation shone the spotlight on former scholars who are now called Alumni Balikbayans. They shared their memories of studying in Hungary. Some of them started their educational journey before the pandemic but graduated during the lockdowns. They talked about the community, the quality of education, resources and opportunities and the bonds they formed with other international students.
Russ-Uzi Mayenne A. Ebora is an alumni who found out about the scholarship through the Department of Agriculture. She spent almost two years in Hungary and called the experience “mesmerizing.” “You can travel and learn a lot in Europe. You experience diverse culture because it is an international program.”
She shared how impressed she was about Hungary’s advancements in science and biotechnology. “Hungary is not only a center of knowledge but a center of excellence in sports. They excel in the Olympics,” she added.
Ebora said she was glad to see the growing number of scholars benefiting from the Stipendium Hungaricum program. “During my time, I think we were only nine, but today there are at least 29… They are all so excited to go there, and I’m hoping for the best for them. Hopefully, they will come back here and serve the people of the Philippines and extend what they have learned.”
The new scholars were excited and grateful to get this great opportunity. One of them, Tristan, who is pursuing a degree in biology, said, “I expect to gain a lot of knowledge there and, if given the opportunity, I will come back in the Philippines and give back to the community where I live and serve.”
The scholars have concerns, of course—the language barrier, adjusting to the weather, being away from their home country, their family and friends. But they think they’ll be fine once they make some new friends. They are willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of their educational dreams.
Yesha, who will be studying nursing, believes the scholarship will redirect her path in life “to a better one.”
The program offers, among its many options, agricultural studies, medical studies, engineering, and IT studies.
In an interview with Lifestyle, Tóth explained why the scholarship program is vital for both Hungary and the Philippines. “Those students who get the chance to go in person and study there in Hungary, they will be our special envoys,” she said. “They will be lifelong ambassadors building a bridge between the two countries. Those friendships, those experiences that they had in Hungary, are building a connection that nothing can replace.”
She added that “Everything is in connection with diplomacy. Cultural exchange in this very fast and rapid world is very important, very encouraging. My embassy tries to put a lot of effort into reaching out to a lot of people to showcase who we are as Hungarians. But those students who are going now will have a really fun time and a really serious time also, in Hungary, to represent your country there. How they will showcase the Philippines will be the message to the Hungarians there.”
And, when they finish their studies, the Philippines “can use the knowledge to build a better future in certain fields like science, technology, and agriculture. Hopefully they will choose well and use it well.” —CONTRIBUTED