Nine Hungarian students have made Keystone College their home for the past three weeks.
Through this year’s Professor Jay Nathan Cultural Immersion Program, these students have been participating in educational and recreational activities on campus and across the region while staying in Keystone residence halls.
The program receives funding and expertise from Dr. Jay Nathan, a longtime resident of Clarks Summit and noted Fulbright scholar who said it’s an “honor and distinct pleasure” to provide this opportunity for international scholars.
Since 2016, Keystone has been hosting foreign students over summer break for the purpose of cultural immersion.
The program began with a group of students from Mongolia and the college has since hosted those from Nepal, Kazakhstan, Thailand and other countries.
“We are planning to have other countries including Lithuania and perhaps many others, especially developing countries,” Nathan said. “They learn American history and culture, and learn about the values and the nature of higher education, and also promote exchange and have a partnership.”
The Hungarian students and their teachers arrived on June 24 and plan to head home tomorrow after a farewell dinner on campus this evening.
Over three weeks, the group listened to lectures and participated in workshops on campus. Some themes included culture, diversity, career exploration, global health and leadership.
Off campus activities ranged from watching a baseball game and going to cultural events like First Fridays in Scranton to kayaking at Lackawanna State Park, hiking and visiting a beekeeping apiary.
The students and teachers celebrated the Fourth of July with a fireworks display in Scranton, volunteered at the Seven Loaves Soup Kitchen in Tunkhannock and also took day trips to New York City and Philadelphia to sightsee and explore museums.
Dr. Virág Rab, head of the College for Advanced Studies at the University of Pécs, and Dr. Zsuzsanna Schnell, head of international affairs in the college, accompanied the students, who came from two high schools in Pécs.
“It’s a part of Hungary that is rich in culture and education,” Schnell said of their home. “I would say we’re a lively city.”
A partnership between Keystone and the University of Pécs formed when Rab met Nathan through work.
Nathan spent time in Pécs on a Fulbright scholarship last year, where the idea to bring Hungarian students over to the U.S. came about.
Schnell pointed out that Hungary and the U.S. differ both geographically and in terms of their histories.
Reflecting on democracy in the U.S., she said it’s important to continue nurturing this idea in central Europe.
“We were dominated by several different countries throughout our history,” Schnell said. “The history goes back to some anti-democratic pasts, and so democracy is not that well set in that part of the world. That’s why I think Professor Nathan wanted to support the communities there so they can meet the American democratic society, to open up the students’ mindset for a different approach.”
To qualify for the program through the university, students had to submit an application to the College of Advanced Studies, as well as independent research before being interviewed in the selection process.
“The college supports students who have motivation and want to do more,” she said.
Students in the group agreed that opportunities like this one are rare in Hungary, and it was also a chance to feed their curiosity about the U.S.
They described the experience as “versatile and eye-opening,” and going through a minor culture shock also helped broaden their understanding of the world.
For Schnell and Rab, the opportunity to immerse students in a different culture and allow them to make new contacts has been an honor, and they expressed gratitude for Nathan and everyone
who has played a role in the program.
Both have seen the students’ English speaking skills grow in such a short period of time, which shows “the power of cultural immersion.”
They believe the diverse itinerary for the trip also contributed to the “rich experience.”
“We cannot learn about this from books or by books,” Rab said.