Opening Remarks on the Occasion of the 5th Annual RETURN – U.S. Alumni in Hungary Conference

Chargé Kostelancik with the U.S. Alumni in Hungary (Embassy photo)

Opening Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. David J. Kostelancik

on the Occasion of the 5th Annual RETURN – U.S. Alumni in Hungary Conference

Pázmány Péter Catholic University Law Faculty, January 28, 2017

 – as delivered – 

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen! Thank you, Rector Szuromi for your welcome remarks and inspiring thoughts to start this year’s RETURN conference.  I would also like to thank the RETURN Steering Committee for their kind invitation, and their continuous efforts of organizing this annual conference, which is one of the biggest and most diverse U.S. alumni gatherings in Hungary annually.  It is my great pleasure to be here and get to know the U.S. alumni better.  I think I recognize some of the faces from the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner that I hosted at my house for newly returned alumni in November – but I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more about the wide range of fields and extensive expertise this community represents.

Over the past few months, 5 months actually, since I have been in Budapest, I have already become familiar with some of the ways we engage our alumni and I have had the opportunity to see you in action.  I must say, I am quite impressed.  I’d like to state a few examples – one of my first public engagements was at the Final Teachers’ Workshop for the Visual World Foundation’s “Your Decision” Project.  The Foundation, headed by Zsuzsanna Kozák, an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program, works toward increasing media literacy and promoting tolerance and inclusion.  In the framework of their anti-discrimination project, they worked with 17 educators and their students from six Hungarian schools – from primary schools to universities.  The students explored ideas of tolerance or accepting differences through analyzing historic photographs and turning their responses and reflections into creative installations.  It was a remarkable and memorable experience for participants and viewers alike.

I also attended one of our alumni-driven panel discussions on migration, organized by my colleagues at the Embassy and the Subjective Values Foundation – an NGO run by IVLP alumnus Marcell Lőrincz.  Those of you who were here last year might remember that former ambassador, Ambassador Bell, announced the launch of this panel discussion series at last year’s RETURN Conference.  Between March and December 2016, Embassy Budapest engaged U.S. alumni and other experts from the Hungarian government, academia, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations in frank, open discussions among more than 300 participants in eight cities about distinct topics related to migration.  We had 18 alumni join us as panelists and many more as audience members.  The whole series took place in Hungarian, and so it was still – or actually all the more – exciting for me to see how it informed the dialogue about this important issue.

As many of you may know, the Embassy was also the proud sponsor of the ninth semi-annual conference of the European Network of American Alumni Associations (ENAM) in Budapest last November.  Organized jointly with the Hungarian Fulbright Commission and the Hungarian Fulbright Association, the event brought together over 20 international participants from 15 European countries – representatives of European associations of U.S. Government-sponsored exchange program alumni, as well as U.S. alumni from Hungary.  The theme was “Knowledge Transfer and Academic Mobility in the 21st Century,” with special regards to the Fulbright community and its significant impact as the event also served as the official celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Program and marked the start of the 25th year anniversary of the Hungarian Fulbright Commission.

Speaking of Fulbright Alumni, the Embassy was also involved in the 4th Hungarian Conference on Disabilities organized by Fulbrigthers Rita Hoffmann and Mária Flamich.  This event was another great example of the commitment and tireless dedication the U.S. alumni demonstrates toward such a wide range of topics and issues.

Another characteristic of our alumni, I believe, is that you are always eager to learn, evolve, and innovate – even long after your exchange experience is over.  I was very happy to see several of our alumni members on Thursday at the closing session of the LEAN Workshop for Entrepreneurs – a series of 16 interactive sessions for aspiring entrepreneurs sponsored by the Embassy and held by prominent businessmen as speakers and mentors.  My colleagues and I were impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm of our alumni – and actually all participants – shown during the Business Plan Competition.  I know that some of the alumni who participated in the Workshop also run their own initiatives to inspire entrepreneurs from the Budapest start-up scene.  One such innovative project is the bi-weekly event “6:20 Chili Nights” organized by Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund (HAESF) alumnae, which seeks to find answers to the most pressing issues and challenges entrepreneurs and start-uppers face during their endeavors.

And speaking of innovation, this brings us to today’s conference at which a group of ambitious U.S.-educated, U.S.-experienced people are determined to discuss what innovations are needed in Hungary in the private, public and cultural sectors for the country to prospect and succeed.  I want to express my appreciation for choosing today’s topic and generating a dialogue about these important issues.  I firmly believe that constructive discussions are necessary to formulate forward-looking plans that will benefit one’s country and society.  I would like to thank you all here today for being thought-leaders and innovators.  I hope you will be able to leverage the knowledge and experience you gained in the United States in finding solutions to some of today’s challenges, and you will continue to build on your U.S. experience in the future.

I know that last year’s conference theme was how to make a change and I wanted to mention all of the above alumni projects and initiatives as outstanding examples of how the U.S. Embassy worked with alumni to bring about change last year.  I would like to encourage all of you to keep taking action to bring about positive change and, along the lines of today’s theme, to keep sparking private and public innovation in Hungary.  I would like you to know that we at the Embassy consider our alumni as change agents as well.  You are a community of tremendous potential, which should be embraced, and which is certainly greatly appreciated by us.  Please feel free to turn to us if you have any ideas for cooperation and we will try to do the best we can to assist you with your vision for the future.

I wish you a productive afternoon and I can’t wait to hear all of the developments after this conference.  Thank you.  Köszönöm szépen.