I was enjoying a cup of espresso macchiato with conference-provided sandwiches next to the Danube river while you, my fellow schoolmates, were being crushed under the heavy burden of midterms. Before you start feeling jealous of my one-week privilege, let me clarify two things: The conference was busy enough that we were not able to fully enjoy the beautiful city of Budapest, and there was no proper place to sit or walk neither where I was eating, nor along most of the riverbank [*1]. As the title of this entry suggests, the conference I’m talking about was the fifth annual Get Engaged conference organized by the Bard Center for Civic Engagement in partnership with the Central European University Community Engagement Office who welcomed us hospitably for our one-week stay.
It might have come to light with my use of the “we” pronoun that I was not the only one to be granted this opportunity. I, Ibrahim Bozdemir (EPST 2020), with my inherited initiative “Lingo 101” [*2]; Muhannad Qaiconie (HAST 2020), with his avantgarde Arabic library “Baynatna” [*3]; and Emma Sandman (Begin in Berlin), with her “Prost to Compost” project [*4], represented BCB. Adeeb Hadi (HAST 2021), whose project is the documentary film “Homesick between Death and Death”, could only join us virtually with the online presentation he made. (Please see the footnotes for further information on the individual projects). Lastly and most honorably, BCB’s Civic Engagement Coordinator Xenia Muth — to whom we also owe many thanks for her hard work prior to the conference — accompanied and guided us through our journey.
The conference program comprised seemingly infinite workshops and activities and did not leave us much time to explore the city — though we were granted a guided tour in the Roma 8th district to learn about the situation of Roma people in Hungary, the largest ethnic minority there. After informational presentations, workshops were the sessions which took most of our time. We explored topics ranging from “the merits of active listening” to “the waterway of finding funding”. For example, in one workshop we learned the tricks of making an “elevator pitch”, whose fruits of victory you can reap below in the footnotes. We had many chances to share our projects with the other schools’ representatives and notable people from the Bard network, and, yes, we had the pleasure of enduring many ice-breaker exercises. The participating institutions were BCB, AQB, AUCA, CEU, EHU, Smolny and Bard Annandale.
Needless to say, the conference provided its international participants with the invaluable opportunity to form close ties and exchange stories with others in the Bard network. But, I must admit that my favourite part of the whole experience came outside of the official conference activities: We, the participants, along with many other people belonging to the Bard family, were invited by the great Hungarian scientist and writer Laszlo Z. Bito — a ‘60 Bard alum — and his estimable wife, Olivia Carino, to a reception at their lovely house on the Buda side. As their generosity and inspiring company filled the very intimate air of the house, I had the chance to get to know and talk to many people, including Templeton Kay, who somehow managed to recruit me for debating with the help of his missionary, Matthew Caito, just as the BCB debate team was participating in the Smolny Open Tournament [*5]. Though both Templeton and Matt partook in the “Begin in Berlin” program, I hadn’t had the chance to interact much with either of them during their time at BCB. However, the conference gave us the chance to get to know each other well enough that we ended up sharing a single bed with Matt, who crashed in our room to bid us farewell on the last day.
The conference was over after one intense, action-packed yet cheerful week. Thankfully, much of it was immortalized by Muhannad’s magical selfie stick. Unfortunately, between all the excitement, I ended up getting extremely sick as a result of poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and cruelly cold weather. Still, I had a great time at CEU’s residential center where one could engage in political conversations with grad students and get constantly beaten at pool. (I would urge our student life team to acquire a pool table so that we can train for the next years.) Despite my ill health, I can wholeheartedly say that we left the beautiful city of Budapest and our recently added Facebook friends in very good spirits. Though I’ve long been suspicious of the idea that there might actually be a place for altruism in individuals of the modern day — even acts of community service by “good” people have appeared to me as a manifestation of hidden selfishness — the conference convinced me that civic engagement is and should remain an essential part of social life, no matter what the underlying motives of the engagers are. There can be no denying the value such deeds contribute to our world.
“Köszönöm a figyelmet” as the Hungarians of our school — namely Mila, Zoltan and Matyas — would say to thank for your attention.
- Let’s blame it on Orban, otherwise Soros would make it happen, right?