How would you describe your role at the organization? Tell us about the importance of the Stipendium Hungaricum Mentor Network.
The HÖOK Stipendium Hungaricum Mentor Network started the third year of its operation in 2020. We continue to consider it our primary task to assist higher education institutions in the integration of SH scholarship students coming to Hungary. We strive to help meet the goals set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Tempus Public Foundation, so we place great emphasis on introducing first-year SH scholarship students to the cultural, touristic and social values and diversity of Hungary.
As the leader of the mentor network, my task is to fulfil the professional tasks defined at the beginning of each project year and to continuously improve both the methodology of peer support and the quality of the events we organize, based on student feedback. The Stipendium Hungaricum Scholarship Programme has undergone great changes since 2011, affecting many institutions, of which HÖOK (the student interest representation in Hungary) is no exception. Our task is to represent and help students from SH partner countries, as they are also full members of our country’s higher education community.
How did the network manage to overcome obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic? What are some of the challenges you still have to face?
The bright side of the situation was that the pandemic reached our mentoring network at a time when we didn’t have any events planned. Our operations have transitioned to an online platform relatively quickly and smoothly, however, we have faced a number of difficulties over time. Our mentors had to conduct all interviews as part of the mentor selection process online. Of course we had to deal with some difficulties, as it is difficult to replace all face-to-face meetings with virtual ones, but I think our lead mentors have solved all tasks successfully and we will be able to work with one of the best mentor teams this year.
There are still many unanswered questions ahead of us for the upcoming period, but we think we will not be organizing physical events for more than 100 people until the end of October.
Can all events and activities be held online? Do you think the potential of digital technologies in education and student life should be further explored even after the pandemic?
Every year, we prepare our mentors with the help of qualified trainers for the tasks ahead of them in the framework of a mentoring camp. Unfortunately, this year the camp had to be held online. More than 300 mentors took part in roundtable discussions, case reports and online courses. The management of the mentor network has made an effort to ensure that the mentors acquire all the necessary knowledge, but in my opinion, an online camp can never replace a physical event. I sincerely hope that we will have the opportunity to make personal contacts and have real-life conversations with mentors and lead mentors as soon as possible.
What should Stipendium Hungaricum mentors and mentees expect from this upcoming academic year?
This year, in addition to the previous 11 higher education institutions, the HÖOK Stipendium Hungaricum Mentor Network started operating in two new institutions, the University of Óbuda and the University of Kaposvár. We are making a series of 40 videos for the next period. In each video, we cover a small slice of Hungarian culture in order to give SH scholarship students as much knowledge as possible about Hungary by the beginning of the school year. In addition to the series, we also prepare a number of challenges and playful content for the students.
I sincerely hope that the coronavirus will no longer be a barrier to our mentor network in terms of organizing programmes by this November. We plan to start running sightseeing and cultural tours in November, which of course will continue to be free for all members of the mentoring network. We are planning trips to Budapest and its surroundings in November and December, and from the beginning of next year we would like to tour the whole country together with mentors and mentees in the framework of 8 tourist destinations.
In addition to sightseeing tours, we also prepare a number of other events for students, including our MentorFaktor talent search programme and our annual gala dinner, which was attended by nearly 800 students from more than 50 different countries at the Mom Sports Hall in Budapest last year.