In pursuit of diplomacy: Miklós Horváth is “Thinking Canada”
September 20th, 2013
The young residents had a tough time with Tan Dun’s mysterious soundscapes but warmed up to the more accessible folky jazz of the Elemér Balázs Group. During his two-month internship at a residential youth rehabilitation centre in Elora, Ontario, Miklós Horváth gave a number of presentations on Hungarian and European culture. He thought that using examples of world music might be a good starting point so he chose some Youtube clips to play to his young charges. “They were quiet for a long time after,” he said. Several days later they told him what they really thought about the music, and when his internship came to an end they said even more. “They organized a goodbye session for me and that was so special because in that kind of institution when people leave they are just released. You do not see them again. They each came up to me and told me something they liked. It was very embarrassing. You know how Hungarians don’t like it when people say nice things about them.” (I don’t, but I’ll take his word for it.)
Miklós Horváth is a student of literature and international relations and is positioning himself for an international career with Hungary’s diplomatic service. He was born 24 years ago in Tapolca, near Lake Balaton. His mother is in insurance, his father is in business, and he has a younger sister, a graduate student like him. This year he is participating in the European Union-Canada Study Tour, Thinking Canada, funded by the European Commission and operated in partnership with the European Network for Canadian Studies and the Network for European Studies (Canada). This project brings 32 bright young scholars from across Europe to Canada for an immersion experience in such issues as democratic engagement, multiculturalism, federal/provincial politics, and social and economic policy development to name only a few of the presentations in their programme. The tour includes sessions in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria. Horváth’s 2-month internship in advance of the study tour was made possible with funding from the Canada-Hungary Educational Foundation / Fondation éducative Canada-Hongrie and he was eager to express his appreciation for this before and during our interview.
Horváth attended the prestigious Secondary School for Boys in Pannonhalma, affiliated to the Benedictine monastery founded there almost a millennium ago. From there he went on to study literature and linguistics at Hungary’s largest university, Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, graduating in 2011. Since then he has carried out a number of university-related research projects and internships which took him to Vienna, London, Leiden, Maastricht, Brussels, and Tartu (Estonia). He is now close to finishing his MA in Belgium, at the University of Leuven, where his research topic is European Studies: Transnational and Global Perspectives. “I would be very happy to work for the government in Hungary because I have already done an internship for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Embassy of Hungary in Brussels, and I pretty much like the diplomatic life. I attended lots of conferences and I began to really like this diplomatic lifestyle,” he tells me.
He describes his Canadian experience as a deep learning experience and an opportunity for personal growth. “When you are studying abroad everyone is so helpful. We try to find those things that connect us and not disconnect people,” he explains.
Then I ask him what insights and images from his internship and the Thinking Canada experiences he would most likely take back with him to Hungary.
“People judge each other in a community, but at the rehabilitation centre it was different. They just try to interact with people as they are. You can openly talk about your thoughts and feelings. This is not typical in Hungarian schools, for example. The message here is to be helpful, co-operative, and non-authoritarian.” Extending his answer beyond the rehabilitation centre to Canada, he adds, “It’s about multiculturalism and the acceptance of people. …Yes, there are problems with land claims and other issues here, but it’s these inclusive values rather than specific policy issues that I will take back with me.”
When he first arrived in Canada he encountered an aspect of multicultural diversity that caught him by surprise. He travelled directly from Toronto’s Pearson Airport to Elora, in the heart of Mennonite farming country, and he encountered people dressed in nineteenth century clothing and travelling in horse-driven buggies. “I had never seen anything like that,” he said. With more Canadian experiences behind him, moving from Elora to Toronto and now beyond with the tour, the more his understanding continues to evolve. “Elora is a tiny city, not 5,000 people. Everyone spoke the same language. But once I got to Ottawa, and certainly the larger cities, especially Toronto, it was very different. I knew about Canada’s aboriginal issues, natural resource issues, multicultural issues, obviously, but in a country almost as large as all of Europe you have to experience it for yourself. You go to a shop, you hear people talking in all these different languages and nobody bothers. In Hungary it’s not like that. People would be surprised and they would ask questions.”
Then I reverse the question. When the Thinking Canada tour is over and he’s packing his bags to return to Hungary, what Hungarian insights would he like to leave behind in Canada?
“There are cultural things, like music and food, but one thing I would mention is the concept of hard work. I mean in Central Europe people there have to work hard for little money. I always feel that in the western countries life is a little easier. But I do not like using these kinds of generalizations.”
After a short pause, he continues. “When I began studying Canada, when I was nineteen, my teacher told me ‘You know, if you really want to understand Canada you have to go there.’ And now this is the opportunity and I am happy for that.” He concludes by adding: "I'll probably take more back home. I think we could learn a lot about internal policies and foreign affairs from the Canadians."
Please read Miklos’s own essay on his Thinking Canada trip and on his internship experience.
European students at the Ottawa offices of the European Commission at the beginning of the 2013 Thinking Canada Study tour – sitting in front are the two organizers: Prof Don Sparling of Brno University and Dr Alexandre Berlin, Honorary Director, European Commission.
Read the description of the 2010 Thinking Canada tour as described by Anita Demeny, first Hungarian student who participated in the project.
Read about CHEF’s 2011 intern, Robert Csehi.
Read about CHEF’s 2012 intern, Eszter Szenczi.