To become the student of an internationally acclaimed university such as CEU is not easy for any high school student, but it could have appeared as a particularly distant goal for recent Milestone graduate, Tina Horváth. Tina was born in Zádorfalva, a small village in Borsod County, and she lived there until she was 12. She graduated not from a Budapest “elite gymnasium” but from a country high-school, and she didn’t even see any example around her of anyone getting into a foreign university; although Tina thinks that there were some who had more than enough talent to do so, financial constraints and social background posed insurmountable obstacles to many. The Milestone alumna, however, has been living in Vienna since September 2021, attending CEU’s Culture, Politics and Society BA programme as a winner of both CEU’s Presidential Scholar Award and Dr Elemer Hantos Scholarship.

“As a child my favourite film was the 1979 musical Hair, we practically had to watch it every day; as a matter of fact, that, and Beat literature with its social sensitivity and political activism were my first experience of America, and ever since I’ve been longing to get there, to study there” Tina says, who hasn’t let her American dream go: after graduating from CEU she’s planning to move to the United States to study filmmaking. Shooting documentaries has long been in the centre of her interest: last year, she even organised a documentary film festival with a desire to address Roma living in rural Hungary, but, unfortunately, the COVID pandemic didn’t allow her to realise her plans.

On her way to the US through Vienna an important milestone for Tina was Milestone, where she studied as a Bridge scholar between 2019 and 2021. “Fortunately, my teachers in high-school were flexible, so on Fridays and Saturdays I could travel to Pest to attend the modules” Tina elaborates, and, even though due to geographical distance and different social backgrounds socialising with other students wasn’t easy for her, she felt her module leaders supported her.

Her closest relationship, however, was with her mentor, Katherine Kondor, who helped her on her way in various ways over the two years. “Kathy had a fantastic approach towards me all along, our relationship was very personal, I would certainly not be here today without her” Tina emphasises, and she says that they’re still in touch, even though their communication is not as intensive as it was during the Milestone years. “She helped me a lot in improving my academic writing skills, but she did much more than professional assistance. I got immense support from her to get to know my own goals better. In 2019 I arrived at Milestone with a firm determination to study English literature, I wasn’t even interested in anything else. Then it was Kathy who, over our conversations, opened my eyes with her questions and made me realise that what’s truly important to me is social issues, the fate of those living under difficult circumstances”. Katherine also helped Tina to be able to start her studies at CEU by launching a crowdfunding campaign as the two scholarships won by Tina combined weren’t even enough to fully cover tuition fees and the costs of living in Vienna. “It was primarily Kathy’s and my acquaintances and their acquaintances who donated, and fortunately we managed to collect the necessary amount”, Tina adds.

Motivation is key, of course, but academic studies themselves are also inevitable to go to university, and in these the Institution’s modules helped Tina a lot: “The modules have given me a very strong foundation, they gave birth to some interest in me, which is still there, even outside Milestone” she explains, adding that Milestone’s structure and way of operation made familiarising with the university setup much easier for her, too. At CEU she studies along with numerous students coming from a wide variety of countries and she often feels that what she learned at the Institute means an advantage to her. She’s been feeling very well in Vienna so far, both about the programme and about her fellow students. She’s happy with the programme, and she finds the community particularly inspiring, thus almost everybody arriving at CEU has big plans. However, what means Tina the most is not that: “As far as I can see everyone’s nice and empathic, and to me these values are the most important”.