Community Powered: Volunteering During COVID-19

Caring for Our Community During COVID” brought together 34 volunteers from the CEU student body and Hungarian public during the pandemic for services lasting throughout the summer months. The project, which paired volunteers with people in need of assistance, is one of many community engagement projects at CEU, which annually engage hundreds of CEU students, faculty, staff and alumni. Within a university valuing social service, this volunteer opportunity proved to be a positive experience for student and local participants alike.

“Kindness can be like a muscle that atrophies unless you exercise it. I think we are trained by society to always expect compensation for what we give or produce and a very simple way of resisting that is by volunteering your time to projects outside of that system,” commented Julia, a CEU student who signed up to help a Hungarian high-school student with English tutoring. “I think it’s important to engage in activities that benefit others without expecting anything in return,” she added.

Living in a country that is not her own, Julia felt a responsibility to contribute locally and participate in projects that advance the well-being of society. As a native English speaker and English language teacher by profession, helping students who want to practice English was a direct way for her to “give back” to the community. Working weekly with Vera, a 17-year old Hungarian high-school student, Julia enjoyed the opportunity to speak with a local and learn about her culture and life perspectives.

“It’s fascinating for me to hear about her generation and how they see the world.” Julia noted. “She also teaches me about music, Hungarian food and hiking spots outside of Budapest. As a master's student hacking away every day at my thesis, I could not be more grateful to have a weekly break and talk about more fun and interesting topics.” Julia noted.

Vera, who came to the program after her parents learned about it through a radio broadcast, said that she can already feel the benefits of their regular Google Hangout meetings. “I can speak in English more easily and my conversations with Julia are very interesting,” Vera revealed. “I enjoy the opportunity to have an authentic chat with a native speaker. She is very kind and helpful, and we became friends, which is cool.”

In another volunteer pairing, Jamie, a CEU staff member and Dani, an 18-year-old student connected for English tutoring lessons. “I have always been fortunate enough to have regular employment that allows me to financially support myself, but I don't necessarily have a lot of money to where I can make a great financial impact towards causes I care about. Consequently, I focus on how I can use some of my extra time, knowledge and skills to support causes I consider important,” Jamie said.

With a passion for education, Jamie has consistently been involved with many volunteer activities over the previous 10 years even while living abroad. She believes that financial or geographical restrictions should not limit someone’s access to learning.

The cultural and generational exchange was Jamie’s favorite aspect of the tutoring. “He [Dani] has shared a lot about Hungary and his high-school experience, and I have shared about culture in the United States and what it is like to live in Hungary as a foreigner,” commented Jamie.

Jamie was also impressed with Dani's dedication and curiosity towards his studies and learning English, and she is confident that he is going to do well on his upcoming English language exam. For Dani, who joined the program after seeing it on Facebook, the weekly Zoom classes proved to be an excellent opportunity to prepare.

“I think that in general circumstances, the speaking skill is the most difficult to improve, so chatting with a native speaker on a regular basis was a big help in my progress,” Dani said. “Besides the obvious advantage of practicing my English, it was interesting to get to know Jamie, who was very kind and easy-going. Social collaborations like this show the real power of a community and I’m really grateful for that,” Dani concluded.