Student Spotlight: István Keszte

Interviewer: Jamie Hoversen

Fulbright Student Grantee at Georgia Tech University (Atlanta, GA)

István Keszte is a current Hungarian Fulbright Student Grantee studying at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, Georgia. István grew up in Budapest and received his bachelor’s in Transportation Engineering from BME and is part-way through his master’s in Mechanical Engineering Modeling at BME as well.  Motivated by the unique opportunities available in the United States in the field of engineering, István decided to apply for a Fulbright grant for the 2013-2014 academic year. He is enrolled in the Aerospace Engineering master’s program at Georgia Tech, a top notch engineering school in the United States, where he is specializing in acoustics and design.

Why did you decide to apply for a Fulbright grant?

I had a perfectly happy life in Hungary but I wanted to see the world from a different perspective, learn new things and eventually find myself and make new friends. Coming from a ‘normal’ Hungarian family a Fulbright grant is the only financial foundation to afford the expensive US higher education. It is also a well-known and prestigious scholarship – even more than I originally thought. It gives us continuous support and organizes orientations and enrichment seminars at different locations than our institutions, thus giving us the opportunity to travel and meet other Fulbrighters from all around the world.

Do you have any advice for Hungarians who are planning to go through the Fulbright application process?

First of all, you have to see it clearly, that most of the applicants possess outstanding academic records along with excellent English. To make a difference you need to have a topic which is beneficial for the country, and in the end for you too. All the preparations take time: you need to prepare for the TOEFL and GRE tests, need to get recommendations and it is very useful to speak with people who already went through the process – all the names of the participants can be found on the Fulbright webpage along with links to blogs, which may also be useful to check. I talked with at least three alumni before applying and got some valuable insights from them. People from the Hungarian Fulbright Commission are really nice and can help too. Plan accordingly, it’s not worth doing all of these in a few weeks before the deadline. Finally, most applicants get to the interview phase, which is where the actual decision will be made. You need to present yourself as a person who can represent Hungary abroad. This comes with a charming attitude and an overall understanding of the events happening around us. For many foreigners you will be the only Hungarian in their life they meet, so you will want to make a good impression.

What attracted you to Georgia Tech University and their Aerospace Engineering program?

Both academic and personal reasons influenced me to choose Tech. On the academic side I am able to collaborate with world renowned researchers in their projects involving acoustics and design. My advisor was a Fulbright scholar in Germany. We have the largest Aerospace Design Laboratory in the world with large scale projects for companies such as NASA and Boeing. Tech is also a powerhouse for rotary wing vehicles, which is not strong in Hungary. Of course it didn’t hurt that the program was well ranked, being in the top three nationwide. What really surprised me was the networks and connections of the professors. Through its strong alumni you can name any company in the world and there surely will be someone from Tech or at least a contact of a professor who are more than happy to help you get there.
On the personal side I would name Atlanta, which is very well located, with a nice climate, and has a unique Southern taste. We are close to Florida and the sea, which gives us the opportunity to visit beautiful beaches. If we go north, we are just a few hours from the Appalachian mountain range where we can hike during the weekends. Tech also has a beautiful campus.

What have you become involved with at GA Tech outside of classes?

In engineering free time is usually a precious gift since all classes require a lot of individual work and participation in group projects. In addition, an individual research project is also mandatory – probably this is the reason why people refer to graduating from Tech as “getting out”.
I was very lucky from the beginning, because by chance I found the best roommates ever, with whom I have become very good friends. If I needed to name the best thing to happen to me in the US, I would name them: Ioana, a girl from Romania who is also a Fulbright student and a yoga teacher, and Antoine from France, who is the most mature and awesome guy I’ve ever met outside of Hungary, and my best friend in the US. With two other close friends the five of us went on numerous road trips and we did countless awesome things together. I learn from them every day and I’m really gracious for this.
We also have a very active Fulbright association in Georgia, which organizes trips and other events. I’ve met several interesting people there and learned a lot from them too. I am involved with a school organization called International Buzz (Buzz, the bee, is our cute mascot) with whom we meet on a weekly basis for a discussion. I am also involved with the outdoor recreational center through our common passion: sport.

Increasing mutual understanding of cultures is at the heart of the Fulbright program. What is something you have come to learn about American culture and what have you shared with others about Hungarian culture?

The most overarching fact about the US culture for me is multiculturalism. Asians, black and white people are living together in harmony –all of them are equally present at Tech too. The nicest thing about the US is the smiling. If you walk along the street people will look for your eyes and smile at you, like you are friends. Sometimes they even ask about how you are doing. This is not something common in Hungary, especially not in Budapest. People here are generally nice with you, and I believe this is rooted in unconditional acceptance.
I’m always surprised when I meet new people because many of them are familiar with Hungary to a certain extent; they know our capital and sometimes even a few important parts of our history. More often they know a few words too, which is always super funny and a nice gesture if we can answer them in their language. I really like cooking so I often make Hungarian food and share it with others. We often have potluck parties too, where all of us bring food and we eat together.

What are your plans once you complete your Fulbright grant?

If I would have to answer this question a year ago, I know what I’d have said. In the US I changed, along with my priorities. I’m more focused on happiness in general, making people smile and in the end I would like to contribute to the well-being of all the people – in other words, my goal is to change the world, and I have plans for that. Until that, upon my return I will finish my Hungarian masters (Mechanical Engineering Modeling), which is a good additional degree to my US (Aerospace Engineering) one. During the summer I intend to organize trips for American students to Budapest – a perfect opportunity to show them my beloved city in a different way than they would see by themselves.