What I have Newman to thank for: reflections of an international student after 15 years

Nov 17, 2021
Levi Nyitrai

Countless Newman alumni are making a positive difference and transforming society on each continent of the globe.

In this contributing article, alumnus Levi Nyitrai reflects on his education at Newman University and the skills gained that he carries with him today.

We’re all busy. Between family, work and other responsibilities, I feel we rarely have the chance to pause, take a long step back and do some — at times much needed — reflections or reminiscence about pleasant memories.

It’s been 15 years since I graduated from Newman and eight years since, thanks to an interview with the school’s magazine, I’ve been in touch with the institution. And while Newman regularly comes up when I’m asked about my time in the U.S., it easily could have been another eight years of not being in touch, had it not been for an email over the summer.

Levi with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

While checking my constantly full mailbox on a hot June day in Budapest, Hungary, an email from Director of Alumni Relations Dana Beitey caught my eye. In it she encouraged alumni to get in touch and possibly share some lines or stories about themselves, their work or hobbies. I paused for a minute in the middle of my busy embassy office and thought about what I would actually have to say if I did respond to the call. Memories rushed through my mind and the one topic I kept returning to was what I have Newman to thank for.

Having been born in, at the time Soviet satellite, Hungary and starting my life just a few dozen miles away from the Iron Curtain separating Eastern Europe from the West, being a student in America was always going to be a transformational experience. This huge change, however, wasn’t guaranteed to be all positive. But Newman University and its one-of-a-kind community certainly shaped it to be so.

A sense of belonging

Wichita is 5,400 miles away from Hungary, a country less than half the size of Kansas in the heart of Europe. The decision to pursue my bachelor’s degree in history so far away from home — years before smart phones, social media or even wide spread internet, all of which now help us to stay connected — was indeed a huge one, both for me and my family. Some of my relatives were unconvinced that it would be the best for me and were concerned about how I could fit in. However, the first week at Newman already helped dispersed such worries.

Levi and his family hike in the Hungarian countryside.

I was struck by the friendliness of the people and the student-centered atmosphere of teachers and faculty. The cross country team, of which I was a member, instantly made me feel welcome and the supportive sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ even helped me find a job in the campus bookstore, which I utterly enjoyed and ended up doing for my entire time at Newman. I quickly was able to reassure my parents that I was indeed at the right place.

Quality education

As a student, I was searching for a university with dedicated professors, who readily have the time to engage with and inspire students, as well as remember them, rather than with ones who mainly focus on publishing research studies.

And that’s exactly what I got from Newman. I was able to broaden my understanding on history and public affairs thanks to lively discussions with history professor Cheryl Golden, who tolerated my “eager-beaverness” with great patience. I sharpened my research skills under the guidance of Sister Tarcisia Roths, to whom, among many other things, I have to thank for my first ever publication.

Still today, I can rely on communication professor Audrey Hane’s top tips when giving speeches, which I’ve been doing increasingly often. And besides the first real thought-provoking questions in my life, I also have philosophy professor Jamey Findling to thank for an odd obsession with actor John Malkovich’s plays, which I’ve since gone to see in various European capitals when on tour.

This is what I call broad-ranging, quality education on which one can rely for long years after graduation.

Strengthened faith

Throughout my life I’ve been fortunate not to have ever been shaken in my faith. And while there could have been risks for a university student so far away from home, my beliefs even strengthened while at Newman.

As a practicing Catholic, for me the university’s Christian/Catholic atmosphere was a source of emotional and spiritual strength. The fact that I could stop at St. John’s Chapel for a quick, or longer, prayer anytime or that I could discuss any type of dilemma with then Newman chaplain Father Tatro, who helped me with my first-ever English language confession, meant a lot — especially on tougher days. Also, my wide-ranging exchanges with forever-patient theology professor John McCormick spurred me to later pursue theology studies and obtain a degree in Hungary.

I’m grateful to Newman University for providing me with these exceptional, life-shaping possibilities; for helping me feel at home so far away from my actual home and for letting me grow intellectually and spiritually alike.

I hope that no matter how busy life remains, it won’t be another eight years before I again have the chance to be in touch with this wonderful community.

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