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Ildikó Szigeti is facilitating the exchange of ideas, cultures and knowledge between Central European students and their Western counterparts through electronic mail and the Internet.
Even though the Iron Curtain had fallen by the middle of the 1990’s, Ildi Szigeti, a teacher at Budapest’s ELTE University English Department saw that undergraduates still had almost no opportunities to study abroad. There were few scholarships available to students in Eastern Europe and in Hungary, student mobility institutions were non-existent altogether. Meanwhile the costs of a study trip abroad were beyond the resources of all but a precious few. A reunited Europe, as a result, remained a remote concept for most students at that time.
The X-CHANGE International Student Exchange programme was born in 1996. It was based on the interactive use of the Internet at a time when many large companies did not even have a website and when developments such as Facebook, couch-surfing and internet-based payment services were not even in sight. The basis of the programme was the X-CHANGE database where students could register with their data and look for prospective travel partners. Developing the X-CHANGE programme and her own home-swap travel experiences later led to Ildi becoming the PR representative of Home Exchange in Hungary; and she has been promoting this cultural exchange form of travel ever since.
As a university student back in the 1980’s, Ildi organised her own student exchange programme by hosting a student from Brighton and later visiting her in England. This experience planted a seed for the idea she would develop some years later. In the 1990’s when the Internet became available for universities, Ildi recognised that it could provide a cost-effective basis for an interactive study-exchange programme. She set out to create a student-mobility system that eliminated accommodation costs and thus would provide opportunities to anybody who wants to participate in the programme.
After emerging from a year and a half long struggle with Lyme disease, Ildi Szigeti developed a new organisation called Botsport where through promoting Nordic Walking as a sport that anyone can learn at any age, she is also showing how the forest can become a new arena for individuals to share experiences and form a community. In the meantime she has also written, illustrated and co-composed the music of her children’s book ‘Alta: Tódal’, published in 2013. The deepest message of the book is that all major change originates from within.
Reflecting on her own study trip, Ildi recognised the multi-level learning that takes place visiting and living in a foreign culture. On her trip it was not only her English skills that improved, but she also learnt a great deal from observing the practices of democratic student union organisations in the U.K. She felt that by creating a system where a large number of students would have experiences similar to hers, she could help the Eastern European block in developing its own civil society. This multi-level learning possibility is reflected in the name of the programme she developed, X-CHANGE.