For the Love of Learning / Lauren Noble & Clara Ruth West

Steve Jobs was fired from his own company.
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
Oprah Winfrey was fired because she was deemed unfit for television.
Elizabeth Simon was denied acceptance into college.

Despite the Communist regime in Hungary, 18-year-old Elizabeth was hopeful about her future. After months of hard work and anticipation, she finally received her college acceptance letter to a prestigious Hungarian university. Unfortunately, that letter contained news that she wasn’t prepared to hear. While she had been accepted to the university of her choice, she learned space restrictions limited her class size, so her acceptance was withdrawn.

While this kind of rejection could be tough, Elizabeth quickly began exploring other options.

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“My mom mentioned that she had been talking to my uncle,” Simon said. “He offered to write for me to come to the States.”

Although it was a tough decision, she decided to take her uncle’s offer up and begin her journey to the U.S. She arrived in New Jersey, her temporary home for the next three months, where she began taking classes at the local community college. Busy with her studies, her time in America was quickly coming to an end. Elizabeth, together with her uncle, began considering her options to stay and applied for more time in the states.

“I applied for more time and the U.S. gave me six months, but the Hungarian government denied my request,” she said.

Despite the rejection, she chose to stay in the U.S. to further her education. Upon this decision, she received a five-year prison sentence from the Hungarian communist government and defected to the U.S.


Within the next 12 years, Elizabeth would earn three degrees. She earned her bachelor’s in history from Princeton University, and her master’s in political and international affairs, and doctorate in international affairs from the University of Pittsburg.

People would often tell her that she paid a high price for learning to which she would respond, “Yes, I did. Twelve years.” SKB-170626-083303

After completing her education, getting married and moving back to Hungary, Elizabeth took a job with CIEE, Europe’s leading study abroad and exchange program. Fast-forward to present day, Elizabeth is now the CIEE in Budapest Resident Director.

But her responsibilities with CIEE don’t stop here. In 2004, she started a new scholarship program and earned the title of executive director of the Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund.

This new position has allowed her to create an alumni network and to provide students with educational opportunities they wouldn’t have had before.

“These [Hungarians] students have the knowledge in their head but not the hammer in their hands,” Simon said when describing the purpose of the scholarship fund. “This program makes it possible for them to have both.”

After hearing her story and spending some quality time with her, it is evident that education and learning are priorities in Elizabeth’s life.

“She gives me energy.”
“She knows everything.”
“She’s spunky.”
“She’s humble.”SKB-170626-084332

These are only a few of the praises from fellow classmates who have interacted with her throughout the past five weeks during the Baylor in Budapest program. Our professor spoke highly of her even before we left for Europe.

“Everything about her is built on a passion, a passion for education,” Baylor University professor Maxey Parrish said.

After our trip to Prague, Elizabeth was less than thrilled to hear about our “authentic cooking class.” She jumped at the opportunity to teach us how to prepare a typical Hungarian dish – chicken paprikash.

One evening, we all gathered in an apartment where she and another CIEE professor, Mária Santha, enthusiastically walked us through the process of making the dish from scratch. We cut fresh vegetables, boiled chicken and kneaded our own nokedli dumplings. Two hours later, pots were empty and stomachs were full.

Even though a cooking lesson in an apartment kitchen is different from a lecture in a classroom, teaching runs through her blood.

Although our time with her as been limited, the two of us had the opportunity to have dinner with her where we listened as she shared her story with us. One point during her story, Elizabeth choked up and struggled to finish her explanation on Hungarian history. In that moment of pure emotion, there was no question about her passion for what she does.

In the last six weeks, we’ve gained a Hungarian grandmother and a new appreciation for her.

“Everything about her is built on a passion, a passion for education,” Baylor University professor Maxey Parrish said.
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