It’s not often that young people who grow up in Ashland want to stay home and attend SOU for their college education. But Esther Holbrook ’97 made the decision to stay home after graduating Ashland High School and earning a full academic scholarship to her choice of any state school. With six kids in her household, finances were tight so she decided it would be best for all if she stayed in her hometown. After all, three of her siblings, Stacie Lynn Holbrook-Krieger (‘89), Bradley Christopher Holbrook (‘89) and Trish Whitehouse (‘04) also decided to stay and become SOU alums!
Esther immediately loved the small class sizes at SOU. “Ultimately, we are in charge of our educations and I was very empowered on campus as both a student and as a human being. Everyone from my counselors to my professors were friendly and accepting and it helped me to blossom,” she said. She got involved with the Delta Kappa honor society and Associated Students of Southern Oregon State College, which helped open a lot of doors for her to meet new people and discover new experiences. She served as the Co-Director of the International Students Show run by the Office of International Programs for three years, which sparked a deep interest in world travel and diverse cultural experiences. That is where she met what would become her lifelong Hungarian friends (Lilla (’98) and Andrea Jakobsz, Istvan Aved (’97), Csendi Hopp (’00), and Nelli Hrabovszky (’00). “My fellow students who were here from around the world, gave me an award for being the only student involved who did not have a passport! That really inspired me to change that,” she added.
With her interest sparked in international travel, she got involved with the Model United Nations Club at SOU. “Professor Don Rhoades was a great influence for me as a teacher and advisor for Model UN. He was a great mentor who encouraged my interest in travelling abroad. Professor Sandra Holstein was also a great teacher who helped my confidence, particularly with me travelling to Hungary after graduation with a suitcase and no job. What’s even more incredible, as avid travelers themselves, she and her husband, Professor Michael Holstein even met up with me in Budapest once and we got to wander my favorite haunts together,” she added. After graduating June of 1997 Cum Laude with her bachelors in political science, she was off to Hungary just a few months later.
In her second week in Budapest, Esther secured a job with a local English language newspaper called Budapest Week in the sales department and got to do a bit of writing as well. This really helped to immerse herself in the culture and to learn the Hungarian language. After that experience, she moved on to a position as the Program Coordinator at the non-profit Roma Press Center. The center’s mission is to help promote non-bias reporting and vocabulary in the mainstream media while educating and changing the perception of citizens about their fellow Roma compatriots. They work to turn around centuries of discrimination and misunderstanding. She stayed with that position for five years then accepted a position with Central European University as a coordinator managing lectures, guiding students through the religious studies program and running the Center for Religious Studies. CEU is a post-graduate higher learning institution based in Budapest. Faced with a period of anti-liberalism and nationalism, the institution moved to Vienna, Austria this last year.
Esther still meets her Hungarian and International friends she made at SOU every year (excluding the Covid pandemic) for Easter Break somewhere in Europe. “We have a mini SOU reunion every year, either in Germany, Hungary or somewhere else in the region. We get together, even watching recordings of the SOU International Show and always reminiscing over the good times we had at our alma mater. I feel at home here in Europe and I would have never had the confidence to move overseas without the diversity of programs and students and excellent faculty at SOU. My education there helps me to this day and the attitudes and perspectives that help me succeed were really nurtured and encouraged during my time at SOU,” she said.
If you are interested in Esther’s Budapest experience, you can check it out in the forthcoming edition of Fodor’s Travel Guide for Budapest (due out in May 2021), where she contributes as a primary writer.
Learn more: Central European University