Columbia: Golden Opportunity for a Refugee
As the Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, I escaped and came to the United States as a refugee. This dramatic departure is described in my book, My Escape: Memoirs of a Hungarian Teenage Freedom Fighter, translated and published in 2012.
In 1960, I graduated with a B.A. in English literature from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. The same year, I was accepted to Columbia Universitiy’s School of Library Science as a fellowship student and as a Leopold Schepp Foundation scholar. To make ends meet and lower my rent, I played the organ every morning at the resident house of the Sisters of Mercy few blocks from Columbia where I lived. But I still needed cash. So I interviewed for a job as a typist in Columbia University’s Finno-Ugric comparative languages department and was accepted for the position. The only problem was that I had no idea how to type. I had two weeks to do something about it before I had to report to work. So on the way home, I purchased a thick Teach Yourself to How to Type manual and two weeks later, Eureka! I passed the typing test.
I’ll never forget the first lecture at Library school. Our professor introduced himself to the class by saying: “I am a very bad librarian that is why I decided to teach the subject. If you don’t know a topic, teach it!” Needless to say, his candid confession puzzled us. My fellow students were a mixed group. Many were library clerks who had decided to become professional librarians, and it was difficult to compete with them. They knew the reference books, the Dewey Decimal Classification and its concepts of relative location and relative index. These “library clerks,” as we called them, seemed to have a relatively easy time whereas the rest of us struggled to remember book titles, page out-lays, reference tools and classification systems. It was a challenge, indeed!
To amuse myself, I spent most of my electives in the music department. One of the most memorable courses I took was a lecture series on the relationship between music and mathematics. This concept I still experience daily as a professional ballroom dancer and dance master. I even made arrangements with Julliard Music School (at the time, located near Columbia) to practice the piano in one of its practice rooms.
I was still at library school when IBM offered me a librarian’s position in Poughkeepsie, NY. “You must be very smart,” remarked my interviewing manager, “Columbia is a very prestigious university. One of the best.” How right he was. During my professional life, (later, I earned a Ph.D. in communications) the name “Columbia University” always seemed to do the magic. After a career in executive communications at IBM, I currently teach at Marist CLS and Dutchess colleges, lecture and conduct workshops for private clubs, charitable, professional, national and international organizations. I am author of numerous technical and non-technical articles, two non-fiction and two children’s books. I am also a professional ballroom dancer.