Born in Romania two years after that nation's end of communism, Robert Irsai developed a strong interest in history, news and politics as a child.
This spring, the political science major has gotten first-hand experience in foreign policy as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary—an opportunity that in a sense took him home.
"The type of work I do is really great. I cannot believe that I am lucky enough to have been selected," said Irsai, an Appalachian State University junior who emigrated from Eastern Europe at age 12 when his mother married an Appalachian alumnus and settled in the Carolinas.
The junior has been assigned to the U.S. Embassy's economics section, a prestigious opportunity according to Dr. Jim Barnes, a professor of government and justice studies. Barnes said it has been a few years since an Appalachian student has interned overseas with the U.S. Department of State, the last one working in the Middle East.
"The state department is very selective, and I was quite pleased when Robert got his internship," Barnes said.
During his internship, Irsai has attended the NATO Hungarian Conference and other conferences, and met politicians and ambassadors from countries around the world including Afghanistan, Great Britain, Romania, Israel and the United States.
Irsai said he has assisted with topics such as how to rebuild Hungary's airline industry after the collapse of the national airline, Malev. "To do this I went with an economic officer and met with various airlines and their CEO or regional representative for Hungary. First I went with the economic officer here, then I started going by myself," he said.
"I am the only intern from the United States here, which is a real honor especially since the embassy fully trusts me to make sure I get the appropriate information and relay up the chain of command," said Irsai, whose native language is Hungarian and who still has family members living in Eastern Europe.
Before leaving Appalachian in January, Irsai said he knew the internship would be good experience toward his goal of someday working with the U.S. Department of State. "I want to learn," he said.
By April, he had solidified his dream job.
"My career goal has been set and I cannot wait to become a diplomat for the U.S. Department of State," he said. "It's been an amazing experience so far and I am thankful for everything."
He added, "I really do think that the United States is doing an amazing job with its foreign policy and there are a lot of people around the world to make sure it goes really well."