Coincidental meetings and UNT courtesies in Budapest airport

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UNT Faculty member struggling to retrieve luggage from baggage claim surprised when she receives help from passing UNT student in Budapest International Airport.

Over the summer, Julie Leventhal, lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, was on a trip with Manna Worldwide to work in two Romani communities when she found her overweight luggage difficult to retrieve from the baggage claim. A helpful passerby, seeing her struggle and noticing the Manna tags on her luggage, approached her and asked if she was also with the organization. Once they both had their bags situated, the passerby introduced himself as Austin Crow, a UNT student in the Department of Media Arts.

"We joked for much of the trip that it took a trip halfway across the world for UNT faculty and students to meet up!" said Leventhal.

Crow was interning that summer for Manna as their photographer and videographer. He and Leventhal had unknowingly arrived on the same plane, and he would travel with their group for the entire trip. He also traveled to the Philippines and Panama with Manna that summer.

Manna Worldwide is an international nonprofit organization based in Fort Worth, Texas. The group conducts mission trips all over the world, running feeding centers, building wells for clean water and supporting schools.

Leventhal first worked with Manna in 2009 and has traveled with the organization three times to Romania and once to Kenya. For the first trip, a friend invited her to join a medical group traveling to Romania and Leventhal wasn't one to turn down the opportunity. During her stays, she helps out in feeding centers, assists with dental or medical clinics by passing out care packs, provides one-on-one support for parents with questions or specific needs, and conducts parent education or teacher training sessions dependent on the location and the need. It was those dental supplies and other childrens' activities that filled most of her luggage at the baggage claim.

Her passion is providing a good influence for the children there, whether it is through teaching kids how to brush their teeth or helping parents with rebellious teens. Even with the language barrier, she tries to build a relationship with the kids during her repeat visits to the villages. After she returns home, she uses Facebook to stay in touch with those who have access to a computer and good old fashioned letter writing for those who don't.

"Someone once asked me, ‘Do you really think you're changing the world, making a difference in going there for 10 days?' And I say, ‘Well, not immediately, but I keep going back, and I'm establishing relationships with people, that's what I feel is making a difference,'" Leventhal said. "Because maybe, five years from now, one of them wants to break the cycle of poverty in their family and go to college or change something about their lives and I can be there to help."

Leventhal shares her experiences with her students at UNT to give them a better understanding of cultural differences. In June, she will also be leading a study abroad trip to Romania.

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By Jessie Laljer, UNT's College of Education Development and External Relations Office

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