By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — For a lot of people, debating the pros and cons of foreign military intervention in the case of a struggle for national sovereignty at an Ivy League conference of dedicated Model United Nations members sounds, basically, like a nightmare.
But for Sara Bobok, who may very likely present on that very issue at the end of the month at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s more like watching a career dream unfold.
The Niskayuna High School senior talks about the intricate relationships between countries in Europe and Asia with a thoughtful deliberation that she applies to every corner of her busy life.
Her interests can broadly be divided into art and politics. She’s an accomplished musician with training in piano, guitar and classical vocals, as well as a student of tap, jazz and ballet at the Orlando School of Dance in Schenectady. She has a leading role in the Niskayuna High School spring musical, “Sweeney Todd,” and grew up participating in plays and musicals with local groups like the Schenectady Light Opera Company and Mac-Hayden Theater.
This is what most of her friends and classmates know her for: her skillful musical performances and friendly embrace of fellow artists. “I love my cast,” she said, glowing with excitement about “Sweeney Todd.” “They’re fantastic.”
Bobok is also editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Warrior, as well as a debate coordinator for Model United Nations at the school, the club that will take her to Penn at the end of January. But what Bobok’s acquaintances are less likely to know about her is the origin of her interest in politics, especially international relations within Europe and Asia.
“I was born in Hungary,” Bobok explained. “We moved here because my dad got a job at IBM.”
At home on Hawthorn Road in Niskayuna, Bobok still speaks Hungarian with her parents and her 13-year-old brother, Adam.
For several summers, she’s returned to Hungary for several weeks. She visits relatives and sometimes travels a bit, but the most important stop during her visits to Hungary is at Galospetri, an orphanage that houses about 30 children.
“They have so many emotional strains from where they come from,” Bobok said of the children she visits each summer. She helps in a variety of ways, from cleaning to basic baby-sitting jobs; when she’s not with the kids, she’s usually collecting supplies for them, such as pillows or soccer equipment.
But her favorite part of the visits are the moments when she gets to connect with the children.
“When I’m there at the orphanage, I constantly am singing with the kids or have a guitar in hand,” she said. “People in Hungary love to hear other people sing.
“I think my love for Hungary and for music comes down to a love of emotion and love of feeling things,” she added.
Bobok’s dual lives in Hungary and Niskayuna crossed paths most notably during her junior year, when she organized a benefit concert for the residents of Galospetri. She learned that people had been stealing from the orphans’ garden, which was as upsetting to the children as it was detrimental to their diets.
She determined to raise $2,000 for a fence, and started by asking her friends from singing groups, her dance company, and theater organizations to contribute their talents.
“I tried to take people from every facet of my life,” Bobok said.
The night of the concert, she charged $10 per person or $25 for a family of three or more to enter, and guessed she might raise a third of what the orphanage’s fence would cost. She was shocked when more than 200 people showed up, and she far surpassed her fundraising goal.
“That night just completely showed me the kindness of people,” Bobok said.
Last summer, Bobok just happened to be visiting while the fence she funded was being installed, and she helped put it up. There’s still nearly $1,000 left over from the fundraiser that has yet to be spent.
“I hope we buy a cow from it,” she said. The kids don’t have as much access to dairy products as Bobok wishes they did, and a cow could provide them with milk, yogurt, cheese and other foods too expensive for the orphanage to serve.
Bobok’s experiences in Hungary and across Europe, where she has traveled widely, have prepared her for a career in helping people understand one another.
During several of her summers, she has acted as a translator for various missionary groups, and often helps out from home in the United States by translating Web pages and blog posts for her contacts in Europe. Most recently, she interned as a translator at the European Union. “There are so many neglected issues in a lot of Eastern European countries,” Bobok said.
She finds herself leaning toward a career in international law, which could lead to work with nongovernmental organizations, diplomacy or another humanitarian path. For college, she’s considering Georgetown University, but hasn’t chosen a destination just yet.
Besides, for a lifelong traveler like Bobok, who has taken solo trips to Eastern Europe since she was 15, the importance of a thoughtful journey is especially clear.
“Whatever position will give me the power to help people,” she said, is where she hopes to eventually arrive.