A view from Gellert Hill in Budapest, Hungary, before the sun appeared in the morning. A worthwhile hike.
If you’re new to this site, I’m Nathaniel and this is the blog that I kept over the course of the 2018 spring semester in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. After spending four and a half months in Budapest taking BSM classes, I have a much better sense of who might be a good fit for the program and what one can do to be successful here. Now, I’m hoping that I can share this understanding with you.
In this post, I outline some of the reasons why you might want to choose BSM or decide against enrolling. If you have already decided on BSM and want some advice, I have also written a blog post where I lay out some of my recommendations for future participants.
So, without further ado, my list of the characteristics of successful and happy BSM participants. The most fulfilled BSM-ers are:
Interested in math. Clearly, this program is designed for students who want to do a lot of math. Most people end up taking around three math classes and one class in Hungarian language, Hungarian culture, philosophy of math, film or some other non-math course. BSM has an extensive course catalog during the spring and fall semesters, so if there is a specific math course that you want to take (Combinatorics, Commutative Algebra, Differential Geometry, etc.) chances are it is offered here.
More specifically, considering graduate school in math. As one BSM student put it: “BSM definitely helps you determine if graduate school is what you want to do.” It’s true. The environment at BSM is similar to early graduate school, and if you know that graduate school is right for you, then you can get a great experience here. On the other hand, if you are certain that you want take your studies in another direction, the BSM program could fatigue you. If you’re on the fence, BSM is a good way to figure it out.
That said, BSM isn’t only for people who want to do graduate school in math. If math is directly related to your field of choice, or if you just love studying math but aren’t looking to work in a mathematical field, BSM can still be a good fit. For instance, I am looking into careers in computer science, and a friend of mine here wants to pursue a higher degree in physics. We both love the program, because it will help us in the future and we really enjoy math.
Independent and flexible. BSM is a study abroad experience unlike any other. In particular, BSM does not have the same structure as DIS, SIT, CIEE, or any other large study abroad program. The orientation is a short affair, the administrators (there are three total, and two are also professors) make sure you get settled in your apartment, and then more or less let you loose on the city. If you have questions, the staff are more than willing to help, but there is little hand-holding as you figure out where to shop and study, how to navigate the city, and—oh, who knows—how to lock your front door (lift up on the latch, then turn the key to the left). This may seem nerve-racking, but the independence was, in my opinion, one of the best aspects of this program.
Not looking for cultural immersion. This is one of the key differences between BSM and some other study abroad programs. BSM is not designed to immerse participants in Hungarian culture or to facilitate interaction between students and Hungarians. There is an option to live in a homestay, but most people choose to live in apartments. Aside from interactions in stores and markets, most BSM-ers interact with other Americans. While this may be considered a drawback, I personally was able to appreciate the experience of living in a completely new place without deep cultural interactions.
Open to exploration. During my time in Europe, I did a lot of traveling, as did most of the people on my program. While the culture of the program changes from year to year, I got the sense that most BSM-ers want to explore other countries. There are several great places to visit nearby, and a number of budget airlines provide cheap flights across most of Europe. If you’re an adventurous type who is able to balance rigorous work with travel, then BSM might be right for you.
Do you think that you may be a good fit for BSM? Great! It is a fantastic program. Feel free to check out this post with some advice for future BSM students, or read about the rest of my experiences here on this blog. Also, feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have other questions about this program. I’d be happy to help!
My friend Caroline and me in Barcelona with a BSM sign (the Barcelona transportation authority)