Daily Archives: June 2, 2018

End of an Era, End of a Blog

I wrote this just as I was about to leave Hungary, but I wanted to wait to publish it until after my advice posts came out. Much love to you all!

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I’ve been in Budapest a long time—four and a half months—and I am amazed at both how fast the time has gone and at how much I’ve done in this span of time. On one hand, it’s been a while, probably long enough for this car near my neighborhood to rack up these tickets:

On the other hand, it hasn’t been long at all. On my recent walks through the center city, several times I have turned a corner and find myself in a place that is so unfamiliar I have stopped dead in my tracks in surprise. I have to admit to myself that I still don’t know Budapest.

This semester has been full of adventures for me and my friends here. We’ve traveled to many countries, bonded over math, discovered new places in Budapest, and generally had a great time. The people that I’ve met are hilarious and inspiring in equal measure. If you’re reading this, thank you for this semester, and know that I will track you down in the future, and we will hang out. Just watch.

One of many beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, this one in Barcelona

I’m sad to say that the end of study abroad is here. And with it, the end of this blog. It’s been fun to write about my experiences here, and I hope that you enjoyed reading about them. I will miss writing to you.

If you want to hear some more updates about my life, I think that I want to send a couple longer email updates to my friends at Whitman and back in Minneapolis over the summer to keep them in the loop. If you want to be included in those, feel free to reply below or email me directly.

Oh my! My plane is taxiing and I must stow my computer. With love,

Nathaniel

 

 

 

 

Top Advice for Future BSM-ers

If you’re reading this post, most likely you are subscribed to this blog (thanks y’all!), are considering applying to the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program, or have already committed to a semester in Budapest! I’m Nathaniel, and I participated in BSM during the 2018 Spring Semester.

I’m glad that you want to read more about BSM—it is an excellent program. In this post, I want to give you some advice so that you can get the most out of the BSM experience and living in Budapest! It’s a lot of text without pictures, so get ready. Here’s what I suggest:

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The whole visa debacle. Unless something changes in the coming years, I would not worry too much about this. The information I was given was confusing, but this is what worked for me: if you are a U.S. citizen, (1) wait to get the visa until you’re in Hungary, (2) make sure Budapest is the first Schengen country that you go to and, (3) bring your letters from BSM with you. No one that I knew had any hassle whatsoever entering Hungary and applying for a visa.

Get a debit card without foreign transaction or ATM fees. There are a number of debit cards that have no annual fee and allow you to make transactions in Hungary without any fees (just Google “debit card no foreign transaction fee” and you’ll see a few). You should apply for this well in advance of traveling to Hungary so that it arrives in time for your flight. I enjoyed my Schwab debit card, and would recommend it to anyone planning to travel in Hungary or elsewhere.

The Language Course. I have definitive advice: do the intensive language course with Babilon Language School. First, it gives you a good enough understanding of Hungarian to order food from restaurants and in the marketplace. Unless you are in a homestay, this is most likely all that you’ll need to function on a daily basis. Second—and more importantly—this two week period is one of the best chances you’ll have to explore the city and make friends. Once classes start, it becomes more difficult to juggle activities in the city and homework. I enjoyed taking advantage of this low-commitment period of time to get to know Budapest. Also, my best friends in BSM were the members of my language class at Babilon. I don’t know how I would’ve met them all if not through this course.

Where to Live. BSM offers several accommodation options. You can choose either Buda or Pest, and an apartment, dorm, or homestay. My recommendation is to choose an apartment in Pest. These apartments are close to BSM, near a lot of great restaurants, bars, and cultural events, and are great places to hang out. I’m very glad that I chose this option. The cost of the apartment with utilities will likely be around $500/month.

If this is too expensive, the dorms are about half the price. I didn’t want to have a roommate and wanted my own kitchen in which to cook. However, if neither of these are important factors for you, the dorms may be a good fit.

I should also mention that the few people who were in homestays said that they enjoyed the experience and didn’t have any regrets. You may want to consider this alternative if you are passionate about having a cultural experience while abroad.

Travel. I have a few recommendations related to travel. First, I would recommend that you go on the trips that are offered through the Babilon language school (Szentendre and Eger). They may seem expensive, but you’ll be glad that you went. Second, when you can, use the MAV website if you plan to take a train from Hungary to avoid any middlemen websites. Third, the Regiojet bus service is the best. That’s what I have for you—enjoy the chance to travel!

Classes. BSM offers many classes. It will be hard to choose exactly the ones that you want to take. My advice related to selecting your classes is threefold:

  • Take advantage of the shopping period. There is a period of three weeks during which you do not yet have to enroll in specific classes. I would suggest that you visit as many classes as you can the first week. You’ll get a better sense of what you can choose from, and later you’ll be able to empathize with your friends as the moan about a particular professor’s teaching style.
  • Follow your gut instinct. You may have a plan for the classes that you want to take going into BSM. Definitely visit those classes, but be open to changes. Since each class is taught by a different professor and each professor has almost complete autonomy in choosing the curriculum, the class may or may not end up being what you expect. Which is why I also would suggest that you:
  • Go with the professors that you like. There may be a class that you visit on a fascinating topic that is taught by a bad professor. Don’t take this class. From my own experience and others on the program, the professor makes or breaks the class. So do yourself a favor and simply go with the professors that you like.

WeLoveBudapest. This website offers a great rundown of what is happening in the city. They regularly update a calendar of events happening in the city, and in the warmer months they even have a weekend update to let you know about all the festivals and gatherings happening across the city–from the Rosé Festival to the historic “Night of Coffeehouses” and from the Budapest Regatta to publicized events at dance clubs. There’s a lot to find on this site.

Fitness Goals. It is easy to forget to include fitness in your schedule, but I found that the days I exercised were the days my math skills were sharpest. There are a number of gyms around the city where you can get a membership, but my personal recommendation would be to start running. I was not a runner before I came to Budapest, but I found that it was a great way to see more of the city and that Budapest has great running opportunities (read more  about the best spots here). In addition, if you’re going to be in Budapest during the Spring semester, seriously consider signing up for the Budapest Half Marathon. It is the perfect goal to set over the course of the semester and can be a great bonding experience.

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That’s what I have for now. If you were a BSM-er and you have additional advice that I left out, please feel free to contact me. Good luck to those of you who are planning for studying abroad with BSM—you’re going to have a great time!

Nathaniel

Are You Right for BSM?

 

A view from Gellert Hill in Budapest, Hungary, before the sun appeared in the morning. A worthwhile hike.

Hello!

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 larsonnd@whitman.edu if you have other questions about this program. I’d be happy to help!

Szia!

Nathaniel

My friend Caroline and me in Barcelona with a BSM sign (the Barcelona transportation authority)