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!