Tips to be added as the semester goes on–
I had no problems at the airport at all. It was surprisingly small. I had been worried about getting through customs, but it was actually the easiest customs experience I’ve ever had. The line was short, I handed the officer my passport, she looked at it, stamped it, and handed it back. Didn’t even really say anything. I was nervous because I am used to answering questions at the customs checkpoint (eg: Where will you be staying? How much money do you have? How long are you here for?), but she literally asked me nothing. I did not even need to fill out an arrivals card.
There was a man waiting for me right outside of the baggage claim area with my name and “BSM” on a piece of paper. He drove me and another student to our apartments. When I got here, my landlady showed me the room and how everything worked, then walked me to the grocery store and ATM so I knew where things were just as planned.
My room is very nice. I have wifi right away, a kitchen with plates, cups, dishes, etc., a bed, a desk, a table, and a cell phone that I can use with a top up plan. Other students have lived here before, so they left books and a Hungarian dictionary that I can use as well as decorations on the walls.
Added August 15, 2014
We’ve been told jaywalking is a relatively new thing for Hungary. We’ve noticed that, in general, people will wait very patiently and strictly at the crossings where there is a walk/don’t walk sign, even if no cars are in sight. But, if not at one of those zebra crossings, simply walking across/darting across/running across the street is ridiculously common. It’s an odd juxtaposition of street-crossing culture.
I jaywalk like I would in the states or in London–it’s becoming more and more common and acceptable.
Essentially, free public bathrooms do not exist in Budapest!!! Public restrooms, when you can even find them, will have a charge of around 50 Forints (which is only around 20 US cents, but definitely an annoyance) and you cannot use the bathroom in a restaurant (even a fast food one) without purchasing something. At places like McDonald’s and Burger King, often there will be a “Bathroom Code” on your receipt which must be presented in order to get into the restroom. So, make sure you use the bathroom whenever one is available…. or you will end up paying for it!
Language School First Few Days:
The intensive Hungarian language class with Babylon IS INTENSE. As expected. 4.5 hours/day in the same classroom. But we are learning a lot even after just two days. It’s exhausting but I am so glad I chose to take the course. Plus it is helping us get to know each other before the math courses start which is awesome. There are about 50 of us taking the course, and a little bit less than 20 students per section of Hungarian.
added August 20, 2014
I’m getting charged pretty high fees for withdrawing cash out of the ATM, both a flat fee every time I take money out AND an exchange rate fee from dollars to forints. Which is especially an issue because Hungary is a cash-heavy society. There are many places that will not accept credit cards, especially not for small amounts.
Something I wish I knew before coming was that there are CITI Bank branches in Budapest which I think would be much cheaper for me.
Added 11 Szeptember
The Shopping Period:
The shopping period for course selection is crazy! At BSM, you do not choose your courses in advance. Rather, the official list of courses being run and the schedule gets posted a few days before the first day of class. You attend as many lectures as interest you the first week/two weeks (aka ALL of them… or, less exaggerating-ly, one course for each time slot) then make your selection. The homework load is lighter during this time because the professors know you are attending too many courses, but it is still a lot. I have always found course selection stressful, but this is like course selection with a moving target. A course can change from being a full course to a reading course at any time (a reading course is one that only has 3-6 students in attendance. A course with 6+ will automatically be a full course), and the time slots can shift if it seems like something is not meshing with students and professor’s schedules. There is a lot going on.
That being said, it is very cool to have so much choice and power over the creation of your class schedule. You will not be shut out of anything simply because there are too many students enrolled. You can request time changes and if enough students agree the time will be changed. You can attend lectures and choose the ones that actually interest you and who have professors that mesh with your learning style. It’s kind of great. Sans the stress of being overwhelmed from so much choice. It has its pros and cons.
Was Language School Necessary?
This, of course, is up to each individual. I made very close friends during the language course. There is ample time to hang out, meet people, and see Budapest without the stress of math class. I had a great time. It was like vacation, really, but with 7 hours of Hungarian school thrown in during the day.
I also definitely liked learning some Hungarian. It helps me get around the city and know what is going on. Although my language skills are very limited, I can at least get across some main points, like telling people I don’t speak Hungarian, asking if they speak French, telling them I need 3 tickets for the metro, asking for directions, ordering coffee at a kavezo, saying sorry, asking for the bill at a restaurant, etc.
The students who didn’t attend language school are doing completely fine, though. They are making friends and getting into the BSM culture, and seem to be getting around the city well. I would say a little bit less than half of us did the language course.
No, language school was not necessary, but if making the choice again I would definitely take the course.
Added 24 Szeptember 2014
A Word of Warning to Anyone Considering BSM:
This is not your typical study abroad experience! It is not the semester where you slack off, travel around Europe and party.
The classes here are hard. Many of us are taking more intense courseloads than any other semester.
We only have three days off in the semester total, one of which is made up by holding Saturday class.
In general, students here really like BSM. We’re learning a ton of new maths, are being challenged, and it’s exciting. But, there is definitely talk among us that we’re kind of disappointed our friends from back home are travelling all the time in their study abroad programs and we’re stuck in Bp taking Saturday class.
If you’re doing BSM, you will be spending your nights doing problem sets and your weekends… doing problem sets. (However, you are doing them in BUDAPEST which is fantastic and amazing and a really fun experience! Just know that when people say the program is intense, they’re not exaggerating)
Added 17 Okt 2014
The Male:Female Ratio
The male to female ratio of students here is not horrible. This semester, I’ve been told it’s about 2:1. It’s definitely noticeable: my female friends and I frequently end up as the only female hanging out, studying, etc. in a group of men. If doesn’t bother me, but a few of my friends here find it tiring to be around guys all the time and miss their home school’s gender ratio.
There are two options for living arrangements: homestay or apartment with other BSMers. Out of the close to 100 students here this semester, only 4 chose to be in a homestay. I’ve heard good things about their hosts, but their two complaints are (1) that they can’t invite friends over, and (2) the homestays tend to be further away from school and the center of town than the apartments.
As for the apartments, everyone has their own room (unless they chose to live in the same room in order to gain a common space). Most are in two or three-bed apartments. A very few are in singles (myself included) or quads.
The apartments, as most of Budapest, are on the older side and some things are broken. But you have absolutely everything you need, including kitchen supplies and linens. And in general, rent is quite cheap compared to room and board or renting apartments in the States.
Added 19 Okt 2014
It’s the law in Hungary that every adult must carry ID on them at all times. Don’t carry your passport; that’s asking to lose it. Carry your driver’s license or, once you get it, your Hungarian Residency Permit.
The Colors of SzentKiraly Mineral Water
I guarantee there will be a time when all you want is to drink some bottled water. You will go to the store to try to accomplish said basic task to be faced with the SzentKiraly Mineral Water challenge…. there are three colors. Two are still water, one is sparkling… you will never know which one is which and you will always guess wrong!…
To clear things up, the only way to know which is which is based on the color of the packages. The three types are:
- Still, packaged in pink
- Sparkling, packaged in blue
- Mild (sort of bubbly, sort of not), packaged in green
Added 17 Nov 2014
My recommendation is to bring one power adaptor and one American powerstrip. That way you can plug in everything you need without having to juggle a million adaptors. You can purchase another adaptor here if necessary.
For Fall semester, it starts out very warm (shorts and t-shirt weather) at the end of August then gets pretty chilly (pants, gloves, scarves, etc.) by December. Plan to bring a winter coat or to buy one here. Thrift stores are incredibly prolific in Budapest, so many of us went thrifting for our winter coats. If you go out for an afternoon of thrifting you will be almost guaranteed to find a winter peacoat that fits and is decent for $10-$20.
Don’t bother to bring notebooks with you. They are easy to find and cheap if you go to one of the many “Diszkont” stores (similar to a dollar store) or grocery stores. The notebooks will be size A4 paper, which will fit better with anything you print or any class handouts. You can find graphed, wide ruled, college ruled, or non-lined notebooks.
Pens and pencils, on the other hand, might be worth bringing with you, especially if you have strong preferences.
It’s hard to find skim milk in Hungary, but it does exist! SPAR carries it, in their own discount brand called Riska. Look for “0,1%” milk, which is “0.1%” using American decimals.
Getting to the Airport from Bp via Public Transit, Step-by-Step Instructions
It’s possible to get to the airport from the center of Budapest using public transit at any time of day, although quite challenging if the metro is not running. If you are trying to get there at a time when the metro is open, it’s quite easy and takes about an hour. A taxi would take about a half hour.
Getting to the airport requires taking the metro and then a bus. If you have a monthly transit pass the entire trip is covered. If not, it will cost you two tickets (350 Ft each) or you could use a “transfer ticket” (550 Ft, allows a change).
- Get yourself to Blue M3. The two major transfer stops on this line are at Deák Ferenc Tér and Kálvin Tér.
- Take M3 toward Kőbánya-Kispest, the end of the line.
- Get off at Kőbánya-Kispest and go up the stairs. This is your transfer between the metro and the bus. If you can see them, follow the signs with a little airplane symbol pointing toward the 200E bus.
If you cannot find them, know that upstairs there is a train station to the left and a mall/bus station to the right. Go to the mall/bus station. You are looking for the 200E bus to Ferenc Liszt International Airport. There is one location for bus passenger drop-off and a different one for pickup. You will most likely see a lot of people with suitcases waiting in line for the airport shuttle which will help you find the bus.
- The 200E runs about every 7-8 minutes during the day so there is no need to worry about missing it.
- Boarding for the 200E bus is only at the front door. Get on there, and if using tickets, validate a new one (or re-validate your transfer ticket).
- The bus takes about 20 minutes. It drops you off right in front of the airport.
Click here for the official BKK info page on the 200E bus.
Added 20 Nov 2014
The Exchange Students in Budapest Facebook Page
There is this facebook bot called “Exchange Students in Budapest.” Don’t like the page or accept their friend request! It will continually send you info about “international student parties” which are just really expensive, crowded, not fun, and on weekdays. There are multiple versions of this page, and even if you have unfriended the page, it will somehow keep spamming you with messages. Avoid this for your own benefit. You’re missing out on absolutely nothing except a lot of fb messages you don’t want.
Added 1 Dec 2014
How to pronounce “Budapest”
The most important pronunciation confusion is on the “s” in “pest.” In English and most Romance languages, as far as I can tell, Budapest is usually pronounced with the “pest” part sounding like those annoying bugs– pests. So it sounds like buda, as in the way Americans pronounce the name of Gautama Buddha, the Buddha, + pest, as in the bugs.
In Hungarian, this is NOT how you pronounce Budapest. And if you do, you will probably be promptly corrected. That is because Buda and Pest were, and still in some cases are, two distinct cities. And that’s just not how you pronounce “Pest.” So Pestians take offense at the blunt mis-pronunciation of their city.
“Pest,” in Hungarian, sounds like “p-eh-shhhhhhh-t” (drawn out). The hungarian “S” makes the “sh” sound. So, in total, Budapest should be pronounced something like “boo-duh-pesh-t.” (Hear pronunciations in English and Hungarian.)
On Choosing Hostels
When looking at hostels to stay in, the three things to look for are free wifi, linens included, and breakfast available.
Absolutely do not stay in a hostel without wifi or linens. You need wifi in order to communicate with people and to look up info on the city you’re visiting. You need linens because it’s completely impractical to bring them with you, having to pay for them is a hassle, and it’s become so common to include linnens that you have to wonder what else is wrong with the hostel that doesn’t.
Breakfast is not an absolute necessity, but can save a lot of time and money for you. If traveling alone, I’d definitely recommend staying in a hostel where breakfast is included because that’s often where you meet and talk with other travellers who are staying there.
Added 7 Dec 2014
I highly recommend buying the monthly public transit pass. The regular adult fare is 9500 Ft/ month. The pass is good for unlimited rides on any of the metro, tram, commuter trains within city limits, and buses. You can also purchase a student pass for about a third of the price, however you will eventually be asked to show student ID, and you must be able to show valid EU student ID. It is incredibly unclear if the ISIC card works (see rules), and you may decide it is not worth the savings to fight with the BKK patrol in Hungarian over it.
In general, don’t trust Budapest taxis because it is easy to be scammed. You are much better off taking the widely available public transit. If needing to get from the airport by taxi (and not public transit, see above notes on that), FoTaxi is the official taxi system for Liszt Ferenc airport and can be trusted. You will wait in a long line outside the terminal, then give your address to someone behind a counter who will assign you a taxi number and give you an estimate of how much it will cost. Tipping is not necessarily expected, and if you choose to tip keep it small.
If you need a taxi from your apartment, you can order one online at: http://fotaxi.eu/Rendeles#main-menu or http://www.taxiplus.hu/taxirendeles/. I ordered a taxi online from taxiplus and it was 100% successful! I even had special instructions to be picked up “in front of the SPAR grocery store” because I was meeting a friend halfway between our homes, and it was there on time, in the exact right place.
SmartCity is THE BEST MOST AWESOMEST public transit app ever. It’s a public transit and maps app specifically for Budapest that can give you directions, bus and metro schedules, etc. The best part is that it works offline, so you don’t need to be near WiFi or have cell data to use it. It saved our lives many many times while at BSM.