Hungary Makes The News

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A friend from my semester in Budapest posted this video to our Facebook group. The video shows the metro station underneath Keleti train station, which runs service west to Austria and Germany, as it looked on 9 September. He said the news about the “Migrant Crisis” in Hungary feels really personal to him. I feel the same way.

Keleti was the closest station to my school, and the closest Metro 4 to my apartment. It was the area where I went to the post office, where I bought train tickets, where I drank espresso and did homework. It was home: how can it not feel personal?

In stark contrast to the video above, this is a photo I took of the station one year ago:

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The station was brand new; it felt way too modern and way too enormous. It was eerie and echo-y, built for far more people than used it. There were about three or four homeless people who regularly slept in this station, who would come in at night and be gone by morning. The difference between the Keleti I knew and the Keleti in the video resonates deeply with me.

I don’t want to make any real political comments on the “Migrant/Refugee/Immigration” “Issue/Crisis/Problem/Question,” but I will say that I’m not surprised it’s being dealt with so poorly by the Hungarian government. I’m not surprised that what is finally putting Hungary on international headlines is a barbed-wire fence, a kicking camerawoman, and a closed train station.

Hungary is the kind of place where it’s illegal to be in public without an ID, and if you’re annoying the police they’ll actually ask you for it. It’s the kind of place with no diversity: where 92% of the population is Hungarian, 99.6% speak Hungarian, and everyone is white. It’s the kind of place where the international immigration process literally involves a man sitting behind a desk using a glue stick to paste eighty dollars worth of postage stamps to a sheet of paper. Literally! A glue stick!

The Times described the political environment:

Hungary is not explicitly a poor country. But it is a frustrated, and frustrating, place — with its “seen better days” culture, antiquated manias and obsessions, barely functioning bureaucracy, tepid economy and corrupt politicians. (Noemi Szecsi, NYT)

I love Budapest, despite its problems. It is one of the places I still consider home, and I’m watching the news with a full heart.

Back to the Liberal Arts Version of Math

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My professor goes through a proof during lecture that requires the definition of a convex combination.


Situation A: BSM, Game Theory Classroom:

He sees our blank stares and says, “What? Weren’t you required to take matrix algebras before you came here? Don’t you know what a convex set is?”

A number of students pull out theirs phones to look the term up as he proceeds with the lecture. We all receive an email later that day with the subject title “READ” and a link to an explanation of convex combinations that everyone will know before the next lecture.


Situation B: Smith College: Optimization Class:

She sees our blank stares and asks if anyone knows what a convex combination is. I’m the only one who raises her hand (thank you, Game Theory Professor).

The lecture stops and a full-out definition of convex combinations begins, complete with diagrams of geometric convex sets and explanations of the necessary set notations. We don’t finish the planned lecture for the day.


imagesI find the two versions of this situation quite representative of the difference between my Hungarian mathematics experience and my liberal arts mathematics experience. Honestly, I’m not sure which I prefer anymore.

On the one hand, it was very easy to get lost in lecture at BSM (e.g.: you just missed everything that was happening when you looked up the definition of convex combinations on your phone), but my current math lectures are so slow in comparison. People ask SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Like, people ask questions about other people’s questions.

In Hungary, the professor might actually tell you that your question is too basic and needs to be talked about after lecture. And we covered so much more ground because of it. But… we covered so much more ground because you never fully understand everything that was being taught.

I can’t say that one mathematics experience is BETTER than another; they serve different purposes.

Although I’m definitely missing my Hungarian mathematics very much right now.

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Also, snow. So much snow. :o

From Hungarian Friends

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“Denial of past actions is the habit of dictators and stubborn preschoolers”
–at Memento Park.

Since my program was only for American math students, I spoke with Hungarians infrequently during my semester in Budapest. But when I did, I was fascinated by what they would tell me about their lives, their friends, their work.

Here are a few of the things which stuck with me most, in their words as much as possible:


On Minimum Wage:
“Budapest is cheap for Americans, not cheap for Hungarians. Minimum wage in America is so high. Here it is somewhere like 3 dollars an hour! I cannot live on that.”
Male, age 22, Temp. Jobs

On Homelessness:
“When I was in the States, I’ve seen the people sleeping on the streets. I thought, `In this country which is so rich and developed, how can they let other human beings sleep in the street?’ But now look at Hungary, look at Budapest. Since we have no money left to put into welfare, the same things are happening here.”
Female, age 50, Teacher

On Guns:
“I live in the ghettos in Budapest. It’s okay, it’s safe for a guy like me. I mean, if you’ve got a problem with someone else, you just fight him. Physical stuff. With your hands. You take him, he takes you, and you get it all worked out. But in America, everyone’s got a gun. You got a problem with someone, you don’t know what they’re going to pull on you. That is what scares me.”
Male, age 23, Student

On Language:
“Growing up in Hungary, I learned very young that not everyone speaks my language. I learned very young that after travelling just two hours, if I wanted to be understood I had to learn to speak something other than Hungarian. You feel like a child when you are in Hungary, having to do hand motions and speak in small words. Me, that is how I feel everywhere that is not home.”
Female, age 26, Medical Secretary

A completely incomprehensive list.

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I leave my home in Bp for my home in the States in three days. (three days!) I’m sad the semester is over.

I made a list of some things–excluding friends and family– that I will miss from here, things that I won’t miss from here, and things that fall into both categories.


What I love about Bp:

Turo Rudi.
The most brilliant snack/dessert every invented. Yet impossible to describe in a way that makes it actually sound appealing.

Turo Rudi even has a CAR! It's that good.

Turo Rudi even has a CAR! It’s that good.

The courtyard in my apartment.

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My courtyard.

Being Surrounded by math majors.
Sometimes I make math jokes by accident and I’m not the only one who thinks they’re funny!

Hungarian.
Some favourite words: cica (kitty), Jó buli. (good party), igen fun (not a real Hungarian phrase!), egészségedre! (cheers!)

Parliament, the Chain Bridge, Gellert Hill lit up at night.

Parliament at night.

Parliament at night.

Espresso.
What is drip coffee but a dilution of deliciousness?

The baths.

Everything cherry (meggyes) flavoured. cherry jam, cherry yogurt, cherry pastry, cherry beer, …

Ruin Bars.
Carrots, anyone?

Travel.
Being able to get to Vienna in three hours.

Vienna.

Vienna.

Grid-ruled A4 paper.
It’s everything I could ever ask for in a sheet of paper!

The Danube & Margit Island.

Forints.
Their colours. Their funny pictures of men, The novelty of carrying thousands and thousands of forint in your wallet. Being able to say “Dude. You owe me some forint.”

The freedom of not knowing what’s going on around you.
Freedom to J-walk like a non-Hungarian. Freedom to look at a stature and make up its story because there is literally literally no way you will ever know. Ever.


Things I miss about home:

Lunchmeat.
Please, please, let me have something that is not a derivative of sausage!

IMG_0713English.
I am tired of not being able to ask for what I need, tired of being laughed at or glared at when I don’t know what someone is saying to me, tired of “speaking” in a mix of *broken English* and charades.

Cell phones.
No more “Meet me on the left side of the statue of John Calvin at 5:53pm, standing directly under his arm. Wear your red Rudolph hat so I can see you. If we don’t find each other by 5:57, then…” (JK. Sort of…)

Not being surrounded by math majors.
See: sometimes I make math jokes… ;)

0.5mm pens.
To go with my A4 paper.

Finding the info you need on the internet.
Information that is online, in English, and actually correct? No way.

Not enough drying rack.

Not enough drying rack.

Dryers.
For nights when I realise I want to wear something that seriously needs washing.

Soup/pasta/bread without sour cream!

Vegetables that are not pickled!
I had no idea that I would miss SALAD. Who misses salad?!

Home. <3

Home for Chsistmas. <3

The Secret Pre-rec to BSM

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Hands down, the course I am most thankful to have taken before coming to BSM is my Discrete Mathematics course.

I’ve been really surprised at how much I am relying on the things I learned in discrete math. The only official pre-rec to BSM is having taken either Abstract Algebra or Real Analysis, and that’s really just to ensure you have learned enough math and are at a high enough mathematical level for the courses offered.

Yes, I’m very glad I took Real Analysis– I use the thought processes developed in that class all the time. Real Analysis was the first math course I took in which I genuinely struggled; it taught me how to work through confusion and persevere. It began to teach me what it actually means to do math as opposed to just learn math.

But I use the topics covered in Discrete Math every single day at BSM. After this week, I have officially done some degree of graph theory in ALL FOUR of my math classes! My friend’s response upon hearing that from me was simply: “Welcome to Hungary.” (:

For example, in Abstract Algebra, we’re studying and doing problem sets on the symmetires of graphs.

Every single bioinformatics model I’m studying is a type of graph.

The matrices I am researching are bipartite directed multigraphs.

Our game theoretic models are…yes…graphs.

I knew that Hungarians were famous for their teaching of combinatorics, but I couldn’t have anticipated the extent to which graph theory is utalized as a mathematical tool here in Hungary.

I’m finding myself doing proofs in which I need to interpret the problem as a graph, then use graph theoretic theorems to solve it! I learned how to do this in discrete math; I would really be struggling if I hadn’t taken that class. And discrete is actually not even a direct requirement for my math major back home.

Some other discrete math topics I’m so grateful to know:

    • Counting, counting, counting: I use a lot of combinatorics counting arguments in abstract algebra. For example, last week we needed them to answer the question that there were, of course, 7 choose 3 divided by three times 4 choose three divided by 3 all divided by 2 unique cycle permutations in some group. I found the counting argument much more difficult than the algebra part of that problem!
    • Modular Arithmetic: Many of the groups we use as examples in Abstract Algebra utilize modular arithmetic in some way. We did a short lesson on it in the beginning of the abstract course, but it was incredibly helpful to already have an understanding of the properties of the operation and to have practice adding, multiplying, finding “fractions” and using inverses in modular sets. Even though we did a small unit on modular arithmetic during this course, our homework sets require a more through understanding of modular arithmetic than was covered in class and one that I only have thanks to my discrete math course back home.
    • Set Theory: In Game Theory, we are constantly using power sets, and everything is turned into a set of actions, a set of player payoffs, etc.
    • Probability: My bio research professor told me that many American students he meets seem to fear probability. “It’s just some value between 0 and 1. That’s it.” In my research group we’re working with uniform probabilities– we are using lots and lots of Markov Chain Monte Carlo processes, and I wish my probability background was stronger than it is.
  • LaTeX: It’s actually just coincidence that I learned to use Tex in discrete math, but I’m going to include it on this list anyway. (: I TeX all of my problem sets for Game Theory. It’s by far not required, yet by far the preferred method of receiving problem sets by my professor.
    Additionally, there is this social hierarchy that exists in the math community surrounding the use of LaTeX (just see #1 on “Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong” for proof). For us, it’s an unspoken understanding that the students who regularly turn their problem sets in using TeX are the ones you’re trying to measure up to. The math world is a learn to typeset in LaTeX or be an outsider kind of place.

I am using all of my previous math knowledge in some way this semester: sequences and series sometimes come up, properties of the real numbers are important, I might (rarely…) take a derivative, matrices are great, but, I am currently thanking the math gods that I’ve had a semester of discrete mathematics.


I am still updating my BSM Tips page! Don’t forget to check it out if you’re considering spending a semester or two at BSM.

Mi furcsa Magyarországon? What is peculiar in Hungary?

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I have been living in Budapest for three weeks now, and really it’s been a lovely city to be living in. It’s easy to get around, beautiful, safe, and a fun place to live. I’m enjoying it a lot despite the difficulties of living in a city where you do not know the language.

Here are a few of the things I have encountered in Budapest that were culturally so different and surprising that I stopped to take a photo:

1. Okmánybélyeg

 

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These pictured are 18000 Forints worth of… postage stamps! Somewhere around 80 USD! In tiny pieces of paper!

In order to apply for your residency permit in Hungary, you must pay for it in the form of okmánybélyeg. You need to go to a post office and purchase them, then bring them with you to the immigration office. At immigration, you give the officer the payment who then pulls a glue stick out of the desk and pastes one by one them to your application.

In Hungarian class, we did an exercise in which the prompt was ,,Mi furcsa Magyarországon?”/”What is pecular in Hungary?” My response was the okmánybélyeg. My teacher said they were kind of a strange thing for Hungarians, too. :)

 

2. So. Many. Puppies!

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I thought this puppy was absolutely adorable. :) I walked past him downtown waiting for his owner at a restaurant. Budapest is known to be a “dog city” rather than a cat city. There are always people on the streets or in the park walking dogs and it’s not uncommon for them to be tied up outside grocery stores or restaurants. Dogs are let off their leash a lot more than I’m used to in the States, too.

3. “British” Secondhand Stores 

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I think this is just something that I personally haven’t figured out yet. Almost every secondhand store in the city is marked by a British flag and the designation ,,Angol.” I have no idea why secondhand stores must also be British. But it was helpful when I was trying to find one last weekend! Look for the British flag!

4. Light Switches

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The very first day I was in Hungary I was confused by the light switches. They’re so square and enormous compared to the ones I’m used to in the U.S. I kind of like them now, though. There’s a bigger surface area to hit when you’re trying to find the switch in the dark. :)

5. Eggs

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Two things about eggs: one, they’re not refrigerated in the store. I walked up and down and up and down the refrigerated dairy section in Spar before I understood they weren’t there. Two, you might find some feathers in your carton of eggs!

6. Parking on the Sidewalks

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A lot of the parking in the city involves parking half of your car on the sidewalk and half in the street. When I was dropped off at my apartment the day I arrived in Budapest, I thought the driver was just confused and had hit the curb. But, no, he was actually just pulling all the way into the parking space. :o

 

 


Ma volt az első nap az egyetemen tanulni mateket. Volt jól. Az tánarok nagyon kedves vannak. Most ismerem sok diák.
Today was the first day at the university to study math. It was good. The teachers are very nice. Now I know many students. (I need to learn a lot more Hungarian! Thankfully I am planning to take Hungarian II this semester) 

The first day of math was exhausting, but really good. I am excited to be back in the math classroom with a lot of really great students and professors who are very passionate about mathematics.

 

 

 

Most Budapesten Lakom

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Sziastok! Amerikai vagyok, de most Budapesten lakom. Diák vagyok. Tanulok magyarul a nyelviskolaban és matematika az egyetemen. Beselek angulul, franciaul, és egy kicsi magyarul. Most, tanulok magyarul 9-tól délután 4-ig! Szerintem, Budapest szép. Boldog vagyok lenni Magyarorságon.

I know there are many mistakes, but that was my first attempt to introduce myself in Hungarian: Hello! I am American, but now I live in an apartment in Budapest. I am a student. I study Hungarian at the language school and mathematics at the university. I speak English, French, and a little bit of Hungarian. Now, I study Hungarian from 9 until 4 in the afternoon! In my opinion, Budapest is beautiful. I am happy to be in Hungary.

 

I’ve been in the language school for six days of class so far. It is very intense and exhausting but I really love it. Hungarian is incredibly different from French and English (and for pretty much every other language I believe!) both in terms of grammar and words. There are very few cognates to help me memorize vocabulary, and I’m having a hard time trying to find other ways to remember the words. The instructors are great, though, and we are not translating so much as learning to think in Hungarian which is super cool and different from how I was taught French in public school. We learn our new vocab sets using pictures and actions instead of just translating word for word. Which is particularly important I think because the word order and sentence structure of Hungarian is so different from English that you just sort of need to be able to think in Hungarian to some extent. Because of the different grammatical structure, translating English —> Hungarian word-for-word isn’t going to get you all that far in terms of being understood.

Something that really is surprising me is how often I am thinking in FRENCH here. Apparently my French and my Hungarian are stored in the same place in my brain, in some sort of “foreign language” compartment. Often, if there is a word of phrase that I don’t know in Hungarian but I do know in French, I find myself saying the French one instead without even realizing it! ,,Kerek két almast és… c’est tout.” (H: I would like two apples and… Fr: that’s all.”) I have heard of people mixing their French and Spanish foreign languages, but I didn’t think that would be an issue for me because French and Hungarian are so different.

The Hungarian flashcards I had created and had been studying at home were mostly food words, partly because I really enjoyed playing this game that another WordPress user had shared with me. :) I thought it seemed kind of silly or unnecessary to have so many food words, but I am so glad that was the case! Going to the grocery store is one of the most difficult everyday events for me here. It takes a lot of energy to shop for food in a language you have only been studying for two weeks.

Going to the grocery store is like being a little kid again– like a kid who can’t read, you’re very reliant on pictures. You stare at the cases and cases of foods only to realize you will never figure out which one you actually want. So you pick the yellow box of yogurt because, well, it’s yellow and that seems as good a reason as any. Trying to go grocery shopping becomes a gambling game and you just sort of get stuck with what you get and hope it works.

results from my first Hungarian shopping trip

results from my first Hungarian shopping trip

Despite the struggles with language (which, thanks to class are getting easier every day) I’m really happy to be here. The other students are so nice and fun to be with, the city is beautiful and easy to navigate, and I feel safe. The math semester begins in about a week and a half. I feel like I’m finally settling in and am very excited for what is to come!