Becca in Hungary: See You Later

May 26, 2015

Its hard to believe that my program is officially over! These past few weeks have just been a whirlwind of emotion. As my brain desired to study for my final exams, my heart desired to finish exploring the city I would soon have to say goodbye too. It wasn’t until these last fews weeks where I began to realize how much I really formed a new home here (Note to parents: No worries! Where you are will always be my real home!). During the last week of the program I had my study abroad advisor, Abby Ward, and computer science professor, Dr. Lawson, from the University of Richmond come and visit AIT. As I walked them through the streets of Budapest I finally began to have that feeling of “oh man I KNOW this city”! I have conquered public transportation, mastered finding great food, and gained knowledge of the history of the streets that I have been walking.

My heart has been so conflicted, because while part of me wants to continue to learn more about Hungary and finish exploring every crack and corner of this city, my other half is ready to be home. I miss the softness and warmth of my towel after taking it out of the dryer (no dryers in Hungary). I miss being able to understand the language being shared around me. I miss the wonderful combination of peanut butter and chocolate that is a rare find across Europe. And though all of these things seem like small things; not having them for five months has helped me see the simple joy and pleasure you can find in them. Not only do I miss the cultural differences that Hungary and America have, I also miss all the people. Like any spring semester I typically do not see my parents and grandparents until summer when I return home for a couple weeks before I embark on a new summer adventure. But this semester I miss them more than ever before. I already have butterflies thinking of the day coming so soon where I will see them in the airport ready to take me home. I am ready to go home, but I will never be ready to say goodbye to Budapest. Instead, I simply say “see you later” because I know someday our paths will cross again.

And though I am ready to return to the people I love some much in America I will also miss the people I have met through my program here. It still hasn’t hit me that I may never see some of these people ever again. Even when I was “saying goodbye” to everyone at the final ceremony I continued to say “see you later”. Our paths were intertwined for a reason, and I can only hope that soon those paths will re-intertwined. Till then I simply say “See you later”.

Becca group

AIT Spring 2015


Becca in Hungary: BLOOPERS!!

May 6, 2015

While typically bloopers are saved for the end of the show I wanted to bring the bloopers from my time in Hungary out a bit earlier. As my program begins to wrap up in the next couple weeks I want to reflect on how I have changed through this experience, but I can only show how much I have grown if I show you where I first started. And with that I list my favorite “Bloopers” of my trip:

1) This face whenever someone tries to speak Hungarian to me:

Becca 1
2) followed by this face from them when I try to reply back in Hungarian:

Becca 2
3) When I went to the post office to try to mail a letter home, and everyone in the post office started yelling at me for some reason I am still unclear of today. (note: Sorry mom and dad I haven’t sent anymore postcards; the post office is just too scary of a place for me now.)

4) When I accidentally ate sour cream for an entire week because I thought it was a yogurt. WARNING: if you come to Hungary and see big shelves of tejföl it is NOT yogurt!! Hungarians are just in love with sour cream so they have a deceivingly large amount of it which may make yogurt lovers like me think that it is in fact yogurt.

5) This weekend when I went to a small ranch hotel, the concierge at the front desk would literally run to the back room whenever she saw us, in fear that we may ask her questions in English since she knew little English. At least I hope that is the reason she ran away from us…

6) When I was stopped at the metro to check for my metro pass. Because I have a student pass, I also need to carry a student ID with me. In this specific instance I forget my student ID and the metro workers were not happy. I knew this by their raised tone of their voice, but my lack of Hungarian prevented me from picking up all the details. Once they said they were going to call the police I knew I should just pay the fine for my offense and go on my merry way.

7) When taking a train from Vienna back to Budapest we were told that we had to buy first class tickets because there were no seats left in economy. When we got on the train we found the economy section to not only be nearly empty, but also that our first class tickets were not valid.

8) When I got lost in a Hungarian mall because not only do they have one H&M, T-Mobile, etc in each mall, sometimes they have two or three of the same exact store in the same exact mall… This leads to problems when telling someone meet me at H&M…

9) Trying to explain why I came to Budapest to study abroad. Many Hungarians didn’t realize that their countrymen are crazy good at math and a large portion of the greatest mathematicians are in fact Hungarian.

10) Trying to explain that you don’t want alcohol in some drink you are getting… that’s an even stranger concept to grasp for some Hungarians.

While I love to look back at these moments for a good laugh, I also love to look back on these moments to see how far I have come. Now, before buying tickets for a trip I verify online that I am in-fact getting the right price and deal. When I go to the grocery store I avoid tejföl at all costs, and when I am looking for something more specific I try to Google the Hungarian name before I go or ask someone in the store when I get there. I will never board any form of public transit without my student ID, and when I am using public transit in other countries I carefully check I am purchasing the correct ticket.

This semester has made me more aware that we can’t just assume things about the people and cultures we meet throughout our lives. Its not fair that I just assume that everyone I meet should just know English or that this person will understand our cultural differences. These differences, though, are not something to fear but rather to be explored and celebrated. That really is the point of the studying abroad anyways: exploring new cultures and realizing the plethora of ways people think and operate. I just continue to thank everyone that has allowed me to have this opportunity to explore the culture of Hungary and beyond.


Becca in Hungary: Class Field Trip!!

April 28, 2015

In grade school, I remember the best parts of any school year were field trips, and even as an official legal adult, those are still the days I value the most in my school year. I guess there are just some things you can never change about a person! This past weekend, my program took a group trip to Lake Balaton. The goals of the trip were to 1) Continue to bond with our fellow AIT classmates and 2) See the countryside of Hungary and learn more about Hungarian culture. My goal now is to reflect on these goals:

1) If you recall some of my first blog posts, I noted that I first went to a two and half week language emersion program. About half of the AIT students participated in this program, while the other half waited to come three weeks later at the official start date of the program. This means half of the program got a jump start at forming new friendships and relationships. Ever since the others arrived, there has always be this divide between the language program students and the new students. For the first time though, I started to notice that the divide between these two groups was beginning to fade. No longer could I remember which people attended the language school or not. It was awesome to see more unity within my program!

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Group photo during a hike

 

A castle we visited

A castle we visited

2) I also learned that the countryside of Hungary is completely different than Budapest. In Budapest, I never really have trouble with my lack of mastery of Hungarian. However, in the countryside, no one really speaks English. Most people I spoke to use an “English-Hungarian hybrid language”, where they spoke in Hungarian with some key words in English. Not only do I see a contrast with the language, I also saw a contrast in lifestyle. In Budapest, it seems like people are always out and about, while in the countryside you see very few people roaming the streets. You do not see large supermarkets or stores, but rather small villages spread across a hilly terrain broken apart by large chunks of farms. While people in Budapest seem to be working in big corporate jobs, those in the countryside seem to be taking small local roles in their community.

Landscape of the countryside

Landscape of the countryside

For me, I found this countryside style of living to be very charming, and it reminds me that life is not always about the “hussle and bussle” but rather just enjoying the daily joys you receive in your life. It has been amazing to travel the world and experience all these new cultures, but at the end of the day what makes me happy are the basics of life such as having an amazing network of family and friends, being able to get weekly groceries, being able to workout and play frisbee, and so many more! I feel like many successful individuals, such as my fellow University of Richmond Spiders and myself, are always seeking for “more” whatever that “more” is for them (more money, more adventure, more friends, etc.). But this weekend trip, and this study abroad opportunity in general, makes me see that we don’t always need to seek for more, but rather enjoy what we have now.


Becca in Hungary: Small Town Hungary

April 20, 2015

First I just wanted to start with some fun facts about Hungary’s geography:

1) Hungary borders 7 countries and no bodies of water.

2) Before WWI Hungary was about 2/3 times bigger than it is today including all of Croatia, and Transylvania (now in Romania). At this time Hungary was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but due to the Treaty of Trianon after WWI Hungary lost most of their land. Today many Hungarians blame their countries recent hardships on the fact that Hungary has been split into all these smaller countries. When you travel Hungary you can find small stickers that say “big Hungary” in support of trying to regain these lost areas.

Map of Big Hungary before the end WWI

Map of Big Hungary before the end WWI

3) Some of Hungary’s most famous regions are the settlements on a long the Danube, Lake Balaton (the largest Lake in Central Europe), the plains below Budapest, and the more mountainous region in the north.

Map of current day Hungary

Map of current day Hungary

So why am I spitting off all these facts about Hungary’s geography? Well, my goal for my time left in Hungary is try to explore as many of these regions as possible. This weekend marks the beginning of this exploration.

On Saturday I spent time exploring the small town of Szentendre which is a quaint city between Esztergom and Budapest. Szentendre is that small, adorable town that you just can’t help but fall in love with. The town is full of winding cobble stone roads that roll by small stores, ice cream parlors, and restaurants. For me, Szentendre is the perfect place to explore because you can hangout in a park near the river and play frisbee, and then finish off the game with a wonderful meal along the water. All of this and more all in Hungarian prices aka not expensive.

The town of Szentendre

The town of Szentendre

Chilling along the Danube

Chilling along the Danube

On Sunday I took a day trip two hours north of Budapest to Miskolcs where you can find what is said to be one of the best thermal baths in Hungary. This bath is popular because it was built within a cave system, so as you whirl around the relaxing tunnels you are surrounded by beautiful natural rock formations. While I was there I was able to take a mud bath. I assumed that the mud bath would be bathing in some thick substance like you might see in the movies, but oh no in Hungary a mud bath in literally a bath tub of water with some mud and dirt in it. Definitely an interesting experience!

Inside the thermal baths of Miskolcs

Inside the thermal baths of Miskolcs

This upcoming weekend my whole program will be heading to Lake Balaton for some adventures up there! Stay tuned!


Becca in Hungary: Experiencing Faith Abroad

April 13, 2015

Easter weekend is probably one of my favorite times of the year! In fact, I have been planning this past Easter weekend way before I even arrived in Budapest. For Easter I went to Sevilla, Spain where they have huge Semana de Santa (Holy Week) parades. Each day of Holy Week a couple brotherhoods (groups of religious individuals) will a host a parade that will wind through the city of the Sevilla. The start of each procession is a alter boy carry a large cross. The parade continues with many individuals from the brotherhood including some children passing out candy and also large city bands . The star of the parades though are the pasos which are large, ornate, wooden floats.  Typically these floats depict images of Jesus’s crucifixion or the Virgin Mary.

Some of the floats of the parade

Some of the floats of the parade

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Now if the floats themselves aren’t stunning enough for you, if you look below the float you might be able to make out some feet. What are people doing under the float? Well for almost 10 to 14 hours these one ton floats are carried by over a dozen men! UNBELIEVABLE!! These men (woman are not allowed to carry them… yet 🙂 ) are only allowed to carry this float once in their lifetime making a very big honor for the people chosen to carry the paso.

These parades are certainly nothing like the Macy’s parade I am use to seeing around Thanksgiving or local parades in my hometown. While most parades have a more upbeat presence, the Semana De Santa parades are much more somber. They really make you think about your faith and religion. Not only do you see these beautiful depictions of various scenes, but beneath the scene you see many shuffling feet slowly jerking the float forward. Religious or not, it is amazing to witness these men’s testimony to God and their ability to overcome tremendous physical pain for the sake of their beliefs.

On top of the eye opening experience of the parades, I was also able to attend two separate services in Spain. The first was an Easter Mass in the Cathedral of Spain.

My failed attempt to get the whole Cathedral into one picture

My failed attempt to get the whole Cathedral into one picture

A picture from the tower of the Cathedral

A picture from the tower of the Cathedral

As you can tell this Cathedral is more of a fortress then a simple town church. Throughout the Cathedral there were several side chapels so at one time there could be multiple masses going on. This mass for me just didn’t spark my spiritual heart. It was very much a “get them in, get them out” approach rather than an in-depth spiritual experience.

On our way to dinner that night, though, I wanted to stop into one more small chapel, and that is when I found a group of semi-cloistered nuns partaking in a small worship ceremony. The nuns are behind a gated area meaning that they have limited interaction with the public while the priest were in the front leading the service. Within the chapel there were only maybe 5 benches for visitors to stay. The service was the complete opposite of the one I went to in the cathedral. While the cathedral was filled with thousands of people this service had only 4. What amazed me the most about this service was even though I did not understand one word that was being said (it was all in Spanish) I was still so moved by what he was saying. It really showed me that faith can transcend the barriers of language. If you keep your heart open to the message, you can hear the message through your faith rather than through your ears. Going to this service was definitely one of my favorite experiences I have had abroad!

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Now that I have returned from Spain and trying to get back into the swing of school, I am committed to staying within Hungary for the rest of the program. I have loved visiting all these new places, but the next month and a half I plan to focus my energy on Hungary.


Becca In Hungary: Spring Break Adventures!

March 31, 2015

Never have I imagined that in one week I would be able to visit five countries, ski on the Olympic slopes of Austria, explore the canals of venice via a gondola, stroll through ancient ruins in Rome, run across an entire country, and much more. This past week was definitely one of the most exciting, thought-provoking, adventurous experiences I have had in my life. Instead of explaining every detail of the trip I went to talk about the highlights of the trip and also important lessons I have learned from this trip (To get more details about my trip check-out the website created by fellow University of Richmond student Jackson: http://54.165.202.145/travel/ . This site has the specific counties we visited as well as pictures from the trip).

Highlights of the Trip:

Skiing through the Alps in Innsbruck, Austria

Skiing through the Alps in Innsbruck, Austria

Running through Liechtenstein. The run started in Austria and ended in Switzerland

Running through Liechtenstein. The run started in Austria and ended in Switzerland

Finally reaching the boarder of Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Finally reaching the boarder of Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Biking to the Lindt factory in Zurich

Biking to the Lindt factory in Zurich

Exploring the Islands of Murano and Burano in Venice

Exploring the Islands of Murano and Burano in Venice

Taking a gondola ride

Taking a gondola ride

Visiting Ancient Rome

Visiting Ancient Rome

Lighting more candles from my family

Lighting more candles from my family

Things I learned:

1)  Always assume the worst case –> Now before you peg me as a pessimist, hear me out. As a computer scientist, we are told to always consider all possible cases when constructing an algorithm. When deciding how fast the algorithm will run we almost always define the runtime based on the worst case scenario. While traveling, it is best to assume the worst case in the running time of public transit, tours, and other events whose timing is out of your control. For instance, on the last day we had signed up for a tour of the colosseum that was suppose to end at 6pm giving us plenty of time to get to the airport for our flight at 9:30pm. Oh course, though, our tour began to run late causing us to leave the tour early. When we get to the metro we found too long of a line for tickets. Instead of 12 minute metro ride to the train station that would take us to the airport, we embarked on a 30 minute run. While in the train station we fought through more lines and language barriers, but we did finally get to the airport right in time. Originally, I had expected the process of getting to the airport to take maximum 1 hour. In reality, it took closer to 2 hours. When it comes to traveling getting from one place to another always takes longer than expected because there are always unforeseen road blocks. So now when I approach the problem of getting from point A to Point B I always assume the worst case running time.

2) Always get a paper map of each city you are in (with public transit)–> Before the trip I spent hours upon hours working out every detail of the trip. Each day I had a plan of what to do and how to get there. Even though I felt like I had prepared for everything I oh course missed some details. Most of the time we could turn to Google maps for assistance when we strayed away from my daily plan, however in some places Google maps would not work. For instance, when exploring Liechtenstein we could not use our data because each megabyte cost $15.00. Technology is wonderful, but unfortunately it is not as reliable as the good old paper map. Luckily, we had a wonderful map of Liechtenstein and thus had no problem navigating the country.

3) Pick your travel buddies wisely –> A huge reason my spring break went so well is because I had a great travel buddy. I spent the trip with one other person making it easy to plan activities that we would both like. When planning a large international trip you will inevitably hit many road bumps, and you want to make sure you are traveling with someone you can work with to solve these problems. I give many thanks to my travel buddy Jackson for helping to make the week sail as smoothly as possible!


Becca in Hungary: Tour of AIT’s Campus

March 16, 2015

Today during lunch I decided to make a little video about AIT’s campus. In two weeks I will have reached the halfway point of my program (THATS CRAZY TO ME!!!). Of course that means midterms time! As midterms come closer I wanted to spend sometime reflecting on my experience at AIT. The video I created is below:

I have truly loved all my classes here! When I was trying to find somewhere to study abroad I did not want to sacrifice having small interactive classes. Generally, in Europe classes are lecture style and then conclude with one large exam. For me, learning math and computer science this way can be a challenge because I need weekly problems and challenges to make sure I understand the content as the content begins to build on itself. Here at AIT I get weekly homework sets in all of my classes that allow me to test my knowledge and ponder new ideas about the topic. The workload at AIT is perfect because I rarely feel like I am doing busy work but rather the work is relevant and thought-provoking.

The one thing I am shocked about is that I really don’t program that much even though I am enrolled in a computer science program. At the University of Richmond, all of the computer science classes have a strong mix between theoretics and programming. At AIT the classes mainly focus on theoretics which essentially means just more math. I personally love this because I am also a math major; however, some students struggle with the focus on mathematics. The most mathematical course I am taking is quantum probability. Unlike classical probability (which is the probability most people think of), quantum probability disobeys many of the rules we learn about probability in high school. Because of this we have to build-up new mathematical background and redefine a new lattice to define this probability. In more or less words, the class is hard, but that also means it is very thought-provoking which I love.

The class with the most programming is my mobile software design class. I was originally hesitant to take this course because it was going to be so programming focused. So far, I have loved this class. This past week we turned in our first assignment which was creating a minesweeper App for iPhone.

I could not be happier with my decision to attend AIT, and I am excited to buckle down and put a hold on the international traveling in order to prepare for my coming exams.


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