By Jennifer Anderson '15
Last summer I had the wonderful opportunity to study away at the Aquincum Institute of Technology (AIT) in Budapest. This is the story of my experience there and what I ended up learning about life outside of Olin.
To start with, a quick shameless plug; for anyone who hasn't studied away, I highly recommend it! It is a marvelous experience that leaves you with a new understanding of the world, and our place as Oliners and engineers in it.
Last year, I was not expecting to be able to study away. Of course, I had been interested in it; I love traveling and seeing new places. However, I wasn't willing to spend an entire semester away from Olin because of the problems it would cause with my graduation schedule. Thus, I decided to try for a summer program.
I settled on AIT, mostly due to a presentation that was made on their behalf at Olin last year. And, truthfully, I'm pretty sure that it was a mix of the chocolate (Hungarian SPORT bars are fantastic) and the giveaway of an autographed Rubik's Cube that made me decide to apply (definitely the most important reasons). To be honest, I was not expecting to get in--I didn't think I had a prayer. But, of all the surprises, a month or so later, I received an email that informed me that I had been accepted. And not only that--I was one of only 9 total students worldwide who had been invited to try out the new summer classes!
Now we get to the actual event--traveling to Hungary, and my experience there, not only with my classes, but also with the city, culture and people of Budapest.
As this was a brand new experimental summer session, all the students were enrolled in the same courses: Mobile Application Development (basically phone programming) and Budapest Studies (Hungary 101). Obviously, both classes were very small, so in that way they were similar to Olin classes. However, the teaching style was quite different. Mobile App Development was taught by several different professors, each specializing in a different type of phone (we concentrated on Android, but also had professors come in to do Windows Phone and iPhone). Initially, we started off learning about the history of the specific phone, and then delved deeper into the coding. The professor would pick an area of phone coding--typically referring to a specific app--and then assist us in writing enough code to fully recreate that app. Throughout my time in the class, I wrote a bar-code scanning application, a photo application, and several others that are seen on many phones. However, these were all useful in understanding how to program for the phone.
My Budapest Studies class was extremely useful for two reasons: 1. It taught me enough about Hungarian (especially letter pronunciation) to allow me to order from restaurants, and 2. It gave us a knowledgeable tour guide to teach us about the city. We typically did most of this class out and about--visiting important historical sites, such as the ruins of Aquincum (dating back to 400 BC), and the Jewish ghetto from WWII, when Hungary was occupied by the Germans. It was nice to have someone who knew about the history of these places and could tell you interesting facts that aren't in most guidebooks.
It was extremely useful for me to take these courses, because not only did I get a great opportunity to study away, but I also learned some important skills for engineering, and am in the process of receiving graduation credit for these classes.
However, in terms of Post-Graduate Planning and this blog, I feel that it's as important to discuss the aspect of studying somewhere outside of the US as it is to just talk about my interactions in school. The biggest and most important thing that I took away from my experience is this: in the US we have a tendency to think that we have the most advanced technology in the world--in fact, that we are the best at everything. We also seem to have the notion that everyone in the "developed" world speaks English because it is obviously the best language. In short, we tend to be an egocentric nation. Frankly, from my experience in Budapest, these notions are simply not true.
To begin with, in Budapest, none of us students lived on the campus--well, AIT's campus was a single hallway with approximately 10 rooms, almost half of which were staff offices. We all lived a significant commute away, which meant that we used Budapest's public transportation. Which is something that, as an engineer, I have to say was utterly brilliant! Budapest has fantastic public transportation--you can virtually anywhere in the city using a network of 3 subway lines, dozens of above-ground trams and trolleys, streetcars, buses, and commuter trains (called the HEV). Indeed, a little known fact is that Budapest has the world's second oldest underground railroad--the only older system is London's Tube. What I can say about this is that Budapest certainly cares about its commuters--far more than any city in the US that I've been to.
More from an engineer's perspective: Budapest's bridges. For those of you unfamiliar with the city, Budapest is comprised of three subsections, with Buda and Obuda in the hills on the eastern side of the Danube and Pest in the flatlands on the western bank. Due to this, there are half a dozen enormous bridges that span the Danube to allow crossings. Some of these bridges are more than 100 years old--the Chain Bridge was constructed in 1839 and still stands today with modern traffic rolling across it.
In short, the world is full of masterful engineers, not just the US. There are opportunities across the globe for cool engineering projects. Something I found quite interesting is that the campus where AIT is located is called Graphisoft Park; this Park is also home to some famous corporations such as Microsoft and Cannon. Want to work for Microsoft? You are not required to move to Seattle! Try Budapest--the weather is nicer.
Also, you can get to know fantastic people in the engineering and mathematics world like, say, Rubik, the inventor of the Rubik's cube, who has taught at AIT in the past.
The giant Rubik's cube in Graphisoft Park
One more short comment is about language. Many people in America assume that everyone in Europe speaks English--or at least I know that was my assumption when I traveled to Budapest. I would get to know some Hungarian, but it wouldn't really matter because everyone would also speak English. This is definitely not the case: there were a significant number of people who I interacted with throughout my stay who spoke little or no English. At first, this seemed rather odd to me until I realized that I was seeing the situation through extremely biased eyes: after all, who am I to talk when I am only fully fluent in English? It definitely inspired me to study more languages in order to be able to communicate all around the world, something I highly recommend. Because, as an engineer, being able to properly communicate your really cool and interesting ideas is extremely important.
Overall, I definitely recommend studying away--or at least traveling to another country. I feel like you learn a lot, and get a new perspective on the world in general. Not to mention, you get an idea for engineering--or other--opportunities in places you might never have thought about to begin with.
And, for anyone interested, may I just recommend Budapest!
View from Castle Hill