Budapest Semesters in Mathematics - Budapest, Hungary

Initiated by Paul Erdos, Laszlo Lovasz, and Vera T. Sos, the program Budapest Semesters in Mathematics provides a unique opportunity for North American undergraduates. Through this program, mathematics and computer science majors in their junior/senior years may spend one or two semesters in Budapest, Hungary and study under the tutelage of eminent Hungarian scholar-teachers. The instructors of Budapest Semesters in Mathematics are members of Eotvos University and the Mathematical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the two institutions known for having educated more than half of Hungary's highly acclaimed mathematicians. Most instructors have had teaching experience in North America and are familiar with the cultural differences.

Semesters start in the first week of September and February. An optional intensive language course is offered about two weeks before regular classes begin. Early applications are encouraged. Qualified applicants will be accepted to participate in the program on a rolling basis once their applications are complete.

What are the Goals for BSM ?

Answered by Destiny Coslett (Class of 06) about her semester at in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics Program:

1. Did you participate in a home-stay? Would you recommend it to other students?
I was in a home-stay with another student in the program. I thought it was an amazing experience, and I would definitely recommend a home-stay to other students. I was really scared at first that my host family would be scary or mean, but they far exceeded my expectations. I think I ended up with the best host-family in the program, though, so let me know if you are interested in people to request. My host family didn't know any English, so my roommate and I were always far more advanced than the other students in the program with our Hungarian skills. We also got breakfast included with the rent each month, and we didn't have to pay utilities or deposits since we lived with a family. The only downside was that it was hard not having our own space, so we couldn't have people over as often and when we came home at night, sometimes the family was asleep and we had to be quiet. Overall though, I think it was definitely the better choice.

2. Was it hard for you to learn the language? Were there any resources available to help you do so? What were some of the barriers that you faced?
I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to learn Hungarian, since I had such a hard time with other languages I tried to learn before. But…if you put yourself in a situation where you have to learn the language (like with a family that only speaks Hungarian to you), you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll pick it up. A lot of the students in the program didn't learn very much, but that was because they didn't want to. Hungarian is a really hard language to learn and is so different from any other language in the world, but once I got the hang of it, I thought it was a fun and beautiful language. There was a 2-week (optional) intensive language course at the beginning of the program (before the start of classes) that helped us learn the basics. We had class for about 6 or 7 hours a day - for 12 days. It was a little too much sometimes, but overall, I found the course helpful and it was a good way to meet some of the students in the program before classes start. I would say that 80% of the students in the Budapest Math Program were in the language course. I didn't really find any barriers to learning the language. I would try to practice my Hungarian on the street for fun, but sometimes people would get frustrated if they knew English and would just reply back in English. Otherwise, most people were really impressed that I wanted to learn their language and were surprised that I picked it up as fast as I did.

3. How did the mathematics courses in your program compare to those available in the math department at Virginia Tech? What were some pros and cons of how the course material was presented in your program?
It is pretty easy to pair the courses they offer in Budapest to the 4000-level ones offered at Tech, which means it's pretty easy to get the courses transferred over as senior level math courses - just make sure you get the courses you think you'll be taking approved before you go overseas! They offered three different levels of math courses: intro, intermediate, and advanced, so you really could fit yourself into any of the classes. Almost all of the courses assume you don't know anything about the material going in, so things are pretty thoroughly explained, at least at the beginning. The classes were definitely challenging, and for the homework problems, most of the professors didn't expect you to be able to solve all of it. They were more interested in the learning process. Most of the classes were graded with the Hungarian grading scale: 5 out of 7 problems (for instance) on a test is an A, 4 out of 7 a B, etc. They weren't expecting perfection, and they usually did put one or two really hard questions on a test, but you only needed to get 5 correct to get an A. Almost all of the students in the classes would be awarded A's or B's…only on occasion would a student get a C or below - as long as you try and do the best you can do, you'll end up with a decent grade. Definitely plan on bringing as many notes and old text books as you can as resources for the class. They are really helpful when you can't remember a formula or definition on homework when the professor expects you to know it.

4. How much more did it cost you to attend the program than it did to go to Virginia Tech for a semester?
It was definitely cheaper for me to study abroad, because I am an out-of-state student. The tuition was significantly less expensive, while the room and board were probably a comparable price. The only thing that raised the cost was all of the traveling I did, but that was well worth it.

5. What specifically would you recommend that I see or do while I am in the program overseas?
Just as the other two students said ... travel! As much as possible. You're not going to remember that weekend that you spent doing homework or just lounging around, but you will remember all of the amazing places you saw. As a math study abroad, it can feel overwhelming at times, compared to other study abroad programs because of the work load. But, as important as the classes are, it is more important that you spend the time overseas wisely doing everything you can do! I traveled to 10 countries during my semester, and that's what I think back to with fond memories…not the A's or B's I got in my classes. Definitely save up money before you go over, and do as much as you can while you're there. (And if you have any extra room in your suitcase for me to tag along, let me know!!) My personal favorite places to see were Croatia and Turkey. You'll have some breaks during the semester, and I'd say to use them wisely. Plane tickets are pretty cheap in Europe. Some good sites are:,,, to get around Europe for cheap.

6. What specific food did you enjoy the most?
I loved the gyumolcs leves (fruit soup). In fact, me and my roommate pretty much had the recipe perfected by the time we left. The szilvas gombats (plums stuffed in potato balls) were also a favorite. I'm a picky eater, and I was really afraid when I went over that I wouldn't be able to find much to eat, but even though there was some weird foods (occasionally brain or tripe on the menu) I could always find something 'normal' to eat.

7. Were the people friendly? Please describe some common characteristics of the native population.
Everyone was very nice and friendly. The only problems I had were with the ticket office at the train station and the post office. Most of the people were excited that I was studying in Hungary and wanted to know why I picked that country to study in.

8. What was the most startling difference between their culture and ours in America?
No clothes dryers! That was really scary for me at first, but in the end it worked out fine - especially since my host mom washed and dried all of my laundry for me. It was also weird that stores weren't opened nearly as often there as in America, so if you wanted to get something at the foodstore late at night or stop and grab something at the mall on Sunday, you weren't going to be able to. They also don't put ice in their drinks, and it's really hard to get tap water at a restaurant ... they'll only give you bottled water. They charge for everything there ... even the individual ketchup packets in McDonalds. There are really interesting differences between almost any culture and ours, but I think that's the neat thing about studying abroad is to experience those differences and learn that just because we do something here in America, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's the best thing.

9. Is there anything else that you would want interested students to know about the program?
This is really a good program! I would greatly encourage anyone who wants to do it. You don't have to be amazing at math…you don't even have to have math be in your lifelong career goals (I'm going into work as an actuary and won't be using any of the math I've learned, but I am still so glad I did it). You have had to take the math courses here at Tech anyway to get your math degree, so you might as well see the world while was doing it. And if you're amazing at math, then the program is perfect too. We had all different levels of students in Budapest - students from Harvard who just couldn't get enough theoretical math to students from small liberal arts colleges who wanted to see if math grad school was what they wanted to do with their life. Don't get me wrong, the classes are hard, and if you are looking for an easy semester, I'd go with a different program. But, if you are willing to put forth the effort, I'd recommend it. The people there are all really great, and most of the professors are good, encouraging teachers who want to see you succeed.

Fisherman's Bastion in Castle Hill