Alexandria Brown – Public Sociology – Level 3
Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
Wow… what an experience. I have been back home in Scotland now for 3 weeks, and even though I sorely missed my irn bru, square sausage and sarcastic banter we Scots share, I am already missing the wonderful Budapest. When I first arrived in Budapest airport in January I was like a lost lamb, stood in -15℃ with my bag and suitcase, and an envelope with currency I just did not understand, (with 20,000 Forint notes, I was at a loss!). Little did I know I was about to begin the best 5 months of my life. I made my way to my apartment on Rakoczi Street, which I soon learned was smack bang in the centre of Budapest nightlife and I was so excited to embrace this wonderful and exciting opportunity.
When I first arrived in Budapest, I spent my first few days getting comfortable in my new surroundings and walking around the Pest district. I soon learned my apartment was centred in the Jewish quarter and I was surrounded with breath-taking synagogues, including the largest synagogue in Europe located on Dohany Street, 10 minutes from where I was living. My first while in Budapest I spent in awe. The gorgeous architecture, the old tram system, cultural differences such as the popularity of scooters to get around or kissing one another’s cheek for greeting, etc., ruin bars which I spent many a night loosing time into a pint of pilsner or Arany, the local cheap beer, but most importantly; Corvinus.
On my second day of walking around, I put Corvinus University into google maps (which was a lifesaver!). When I arrived, I was blown away, what a beautiful building! Alike most of the breath-taking architecture of Budapest it was an old, gothic stone building with intricate detail to show it off. Inside was marble floors, a long concourse supported by large stone pillars and a seating area beside a little sandwich shop with stone arches, beautiful. There are three sections to Corvinus; E building is the oldest building, the Salthouse, which was predominantly engineering I believe, so I never used it, and the C building, this was where most of my classes were and the library, which featured an entire floor of books dedicated to social sciences, many of them in English which was great. I spent most of my time here with my laptop, as I couldn’t get used to the Hungarian keyboards for the computers.
On my first few weeks at Corvinus I felt overwhelmed, as some of the modules I had taken at Corvinus I didn’t recognise in relation to the modules I took at QMU such as Terrorism and Political Violence, Organisational Sociology and Society and Culture in Saudi Arabia. All of which were fascinating, and all of my modules came with their positives and negatives like anywhere you study. Overall however, one thing I found most interesting was the level of participation and depth of debate from both students and lecturers in classes. Sadly, this is something I hadn’t experienced a great deal at QMU, but I found it extremely beneficial for both my academic growth, especially as a sociologist, and personally. Being an exchange student in a foreign country with a foreign language was alien to me, but sharing each other’s values, beliefs, etc. in classes made it easier to drift towards people, whether they were similar or not, and this soon became vital for my time in Buda.
In order to get the best possible experience out of my trip, before I left for Corvinus I challenged myself to stay out of my comfort zone as much as possible. Well, this wasn’t a problem at Corvinus. Over my time in Budapest I met just 3 people from the UK, none of which were studying at Corvinus. In my orientation day, I’ll never forget it, during a statistics slideshow presenting the exchange students and the breadth of nationalities, in a lecture hall of 400 or so people, I was the only person who raised my hand when the UK was called. I still look back at that and laugh to myself, I felt like an alien.
So, I pushed myself and attended one of the various events that the wonderful Erasmus Student Network (ESN) had arranged, which began at a pub not far from my flat, great! However, it was a little difficult as I didn’t know anyone and not many people spoke English. Then, during my second week, I met cookie! A nickname, as her surname directly translates to cookie. We became travel buddies, drinking partners, tourist pals, and cliché, but friends for life. She’s coming to Scotland in two weeks, for the Fringe and I’ll visit her in Poland in February.
In Budapest I was lucky enough to have friends from home come over and visit me, and during the roasting hot week in April one of my friends was over, so together with cookie and my other friends, I booked us a trip to Aquaworld, one of the largest indoor water parks in Europe. What a day! for the equivalent of £15 we spent the whole day in the outdoor heated Jacuzzi pool that you could swim to from inside, on flumes, plunge pools and in and out of the pool bar (where you got a pint for £1!) and finished the evening relaxing in the spa where you can relax in the ice baths, salt rooms and oil steam rooms. This was a day I’ll never forget, and a perfect time for relaxing, as exams were about to start. Corvinus is very different from QMU in terms of examination style, etc. and I found it all to be very confusing, for example at Corvinus you have to register for exams on a first come- first serve basis, which I had never experienced before. Exams were oral, essays, multiple choice, or a combination of them all. I found this to be quite a culture shock as at QMU I was used to the standardised essay question exam or presentation, so in Corvinus I gave my first ever oral exam, it was daunting but it helped me a lot with my confidence and I got an A, so I must have done something right.
Right through my time in Budapest, I often found myself comparing Scotland and Hungary, culturally especially. Scotland is known for its loud, animated population and when I met new people in Buda, that’s exactly how I was expected to be, and I live up to this in truth. However, I wasn’t really sure what I expected of the people of Hungary. A few things leading differences I noticed included dress, food, and social behaviour. For example, I found women in Hungary don’t really wear makeup, or if so its basic, no heels or dresses, etc. even when in clubs, men and women kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting, even if it’s a professional relationship, but men never kiss each other, which I found interesting. The food in Hungary is very different to Scotland, and there is paprika, in, everything. Not that I was complaining, since I have come home, I can now eat much spicier food than before I left. Overall, I observed Hungarian’s to be more reserved than us Scots, which was a bit of a breath of fresh air.
I was thoroughly enjoying discovering Budapest, and as I was so used to having to get planes everywhere from the UK, I forgot that I could just pop on a train to anywhere for a wee adventure. So, in May, the girls and I embarked on a short trip to Vienna, Austria. A couple of hours on a train from where I was living in Budapest. We were very lucky with the weather and when we arrived, we were in awe of how idyllic this place was, filled with lovely authentic restaurants, cafes, museums, and beautiful buildings. We felt like we walked onto a movie set! We spent our time there drinking in the sunshine in their many beautiful parks, visiting museums and eating traditional Austrian food such as apple strudel and palatschinken, which was my favourite, pancakes with a sweet and savoury filling. The second thing which struck me the most in Vienna was the people, dressed in furs, even in 25℃ heat, everyone was very classy and elegant. I felt dressed down for the occasion of walking the streets of Vienna in my Dr. Martens and summer dress.
I was thrilled to go and study in Hungary for a variety of reasons, social, academic, personal, etc. but for me personally, the rich history of soviet occupation and socialism was enthralling. Consequently, I attended several free-walking tours across the city, and the most memorable one for me was the ‘Communism tour’. Led by a fascinating lady who had experienced life under soviet rule, I was blown away with what I learned. The below statue, for example, ironically placed in ‘liberty square’ is one of the few remaining soviet statues and was actually built overnight, in secret from the population as its symbolisation (the weeping angel is Hungary, and the Eagle is soviet rule) is so controversial and disliked by the entire Hungarian population. In Hungary, I have met people who have changed my perspective on life, as well as life in general and I have learned things that I have laughed at, cried at and reflected on.
I am not your typical person who goes on exchange, it was never something that I believed was in my grasp, however, thanks to QMU and Corvinus it has, and I would urge anyone who is presented with an opportunity like this to grab it with both hands. We only regret the things we didn’t do.
Köszönöm Budapest! Cheers QMU!