Budapest Semester in Mathematics

Last Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The so-called Hungaraian school of mathematics prizes a combinatorial, discrete, and probabilistic approaches to mathematics that enjoyed prominent success in the twentieth century. Hungary’s reputation as a mathematics powerhouse owes much to the remarkable group of mathematicians and physicists known humorously as the Martians who left Hungary for the United States in the first half of the twentieth century (a group including Paul Erdős, Paul Halmos, John von Neumann, George Polya, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller). The motherland, of course, continued along in the educational tradition that had helped to produce such brilliant mind, and to this day a halo remains around the Hungarian mathematical establishment (see, for example, the Renyi Institute).

It fact possible to get one of the most unusual study-abroad undergraduate experiences out there by enrolling for a semester of classes with the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. Unlike many other study-abroad programs which usually make some accomodations to students’ wanderlust and curiosity about a foreign country, the “correct” experience at BSM is to sign up for 5 (hard) math classes and spend a huge amount of your time learning combinatorics, quantum probability, algebra, number theory, and so on. You in fact must go someowhat out of your way in order to recreate some semblance of a non-mathematical cultural encounter with Hungary with BSM.

Recommendations for interested students

Live at the dorm. When I attended BSM in fall 2018, one of the best decisions I made was to request to live at the student dorm Szent Ignác Jezsuita Szakkollégium, Horánszky u. 18. I lived with a small group (4 foreign students, 4 Hungarians) on the top floor and we all become well-acquainted with one another over the course of 5 months. Rent, when I lived there, was astonishingly cheap, something like $100-$200 monthly. The foreign students were all affiliates of BSM, while the Hungarians were attending various other colleges in Budapest. This, in my opinion, was a much better arrangement than living in an apartment with only BSM-affiliated roommates. Through the Hungarians living at the door, I was able to round out the study-abroad experience. Man does not live by math alone.

Publish with Gyárfás. If András Gyárfás is still working with students, apply to do a research project with him by solving the problems he sends out in the weeks before the semester starts. The problems are not hard, but if you wait too long to start them (as I did), others will beat you to the limited number of slots available. That is how I missed out on acquiring an Erdős number of 2.

Try the local specialties. There are classes at BSM that have no equivalent in most American colleges. These tend to be especially good, if you can handle the material. It is better to go to BSM having already been around the mathematical block a bit, otherwise you will get stuck in the introductory level classes which you could have easily found back home.