I heard that often times while studying abroad you change and grow a lot as a person. But before studying abroad myself, I didn’t quite understand the extent of this statement. I assumed it meant that I would collect new experiences and bring back a broadened world view. But as I sit on an airplane from Frankfurt to Montreal and think back to the Zoe who flew to Budapest 4 months ago, I can see that while I have had oodles of new experiences and seen far more of the world, I’m coming home with more than just a collection of memories. My time at BSME has changed me.
I think there is something about the way study abroad programs separate you entirely from your comfort zone in the US that makes you realize what is truly important to you. When I arrived in Budapest I didn’t have any routines established, As a result I found myself constantly making decisions about how I wanted to spend my time and trying to find those things that truly make me happy. As one example, my Budapest friends would probably find this hard to believe, but before Budapest I almost never sang with anyone or in front of anyone besides my family. Being here I have realized that music and singing are one of those things that I absolutely love and I am going to search for ways to continue once I’m home. In the other direction, I have made hard decisions such as realizing that even though I have done track for 9 years, it is something that I don’t love enough anymore to make it worth the required hours of training. I know it’s easy for me to fall into a routine, and I like things that are comfortable and familiar. Change is hard! But being here in Budapest I have realized how important it is to take the time to reflect on why you are doing the things you choose to spend your time on.
One thing that has come into focus as something I love is problem solving, and I have come to appreciate mathematics in a way I haven’t before. Before BSME, I had never been in an environment where friends solve math problems ALL THE TIME whether it is on paper tablecloths at a restaurant or while walking through the streets of Berlin. We were surrounded by math problems that had many different paths to the solution and instead of requiring high level mathematics, caused us to use previous concepts in a new way. This allowed us to not get bogged down by definitions and formulas and fully appreciate the problem solving side of mathematics. One of my favorite parts of the week became Tuesday mornings when before class my flat mate and I would go to our favorite tea shop to have “Posa Breakfast” where we worked on problems posed in the BSME course on The Posa Method. I have realized how much I love thinking about problems from multiple angles and the excitement of coming to a solution after taking the time to struggle through solving it.
Another change I see in myself is a confidence to know that even if I don’t totally know what will happen or what I am doing, if I just make my best decision, chances are it will all work out. There are many places where this lesson comes from: I’ll name a few. One is going to step aerobics class and not understanding the instructor speaking in Hungarian but still being able to follow along and figure out the steps. Another is when my friends and I tried to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and couldn’t find canned pumpkin, or any pumpkin for that matter, so we cooked a squash. Then based on what we could find at the local grocery store we also had to make substitutions for Crisco, evaporated milk, and parchment paper, and after all that ended up with a delicious pie! Or just in general, when I had no idea what the cultural norms were so I gave it my best shot. I am a very indecisive person, and this often times comes from not knowing which option is best and wanting one option to be clearly better before proceeding. While I still have a long way to go with increasing my decisiveness, this term has shown me that it’s ok to just give a decision your best shot based on the information you have at the moment, stick with it, and see where it takes you.
When you study abroad, you have the rare opportunity to see the world from the perspective of another culture. No I’m not a Hungarian, but in Budapest I was not really a tourist either. After 4 months, I feel far more connected to the people and city than someone who only spent a few days there. When you study abroad you are seeing a country from a perspective that is hard to get without being there in person. It is very different to read about the Migrant Crisis on the news and to viscerally feel the pain and confusion of the migrants as they wait at the Keleti Station less than a 10 minute walk from your apartment. Through our BSME visits to schools and talking with students and teachers we were able to learn not only about math education but Hungary in general. Growing up in the US in history class we learn about the global political powerhouses. But what about the smaller countries? We never hear about what it was like to live in Hungary as it kept getting conquered and passed between regimes. While at BSME I had the unique chance to really focus on this often overlooked country’s history. I feel like now the world seems a lot smaller because I have personal connections to places outside of my home country.
Sean ended his last blog post with some song lyrics that have recently resonated with him, and I think I’ll continue his lead. The song that keeps popping into my head is from the musical Wicked and goes:
“Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good”
Yes it’s a bit cheesy, but I know this experience at BSME has changed me, and I truly think it has changed me for the better. I was pulled from my normal life, and in doing so I met the most amazing people, learned a ton about math education, discovered a hidden gem of a city that I sadly don’t think I could have placed on a map 6 months ago, and learned a lot about myself. Thank you to everyone I have met in Budapest for making these four months amazing, wonderful, eye opening, educational, laughter filled and utterly magnificent. I am so, so grateful to have had this experience!