Student Spotlight: Alexander’s Semester Abroad in Budapest

Eager to step into the footsteps of a college student who has experienced life in Hungary? We recently caught up with AIFS Abroad student Alexander, a Finance and Economics major from the University of Alabama. He spent a spring semester studying abroad in the capital city of Budapest on our program at Corvinus University.

“‘Why do you want to study abroad?’ was one of the first questions I asked myself before I committed to this program. By choosing to spend an entire semester in Budapest, Hungary instead of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I was giving up half a year of memories with my friends, opportunities with multiple student organizations, and the opportunity to learn from multiple professors at UA in my field of Economics and Finance. Was I going to study abroad just because I could? As it turns out, my reason for studying abroad was my love for learning.”

Read on to learn more about his study abroad experience with AIFS Abroad and the impact of being an international student in Budapest.

Academic Excellence

Alexander’s academic experience in Budapest at Corvinus University has been nothing but impactful, and it’s given him unique insight into his host city and the greater region. Corvinus is an AACSB-accredited institution — perfectly aligned with his Economics and Finance majors. Located in the heart of the city, it’s a distinguished private research institution with a robust student body of around 9,600 enrollments. Students primarily study the fields of business administration, economics, and social sciences. Alexander shares:

There are so many opportunities to learn and grow in Budapest and Central Europe.

The classroom is the most obvious venue for learning, and Corvinus has been no exception. As a university predominantly focused on business and the social sciences, the school has provided me the opportunity to take 15 credit hours’ worth of unique and interesting courses that I can use for both personal fulfillment and my degree path at UA. My courses ‘History of Modern Europe’ and ‘Comparative Political Economy’ have both given me background on the political and economic developments of Hungary and Central Europe, while my two finance courses and my business protocol and negotiation course have all taught me important skills that I will use during my career. Only having my courses once per week for 3 hours in a row with only a 20-minute break in between took a little getting used to, but I’ve found that this system allows my professors to teach with both theoretical and practical methods while going in-depth on the topics (plus it gives me more time to explore the city!).”

A New Educational System

Transitioning into a new academic setting can be an exciting challenge! While you’re used to life as a college student on your home university’s campus being a certain way, life as a student abroad isn’t going to be an exact replica of that experience — including in the classroom. Alexander’s study abroad courses and the grading system in Budapest were set up a bit differently than what he is familiar with at the University of Alabama, sharing:

“Hungarian grading was another area that was different for me from the US. Instead of the 4.0 GPA scale, where every point matters, Hungarian universities use a scale of 1-5, where 1 means ‘fail’ and 5 means ‘excellent.’ This means that students earning 88% and 100% in a class both receive ‘5’ ratings, which shifts the focus from precise numerical grades to the overall quality of work. Additionally, while many of my classes at my home university have multiple exams spread throughout the semester, often with the option for a drop exam, here, a single final exam can determine most of your grade. I’m Pass/Fail, so the grading differences don’t matter that much, but they still have required some adaptation.”

aifs abroad student while hiking
Alexander during his study abroad travels

Growth through Education Abroad

There’s no shortage of growth that happens when you study abroad. Whether you choose to go overseas for a full semester like Alexander or for just a few weeks on a short-term program, you’ll see an immense change in yourself academically, personally, and professionally.

Professional Development

Alexander’s experience as a student in Budapest through AIFS Abroad broadened his perspective when it came to career and professional opportunities. He also developed many soft skills that future employers will most certainly value.

“While abroad, I have had opportunities to mature and grow professionally. This experience has also opened my eyes to possibilities that I never seriously considered before, like living or working abroad for a period of more than just a few months. Being in Budapest for an entire semester has shown me that ‘home’ doesn’t necessarily have to be in the US. I have appreciated the process of mastering a new location, from figuring out the grocery store and restaurant scenes near my apartment to exploring the public transportation system and important locations around the city.

One of the skills that I’ve improved the most in my time here is my ability to adapt to changing situations, which can come about because of a lack of local knowledge or miscommunications. While planning and organizing trips and events is important, it’s essential to realize that not everything will go according to plan and that you will likely need to adapt and problem-solve. In these situations, clear communication is important, as it may be necessary to work across cultural boundaries or different levels of English knowledge.

My experiences have also expanded my career horizons: talking to employers at Corvinus’s career fair, attending various conferences and think tank events around Budapest, and meeting random people while traveling all exposed me to new ideas and career possibilities.”

Personal Development

But what about developing as a person? When you study abroad, that kind of growth is inevitable! Alexander’s spring semester allowed him to challenge his worldview, improve his language comprehension skills, and so much more.

“Studying abroad has also brought me opportunities for personal growth, as I have gotten to learn from the people and cultures I have been exposed to. Language is a large part of this – it’s very different to be on a train or in a public place and not understand what anyone is saying. I’ve learned that it’s important to learn how to pronounce things and at least use basic words to convey appreciation for the local language, as it is a huge aspect of culture.

One of the things that I didn’t expect about being in Budapest was the diversity of the city – I’ve met so many people from all over Europe and the entire world, from Germany and Portugal to Kazakhstan and Georgia (the country) to Colombia and Argentina. One of the many joys of studying abroad is meeting people and learning about them and their stories, even if it is just a short experience on a bus, after a concert, or in a barbershop. These conversations are important because they are also about learning how other people view Americans, both good things and bad. This has been sobering for me – it’s very easy to assume that everyone in the world lives the same way as us as we take for granted our economic and political institutions, our education, and our high standards of living. I’ve learned to appreciate what I have in the US while also thinking deeply about what I wish I could change.”

Final Thoughts

After a life-changing semester abroad in Budapest, Alexander can confidently give advice to future study abroad participants from personal experience.

No matter your reason for studying abroad, keep an eye out for opportunities to learn.

Every moment of studying abroad, from navigating a new academic system to engaging with diverse cultures, is a new adventure. Adapt to the unexpected challenges you encounter and embrace the unique perspectives that you find. You will be doing more than just building skills that you can put on a resume – you will also be shaping yourself into a more adaptable and open-minded individual. Studying abroad is much more than just earning academic credits or seeing sights around the world, though you can certainly do both. It’s also an opportunity to grow as a person and gain a much deeper understanding of the world around you.”

Are you a student who’s ready to take the leap and study abroad in Budapest like Alexander did with AIFS Abroad? We’d love to help you start your journey!

Here at AIFS Abroad, we know a thing or two about helping college students and pre-professionals study and intern abroad. Our programs are incredibly inclusive, which takes a lot of the stress out of planning. From coordinating your housing to providing things like cultural and social activities, excursions, comprehensive insurance, 24/7 emergency support, on-site staff, and more, you’ll take comfort in knowing you’ll have support throughout your entire experience abroad.

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