Homesickness didn’t immediately hit me in either semester. Each time, it started as an almost non-existent feeling, hidden by the wonder of study abroad, and slowly it grew into an urgency to be back home close to my family, warm in my bed. Right now, as I try to picture the life I am returning to, even Amherst, with its stresses upon stresses, a wistful image, though after I leave, I know I will have a similar longing for Hungary and Budapest. Being here for almost a year, I’ve created memories, fun and difficult. Comfortable and unsettling. I’ve faced countless situations that forced me to react and grow. However, just like that, I will lose the physical component that binds me to these experiences. In order to remember, I want to write down what I will miss, as well as what I will gladly leave behind.
This goes without saying, but I will miss those whose friendship gave me much needed support throughout the semesters. I wouldn’t have dealt well, mentally or academically, without other students who felt and understood the vulnerability that comes with diving headfirst into a new country and new culture, helping each other adjust by establishing a support network and a sense of normalcy to our not-so-normal-anymore lives. It’s sombering to think about what first brought us together is essentially gone, and so these relationships may evolve, but they will never be the same.
I will not miss being a foreigner. Even in a major city like Budapest, there is not a ton of racial diversity. I’m Asian, so I do not look like the average Hungarian looks like. I get more stares than other American students, students who could go easily through a metro checkpoint without being stopped, without having their IDs and monthly passes inspected. I am greeted by random men on the street who believe that saying “ni hao” will ingratiate themselves with me. I am given attention I don’t want, and so I do my best to not draw it where I can, constantly aware of how I dress, act, speak. Dress conservatively. Use darker colors. Look down. Don’t speak, but if necessary, at least not in English. I have to admit that in general I try to blend in; my standard wardrobe consists of black and dark shades of blue, and my first instinct on a crowded bus is to be silent and to focus on pretending I’m fine with the lack of space. The need to be insignificant, though, is 10x more magnified in a place where my otherness stands out. I am being judged already for how I look, for something I can’t control, and I don’t want to give more reasons for people to make unfounded assertions about me. I’ve gained this weird hyper-awareness of how I present myself to the world – I guess more like the people of Hungary – that hasn’t gone away with time. I will be happy to be rid of it.
I will miss the academics. It was liberating to spend a semester dedicated to computer science, then another one in math, where I was given many more options for courses than what Amherst offers. At AIT, I had more than three electives to choose from, with more emphasis on hands-on coding than theory. Likewise, at Budapest Semester in Math (BSM), I could throw myself more deeply into areas not available at Amherst, as well as gain an initial yet unique understanding of others. I was surrounded by all this information in math and computer science that I didn’t know I didn’t know until then, and it has since opened up a lot of room for exploration.
I will not miss the overwhelming presence of male professors. At BSM, almost every math course is taught by a man. (The only one taught by a woman was cancelled early in the semester.) It isn’t a fact I agonized over day in and day out; it feels normal, though it shouldn’t be. Even with a rich history in math and what seems to be ubiquitous respect for names like Paul Erdős and John von Neumann, Hungary is not not exempt from gender discrimination. I will not miss leaving this behind, but it’s not like it does not exist in the US.
To end on a much lighter note, in no particular order, I will miss the high ceilings, crosswalk signs, chocolate, the bridges, goulash, the Hungarian language, pogácsa, the sound the letter s makes, Túró Rudi, the abundance of dogs, Nyugati Pályaudvar, Astoria, ruin pubs, views, parks, my room, the river, wine, the M3, the 9, the variety. I will not miss the thin walls, impatient drivers, crammed trams, the time difference, making my own food, the confusing ‘gy’ sound, unforgiving homeworks, my room, the abundance of dog poop, the crammed everything.
Almost certainly, if and when I begin longing for Budapest, some part of me will forget the bad and will end up missing everything.