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December 06, 2019

Postcard from Hungary: Observing government histories & museums

Studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary, Lauren Woolf’21 is examining echoes of rapid government change that remain visible in Budapest’s cityscape.
  • Lauren at the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica.
  • Name:Lauren Woolf’21
  • Hometown: Souderton, Pennsylvania
  • Major:History, Art History Music Minor: Museum Studies
  • Study Abroad Location:Budapest, Hungary; Eotvos Jozsef Collegium

Q. How is study abroad benefiting your Beloit College education?

My study abroad benefits my Beloit College education in a number of ways. As a history and art history major, my favorite topics to study are in 20th century Central Europe. Budapest is the perfect location to examine historical echoes of rapid governmental change, something that isn’t easily found in the United States. The landscape of Budapest shows growth from monarchy to communism to parliamentary democracy, which makes for a diverse and fascinating cityscape. Additionally, Budapest was an artistic powerhouse in the early 20th century, with the result that the city has any number of uniquely beautiful Hungarian Art Nouveau buildings and features. Budapest also has a decent number of museums, allowing me to observe the differences between an American and central European museum. In summary, Budapest is the ideal location for me to hone my academic interests.

Q. How were you engaging with people and place when you’re not in the classroom?

I only have class 3 days of the week, which means I have plenty of time to explore Budapest, as well as the countries around Hungary. I tend to spend time with my roommates, who are Hungarian students at the Collegium, and students from another exchange program. I’m lucky to have 2 very nice roommates. One of them is an American studies student, so I’ve had the chance to learn how she sees American culture.

When I don’t have too much homework, I like to spend weekends traveling. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a friend, and Beloit alumna, in Milan. I spent my week long fall break in Krakow and Warsaw, Poland. I’ve been able to get to Vienna, Brno, and Bratislava too. If I have time in Budapest, I like to explore some of the smaller museums around the city, as well as the many diverse districts. These experiences have increased my comfort with independent travel, train and public transit systems throughout Europe, and my ability to navigate through new cities. Although not academic skills, these foundations help me to better observe different cultural norms and practices.

Natalie, a Beloit alumna, and Lauren at Lake Como in Italy.

Natalie, a Beloit alumna, and Lauren at Lake Como in Italy.

Q. What are the three most important things you packed in your suitcase? Why?

The three most important things I packed in my suitcase would have to be my camera, different types of coats, and good walking shoes. The camera is an obvious choice, but having it with me is a wonderful way to document my time in Budapest and my travels beyond the city. I brought a variety of outerwear with me, which ended up being a good choice. Budapest is relatively temperate, but weather between September and December can go from hot to relatively cold. Lastly, I brought a pair of thick soled shoes with me that are great for long distance walking. When I travel, I encounter a variety of terrains and walking surfaces.  Having great walking shoes allows me to walk on everything from cobblestones to hiking trails. prepared for anything.

The landscape from the top of a hill on the Buda side, that Lauren visited with her roommate.

The landscape from the top of a hill on the Buda side, that Lauren visited with her roommate.

Q. What is your favorite place in your host city/country?

My favorite neighborhood in Budapest is the former Jewish Quarter. This area is extremely artistic with many studios and small cafes. It has a variety of unique artist’s stores and vintage shops with items that are local to Budapest. Outside of the tourist season, the Jewish Quarter is rather peaceful during the day and is a wonderful place just to wander on a free afternoon. It is filled with visible history of the former Jewish community. The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest operating synagogue in Europe and is a beautifully restored space that commemorates the neighborhood’s significance. The Jewish Quarter also has some notable bars that are well known throughout the city, like the ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. I just love how vibrant energy and history exist side by side here.

Q. What has been the most unexpected thing you have encountered during your off-campus study experience?

The most unexpected thing that I found was how welcoming the students and professors have been classes, even though I’m only here for a short time. Everyone is very down to earth and very grounded. The professors are reasonable in their course load and look to provide the best material possible. I’m in a class studying British film and the professor is making a serious effort to introduce us to a wide scope of styles in the short time we have together. My classmates are very friendly and I find that I share a similar sense of humor with them. What surprised me most was how interested they are in incorporating a first-hand American perspective. I signed up for a course  on “The Great Gatsby” and worried that it wouldn’t be the right space for me, but the professor was excited to have a student who had experienced “The Great Gatsby” in secondary school, unlike the Hungarian students. All these things were a very welcome surprise.

Budapest seen from the famous viewing point, the Citadella.

Budapest seen from the famous viewing point, the Citadella.

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