(First published on http://welovebudapest.com/budapest.and.hungary/the.erasmus.program.offers.top.class.education.in.budapest, 5 September 2014)
Organized by the European Union, the Erasmus+ program aims to promote continental mobility through a widespread international student-exchange network, with study-abroad periods that can last from three months to one year. We take a look at why Budapest is an awesome city for pursuing higher education, while providing some tips for Erasmus students living here.
Dorian Kocijan didn’t travel far for his time studying abroad with Erasmus. While living in his hometown of Zagreb in Croatia, he chose to study in Hungary’s capital. “I really like the city itself, and the wild nightlife is also a plus. Budapest is pretty cheap, so you can get the most out of your money. Budapest is one of my favorite cities in the world.”
After finishing university, Dorian even returned to Budapest for work. “It’s difficult to decide if Budapest is more beautiful during winter or summer. Getting around is quite easy. ... There is so much going on all the time... parties, concerts, festivals, air shows... you name it, Budapest has it. If you come to Budapest, one thing is certain – you will never get bored,” he said.
Dorian is not the only scholar who was impressed with his time in Budapest. There are plenty of colleges and universities participating in the Erasmus exchange program, and each year thousands of students come to Budapest. More and more of the degrees and qualifications offered in Hungary are recognized throughout the European Union and elsewhere. Medicine, dentistry, pharmaceuticals, veterinary programs, and engineering are among the most popular fields of study. There are dozens of universities and colleges here to consider, but these are the main institutions that Erasmus students can attend:
Accommodating the low budgets that many students must survive within, Hungary has a pretty reasonable cost of living. A one-way ticket on any typical form of public transportation is 350 forints (just over one euro), a good lunch costs about 1,000-1,500 forints (about three to five euros), and a cheap beer costs about 300 forints (less than one euro). Living the student lifestyle, you can get by with about 600 euros a month, rent included. Some institutions offer scholarships to help with living expenses and other costs like textbooks.
It’s easy to find lodgings in most sections of the city, as there are websites and Facebook groups to help (see below). Depending on your budget you can share a room, get your own room, or even rent a whole apartment. Most people rent in the city center near their university or the main party districts. Some universities offer a “buddy system” or e-mail network to help students find flatmates. Both short- and long-term rental accommodation is available in Budapest, and university guides can provide information on where to find a place to rent; you might even meet fellow students to share a place with you in the first weeks of school. Here are some useful links:
Once settled in, it's easy to meet fellow Erasmus participants by joining the main Facebook groups that encourage student get-togethers, as well as groups that help provide answers to any questions that you have or promote events and parties in the city – here are a few:
So far as practicalities go, every school that participates in Erasmus has an office designated to help foreign students with necessities like getting a local mobile phone, learning how to navigate the city, and seeking medical attention (although our guide can also help you with this last one).
Picking up the notoriously difficult Hungarian language might be a bit difficult, but many Hungarians speak English and a few speak German. Many Erasmusstudents try to improve their English during their time studying abroad, because it's often the language used in their courses, and it is a common language with otherErasmus students. While every school provides access to their libraries to visitingErasmus students, a wide range of non-academic books and novels in many languages from around the world are available at Hungary's National Library of Foreign Literature in downtown Pest.
As for food, Budapest is full of modern supermarkets, although to get the real local experience (and the city's freshest produce and meats), many Erasmus students become regulars at the city's diverse market halls. Whether buying it to prepare at home or dining out, Hungarian food is delicious and often cheap. Erasmus-student favorites like pizza slices and gyros are always close and cheap, but hearty Hungarian street food like lángos (deep-fried dough with varied toppings, pictured above) and kürtőskalács (sweet chimney cakes) will fill you up for as little as a euro or two. There are always plenty of modern and international flavors available in Budapest if you’re craving the taste of home: Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and other types of ethnic restaurants are always popping up.
With such practical details behind us, now it's time for some fun out and about in the city. Budapest is small enough that it can feel familiar to newcomers within a short period of time, while also being big enough to continually provide new surprises with minimal exploration. Iconic sights here include mammoth monuments, museums, and venues, while an ongoing series of temporary attractions include festivals, craft markets, and ceremonies for national holidays. The city is imprinted with its storied history, with visible relics ranging from medieval stone walls to Baroque palaces to bullet holes remaining from the 1956 Revolution, so even walking the streets to school will always be interesting.
After school, Budapest's nightlife is well-known for its huge selection of bars, clubs, live-music venues, and offbeat hangouts, particularly found in profusion throughout downtown Pest's District VII. Students never have cause to be bored, with plenty of options for nights out available every day of the week, which makes it easier to find friends. And on weekends, popular open spaces for picnics, sports, and relaxing include Margaret Island and City Park.
Finally, after spending some time living in Budapest as an Erasmus student, it's natural to want an occasional getaway with a relaxing day trip or weekend break – and fortunately, plenty of options await. Within easy reach from Budapest by the HÉV commuter train, historical Szentendre is an artsy village just north of Budapest's city limits, providing a slow-paced riverside destination to explore; it's also not very difficult to ride a bicycle the entire way there from Buda. An extensive range of hiking trails crisscrosses the Buda Hills, which also feature popular areas for mountain biking, rock climbing, and even caving.
Meanwhile, Hungary's domestic holiday hotspots include Lake Balaton, the Bükk Mountain Range, diverse wine-producing areas nationwide, and plenty of other interesting countryside destinations. Budapest is also a great stepping-stone to the rest of central and eastern Europe – with excellent rail networks extending from central Budapest's train stations, from here you can easily set off for neighboring and nearby countries like Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Serbia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania.