Mathematics student broadens her horizons in Hungary

The Budapest Semester in Mathematics program brings American and Canadian college students to Hungary for a semester of study under Hungarian mathematics instructors hailing from the country’s top universities. Taught in English, the classes are rigorous and cover statistics, logic, analysis, and more.

Taking four high-level mathematics courses in a foreign country was harder than anything UWM mathematical sciences major Olivia Peterson had ever done.

But, she added, it was also one of the best things she’s ever done.

“It was definitely a challenge and I do feel like I rose to that challenge,” she said with pride. She has long enjoyed math and began UWM with an intent to major in education and teach art or math. But, she discovered, if she wanted to teach math, she wanted to learn more math first. She switched her major to mathematical sciences, and now wants to teach at the university level.

Peterson spent the fall 2021 semester living in Budapest, studying mathematics, and traveling around the country. It was her first time overseas.

UWM partners with the Budapest Semester in Mathematics program, and also invites students to apply for the E. Paul and Jane Humke International Mathematics Scholarship for financial support. Peterson, who was awarded the scholarship, saw posters for the program hung near her classrooms, and mathematics professors Gabriella Pinter and Istvan Lauko, Hungarians themselves, encouraged her to apply.

Her start was delayed thanks to the pandemic. When she was finally able to go, Peterson already had enough credits to graduate from UWM, but she put it off in favor of completing the program. She graduated this past December instead.

“I do feel like a different person with new experiences and different outlooks. Just because of the rigor of school, (it) definitely gave me a little perspective of what I will be doing and encountering as I go further in my education,” she said. “I made a lot of good friends who I hope to continue to be friends with. I just loved the experience of being able to go somewhere new.”

The pandemic did curtail some of her travel plans. The students were not allowed to leave Hungary to visit neighboring EUcountries for fear that they would not be allowed back into Budapest over Covid concerns. Even so, Peterson and her friends manage to find plenty of things to do within Hungary’s borders.

“(We went to a town) called Szentendre, and that was really pretty. It was super-picturesque. … We went during an arts festival. We visited a bunch of stores and saw a dance performance. We took a boat to get there, which was really cool – on the Danube. We went to a castle in a town called Visegrád and ate at this Medieval reenactment restaurant. They had all of the Medieval plates and food, and everyone was dressed up,” she recalled.

And Budapest itself had plenty to offer.

“I could just walk around and look around at the whole city. All of the buildings looked really old and intricate and beautiful,” she said.

Her favorite memories include attending a live concert when Budapest hosted the MTV European Music Awards and regularly picnicking with her friends in one of the city’s parks.

She hopes to return; she’s applied for graduate school in Hungary, as well as in Germany and Amsterdam.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science