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Three Olin Students and Three Olin Alumni Spent Eight Weeks at the Aquincum Institute of Technology in Budapest, Hungary, Helping to Shape its Curriculum
Earlier this year a request came in to Olin College from a brand new institution, the Aquincum Institute of Technology (AIT) in Budapest, Hungary. AIT was looking for exceptional students to participate in a unique summer program that would help AIT shape its curriculum. Six Oliners (Michael Crayton'06; Nicholas Hays ‘08; Leslie Gerhat ‘10; Alexandra Tsoi ‘12; James Regulinski ‘12; Rebecca H. Schutzengel '13) jumped at the chance, applied and were selected by Olin AIT advisors. Then off they went to Budapest where they took courses in the fields of creative computer engineering, design and entrepreneurship; discrete mathematics; or advanced applications in computational biology and medicine.
Additionally they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Budapest culture and city life. We sat down with three (Rebecca Schutzengel (RS); Michel Crayton (MC); and Alexandra Tsoi (AT)) of the six Olin participants and here's what they had to say about their experience.
What part of this opportunity appealed to you most?
RS: The most attractive part of the opportunity for me was the newness of the school. Being in the first group of students to attend was really exciting and I like that we were able to help shape the school a little bit. I'm looking forward to seeing how AIT grows and changes in the coming semesters.
MC: I did not study abroad while at Olin, and I thrive on purposeful journeys. I was intrigued by Budapest to say the least, but the chance to cement a connection between Olin and a passionate, foreign educational startup was irresistible.
AT: I was thrilled to be able to study and live abroad.
What did you enjoy most about your experience at AIT's Summer Institute?
RS: The best part, for me, was getting to experience the culture of Hungary. There were several activities organized for us; through these we learned about the history, art, music and culture of the country. We also became immersed in it through our interactions with the Hungarian students who participated in the program.
MC: The people, easily. The Hungarian students were brilliant, fun-loving, and extremely hospitable. The program staff worked themselves to the bone to ensure our safety and enjoyment. Many of the professors would have felt right at home at Olin. I even had a chance to catch up with much newer generations of Oliners!
AT: I met some fabulous people: students, staff, and professors. The time I invested into building relationships with them was the most valuable.
What was different about AIT?
MC: This is a little difficult to explain, because AIT reminded me so much of Olin and the Olin spirit. It was fascinating to see the difference between how students from more established schools reacted to the AIT program. The most specifically interesting thing to me about AIT that differs from most schools/programs is the for-profit drive for excellence. Courses and professors are offered to meet student demand, and both are held accountable through extensive feedback mechanisms.
AT: It was small, it was lecture-based, and it was one-man's pet project. It was also in Hungary.
Is there anything that you learned at AIT that you hope to bring back to Olin?
MC: Content-specific, the computer vision course was fascinating and challenging. Overall though, if there was one thing I could bring back it would be an oil-tanker of spirit and drive. I know Olin still has it, but it was amazing to witness firsthand (again) the difference it made to the students to know they were building something and their actions and learning processes were also an investment in something greater. I'm not plugged into the frame of mind of incoming students at Olin, but that would be the theme of the speech I would give new students: you're still new, you're still it, this is your school, now go play and play hard!
AT: I learned what a significant role native students play in welcoming exchange students. I hope this year I can really get to know some of Olin's exchange students.
What things did you learn about Budapest that surprised you?
MC: First of all, learn about Budapest - it is a fascinating and unique intersection of human history and culture. Second, it is actually two cities fused together (Buda on the west bank of the river, Pest on the east) and Buda has a higher life expectancy by 8-9 years. Lastly, it rains suddenly and hard - the Buda hills won't protect you (just ask Nick Hays)!
AT: Hungarians love soccer and the world cup. The city is full of concrete, but when you're on the Danube, you can drink in your fill of nature. People are wonderfully friendly, and I never felt in danger.
What was one of the most unique experiences you had while in Budapest?
RS: Underneath the hills on the Buda side of the city there is an extensive labyrinth of caves. In the evenings, you can go down with lanterns into the caves. There are set entrance and exit points, but no guidance in between. Exploring the caves with some of my fellow students was really fun, and definitely a unique experience.
MC: A few of us took a day trip to Statue Park, a collection of large-scale communist sculptures. Hungary broke free from communism in 1990 - the park was an amazing place to think about that in the context of my life and current travels in Budapest. With regard to the AIT program, speaking and designing with Erno Rubik was one of the most inspiring and rewarding experiences in my life.
AT: I set out to attend a Krav Maga class (Israeli martial art) in Hungarian. On the way to the gym I got lost and met a man from Florida who has a shipping business in Budapest, ended up working out with a Hungarian woman who would translate things for me, and then walked home 3 miles along the Danube as the sun was setting. What a life!
How did you change/grow from this experience/what skills did you develop or hone?
MC: Teamwork, communication, and language/creative energies were essential tools that I had to practice liberally. Also, in my position as an alumnus I found a new understanding of responsibility in the context of representation.
AT: I think I was intentionally more extroverted during my time there. If I met any English-speakers, they were my immediate friends. I invited random Hungarians over for dinner, chatted up British tourists on buses, and practiced my (extremely limited) Hungarian on grocery store clerks. I knew I couldn't function in the city on my own, so I made an extra effort to reach out to people. It was a blast. I should do it more often.