September 30, 2015 | By Jake Weber
"Hungarians generally don't own clothes dryers, and the currency is different: 250 forints is one dollar," says Tim Szocinski, '16. "But I don't think Budapest is too much different from cities in the U.S. I wouldn't know for sure because I never lived in a big American city before."
Given his reason for being in Budapest, Szocinski's easygoing approach to what many might see as stressful isn't surprising. Szocinski spent the 2014-15 academic year in Hungary, studying pure mathematics through an international program at McDaniel College in Budapest.
"These courses aren't offered at Albion, because we don't have enough students interested in higher-level pure math," Szocinski explained, noting that his classmates in the program came not only from other small colleges, but from Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, and other large schools. In Budapest, he took courses in topology, advanced abstract algebra, non-Euclidean geometry and Galois theory—and even more challenging topics.
"Combinatorics is supposed to be a Hungarian specialty, so I felt it would be a shame not to learn some of Hungary's favorite type of math," Szocinski added. "Combinatorics is, very generally, the mathematics of discrete structures; a very basic example would be counting how many ways a set of objects can be arranged. I enjoyed the very challenging introductory course."
Although he made the honors list his second semester, Szocinski found the European grading system, based on just one or two tests each semester, to be very challenging. The homework, similar to the exams in that it focused on fewer, more complicated assignments, was much more to his liking.
"We might get three problems that took 10 hours to do," he recalled. "Sometimes you'd have a problem and no idea where to start. Sometimes you'd know you had to apply a certain theorem, but not know you had to apply it in a tricky way. It was a great feeling when you came up with a cool idea or a clever idea, and it worked."
Despite the rigors of the classroom and a fair amount of homework, "I had a pretty typical exchange: hanging out with friends, going to concerts or plays or pubs," Szocinski said. "It wasn't unreasonable to eat out often, or go to the thermal baths or travel. The program was designed to prepare you to go to graduate school in mathematics, and now I definitely know I want to do that."