FYI: these are all my personal opinions and experiences!
By Isabelle Lydon, Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary
I began my first week in Budapest feeling extremely nervous yet excited. Luckily my first week did not just consist of apartment hunting – my parents and I made sure we did loads of sight-seeing as well. On our first day we just walked around the city to get our bearings. One thing you should know about Budapest is that it’s actually quite a big city. I should probably mention as some people don’t actually know that the city is split into two parts by the river Danube – Buda and Pest. I would say that Pest is much more touristy and where a lot of the shops and nightlife is. Buda is much more rural and quieter. As ELTE is in Pest, this is where I am living.
Coming back to Budapest in February 2021 was a little tricky, as it was right in the middle of the third COVID wave. Hungary was only allowing people with certain exemptions to enter the country, and one of those justifications was if you were returning to study. To prove this, I had to get a certificate of student status from my ERASMUS coordinator in Budapest and then apply for permission to cross the border from the Hungarian police. Thankfully, the process was pretty straightforward, and I received my permission the day after applying for it.
At the airport, I just had to show my permission slip and sign a couple of forms, and there were no issues in getting through customs.
I was required to quarantine in my flat for 10 days upon arrival, which obviously wasn’t ideal as I was looking forward to seeing my friends (you were allowed gatherings of ten people at the time). However, my courses were well underway (wholly online) and I also had a part-time job that I was doing remotely, so I had plenty to do. It was a bit frustrating not being able to go outside when the weather was nice, but it was worth it when I was able to enjoy the sunshine when my quarantine was over.
For anyone in a similar position, I’d recommend having an understanding of the administrative requirements for getting into the country (your coordinator in your host country should be able to help with this). I’d also suggest that you have something that will keep you busy during your quarantine, whether that’s academic study, remote work or something else that you can focus your attention on!
When I first arrived in Budapest, I was expecting to only meet people through classes or societies. However, multiple Facebook and WhatsApp groups were created to accommodate the incoming Erasmus students and to ensure that everyone had a chance of making new friends. Even better were the welcome events, particularly those run by Erasmus Life Budapest, a company set up specifically to run social events for Erasmus students in Budapest. They run around five events per week, and this was especially helpful in the early days when I was keen to meet as many people as possible.
Once I met my group of friends (mostly Belgian, with a few English and Irish people), there was no shortage of parties to attend. Pre-lockdown, the clubs were never quiet, with the “Morri Mondays” at the Morrisons 2 Club being a particular weekly highlight throughout the first semester. In terms of one-off events, I hold particularly fond memories of a party at the Citadella (drinking with views of the whole city in the evening light), and a Halloween party at the Instant club. I’m not one for photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say a good time was had by all! As for the more boring stuff, the Google Translate app, with its photo-scanning capabilities, is a lifesaver for trying to read food packaging in supermarkets. I’d also recommend downloading the BKK Futar app, as it will tell you which bus/metro to get on if you want to get to a particular destination.
All in all, I had a great time during my first semester in Budapest. I’m not sure what the second semester will be like, as the Covid restrictions are getting tighter over there, but if my experience is limited to the first semester, I’ll have no regrets about my decision to take part in the Erasmus programme!