Studying Computer Science Abroad
By Kendell Byrd (@flylikeabyrd22)
Two years ago, when I entered college, I thought I might like to study abroad. Throughout my life I have found that I am happiest when I am interacting with others. Upperclassmen had spoken so fondly of their time abroad, characterizing it as a highlight of their college experience. So the idea of learning about, collaborating with, and immersing myself in, a different culture with other college students truly excited me.
During my sophomore year when I began to research study abroad opportunities, I found that there were not many engineering, or computer science, specific programs. I noticed that few STEM majors study abroad in their major due to the course work at their home school, and the lack of programs specific to their major. However, through the help of my school, I found a relatively new study abroad program specifically designed for computer science students in Budapest, Hungary. The program is called Aquincum Institute of Technology-Budapest (AIT). This program was a perfect fit for me because it allowed me to interact with talented people, work on meaningful projects that impacted the community, and learn more about computer science, design, and the world.
One of my favorite things about studying at AIT in Budapest was that I was able to take interesting courses in the fields of computer science, entrepreneurship, and design that were relevant to my major. Additionally, AIT is located in a technology park, so students are afforded the opportunity to interface with tech professionals. Study abroad is the perfect time to take unique, interesting, and fun courses that might not be offered at your home school.
Additionally, the courses at AIT allowed me to stay on track with my computer science major. They have a variety of courses ranging from Cryptography to Computational Biology to Design Workshops and Hungarian Language. In the fall of 2015, I decided to take Mobile Software Engineering, Data Mining, IT Entrepreneurship, and User Interface Design. In addition to allowing me the opportunity to explore fields not available at my home school, taking these classes abroad took me outside of my comfort zone. For example, this was the very first semester during my college tenure where my finals for each of these types of courses were group projects and presentations instead of tests or papers.
For my mobile software development final project, I created a college campus safety application. A project for my Data Mining class involved analyzing and predicting the amount of up-votes a Reddit comment would get based on the words that were contained in the comments. For my Entrepreneurship class, I worked on a business plan that my team members and I pitched to Hungarian technology founders and investors. Finally, in my User Interface Design class I helped to create prototypes for a facial recognition application that was tested by Hungarian UX professionals. AIT’s emphasis on interacting with the Hungarian community, and working on projects, instead of solely writing papers, or taking tests, is amazing. It gave me the opportunity to collaborate with, and learn from, talented American and Hungarian students, and Hungarian business professionals. As well, I had projects that I could continue on even after the class, and my trip, had ended.
Studying in Hungary also exposed me to the Hungarian technology sector. AIT is located in the “Silicon-Valley” area of Budapest, called Graphisoft Park. We were surrounded by numerous companies such as Silicon Labs, Canon, Graphisoft, and Microsoft. Aside from the 65-70 students in my program, the rest of our campus was comprised mainly of Hungarian tech professionals. We also visited other Hungarian founded companies, including Prezi, NNG, and Tresorit. These experiences taught me about how companies start, function, and operate in a different country and environment. Many of the companies founded in Hungary have the mentality of adapting to changing circumstances. In addition to the company visits, our program invited other Hungarian innovators such as Erno Rubik, the creator of the Rubik’s cute, and Judit Polgar, a Chess Grandmaster, to present to our student group at AIT.
user experienceOverall, taking diverse courses, immersing myself in Hungary’s technology environment, and learning from all my peers, and professors, gave me a study abroad experience which exceeded my expectations. Once you are abroad it is also easy and inexpensive to travel to a wide variety of other wonderful places! To all the computer science and engineering students that might be debating, or curious about, going abroad, I would say that studying STEM in a foreign environment where you can get a different perspective of the world is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Studying computer science abroad not only increased my coding, problem-solving, and design skills, but it allowed me to become more culturally aware increasing my desire to compassionately serve, and to reach out to the world as I continue my computer science journey.