… and save some money I didn’t
This blog post is part of a series of several posts aiming to give advice to those who are planning on studying abroad (at Debrecen University) in the near future. An overview of all the posts can be found here
The mistakes you make a what you learn from, right? Let me just save you some trouble and share the mistakes I made during my first few days in Hungary and Debrecen. You’re welcome! And: have fun adding your own mishaps to this list.
Arrival: chose your means of transport wisely
This first one actually wasn’t a mishap but some good advice my friend Christina who studies in Debrecen before I did gave me.
Depending on where your’re starting your journey from, you can take a bus, train or plane to Budapest or Debrecen. Depending on where and when you arrive, you have to know about certain circumstances:
Budapest airport is not anywhere near the city center or near a train station taking you to Debrecen. You first need to catch an airport shuttle to get to Nyugati train station. From there, you can fetch a direct train to Debrecen’s main station (Vasútállomás) and fetch a tram or bus to wherever you are going to live or meet your buddy. If you make use of the student discount of 50 percent off train tickets, all rides together should cost you no more than 4 000 Ft (13 €). Alternatively, you can pre-order a cab. Leo’s cab, for example, will pick you up right at the airport and drop you in front of your new home for 10 000 Ft (33 €). Just send a Whatsapp or SMS to 0036303722439 to pre-order. If you arrive at Debrecen airport, you can take a bus 400 Ft (1,30 €) or a cab for usually not more than 3 000 Ft (10 €) to get home.
Money exchange: the airport exchange rates suck
This is the mishap I’m the angriest at myself about. One of the employees of a bank in Germany had told me not to exchange money before due to the bad exchange rate but simply exchange it at a much better rate at the airport. That’s why I exchanges my entire budget for the first month at the airport. DON’T EVER DO THAT! It cost me about 100 Euro worth of foreign exchange loss.
Why didn’t she check for the exchange rate? You might wonder. Uhm… I was confused and too excited about the whole situation to know the difference between the exchange rates for selling and buying currencies. I read it the wrong way round, got super excited about the REALLY good exchange rate (not!) and gave the friendly lady all of my money. Only after I noticed she looked at me funny I rethought the situation. Unfortunately, it was already too late to get back my Euros at that point. Shit happens, I guess. Plus: I’m pretty sure I will never ever read an exchange rate table the wrong way round again.
My advice: bring a certain amount of Forint (10 or 15 000 Ft) with you from your home country. That money should be enough to take you to your apartment and to get some snacks for the first day. Afterwards, you can simply use any ATM in Debrecen to get Forints at a reasonable exchange rate or use the exchange booth in one of the banks. If you arrive in Debrecen, you will have to bring Forints anyways since there is not exchange booth at Debrecen airport.
University: Get to love Hungary
Hungarian is considered to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. (I’m not sure about that one, though – how would you compare Hungarian and Chinese or Russian or …?). You should whatsoever not be undeterred by that notion. Just give it a try.
The university offers a great language course for foreign exchange students. You will learn the basics of Hungarian grammar and be able to have short conversations with your Hungarian friends, the dormitory receptionists or the cashiers in only 10 weeks (two sessions of 90 minutes each/ week). The course is a lot of fun for the language is taught to you rather playfully.
Debrecen University also offers two classes on Hungarian culture: “Introduction to Hungarian Culture” and “Hungarian Culture through Film”. In those courses, you will learn more about the country’s history, culture and famous people. Not only does it give you a great understanding of that place you currently call your home but also will you gain some random knowledge to show off with at a later point in your life.
The Hungarian language course is worth 4 ECTS. “Introduction to Hungarian Culture” and “Hungarian Culture through Film” are worth 3 ECT each.
University: know your Neptun code
Many universities have online administration systems nowadays. Debrecen University works with a system called Neptun. It works with a personal account you log in to with a combination of letters and numbers. Learn it by heart!
Literally everything connected with your studies at Debrecen University needs to be settled by stating your number. You pay your dormitory fee by transferring the money to your Neptun account. You get your student ID only after stating your Neptun code. You can search and sign up for classes only via Neptun. You learn about any important news regarding your studies via Neptun mail. Shall I go on? As harsh as it may sound: you’re pretty much unable to be a proper student without your Neptun Code. Just take a note with your phone or learn the code by heart – it is going to save you a lot of extra running around offices I did because I thought I would never need my Neptun Code for that.
Food: bring your own box
It’s not really a mishap either but rather some advice to save you money and some resources right away. The size of an average dish in most restaurants in Debrecen (and Hungary in general) tends to be way too big for my rather small appetite.
The good news: many locals can’t finish them either. That’s why it’s quite popular to take the leftovers home. You can buy onetime use plastic boxes in most cafeterias and restaurants. What I like about: not only is the food not be thrown away but also are people encouraged to bring their reusable containers in order to save resources and money. Happily, many do so.
If you don’t want to take home your leftovers, you often also have the chance to order half-portions right away. They usually cost 70 percent of the regular price.
Let me know how you liked this post. Which advice did you like best? What were your funniest or unpleasant first-time-in-a-new-place-mistakes? Let me know in the comments section below.