Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Meller


Rachel Meller studied abroad in Budapest during the Fall 2019 semester while she was a junior. Rachel attends Hobart and William Smith Colleges and lives in Upstate New York.

Why did you choose this program?

Although I am a double major in Media and Society and American Studies, I somehow was ahead of my requirements, which allowed me to pick anywhere to study abroad. After doing some preliminary research and narrowing my search to a few locations, I really dug deep into CIEE and Budapest. This combination of both program and location seemed perfect to me: CIEE is a renowned study abroad program and Budapest is a location where not many people get to study abroad.

I also wanted something a little more unique than going to London or Paris, as many students do. I wanted culture shock. Budapest was the perfect place for this because, having lived in the United States my whole life, I clearly never lived in a post-Communist country. It is so cool to walk down the street and see a gorgeous building from the 19th century right next to a building from the Communist mid-late 20th century!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I technically had to apply to the Budapest program twice--first, I had to get approved from my school (which picks 2 students each semester for this program), and then, once I got accepted through my school, I had to apply through CIEE. Hobart and William Smith work closely with CIEE, but there were a few times where I contacted the liaison for this program in the CIEE office in the US.

CIEE basically has everything planned for you, including housing, bedding, some day trips, and even a trip to Transylvania. The only things I had to do myself for this trip were planning my trips that weren't organized through CIEE.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice I would give to someone going on this program is to take advantage of Budapest's location! It is so centrally located that there are so many cool places to visit. It is a little farther east than other major cities, so don't let that go to waste. Visit places you wouldn't think of visiting, like Slovenia and Slovakia.

My personal mindset was that I'll easily be able to visit the UK and Spain at other points in my life because those are really accessible from the US, but when am I going to be able to get on a bus and go to Krakow for a weekend again?! Take advantage of every opportunity for traveling, but also spend time in Budapest-- you chose to be in this city for a reason!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Students in this program take 5 classes (or 4 if you opt to do an internship) at Corvinus University, which is located 2 metro stops away, or a 25-minute walk, from the provided housing.

Some classes meet once a week for 3 hours, or twice a week for 90 minutes each session. Every student in CIEE only has classes on Monday-Thursday, leaving ample time to travel and explore on weekends.

No food is provided in the program (besides on organized trips), so students are on their own for meals, but for a substantial dinner, I would pay around $6-8. There are some really great restaurants located near Corvinus and groceries are very cheap as well.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear before arriving was not being able to maintain my studies and homework with the traveling that I wanted to do.

At my home university, I spend many hours every night studying and working, so I assumed it would be the same scenario here. It wasn't at all! The professors understand that part of the abroad experience is seeing and doing, so the workload is not very extensive. There is still homework and group assignments, but they are easily achievable during the week, so you don't have to worry about them on the weekend.

Also, you get the syllabus for each class at the beginning of the semester, so when I was planning my trips for the semester, I would make sure that if I had a big project due on Monday, I would take that into account when making my plans.

Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?

The way I split up my semester, I spent an equal amount of weekends in Budapest as I did in other countries. There's no "right" way to do abroad, which is something that I had to find out myself.

At my home university and from other people who studied abroad, I always hear people trying to one-up each other with how many places they visited. Like I said before, I chose Budapest for a reason and I wanted to spend time here! I didn't want to be a tourist in my temporary home, I wanted to find my favorite local coffee shop and interact with locals. Weekends in Budapest are some of the best memories I have of the city because that's when it really comes alive. The first trip I took was to Krakow and it was after I had been in Budapest for a month and had become acclimated.

My biggest piece of advice is to be open to new things! Try new foods, go to a city you never would have thought of going to. You can meet some of the best people and have life-changing experiences if you keep an open mindset and being abroad is the perfect time to do this!