Neurodiversity and Study Abroad
As an autistic individual, sometimes it feels difficult to make new friends. I never really know whether or not I’m just being tolerated or actually liked in a group of people. That being said, this was not an issue while I was abroad. I truly felt like everyone I met was a part of me, and I was a part of them. I studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary on the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program.
At first, I was not sure whether or not I could be myself. I am naturally very outgoing, talkative, and hyper. It is also difficult to know what the scenario will be in a foreign country. I knew that Hungary is a very conservative country and may not be as accepting of mental or physical disabilities. What I came to realize was that the people I met did not judge me at all for that aspect of my life - they embraced me as a friend. Most of my friends were American because the program was for students who go to school in America, but there were a few international students as well, including my roommate Gavi.
One person I met in Hungary was a family friend of my Topology professor. After having a few discussions with her, she told me that, “In Hungary, we don’t call it autism; we call it being a mathematician.” That statement made me literally laugh out loud because it is true in some sense. People with my “version” of autism tend to be very analytical thinkers and not as emotional or social in ways that society deems appropriate. That being said, I was surrounded by math students and math professors who shared my love and knowledge of the subject and had a similar mind state I experience every day of my life, whether I am abroad or not. It felt extremely satisfying to see that I was actually encouraged to be exactly how I am in a place that I thought I would be less accepted. I have never had a better experience socially in my life. And the only downside of studying abroad for me is that now that it is over, I miss it more than anything else, because I know that that part of my life (the best time in my life so far) is over.
I find that being neurodiverse, whether it is autism or some other aspect of your life, is not as scary as you think it will be. If you are in a place where you can receive a top-of-the-line education in the field you are interested in, I would take that opportunity and roll with it. You never know how much the people you meet will relate to your love of your craft, embrace you for something that you may have been kidded for in the past, and understand that your mind works in vastly different ways.
Ethan Bartiromo is a 4th year Computational Mathematics major who studied abroad in Budapest Hungary in Fall 2021 and Rome, Italy in Summer 2022.