Barnabás Börcsök

Passionate about the intersection of art and technology.

Munich Diaries #4 – Study time

1865 words • 9 minute read
erasmus Munich Diaries

The lecture period is on, and a whole month just went by already

I can’t believe a whole month already passed since I arrived in Münich, and it’s already the start of November. A lot of things happened in the first two weeks of the lecture period. Although every class is taking it really slow in the beginning (as it is usual), outlining the administrative details, learning outcomes, and motivation for the class, I can foresee them switching into a higher gear in the coming weeks and months. I tried to use this “transit time” to set up a weekly routine for myself.


TUM kicked off the semester with the Welcome@TUM event at the Garching Campus. I honestly didn’t expect (or ever experience) any official school event quite like this. It literally felt like going to a festival. The leaders of the university (and student representatives) kept their speeches short, to the point and interesting. The university is really proud of its internationality. This was evident not only by their words but also by the fact that they spoke in English to the crowd of students just starting their journeys at the institute.1

After the speeches were finished, began the party vibe. It started with the president, deans, and everyone else on the stage starting to throw blue TUM-labeled baseball caps into the rows of the audience. (People who arrived while the stocks lasted were also given some blue hats at the entrance.) And then the event started to rotate into a fully-fledged concert-party experience. Some barrels got tapped on-stage in a traditional-looking manner. The students were given (a seemingly unlimited) supply of German pretzels and beer. After a short transition, a rock band started playing on stage, lights started blinking, and from then on, the party was officially on.

It was great to hang out again with many friends I met last week, and also to get introduced to a lot of new people.

So many fun things to do and people to meet

On Tuesday, we grabbed a beer with Dávid (the other Hungarian in Biederstein I met two days after arriving) and Marin (my lovely French neighbor, who came up with the idea to cook a meal together last week). I also got introduced to Alban, another Frenchman Dávid met on a trip to Nürnberg. We took the city, and it proved to be a great night! Around 10 o’clock, we also got joined by Lukas (who is from Belgium). After talking until around midnight, we made our way to the subway and headed home.

On Sunday, I met up with my “MINGA”2 mentoring group. Tat’, our designated mentor from India (doing his Masters at TUM) took on 3 of us, “mentees”. We walked around Olympia Park, and this was the first time I went up the Olympic Hill, which has a breathtaking view of not just the city, but of all its surroundings even until the Bavarian Alps. We had a great chat, and it was really interesting to learn more about India and its culture. Among many other things, I learned that they have 23 (official) languages, and such an intriguing history and religious system. At times like these, it always struck me how focused I always was on European (and especially Hungarian) history and culture. It’s always interesting to think about what a huge bias I built throughout the years for seeing world history through the perspective of a citizen of a European country, discussing events and collisions more in-depth mostly in relation to our home country and its immediate surroundings only.

Second week

On Monday, I finally had my first in-person, live class. Although it’s only a Q&A of a class with prerecorded lectures, this will probably be the closest I get to the usual university class experience I haven’t experienced in quite a while. Game Physics discusses the fundamentals of physics used in computer games and simulations in general. Some of the topics covered are particle effects, mass-spring systems, basic mathematical foundations for numerical integration and differential equation-solving techniques, rigid body simulation, collision detection and response, as well as particle-based fluid dynamics with SPH. All of these are commonly used in real-time (as well as other types of) applications. I had a basic introduction to most of these topics previously, although I’m thoroughly looking forward to learning all about these topics.

On Tuesday, as I was headed back home, I saw a message on the Biederstein Slack channel looking for 3 more people to play spikeball. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and replied immediately that I’ll join too. The impromptu sport session was a ton of fun and really enjoyed blowing off some steam before heading off to attend the AcTUM info event (which I mentioned in my previous entry ).

AcTUM info event

The AcTUM info event was just as I expected it to be (in the most positive sense). It was a light-hearted introduction to the group. Chairs were placed in a circle for a group discussion, which was followed by a German-English mixed-language session of a night of improvisational games. I hadn’t participated in something like this for quite a few years since my time at my home city’s Art & Music School’s drama group. It was a great experience to meet this many excited and great people passionate about acting and doing improvisation, and also had some great discussions on the way back home from the meeting.

Study groups

Back when I was a freshman at my home university, they told us that you might be able to finish university alone, but you really should not.

This semester almost all of my classes require teamwork, and even the ones that do not, still encourage forming study groups. For example, the 3D Scanning & Motion Capture class allows students to finish each assignment in teams of two, requiring only for one of the two students to turn in the assignment with a text file, stating the name of team members and without any further detailing of the division of work or anything like that. This same class will also lead to a bigger group project in teams of 4 people.

The Game Physics class required us to form groups of 3-4 people for the (bi)weekly assignments and the final project. Although the Introduction to Deep Learning class didn’t explicitly require us to form groups, they encouraged us to form study groups. We ended up forming a group of 5, meeting regularly to discuss the topics and exercises at hand. To be honest, I’m mostly skeptical about teaming up with random people for group projects, but so far almost everyone was enthusiastic, proactive, responsive, and kind, which leaves me with high hopes for my study groups.


My first consultation with my seminar topic supervisor

On Thursday, I met with my seminar topic supervisor for the first time. For the seminar, we had to choose 3 preferences for topics that we would like to work on, and then everyone got matched to a topic. I got my second preference (the first being Monte Carlo Simulation in general), Rendering Participating Media. I am extremely happy to have gotten such an interesting topic, although I know that as I’m brand new to the topic, and a lot of concepts that I have to build on, I will need to dive deep into the topic as soon as possible. To be honest, I couldn’t have been more excited for a chance like this.

I contacted my supervisor as soon as possible and asked for reading recommendations. He recommended me the “Production Volume Rendering SIGGRAPH 2017 Course” and the 2018 report “Monte Carlo Methods for Volumetric Light Transport Simulation” . I immediately dived deep into the readings, and my aspiration didn’t dampen even though I was averaging around 10-15 hours a page, trying to decipher, take note of and make sense of all the jargon, expressions, and equations that were brand new to me. All in all, even though I was more inspired and excited than knowledgeable by the time of my first consultation, I extremely looked forward to it.

The consultation was everything I could have hoped for as a student. My experience was also heightened due to (next to the Q&A session I mentioned above), this was almost the only chance I had to talk in person with anyone about class material, other than just watching pre-recorded lectures.

“Dönnerstag im Aqua”

In the afternoon on Thursday, the tutors in Biederstein organized a get-to-know event in Aqua (a big common room surrounded by glass windows). Dönnerstag is a regular event, where people go out and have a Döner somewhere together. This time, the idea was to make raclette cheese together. A lot of vegetables were bought, that still had to be washed, cut, and prepared, making the first half of the event about preparing all the vegetables (and the place) together. During the second half, raclette makers3 were brought out, and “Dönnerstag im Aqua” started.

I’m actually undecided whether raclette or fondue4 offers the slower eating experience, but I think both are something where (especially hungry) people’s patience gets tested. Besides this, it really is nice to let your imagination run wild regarding how you assemble your own “slice” of raclette. It really feels like a creative experience, drawing inspiration from everyone around you.

The evening went by fast. I initially arrived with Dávid for the preparation part, and as the evening went by, we met a lot of new people. Although the instructors welcomed us and started the evening in German, I found myself at an English-speaking table. I met a lot of new people from all over the world. It has yet again been a fascinating experience to listen to all these different life paths and stories.

It is always really interesting (and maybe somehow even strange – especially in retrospect) to think about how diverse places we’re coming from, going to, and what unique constellation of life events made us cross our ways here in Münich, this time next to a dish of raclette, and other times next to a mug of beer, an interesting project, or just a friendly discussion about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

  1. If my understanding is correct, all students were invited, but the main target audience was the freshmen and international students. ↩︎

  2. Mentors for International & Guest Students from Abroad – an initiative by the TUM International Exchange team. ↩︎

  3. Raclette is a Swish (and also French) cheese and dish. A raclette cooker is a small grill. In the home-cooked version I always tried so far, you assemble your own spade of extras (usually corn, mushrooms, paprika, tomatoes, or anything else), and top it off with a slice (or two) of raclette cheese. Then you slide your ensemble under the grill slab and wait a bit. In the meantime, one can also put vegetables on the top of the grill for a grilled side dish. ↩︎

  4. Cooking small-cut marinated meat in an oil fondue although gives a really nice and cozy experience, it really is something you shouldn’t try hungry. I’m not talking about the cheese- and chocolate-dumping versions though. ↩︎