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Life as a UK vet student in Budapest

In a previous article in Vet Record Careers, Mel Lean explained how she embarked on a veterinary degree at the Szent István university in Hungary. Here, she gives her first impressions of the city and the course

Living and studying in Budapest is both exciting and frustrating! Reminders of communism and post-communistic influences surround you in all districts of the city. On the one hand, the city functions as a hugely efficient one, and yet it can seem ravaged by previous wars and full of outdated traditions. The language barrier is difficult at times and Hungarian is not easy to learn. Language classes are offered by the university, but are tricky to work into an already busy first-year timetable.

That said, English is largely spoken in shops and restaurants – certainly enough to get by. The same cannot be said, though, for some banks and post offices. My apartment is within walking distance of the veterinary faculty, so purchasing a monthly travel card (these are discounted for students) has not been necessary. Public transport is fast, efficient and regular, be it tram, metro or trolley bus. It is also feasible to get around a large proportion of the city on foot, thereby taking in the hidden avenues, squares and monuments rarely seen by tourists.

Residency

First-year international students are required to apply for Hungarian residency within 70 days of arriving, and must have their documentation in order to allow them to sit the Christmas exams. Gaining residency is a convoluted, time-consuming process that requires a file full of legal documentation and a free morning or afternoon.

The 2011 intake for the English-language veterinary medicine programme is in the region of 120 students, and includes Swedish, Finnish, Lebanese, Maltese, Israeli, English, Irish, Greek, French and Portuguese nationals, among others. German and Hungarian programmes are run concurrently, although, due to the grouping of students, there is little interaction between the three courses. Lectures are delivered in English, as are the slides and any notes provided. It takes some time to adjust to the accents and teaching methods, which are considerably different from those I have experienced in the UK, but the information provided is detailed and thorough.

I am now 10 weeks into my first term and, so far, the workload has been high and demanding. From conversations with students from other years, it seems set to remain that way for the duration of the course. A great deal of support is provided by students in higher years, who are keen and willing to help with notes, tips and general encouragement. Additional help is available from the lecturers where required.

Veterinary facilities

A fully commercial small animal clinic is in operation on campus. It is open to the general public and always seems busy, with a stream of clients and their animals on a daily basis. The hospital and clinic are run by veterinarians, nurses and support staff alongside students, who begin some clinical rotations/experience from the third year. The hospital is large and well equipped with an x-ray and CT suite, various consultation rooms and theatres – one for obstetrics and two for surgery.

The field station and large animal clinic are purpose-built and situated in Üllõ, 30 km away on a 1300 hectare site. A shuttle bus takes students to and from this facility, beginning in the third year, where they participate in large animal dissections and gain clinical experience.

Electives are highly recommended, since 40 credits are required from electives overall at the end of the five-and-a-half years. Ensuring enough credits are achieved is entirely the student’s responsibility.

Lectures are delivered in grand old lecture halls, complete with busts of former deans of the university. There is an excellent library with books in a number of languages, accompanied by a fantastic anatomy museum where students can access bones/skeletons of a number of species in order to revise and learn.  

Syllabus

Core subjects during first year include chemistry, botany, histology, anatomy, zoology and biophysics. Core curriculum subjects are evaluated within the usual range of assessments, including practicals, written theoretical examinations and oral examinations. Mid-term exams are also applicable, as are continuous tests in some subjects.

Exemptions are possible in certain subjects for students with sufficient previous experience. This is assessed at the time of application by the admissions board. Students with enough exemptions are able to apply to undertake a two-in-one programme whereby the first and second years are completed within a year, enabling the student to progress directly into the third year (assuming they pass). The pace of the degree is fast and a lot is expected of students in terms of working and reading around subjects, but, ultimately, a very thorough knowledge base is provided, ensuring a high level of understanding in each topic area.

Sports and social life

The facilities on campus are good, with a new student cafeteria in a modern building acting as a hub for break times. An older canteen is also in use, offering conventional Hungarian fare. There is a small gym and a number of sports can be played. Despite its location in a capital city, the university is fortunate to have a wonderful garden area and this is popular with students year round.

Camaraderie among first-year students is high, and it already feels like being part of a large extended family. Overall, studying in Budapest is a positive experience in a wonderful city, and, all other things being equal, I cannot wait to be qualified and looking for a job (on vetrecordjobs.com) before embarking on the career I have always wanted.