‘I’m one of 14 Irish vets just qualified in Budapest’
More Irish students are opting for courses in Europe to avoid high points requirement
Irish students graduate as doctors of veterinary medicine in Budapest (from left): Franzi Kluge, Sweden; Serena Iceton, Tara, Co Meath; Aoife Kinston, Skibbereen, Co Cork and Delf Jansson, Navan, Co Meath with their doctorates in veterinary medicine.
After she had been studying in Budapest for just one month, Serena Iceton’s mother asked her if she would rather be at University College Dublin. “I told her, Not a chance,” says Iceton. “Going there was was the best thing I ever did.”
Iceton went to the Hungarian capital almost six years ago after she did not get enough points in the Leaving Cert to study veterinary medicine at UCD (last year the course required 565 points), the only such course in Ireland. She applied to Szent Istvan University in Budapest and, after a rigorous process, was accepted. Iceton is one of a growing number of Irish students heading to Europe to study.
The European Universities Central Application Support Service (Eunicas) is a great resource for those considering this option. It has information on availability, advice on options and application support. Fees for some courses, for example, such as dentistry at Warsaw Medical University can cost up to €15,000. Others such as civil engineering at the VIA University in Denmark are free.
Last February Iceton qualified as a vet along with 13 other Irish students. The 23-year-old from Meath is now working at an equine hospital in the Curragh.
Was it difficult to get a place at the university there?
It was very different from applying to go to UCD, which chooses students based on points only. The process was based around an examination, an interview and your previous experience with animals. When I applied, I had done work experience with Baker and McVeigh equine hospital and also with a local vet. We have a farm at home too so I was with animals every day. I had done quite a bit of work with animals and definitely knew this was the job for me. It’s great doing surgery but you have to be aware that, as a vet, you can be called out at midnight for a sick dog or 2am for a horse. Animals get sick at weekends and on bank holidays, so it’s not a job for those who like regular hours, but it’s all I ever wanted to do.
Did you find it hard to settle ?
My dad had a friend whose daughter was in fourth year. She was very helpful in advising on places to stay, what to do and where to go. I moved over when I was 18 years old. It was a completely different culture and system there, but I met some really nice Irish people. Everyone was really helpful.
I had gone to boarding school in Ireland so I was used to being away from home. It was weird being in such a strange place but every one was nice and friendly, though some did find it difficult. There are so many Irish there now it is a home from home. We used to share teabags and have dinner together in each other’s houses. It’s a very easy place to settle.
Did you come home often?
I used to take five days at Christmas, then three weeks in January after the exams and another three at the end of June. Mum and Dad came out to see me too for weekends. There are flights every day from Ireland and it’s just about three hours away. The flights are reasonable too.
Is the university system very different there?
Term time is much longer. The year started in August and did not finish until the end of June. We had nine weeks of summer holidays during which time we were expected to do work experience. It was very intense. In the first semester we had 15 weeks of teaching followed by six weeks of exams – no study time. They use an online system to book exams, so you can choose the date, which means if you need a little longer to study one particular subject you can choose a later date, or do it sooner if you are more confident or want to get it over with.
Most of the examinations were oral, which was a bit daunting and very different from the Irish system. The professor would ask questions, so there was no chance to say to yourself, I might come back to that, as you would with a written exam. You really had to know your stuff.
How did you feel about that?
It was good practice because if an animal owner is standing there in front of you, you can’t say, I’ll come back later on that.
I really liked the system. After the oral exam, they give you your results immediately. So you don’t have to wait months to find out how you did. They mark you on a points system from 1 to 5, with 1 and fail and 5 excellent. I got a 4.5 grade point average.
How did you find your time in the new university?
It was like being thrown in at the deep end. You have to start studying from day one if you are going to keep up as there is so much information. If you put in the work, it will pay off. It’s not that it was difficult, but there was a huge volume of work.
The main problem for students going to Budapest is that it is relatively easy to get into the college so some saw it as a holiday.
But first and second year are extremely tough, especially after doing the Leaving Certificate for which you get a lot of guidance and support. First and second year are science based, then third year is more practical and clinical. In fourth and fifth year, you have to do a thesis, which makes up 25 per cent of the overall degree. Then there is six months of placements to do.
Did you get much practical experience?
As part of the degree, we had to do one month with farm animals, two weeks in a laboratory, two weeks in a factory and two weeks in the Department of Agriculture in Navan. It gave a real insight into what the real world is like. It is good to gain an idea of the different disciplines. All those placements were evaluated last January and then we graduated in February of our sixth year.
What did you think of the campus?
The main campus was very pretty and was in the middle of Budapest. They have spent a lot of money on it lately so it’s very nice. The equine clinic is 45 minutes outside the city in a building that was put up in 2006 and holds 50 horses.
Was it expensive to study there?
The course fees are about €11,000 a year, so it is more expensive than UCD, but if you can afford it, it’s the way to go. I think we get a much better training that at UCD. For those who fail a year they can repeat it at a cost of about €800 but there is a limit to how many times you can repeat a year.
What was Budapest like to live in?
Budapest is a beautiful place with gorgeous architecture and it’s very reasonable. It was easy to find a really nice apartment for about €250 to €350 a month, €400 would get you a penthouse. Everyone lived within walking distance of the college. We would travel by bicycle sometimes or on the excellent public transport system.
Student life is great. You don’t have to pay into nightclubs and drink is cheap so we rarely spent more than €20 on a night out. The coldest it ever got was -20 degrees in February, but the temperature often dropped to -10 or -12 degrees. In summer it can hit 35 degrees. It’s a lovely place to visit.
What were the other students like?
In first year there were 110 students on our course, 36 from Ireland. It was great to meet a lot of different people from different countries. There were students there from a huge number of places, predominantly Scandinavia, but then also Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Malta, Lebanon, the US, Canada, South Africa and Japan. There are about 200 Irish students there now I believe.
Are there many opportunities for vets in Ireland now?
There is huge demand for vets in this country at the moment, which is great for those of us just out of college. One friend went for three separate interviews recently and was offered three jobs.
Most of the Irish students I studied with have come home and are working in such places as Tipperary, Kildare, Cork and Wexford.
What are you doing now?
I graduated last February and have two internships. With my equine background, I’m doing six months at Anglesea Lodge Equine Hospital and six months at Sycamore Lodge Equine Hospital both on the Curragh in Co Kildare. I hope to work in equine reproduction in the future. I’m very happy and would not change a thing.
- In conversation with Rose Costello
For those considering studying in Europe, the European Universities Central Application Support Service (Eunicas) offers information and advice on course options and application support. See eunicas.ie.