Nearly 40 students who had high hopes of studying veterinary science in South Africa had to turn to Hungary to realize this dream and some of them are now going to pursue opportunities elsewhere in the world.
Herman Smith, a young man from the Free State, is one of the students who found an educational home abroad.
“I applied four times to study at the University of Pretoria (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Onderstepoort. I went to inquire myself, but still did not receive selection,” says Smith, the son of a veterinarian on Reitz.
Another local vet’s son, Kobus Hendrikz, also struggled for four years to get approved for veterinary science at UP.
Both their applications are just like those of many other would-be vets who have been repeatedly rejected.
Smith says that after he was not selected, he started studying BSc Agric Animal Science at Tuks with the hope that his 70% average would be enough to get a foot in the door at Onderstepoort.
In 2021, while he was busy with his third year of BSc, a door swung open for him – but not in the country where he had hoped it would happen.
“One day, quite by chance, I came across a leaflet from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Budapest. At the same time, a family friend contacted my father and said that one of his friends’ daughter is now going to study at this university,” he says.
Smith was admitted in June of the same year and by September the born Free Stater was in Budapest. Hendrikz was selected at the same university the same year.
“The course is very in-depth, sometimes more than at Onderstepoort. I have a friend who studies at UP and we have already noticed that we learn a lot of the same material. There are certain subjects that we have in different years and different ways in which they are presented to us, but in the end we learn the same things,” says Smith.
Hendrikz still has more than three years of studies ahead of him, but Smith only has a year and a half left before he graduates in Hungary. The course at the University of Veterinary Medicine is normally five and a half years long, but because he already has a background in the field, the university recognized several of his subjects.
The last six months of practical training ahead of Smith can be done in any country – including South Africa.
Future in SA?
“I am very happy in Budapest and I am sure that the other South Africans feel the same,” says Smith.
Hendrikz agrees, but says he still longs for South Africa, as it is in the countryside where he wants to work with his father.
The degree in Hungary is accepted by the Royal Veterinary College, and although South Africa also recognizes it as such, it is not so easy to just return to your home country and work there.
All veterinary students in Budapest who want to work in South Africa must first take a board exam and complete their fellowship year. All this comes at an extra cost.
Smith does say that South Africa’s department of higher education visited the final year students earlier this year to talk about this.
“They undertook to pay for the board exam for the first time as part of a scholarship, which South Africa and Hungary jointly make available.”
According to Smith, this scholarship helps to pay for South African students’ studies in Hungary, and also contributes to housing and living costs in the country. The two countries share the costs among themselves.
One of the conditions of the scholarship is that the beneficiary must be back in South Africa within two years of its expiry.
Although Hendrikz has already decided what he wants to do after his studies, Smith is still considering his options. He does know of other South Africans who have already gone looking for greener pastures.
“One of the students who graduated in February went to Wales two weeks ago to work there as a vet. He will only be able to take the board exam in September.”
Last year, around 15 South Africans joined the existing group in Budapest.
“The way things are now, I think even more will join us later this year,” says Smith.
Now we’re going to barbecue (and eat milk pie)
Although these South Africans find themselves in foreign territory to pursue their dreams, the University of Veterinary Medicine still goes to great lengths to celebrate the origins of all its international students.
“The university holds an international day on which each country gets a table to share its food and culture with everyone,” says Hendrikz.
“There are approximately 45 tables each time.”
Smith says the South African students have decided this year to bake peppermint pies and cookies, among other things.
“We lit a fire for ourselves and fried some lamb chops. Of course it went very well with the self-imported brandy,” jokes Smith.