A Poor Girl's Guide to Travelling Abroad.
By Sophie Arogundade, RVC
Let me set the scene. It is summer 2017, you have been in vet school for the last four years and as much as you would love sitting through another lecture about radiographic imaging of a horse’s foot you crave adventure. But there’s one small caveat, you are a poor student. No time for student jobs after AHEMS, EMS, and studying.
During the lecture, you can barely listen to another word when an email notification pops up on your phone; ‘SU SAVMA is offering up to £1,000 for travel grants!’. Your heart stops and you intake a sharp breath. How could you not apply?
That is exactly how I ended up getting a travel grant to attend the 66th International Veterinary Student Association (IVSA) congress in Malaysia! Encouraged by the current IVSA vice president and secretariat Jordon Egan, I applied to the RVC SAMA’s travel grant and was lucky enough to get the two-week conference paid in full. During my time there I discovered the great benefits of being part of IVSA.
My knowledge of IVSA was minimal, I knew it was something international and I knew two of my friends enjoyed running the RVC branch. The true gravity of IVSA was lost on me, but Malaysia changed that. I had signed up for two weeks to attend the 66th IVSA conference held, for the most part, at Universiti Putra Malaysia but we visited three different parts of the country; Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, and the beach resort Kelantan. The theme of this conference was ‘One Health’. The idea that a collaboration between human and animal medicine could result in an increased depth of knowledge and medical advancements for both parties, explored through a series of lectures and practicals. General assemblies were held to review policies and vote new members into positions within the IVSA. It appears that IVSA is a self-contained unit in which veterinary students around the world all contributed to benefit the veterinary profession.
Landing at Kuala Lumpur airport at 10pm, confused and disorientated after my 17-hour flight from London, I caught an uber to the Soliel hotel and was greeted by IVSA Malaysia team to book me in and get a room ready for the exciting two-week adventure that lay ahead.
The next few days were insane, I met loads of other veterinary students from all over the world. From Europe to South East Asia everyone had a very different idea of what veterinary medicine meant for them. For some is was means of conservation; it was a vet’s duty to protect and raise awareness of endangered species in hope of preserving the animals for the future.
For other is it was one health, the vet’s role was to increase public awareness of zoonotic disease which raged through the country, such as rabies, keeping both human and animal safe with knowledge of clinical signs and vaccination programmes. For a few, it was a day job where they helped the general public take better care of their animals within a clinical setting.
Never before had I really considered the true broadness of the veterinary medicine degree and how it affected people from all over the world. IVSA allowed for a collaboration of ideas, personalities and backgrounds all come together in one place and learn from each other to better the profession worldwide.
During the conference, there was a lot of politics that were lost on me, I hadn’t the faintest clue about how the amendments to policies changed anything. The lectures put on by the university lectures were interesting but few and far between. It was the discussions that I found to be one of the most interesting experiences. When on the subject of deforestation within the palm oil production industry, there was as stark difference between countries that produced palm oil for the economy and those that did not. The Malaysians saw little negative press regarding the palm oil growth and were strongly encouraged to use the product. In western countries it was strongly discouraged, with thought of deforestation and ill health being related to the use of palm oil. Malaysians found it shocking that ‘palm oil free’ products are advertised oversees, especially as a product that is used so widely at home.
IVSA also encouraged making connections with other students. This encourages travel between their members universities, creating opportunities for people to travel the world and experience veterinary medicine from another point of view in a different setting. In the conference room of Kelentan hotel, delegates set up stands to explain the benefits of visiting their university and the facilities offered, giving others an idea of what to expect when visiting. This was perfect for students who wish to travel during their degree and broaden their horizons on veterinary medicine, but do not have the time to do so. For example, travel from years 3 – 5 of a UK veterinary degree is difficult as the 26 weeks of EMS must be completed before taking finals in fifth year. IVSA conferences and exchanges are a perfect opportunity to travel and meet new people whilst still counting your time as EMS.
As the delegates came from all over the world a ‘cultural night’ is held at every IVSA conference. This is where students are able to share some tradition food and drink from their country with everyone in attendance. It was like going on a mini world trip in one room with everyone showing different methods on how to take a traditional drink or eat a particular food. It was one of the best nights during the conference.
Of course, during the trip there was some exploring done with the other delegates on the conference. We visited the bantu caves and played with the monkeys that lived there, soaked up some local culture, appreciated the beautiful architecture of the many mosques which represented strong influence of the Muslim religion. We also tried some of the local street food as we roamed the streets at Malacca’s night market.
At the end of my two-week stay I was saddened at the prospect of return to my normal life back in England. With placements at veterinary clinics booked and due to start soon, my adventure was feeling more dreamlike during the final days. I had felt so at home at the conference, making great new friends with students at other veterinary schools across the UK and the world.
On the Friday morning after the goodbye drinks in celebration of our time together as 200 vet students that may never see each other again, I sneaked out of my shared hotel room and sombrely met my friend from RVC as we were both travelling back on the same flight. We loaded our bags in the taxi, reminiscing about the country and the people we were about to leave. It had been a wonderful experience, one that I wish I could repeat. As we went through security and boarded our plane, I stared fondly down at the place that at taught me so much about the meaning of veterinary medicine. The worldwide impact of the profession and the way it was all united by IVSA. Thanks to RVC SAMA I was able have this experience, which truly meant to world to me. As the plane climbed higher into the atmosphere speeding me back to a normal life, I closed my eyes, and fell asleep.
So, for anyone that is interested in worldwide travel, a bunch of great people to hang out with, and some interesting ideas for what to do with your degree contact the IVSA representative of your university. If your IVSA rep isn’t holding as many exchanges or advertising the opportunities as much as you would like, how about giving them a hand?
AVS Connect Award: If you have been inspired by Sophie's story, you can now apply to the AVS Connect Award which is offering £250 for you to attend international events (perfect for IVSA!). To see more information and to apply please click here!