How do you deal with the desire of something you can’t have? You have two choices: either you give up or fight for it. Natalja Lewin is a fighter, she is here at the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest getting her second degree to fulfil her purpose in life: bring change and healing into the world. Read our interview with a passionate woman who is not afraid to be honest and speak up if needed.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about yourself, where are you from? How do you connect to veterinary medicine?
It is difficult to explain where I am actually from, I would consider myself German. I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia but we moved to Germany when I was 2 years old. As the Soviet Union broke down the political situation changed drastically, and it became dangerous to stay. In the outer regions of the former Soviet Union pogroms started and because my family is Jewish there was a lot of tension and uncertainty going on. We had the opportunity to go to Israel, to the US or Germany and my family decided to move to Germany as political refugees.
My grandmother was a human doctor, I think my passion and the deeply rooted love for everything that is alive comes from her. You may laugh but I even talk to my plants. It`s amazing to see how kind words influence your surroundings.
You already have a degree but now you are on your way to become a veterinarian. I take my hat off to you!
Thank you. I first studied biology in Germany, that’s the reason I was allowed to do the 2 in 1 year at UVMB German Program. I found the joy in biology, it explains the world, the more you learn and know the more you realize that everything is interconnected. Veterinary medicine allowed me to get an even better and deeper insight into the beauty of life itself. I admit it was difficult to start university again, I am older than most of my fellow students. It was scary to move to a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language and leave my loved ones at home.
Most people are happy with one degree. Why did you feel the urge to apply to another university?
When I studied biology, I discovered a really fascinating topic. It was about invasive species and their parasites, how they influence our ecosystem. I was burning for it, I totally loved it. Later I realized that I couldn’t get more involved with that awesome research topic, as the regulations are very strict. This work is mostly done by veterinarians under very strict regulations. I was happy to be a biologist but when they kept telling me that only vets can do this I decided to continue studying and become a vet myself.
Why did you choose Hungary and UVMB?
In Germany, it is almost impossible to get into veterinarian medicine if you already have a degree, so I looked around in Europe. UVMB offers a German language program and they allowed me to do the 2 in 1 year because of my previous studies, which means I can shorten my studies by one year. I am lucky, my scholarship allowed this switch and it fully supports my studies here. I recommend everyone to look out for additional funding in their home countries. Many European places support studies of talented students in another country.
Which year are you about to start?
It will be my 5th year. I planned to transfer back to Germany after my 2 in 1 year because of my family, my partner but it didn’t work out. German universities have strict regulations, strict deadlines, and since I was doing the 2 in 1 I only managed to take some exams in September. As these subjects were missing in my application German universities didn’t accept it. I could have tried to transfer again during the 5th semester, but I decided to stay. I think the hardest part was to switch between languages. You gain your knowledge in German and then you continue the international course in English, so you need to learn again the plant names, animal names etc. Obviously, if you apply to the German program you do not need to take an English language exam so it might be a problem if you are not on that level. It certainly was for me.
As I see it, the German course is quite separated, and they are very closed in. They live in a small community, in a bubble. I was always asked how I got friends from the Hungarian or the English program. It was pure luck I guess, in the first week I realized that I had problems with anatomy, and I needed help to catch up. This is how I met a Hungarian girl who was studying at the English program. Through her, I had the opportunity to meet Hungarian and international students and build friendships. It was the best decision to reach out and ask for help when I needed it. People often don’t know how to connect, how to make new friends. That’s one reason why I am part of IVSA (International Veterinary Students’ Association) and a big fan of the mentor buddy program at the university, it brings people together.
You try to help where you can. What motivates you?
There is one thing I can hardly tolerate, it’s complaining and not doing anything about it. Either you complain and you do something about it, or you don’t complain. It’s that easy. I cannot stand those who just complain but are not eager to do anything to improve the situation.
So, you like to speak up, act and help not only animals but humans as well.
It’s not that I like it, I would rather say I am willing to take this role if needed. I am 31, I know how to stand my ground but if you are 18 years old, first time alone in a foreign country, you do not speak the language, maybe do not manage to have friends, it can be extremely stressful.
In my free time, I take courses in mental health and positive psychology, it is important for me to learn about it and integrate it into my life, to take care of my own wellbeing. There is a nice saying: „you can only give from a full cup”, so I ensure that my cup is full when I interact with others. I always felt connected to people and wanted to give back to society, so I was doing a lot of social work at home, mostly with kids and teens who were searching for themselves. We need to talk about mental wellbeing, about the hardships in life. It’s a shame that nobody teaches you in school how to take care of this part of your life. I learned these lessons in a hard way. I know a lot of people who struggle at the university. Even the best and smartest people doubt themselves and feel helpless.
What are your plans for the future?
I open to live anywhere. I was travelling a lot before and I speak different languages. My parents taught me to be able to live anywhere, but I would like to stay in Germany in the area where I grew up at least for the near future, my parents are there, my boyfriend is there. We will see.
Is there a field or a certain type of animal you would like to focus on later?
As a biologist I am still interested in research, but I can imagine going into small animal medicine or focus on birds and exotic animals. Recently I was volunteering in Düsseldorf where the clinic has a huge department for exotics and birds. After I graduate, I plan to develop my practical skills, learn as much as possible and try myself out as a practical vet and then decide if I go back to research or not.
What do you do for fun?
Well, most things I do is for fun, otherwise, I wouldn’t do that. Of course, there are things you need to do but I always try to find joy in what I do. I love trying out new things. I love swimming and I love the sea, this summer I took a sailing course. I love to be out in nature, I regularly go hiking. And maybe because of my Russian origin, I love to collect mushrooms in the forest, right now is the perfect season for it – best activity ever!