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Science is a bridge connecting across space and time

Since its founding, the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest has placed a strong emphasis on being an active participant in the international scientific community. This commitment was maintained when historical and political circumstances greatly limited such opportunities. As part of the academic cooperation within the veterinary world, the Hungarian veterinary institution signed a cooperation agreement with the Hanover Veterinary College in 1978, which included a bilateral student exchange program. We are proud that this cooperation agreement and student exchange have continued uninterrupted for 45 years.

Students first arrived on the Budapest campus in 1978, although this was a trial run and did not include any travel by Hungarian students. The first full-fledged program took place in February 1979, when eight Hanoverian students arrived for a six-week exchange program. They spent part of their time at university clinics, and the rest in rural animal hospitals and large agricultural enterprises, with some sightseeing around the country. Following this, in May of the same year, five students from the University, led by Associate Professor Zoltán Papp, embarked on a six-week practice in Hanover. The remaining two places were filled by young instructors, who participated in a six-week study tour in Hanover to expand their teaching and research competencies. The trip included three weeks of food hygiene, laboratory, and food industry practices, followed by three weeks of epidemiological diagnostic practices. The Hungarian students also had some time for sightseeing during their stay.

One of the final-year students in this first exchange group was Dr. László Fodor, now a professor at the University’s Department of Epidemiology and Microbiology. From 1997 to 2004, he served as Vice-Rector for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Dean, responsible for the program. He reminisced about the conditions and experiences of the first trip:

“It’s not easy to describe the atmosphere of the 1970s. It was a rather tense, Cold War period. Europe was divided by barbed wire, and travel to the West was heavily restricted. The Soviet Union had just deployed the SS-20 missile system in East Germany, and machine guns were installed at the border between the two Germanys, which automatically fired at people in their range. It was during this time that these two universities signed a cooperation agreement.

It’s difficult to summarize the added value this practice brought to us, both to the German and Hungarian students. Each group got to know a different world. The Germans visited an Eastern country for the first time, and many of us travelled to the West for the first time. We experienced that, contrary to propaganda, the same kind of people lived on the other side of the border. We were welcomed everywhere with great warmth. One of the German students aptly expressed that he truly understood the meaning of hospitality, being received with great affection without any ulterior motives. For us, students from a closed country, it was a great revelation to realize that our knowledge was in no way inferior to that of the German students.

Perhaps the favorable composition of the two student groups, or the deep personal and professional experiences of both groups, explain why we remained in contact after the exchange through correspondence and personal visits. Before the 25th anniversary of the exchange in 2004, the idea arose to celebrate it. The former German students came to Budapest, where, after visiting the university, we spent a few pleasant days together. Since then, we have met every five years alternately in Hanover and Budapest.”

This year, in 2024, the 45th anniversary of the first exchange program was celebrated with a three-day reunion, with May 30th spent at the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest. The delegation was welcomed by Rector Prof. Dr. Péter Sótonyi, who proudly showcased the significant developments at the university over the past 10 years. They also met with former practice leaders and visited the Department and Clinic of Equine Medicine, the Clinic of Farm Animal Medicine, and the Dóra Major Training Farm in Üllő, where the professional program was interspersed with some relaxation and entertainment, just like in the old days. The participants nostalgically recalled old memories and eagerly anticipated the highlight of the reunion: the Üllő dinner combined with carriage driving. Although everyone was equally excited to test their skills in the friendly competition, there could be only one winner.

Although we all feel the pressure of passing time — neither group is complete anymore — these reunions, the few days of shared activities always bring back some of the youthful enthusiasm of the first meeting and serve as a testament to the power of scientific curiosity and deep human friendship.