A friend who had attended an International Veterinary Students’ Association trip told me I should definitely attend any of its future events if I had the opportunity. Hence, when an email arrived about the IVSA SpringBreak in Naples, I applied immediately.
In all honesty, by the time I received an email confirming I had a place, I’d forgotten about applying entirely and began to reconsider.
Luckily my “what’s the worst that can happen” and “I have an overdraft if it gets costly” attitude got the better of me, and shortly after my professional exams finished in May, I found myself on a plane to Naples at some ungodly hour of the morning.
After the total of 24 vet students from all over the world (Poland, Taiwan, Israel, Nigeria, Algeria, Grenada, USA, Greece, Ireland and Scotland) had arrived, our Italian hosts held a welcome party in our honour at their university’s veterinary faculty. Despite Naples living up to its dodgy reputation within hours (one of our group got mugged after the party), we were soon thrown headlong into a packed week of vet activities and sightseeing and began to enjoy ourselves.
Over the course of the week, we had a few activities relating to the buffalo that are milked in Italy to produce mozzarella. In addition to sampling fresh mozzarella, we were shown around a buffalo farm and dairy parlour, were able to (attempt to) pregnancy diagnose some buffalo ourselves, dissected pregnant uteri and performed a postmortem on calves.
The racecourse at which we had equine activities held some flat races on turf, but its main use was for harness racing of Standardbred trotters – not a common occurrence at home, but very popular in Italy. We took part in lameness assessment of Standardbreds, were shown the procedure for pre-race documentation checking and doping testing, and watched an endoscopy of a horse with suspected laryngeal problems. We did also, of course, get to watch a few harness races, which were quite the novelty.
An important aspect of the veterinary course in Naples involves the role of the vet at the fish market. For us, this meant waking up at 3am (thankfully supported by beautiful Italian espresso) in order to witness the process from fish arriving from the boats to being sent off to other markets, and the ways in which the vet ensures quality and maintains health and safety standards throughout.
Among all the exciting vet stuff, we managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing, including the breathtaking Cemetery of Fontanelle and the Pompeii ruins, after navigating (and getting in a complete mess with) the Italian public transport system.
After an impressive send off in the form of another party in the veterinary faculty, it was quite sad to say goodbye to some of the friends we’d made in a short space of time and, of course, to our fantastic Italian hosts – however, having being at least two hours late for most activities all week (after all, the Italian way is to not rush), I was relieved to be safely seated on my plane home.
Aside from the experience I gained from the structured activities, I learned even more from the different types of people I encountered and their tales of how veterinary differs in their respective countries, which I think can be even more important than the specific veterinary knowledge acquired.
Sharing experiences with people from different backgrounds and cultures can be truly eye opening, and never ceases to amaze me.