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International Veterinary Students’ Conference 2019

Formal dinner in Grajów

Dr. Holland Represents the United States in Kraków Poland

Cześć Studenci Weterynarii! In July of 2018, I had the absolute pleasure to participate as a United States Delegate to the 67th International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA) Congress in Kraków Poland. The IVSA is an organization run by veterinary students around the world, with more than 50 countries, 90 veterinary schools, and 30,000 students represented. Rather than each US veterinary medical school holding a separate membership within IVSA, all US schools are teamed together, and thus SAVMA is the Member Organization of the IVSA (and if you are a SAVMA member, you are automatically a member of IVSA).

International Collaboration

Overall, IVSA seeks to promote international collaborations between veterinary students in order to benefit animal and human health. As an outstanding example of the success of this organization, the IVSA has established global partners, including numerous global leaders in veterinary medicine (AVMA, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), the World Veterinary Association (WVA)), the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and are currently under review for official relations with the World Health Organization (WHO).

St. Mary's Basilica
The main square of the Old Town of Kraków, dating back to the 13th century. The main building in the center is the famous St. Mary’s Basilica

The IVSA is run purely by veterinary students, including an Executive Committee (President, Secretary General, Treasurer, etc), and several standing committees and working groups on important issues (including One Health, Animal Welfare, Education, and Wellness). In addition to hosting annual Congresses and Symposia in different countries every year, the IVSA organizes exchange programs for veterinary students seeking to study abroad and host international students, specialized training meetings, educational materials, and competitions for students to promote outreach and education in global veterinary issues.

Shared Passion for 67 Years

My attendance of the 67th IVSA Congress in Kraków was my first IVSA event, and I was beyond impressed by the professionalism and organization of the meeting. Immediately upon landing in Kraków, I was greeted by veterinary students from Poland, who helped assemble a group of other delegates who were arriving at the same time. Although we arrived at a busy time of day, we were seamlessly escorted along several buses and transfers through downtown Kraków to the veterinary school and our dormitories. And for every step of the way, I had wonderful conversations with individuals from all over the world, always stemming from our shared passion for veterinary medicine.

The Congress

Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains in Zakopane Poland, the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe.

Overall, the Congress was a mix of official General Assemblies, educational lectures, and cultural activities. The Congress consisted of 11 General Assemblies, each 2-3 hours in length, where we voted on major amendments to the IVSA bylaws, and listened to presentations for proposed events and activities that individual Member Organizations had put together, and reports of activities that various groups had participated in over the past year. Each General Assembly began with a roll call, where each Member Organization was asked to signify attendance by performing something unique to their country (such as singing their National Anthem in the native language). For the educational lectures, we learned a large variety of topics from a global perspective, including small animal nutrition, dairy production and hygiene, surgery, laboratory diagnostics, vaccinations in swine and poultry, and clinical pathology.

Cultural Immersion

For our cultural sessions, it all began with a “scavenger hunt” around Kraków, where we were divided into teams (mine consisted of a student from Algeria, Catalonia, Kosovo, Spain, and South Korea), and tasked with answering questions specific to various locations in downtown Kraków. Unfortunately, we were caught in the middle of a deluge of rather chilly rain, and had to abandon the adventure. Later that night, we participated in a “Cultural Evening”, where each country brought and shared foods and drinks that were unique to their home.

Auschwitz II
Auschwitz II – Birkenau gate and railroad tracks from inside the camp at the platforms where prisoners entered

A Somber History and Architectural Achievement

On the 4th day of the Congress, we traveled to Oświęcim, the town where Auschwitz is located. I certainly learned about Auschwitz in school, but no amount of reading could ever prepare one for walking on the same grounds where so much pain was felt and so many lives were lost. Historians have made a concerted effort to keep as many aspects of the location original, with the same wears in the floors, shallow doorways, narrow paths, and scratches on the walls. This visit was an incredibly somber experience, one that I will never forget, and one that I recommend to anyone to see for themselves, so that such horrors are never forgotten.

On the 7th day of the Congress, we traveled south to Zakopane, a ski town at the base of the Tatra Mountains. We stayed in a lovely lodge, held additional General Assemblies, then spent a day hiking through the mountains where we saw some immensely beautiful landscapes (and a bear!). On the 9th day, we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a truly incredible architectural achievement.

Kinga's Chapel
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the world’s oldest salt mine, and the 8th UNESCO World Heritage Site created (today there are over 1000). The mine reaches a depth of 1072 feet, and is 178 miles long. Within the mines are 7 chapels, with the St. Kinga’s Chapel (pictured) being the world’s largest underground church at a depth of 331 feet.

Forever Friendships and Future Travels

The final two days of the Congress consisted of wrapping up business in the General Assemblies, as well as a formal dinner, where everyone dressed quite fancifully, and a white T-shirt party, where everyone wore white T-shirts and signed each other’s shirts with their names, parting wishes, or drew little pictures to commemorate their time together. Overall, this experience with IVSA was truly phenomenal. I gained countless friendships that I hold dearly now and forever, and I cannot wait to meet with those friends again in future travels. To any vet student reading this who holds an interest in becoming more involved internationally, I highly recommend IVSA. The programs are already there for you, the costs are very reasonable, and the opportunities are endless.

Dziękuję ci, IVSA family

By Robin L. Holland, PhD