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Hungary for Knowledge

November 16, 2018

Travel to an obscure country – check. Shadow world-renowned surgeons – check. Eat too many gelatos – check. Get a leg up on medical school – check. It’s all in a summer’s work for Angelo State pre-med student Ashton White.

Ashton White Ashton White Born into a military family, White has lived in San Angelo for 12 years, but never lost the traveling bug. Though still just a sophomore at the time, she jumped at the chance to travel to Székesfehérvár, Hungary, this summer for a four-week medical internship through the Atlantis program at the Szent György (St. George) University Hospital.

“The basis of the program is shadowing,” White said. “Monday through Thursday of each week, I’d shadow doctors from 8 a.m. to about 1 p.m., and each week I changed rotations. The first week, I was in the emergency room and OB/GYN, then I went to general surgery, then otorhinolaryngology, and the last week I was in pediatrics. Then on Fridays, everyone in the program would go on excursions.”

White was one of only 11 students from across the U.S. chosen for the program in Hungary, which was highlighted by a shadowing experience with world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Áron Altorjay. She lived at the Hotel Vadáskürt with roommates from California and North Carolina, and their intense internship was complemented by the various cultural excursions.

“We went on a canoeing tour and we went to several museums, including one in Budapest,” White said. “I also traveled with the other students in the program. The first weekend we went to Croatia, the second weekend we went to Austria, and the third weekend we went to Rome.”

As a member of the ASU Honors Program, White was able to utilize funding from the Alvin New Family Honors Program Enhancement Fund to pay for her trip to Hungary. She is set to graduate in May 2020 and then head to medical school.

How did this trip come about?

Dr. Shirley Eoff Dr. Shirley Eoff “I honestly just looked up ‘summer study abroad medical,’ and I found the Atlantis program. I emailed the Honors Program director, Dr. Shirley Eoff, and asked her to look into it for me. She approved it, so I applied and then did a Facetime interview. Within in a month or so, they said I was accepted into the program.”

You could choose from multiple countries, so why Hungary?

“I didn’t want to go to a touristy country. I wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path. I’d heard good things about Hungary from other people who had gone there. They also have a great teaching hospital that has some of the specialties I’m interested in, so I chose Hungary.”

What were the main cultural differences you saw?

“Hungarians are literally called ‘the unfriendly people.’ They are very straight-faced, and it’s hard to tell if they are mad at you or not, but they never are. But you have to get to know them because they are not openly friendly. They also greet with hugs and kisses, even with strangers, and they get right up close to you when they talk. They are actually nice people, but you have to get used to the way they act.”

How was the food?

“It was very, very good. Hungarian food was different. Everything is paprika-based, and I wasn’t used to paprika in all my food, but it was still good. They sold gelatos on every corner, and that was my favorite. There desserts were just nuts! I loved the desserts and pastries. And then, obviously, the pasta in Rome was just out of this world.”

What was your favorite aspect of your trip?

“I really loved shadowing the doctors. They were very interactive, despite the language barrier. I didn’t know one word of Hungarian, but there were actually a lot of English speakers. They taught us so much. They let us get right up close to see everything. I got 100 hours of shadowing and it was fantastic.”

Ashton climbed over 400 steps to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. Ashton climbed over 400 steps to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.

How cool was it to get to do a trip like this so early in your studies?

“It was crazy that I got to do this in my sophomore year. I think it gives me an advantage for medical school applications. I want to get as much under my belt as possible because med school applications are so competitive. I had a great experience, and I’m really thankful to all the people that helped me get it.”

So you’re glad you went?

“I’m so excited that I got to go, and I’d definitely go back. I wasn’t expecting to like Hungary as much as I did, and now I want to visit more of Europe. I also think I’m going to apply for a surgical program at the University of Washington and a couple at Baylor. I’m not done yet.”

What are your future plans?

“I’ll be taking the MCAT at the end of the spring 2019 semester, and then I’ll start applying to medical school. I’m going to apply to all the med schools in Texas, and I may apply to a couple in New York and some of the northern states. I want to see the world. I plan to apply, and then hopefully go into a surgical residency program, and then become a surgeon in a big-city hospital. Those are my ultimate goals.”