We met Dr. Reza Hemmati M.D. at Pécs, at the opening ceremony of the 19th Hungarian Language and Culture Summer University. He is not just a distinguished doctor from Iran, but a very important personality when it comes to university life in Pécs. He helped the launch of several English language university programmes and he does not hesitate when he has to help foreign students during the years spent in Hungary. He loves Pécs, he started a family and his career here. We had the chance to get to know a very enthusiastic and open person, who also speaks Hungarian very well, despite the fact that he has never studied Hungarian at university or at another facility. He said that he has learned Hungarian by living everyday life. But of course we also discussed other things…
Why exactly Pécs, why the medical faculty?
Actually, it was not a question if I would become a doctor or not (he laughs loudly), because I come from a family full of doctors, my parents and my two sisters have also studied medicine. My two elder sisters studied also at Pécs (one of them started her studies in the late 80s), so it was obvious that I will follow their path, and start my medical studies here. There was another option to study in the USA, my parents had connections there, they always travelled a lot between Iran and the United States, but the cost of higher education there were pretty high. It is also more difficult to become a surgeon there, and I did want to be one at all costs. One of my father’s colleagues recommended the medical faculty in Pécs, he said that we can get a really good education here. So in 1997, when I had to choose a university, it was no longer a question to come here. And when I have graduated in 2004, I had another chance to go to the States, but I rather stayed. My sisters after finishing medicine in Hungary, they moved to USA and they are living there now.
You have already mentioned some reasons for staying in Pécs… was there also something else?
Yes, there was. I had the chance to meet Dr. György Tizedes, who I think is one of the most talented plastic surgeons in the world. He is not just a great doctor, but a great person as well. In the second and third year I conducted my training under his supervision, he always helped me, and I have learned a lot from him. He stood by my side from the beginning, he taught me how to sew properly. I was also allowed to observe some of his surgeries. He is almost like a second father for me.
After I got my diploma, he was the one who said I should stay, and I thought that it could be a great opportunity. Of course it was not so hard to stay, because I always loved Pécs, and this was also an important factor in my decision.
What was the next step for you after graduation?
I started working as a resident at the Szigetvár Hospital, I commuted there every day from Pécs. In 2011 the Da Vinci Private Clinic was established. I became the medical director's general assistant, and I am still working here, in the same position. Besides this job, I have another position at the university, I am the director of the International Studies Center. We welcome the new foreign students, help them settle in, and if they have problems during their stay, they can ask for help. We are also the organisers of the Hungarian Language and Culture Summer University that is getting more and more popular every year. This year we have welcomed nearly a hundred participants and we have a really talented and well-prepared faculty and teaching staff. It is always a hit.
How have you started to work at the university and in the center?
In 2004, the year I have graduated, the number of foreign students was decreasing, it was close to zero. During that time it was harder to attract international students because there were no scholarships or not many, everybody who came to study here from a different country were enrolled as a self-financed student. So the university had to seek for new opportunities to promote the study fields among students. There was an emerging demand to involve new countries in the promotion process, and that is why we started to promote in Iran too. The university asked me to help as a correspondent or something like that. Till that point the communication between Iran and the University of Pécs, was somehow not efficient enough, there were not much information on both sides related to education opportunities. I had to change that. Then we managed to attract more students through recruitment agencies, and it started to liven up again. It was not an easy challenge, because we wanted highly qualified, enthusiastic students, actually the best of them, so we needed trustful partners. That was the only way to guarantee the highest level of quality, and our education requirements reflect the same too, of course.
But you did much more than supporting student recruitment activity…
Yes, it was more than that. The recruitment went so well that more and more students were interested in our medical and health related majors. And so happened that our English language general practitioner training seats were filled in fast. We could not receive any new foreign students. After that a lot of students indicated that there would be a demand for a dentist programme in English, but we did not have this major yet. Then we decided to build up one, and after a year-long preparation, we could successfully launch the programme. And it was also filled up in a short time, so it paid off soon. And because of this success, the university launched this programme also in German, but I did not participate in the coordination of it.
And the story was not finished at that point… we managed to establish the English pharmacist programme too, but it was a bigger deal. It was more difficult because it had an entirely different structure than the other majors. And we were also a little bit afraid that we would not have enough students, but fortunately the story ended in another way. It met our expectations. The newest programme that we are working on is the Physiotherapist training. We will see how it goes…
Have you ever taught or held lectures at the university? Because it could be a perfect fit for you…
No, I have never held lectures, only first aid, but this is very different from the classical teaching activity. The main reason is that I do not have enough time. I am participating fully in the education management tasks, which is a really diverse task field. I always have to keep track on new trends, educational books and what is the best for the programmes to preserve the high quality. And besides that, there are also the students who need help, have their questions. Somehow I earned their trust: if somebody has a problem, he or she turns to me.
I also have a personal experience regarding the students. There was a student who attended our preparatory course here at the university as a 18-year-old foreign student. He asked my advice when he was really homesick and wanted to travel back home, because he missed his family a lot. I tried to tell him that everybody has this phase in his or her life, I was also a little lost when I got here, although I had both of my sisters here as support , I knew this feeling. I suggested him to stay here and treat it as if it were a holiday. The first few months are always really hard, you know, but eventually it gets better . Finally, he stayed and got his diploma a year before. He remembered this advice and he was really grateful. It was a really good feeling, I am glad that I could help him.
When I welcome new students, I always tell them that despite the fact that they are coming here with very different backgrounds, religion, nationality, they are a big family. And eventually they become a real community, they like it here and they are really sad when graduation comes and they have to leave. I have a friend from Greece, we were university fellows, and she is always so excited when he comes to Pécs. She always visits the university and the basement where her locker was, makes some photos. But there are a lot of similar students and alumni. They love everything related to the university.
As you stayed in Hungary, it is incredibly important to speak the Hungarian language well. How did you manage to learn it?
Honestly, I just picked it up from everyday conversations. At the university I enrolled in an English programme, I studied only in English. I did not learn a word in Hungarian. But when I arrived at Pécs, I was lucky, because my parents bought me a car to make my life a little bit easier here. But if you have a car, you have to maintain it, go to the car service from time to time. In the beginning, I always had to beg to somebody to come and help with the language difficulties. So in a funny way, my first Hungarian words were related to car repair vocabulary like ‘kuplung’ (clutch), ‘fékbetét’ (brake lining), etc.
And I have already mentioned that after my graduation I started to work at Szigetvár, where I had daily contact with patients, so speaking Hungarian was a must. Now I think I can speak well, but I have some hard time when I have to prepare a final report in Hungarian… well I cannot say that it is very easy… (he is laughing).
Despite the fact that I have never learned Hungarian, I think that it is an important knowledge, especially for those who are staying in the country after graduation. But it would be great if those could also learn it who stay only for 5-6 years, with no further goals, just studying. It could help them in their career, because it is a really good new skill. Plus, if a foreigner learns the mother language of the receiving country, she or he would not be as foreigner as in the first place.
And if we are already speaking about the language and Hungary… what do you think, what is Hungary’s most valuable appeal when it comes to education?
The higher education degree programmes are very good, one of the best, actually. Of course, they are not easy to complete, students have to learn a lot, but that is one of the reasons they are so good and high quality. I remember that I also had a lot of sleepless nights, we were studying like crazy. The University of Pécs is also internationally well-known, and its research activities are playing a huge part in it. It has a good reputation also in the USA. Actually, this is not a big surprise, as we are speaking about a 650-year-old institution. And when it comes to good reputation… if somebody graduates here, she or he spreads the good word about Hungary and the education. Furthermore, this phase in a student’s life – between the ages 18 and 26 – is highly formative. My university fellows are still referring to this period in Pécs as one of the best times. They started their independent life here, we can say that they grew up here. As an 18-year-old, life is easy at home, and then when somebody moves to a foreign country, this changes in a blink of an eye. And of course not everything is perfect, there are also rough times, but in the end you keep the good memories and carry them along the way forward.
And of course, the country itself is a real treasure… I had the chance to travel a lot and to visit numerous countries, but I felt that Hungary is somehow different. It is extremely friendly and beautiful. Oh and Budapest… no matter which city or country I am visiting, I still think that Budapest is the most stunning. And as you can see, I find my second home here, started a family. I met my wife 10 years ago, we are married for almost 3 years now and we have 19 month old son. I am happy here. I love Pécs.