What sparked your interest in the South Africa study abroad program you are doing?
When I first started at NC State, I knew I was interested in doing a study abroad program, but I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I began to explore all of my options and discovered this program, which is only open to pre-veterinary students. What especially interested me about this program was that it focused on wildlife conservation in Africa, which I have always been passionate about. My goal is to be a wildlife veterinarian that assists wildlife biologists in researching and managing wild populations of endangered and threatened species, so this program perfectly matches my interests. In South Africa, I’ll get to work alongside a real wildlife veterinarian, which I’ve never been able to do before as it is a fairly small field. Therefore, I knew that this program was for me and I am so grateful that I have been given this opportunity.
What do you hope to learn from this experience?
The main takeaway I’m hoping to gain from this experience is a real-life, practical understanding of what it means to be a wildlife veterinarian that works out in the field all day every day on unique species that I’ve never seen before. I am hoping to learn how to perform a variety of medical procedures on wild animals, such as vaccine injections, chemical immobilization, physical examinations and more. Furthermore, as a current vet school applicant, I am hoping this experience will confirm that this is the career path I want to pursue and that it will give me the motivation to push through all of the difficulties of vet school.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve experienced so far while in South Africa?
The most interesting thing I’ve experienced so far was a rhino dehorning. These procedures are done in order to deter poachers from illegally stealing the horns, usually at the cost of the rhino’s life. This is no easy undertaking, as there are a lot of moving parts and everyone has to be prepared to work quickly. The veterinarian had to immobilize the rhinos from the helicopter, while we were on the ground following them in trucks until they went down. Once we were given the all clear, we’d move in to keep the rhino upright, ensure it was breathing and help with any processing that needed to be done. While we were doing this, the owners would carefully cut off the horn (a completely harmless procedure, similar to clipping your nails or cutting your hair). That day we dehorned four rhinos, hopefully protecting them from any poachers until their horns grow back. I loved this experience because it was so exhilarating and it was interesting to see how dehorning, and conservation, is done first-hand.
What has been the most challenging? Why?
The most challenging part of the experience was learning how to process each animal we worked on and being able to do it quickly. Before this course, I didn’t have much veterinary experience, especially with large animals. This meant I had a lot to learn about handling, injections and more. Because of the immobilization drugs that are used, it is very important to work as fast as possible to prevent any health complications, meaning that I had to catch on quickly. Fortunately, I was working with a great team of classmates who were encouraging and supportive.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from this experience?
On that note, one of the most valuable lessons I learned from this course was how to efficiently work with a team. This is something that I’ve always known to be important, but I feel like I never really understood what it meant until we were running in the bush to take care of an immobilized animal. When we first arrived in South Africa, I hardly knew any of the students. But over the next few weeks, we became really close and we made sure to divide the work evenly while supporting each other. I became a better communicator, and I am much more confident in my ability to work with others in high-pressure situations, which is definitely an important skill in this field.
How has your time in the UHP prepared you for this experience?
The UHP taught me to seek out opportunities and experiences that will challenge me, my beliefs and my preconceptions. This study abroad program challenged me at times, but I know I am a better person because of it. The UHP also prepared me for working with those from different backgrounds and different cultures, which I experienced as a part of this course. I am grateful for everything that I have learned from the UHP over the past few years as it has helped me develop into a more well-rounded individual.
What do you want to tell other students about how to prepare for study abroad opportunities like this?
My main advice for anyone who wants to study abroad or is preparing for a program abroad is to go in with an open mind. This is especially important if you have never traveled to the place you are going to, since you will see things that you have never seen before and it may make you uncomfortable at times. We have a lot of privileges in the United States that not all countries have, and if you are going to study abroad, you will begin to realize this on a deeper level. Be open to trying new things and learning about the culture you will be immersed in. Even if you don’t enjoy everything, it is both the positive and negatives that make the experience what it is, and I guarantee you won’t regret it.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is to take opportunities to travel while you’re young. Even if you don’t have a full bank account, you have the rest of your life to make money. I understand it’s not practical or possible for everyone to travel, and I am very blessed to have had the opportunities I’ve had, but I encourage you to explore while you still can. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and you never know if you’ll get the chance to travel again.
This post was originally published in DASA.