I’ll admit it right now, before I get too far into this article: I’ve always had a pretty bad case of wanderlust. I studied a semester abroad during my undergraduate years, coordinated two international veterinary service trips to Central America, and I am in the middle of setting up a veterinary externship in South Africa. I’ve been to over a dozen states. I love traveling, and think it is extremely enriching both in a veterinary setting and just for personal development – so this article is written with that bias.
First – so what is an international veterinary experience? Simply put, it is gaining veterinary experience (explained here) in a country outside of your home. This can be through individually contacting a facility in another country, going through established internship/volunteering programs, or even going as part of a chaperoned international trip through your school or a private company. More on that later.
What are the pros of international experiences? Experiences abroad are unique, often eye-opening, and allow you to experience a part of the world in a completely different way. Depending on the specific experience and where you normally live, you often can have a more hands-on experience, and may work with species and diseases that you just wouldn’t see in your native country. Depending on the program, they can show admissions committees that you’re adaptive, more “worldly” and just generally can make your application stand out more.
What are the cons of international experiences? Expense is the main downfall of many programs, although with proper fundraising and selecting programs in your budget, this can definitely be minimized. Additionally, traveling just isn’t for everyone! There’s often a certain amount of “roughing it” associated with the different programs, and if you don’t enjoy time without your familiar foods and places, that can be a deal-breaker.
Lastly, and this is neither a pro nor con – but an important part of going on a veterinary trip is being able to explain the experience. Are you serving a role that the community needs, like spay/neutering, providing research data, etc, or is it only for your own benefit? Be certain to have an understanding of how your experience impacts the greater community, and be able to justify experiences if they’re beyond the scope of what you can legally do in the US. Keep this in mind.
But enough on that!
So you’ve decided you want to gain some international experience? Cool beans, but the first big step is to decide exactly what sort of experience you want to have. I generally mentally split these into four major groups: school-sponsored trips (often for academic credit), organized veterinary experience/service trips, company-facilitated individual placements, and individually-arranged placements.
The first, school-sponsored trips, are going to be available through your school’s study abroad resources and will heavily vary depending on what institution you attend for undergraduate work. The really nice thing about these trips is that you can usually receive additional financial aid to cover the cost, so it can be super cost-effective. However, many schools don’t have specific vet-focused trips, and your selection variety in both type of experience and time it is offered can be very limited.
The second, organized veterinary trips, are usually shorter term (1-3 weeks) but intensively veterinary focused. These occur in many parts of the world, and are organized by a wide variety of organizations, both grassroots and US-based. Some of the most well-known are VIDA, WorldVets and EcoLife’s Vets-In-The-Wild. In these trips, you’ll generally be working hand-in-hand with established veterinarians most days, and when you’re not, there are arranged trips to animal-related facilities and other fun activities. However, the major downside of these trips is that they can be very expensive, and some people may also feel constrained by the established, organized set-up of the experiences. With that said, if you’re curious but don’t have a lot of travel experience, they’re a great way to “dip your toe in the water,” so to say.
The last two, company-facilitated and individually-facilitation placements, are similar, but unique. In company facilitated experiences, an established organization will help you find an experience, arrange housing (and often food), assist in transportation through the country, etc. This, of course, usually comes with a fee. Some companies I know like this are ISV, AVIVA, Projects Abroad… the list goes on. If you Google “veterinary study abroad” or “veterinary volunteer work” you’ll find hundreds of similar opportunities.
In individually-facilitated placements, you do the legwork! This involves locating an organization you want to work with, contacting them, then setting up transportation, housing and everything that goes along with a trip (although of course, many times the organization you want to work with will give you recommendations and may even help you out). The big plus of this is that this is usually the cheapest way to set up a trip, and you can arrange the trip in whatever subject or country you want – from manatees to small islands in Greece, the opportunities exist, so just look for them! The big negative, of course, is that it requires much greater flexibility, familiarity with traveling and personal investment in planning than the pre-arranged trips, so be prepared to spend a lot of time preparing and researching.
And that’s it! I hope I have convinced you to at least consider an international experience, and if you are interested, you now feel like you can find a program that fits your time, budgetary and interest requirements. (:
(Last minute bonus edit: A great place to look for wildlife and research opportunities both nationally and internationally is the Texas A&M Job Boards. Also, in case you’re curious, that picture at the top is me looking down 265 feet before bungee jumping off a bridge in Costa Rica… wouldn’t give up my international experiences for anything)!