Counting Sheep: A Pre-Vet Student Abroad
For as long as I can remember, I have loved goats. I love their little hooves, their teeth, their attitude… the list goes on. I think goats are super cool, and this love has manifested itself in my passion for veterinary medicine. What could be better than a career that directly involves taking care of sick goats and other livestock? Nothing!
Upon entering college, I set off down the long, winding road toward becoming a veterinarian. I looked at my major options, laid out my course schedule, and began planning.
I am a planner, and because of this, I decided fairly early on in my college career that I wanted to study abroad. I would soon find out, of course, that most people firmly believe STEM and pre-health students simply cannot go abroad.
“There are too many required classes,” they say. “Medical schools won’t accept pre-requisites from universities abroad,” they claim. “How will you get experience in a country where you can’t speak the language anyway?” they ask.
Still though, I was determined to find a way.
Pre-Vet Made Finding a Program Easier
Cultural experience and exchange were and still are very important to me. I learn things each and every day from members of my own communities, so the wealth of knowledge outside of my realm of understanding called to me like a siren’s song. I wanted, and needed, to go abroad to learn about myself and my interests.
I went into the study abroad process thinking that my country and program options would be limited.However, because of early and thorough planning, these options were significantly less limited than I’d been led to believe. In fact, being a Pre-Vet student and STEM major helped me to find the perfect program for my study abroad experience.
I ended up in an Agriculture/Pre-Vet Medicine Program at University College Dublin through IFSA-Butler, and I fell in love with my program and host country. I was able to take pre-requisite classes for vet school that my home college did not offer.
Even more importantly, I was able to gain a global perspective about my future career path.
Not So Standard
I went into my study abroad experience thinking that animal medicine was pretty much standardized across the globe. I expected that it was different in communities and countries with varied perspectives toward animals, but I did not expect that the divide between veterinary culture in Ireland and the United States would be so great.
I’d read James Herriot’s novels romanticizing animal medicine in rural Scotland, and I’d been told time and time again that the practice of a veterinarian was nothing like that in the present day. To all those who told me that true “farm” medicine doesn’t exist anymore, boy are you in for a treat!
My understanding of veterinary and animal science in Ireland was built up throughout the semester. I took fascinating classes in Animal Nutrition and Biotechnology that focused on farming practices in Ireland. I spent nearly every weekend driving past farm after farm filled with lush green grass, and I even got to apply to help with lambing at the UCD Farm (yay baby sheep!!).
Having grown up in a somewhat rural area of Southern California, I had a rough understanding of how animals were treated in agricultural settings back home. In Ireland even the dairy farming practices were incredibly different (grass fed vs. grain fed cows). Learning about these seemingly insignificant differences helped me to better understand what my future role as a veterinarian would look like at home and abroad.
This cultural immersion came to an amazing conclusion when I stayed on a working sheep farm in Wicklow, Ireland during my last weekend abroad. Whilst traveling abroad, I became familiar with using resources such as Air BnB to find interesting and creative locations to explore and stay.
During my last few days in Ireland, I wanted to do as many memorable and culturally immersive things as possible, and staying with an Irish family on their working farm seemed just the way to do that.
There is nothing that can properly express the feeling of standing in the middle of a field looking around and seeing nothing but sheep literally frolicking in the grass for miles. It was a sight I had never seen before, and I felt so incredibly happy and inspired to see how a working agricultural farm could still treat its animals humanely. I could count the sheep around me because they had room to roam, unlike at home when you go to a sheep “farm” (aka factory farm) and can’t tell where one sheep ends and another begins.
This experience pushed me to work harder to change the way our animal care systems work in the US. It has encouraged me to strive to be a better vet, and not just one that fixes animals, but one who helps to fix the societal systems that animals are a part of.
My Message to Pre-Health and STEM Students
To sum it all up, I leave pre-health and STEM students with this message: STUDY ABROAD!
It is not impossible, and it is so incredibly important. Whether you think you know everything about your future career or not, know that there is always more to learn outside the borders of your home country. You will grow as a person and as a future healthcare provider, scientist, professor, or research lab manager.
Being a Pre-Vet student and STEM major helped me to find the perfect program for my study abroad experience.
If you want to change the world through science and medicine, I firmly believe that you have to see that world first. The conversations, sights, sounds, and experiences that you have abroad will teach you in ways that the internet and a classroom never will.
Your study abroad experience will be invaluable, and not only will future you thank yourself, someday the world will too.
Emily Gratke is a Science, Technology, and Society student at Scripps College and studied abroad with IFSA at University College Dublin in Ireland in 2016.