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Belize: An Un-BELIZE-able Adventure, by Maura Carr, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major

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Posted: June 1, 2017

Immersing myself in the learning environment of Belize allowed me to experience a new culture while learning about my own interests in veterinary medicine.
Suturing a spay incision closed during the free spay/neuter clinic

Suturing a spay incision closed during the free spay/neuter clinic

Before I began my undergraduate career, I knew I wanted to study abroad and experience a new learning environment. However, I became intimidated by the thought of having to leave campus for a semester while trying to synchronize my courses abroad with those at Penn State. These travel plans seemed daunting, so I decided a short-term study abroad trip would be a better fit for me. Thankfully, the Center for Engaged Learning Abroad (CELA) in Belize offered a large animal veterinary practices course that fit into my pre-veterinary studies. This two week summer course took place in Belize, where I gained valuable hands-on experience. After learning about this program, I knew I needed to be involved to advance my career in the veterinary field. I would never get these opportunities in the United States, and being able to learn about animal agriculture in Belize absolutely intrigued me.

Growing up in the suburbs, I had always been exposed to small animal medicine involving cats and dogs. I had minimal contact with large farm animals, such as horses, pigs, sheep, and cattle, which were the main focus of CELA’s program. While taking the large animal veterinary practices course in Belize, I expanded upon my knowledge of animal physiology, agriculture, and zoonotic disease. All of these topics pertain to the field of veterinary medicine, and I am confident that this course will set me apart in my application to veterinary school. Not many students get the opportunity to perform hands-on medical procedures on large farm animals like the CELA Belize course offers. These clinical opportunities included performing castrations, administering vaccinations, giving physical examinations, and participating in spay/neuter surgeries.

The CELA students spent many long days working alongside veterinarians, providing low cost health care to the animals of Belize. Many people clearly needed medical attention for their pets, but this was not always affordable. There was an overwhelming amount of animals that were not spayed or neutered, were infested with worms, or were unvaccinated. While providing these services was physically exhausting, it was really great to see everyone’s hard work pay off and make a difference in the communities of Belize. The entire study abroad course wasn’t just work, though—we were able to have some fun exploring, too! We hiked the ancient Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, spelunked the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal, and visited a green iguana sanctuary.

This experience made me a more competitive veterinary school applicant. Not only will it show that I am committed to my education, but that I am a diverse thinker that seeks out new challenges. This personal development will be valuable to my future as a veterinarian, where I can apply my newly gained knowledge to the health of all species. The large animal veterinary program offered by CELA Belize enriched my understanding of animal agriculture, which is critical to the health of people and animals everywhere. A chance to study abroad as an undergraduate provided me with experiences I can carry far after graduation. I developed an enhanced appreciation for agriculture by experiencing another country’s practices. Seeing the way people in Belize handled their animals and economy provided me with a new outlook on the way such issues are handled in the United States. Immersing myself in the learning environment of Belize allowed me to experience a new culture while learning about my own interests in veterinary medicine.