Adventures in Thailand

As a senior biomedical sciences (BIMS) major, I am currently in the middle of “test week.” Anatomy, biochemistry II, and animal nutrition have proven to be very difficult classes and the tests all fell on the same week.

Although my undergraduate career is sometimes overwhelming, I have also made memories that I will never forget.

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a four-week study abroad program in Thailand. I am in awe when I think back on the experiences I had.

During the pre-veterinary trip, I got to work with elephants, horses, cats, and dogs. I learned about the heartbreaking abuse elephants in Thailand are experiencing and joined in the protection efforts.

I also served at an elephant sanctuary that houses more than 40 elephants that have been rescued from abusive conditions. These elephants are allowed to live their lives freely at the sanctuary and simply be elephants.

It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience that reminded me of the importance of advocating for animals that can’t advocate for themselves.

Apart from the animal experience, I also loved learning about Thai culture, interacting with local people, and eating the delicious food. I got to tour extravagant temples, take a cooking class, hike, zip line, scuba dive, and experience so many other once in a life time moments.

Throughout my time in Thailand, I developed new passions and adopted a more global perspective. It was a very unique trip and one that I will never forget. I am so thankful for the memories I made on this wonderful adventure.

Stepping back into reality, I spent the rest of the summer taking classes, working, and completing my veterinary school application. But I was able to draw on my experience abroad when going through the motions of everyday life.

Now a few tests, football games, and an Aggie ring later, I am almost halfway through the semester. I am hoping that throughout the rest of my senior year, I will stay motivated but also continue making lasting memories.

Work Hard but Not “Too” Hard

In the last five months, I had taken the MCAT (the standardized examination for prospective medical students), received my Aggie Ring, ended and began semesters, lived in Spain, and applied to medical school.

After the summer I had, I did not think I was ready to get back to the grind. With only 10 weeks to cram as many experiences into my study aboard/internship in Barcelona, Spain, I chose to procrastinate my responsibilities back home.

A biomedical sciences (BIMS) student must balance academic, extracurricular, social, and health duties, while remaining focused on the future. Now imagine mastering the balance and then in comes senior year, throwing on top of everything else the responsibility of medical school applications.

The problem is, as much as we want to give everything 100 percent of our effort, our humanity limits are the capability to manage only a few arduous tasks. Though restricted, it is essential to remember that non-academic pursuits are equally as critical to our future as an education.

So this summer, when I traded a little more stress during these past few weeks for the 10-weeks of pure bliss in Europe, it honestly felt like I robbed the bank. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity demanded I completely immerse myself in the experience.

Now, a quarter of the way through my second to last semester at Texas A&M, I can finally breathe. But pre-health professional students sign up for a lot more than the average undergraduate, and success can cost every ounce of energy available. With the next round of tests around the corner, there is not much time to catch my breath; though my attention is required elsewhere, I will not forget about myself.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned while here at Texas A&M is recognizing when I am pushing myself to the brink of insanity. So, when the to-do list seems infinite and life becomes a little overwhelming, I encourage everyone try to take a break, do something fun, and remember, work hard but not too hard.

Veterinary Volunteering Abroad in Thailand and Vietnam

Meeting Kasetsart University’s Biggest Patient – an Asian Elephant
Making a Global Impact

Over the summer, I was honored to represent United States veterinary schools at the ASEAN Veterinary Volunteer Project in Thailand and Vietnam. This project, which was facilitated by Kasetsart University, the largest university in Thailand, brought together around 50 veterinary students from more than 14 countries to accomplish veterinary volunteer work in underserved communities and build relationships among veterinary students around the world.

Welcome ceremony at Kasetsart University

After landing in Bangkok, Thailand, we settled into our dorms and headed to Kasetsart University’s campus. At the welcome ceremony, students from each country presented on a challenge facing their veterinary community. These ranged from African Swine Fever in Vietnam, veterinary waste in Cambodia, and a lack of rural veterinarians in France.

I chose to present about the student debt-to-income ratio facing many students because it is quite unique to the United States; most of the other students at the volunteer project attend school for six years and the cost is less.

An elephant skeleton at Kasetsart University

After touring Kasetsart University’s veterinary hospital, we were assigned our independent research projects; my group was to assess athelmintic resistance of Haemonchus (resistance to antiparasitic drugs, in this case, to treat a parasite commonly referred to as the barber’s pole worm) in rural goat herds in Thailand and study rabies awareness in Vietnam.

After getting to know the other students in the volunteer program, we split into smaller groups and were shipped off to separate rural communities in need.

The Buddhist temple where we conducted our volunteering in Thailand
Getting a Buddhist Experience
For the next week we would be staying in Buddhist temples, which were the centers of these villages. We converted these Buddhist temples into makeshift hospitals and dormitories. We slept on the wooden floors covered with mosquito netting and set up metal tables for animal physical exams. Bathrooms consisted of holes in the floor and showers were simply a faucet and a large bucket. Although we had no air conditioning in the middle of the hot and rainy season, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by new friends and improving the healthcare of animals.
Team “selfie” after working hard to plant trees in the local Thailand village

As a group, we did much more than simple veterinary work. Not only were we helping the communities with animal health care, but we also strived to improve the environment as well. We planted trees along a river that will one day provide both fruit and homes for future wildlife.

During part of our stay, we also surveyed the communities, going door-to-door and offering free rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats. In addition, we educated children at the local school about the dangers of rabies and the importance of vaccinating their pets. All in all, we vaccinated more than 500 animals in just a few days.

Group picture with the local villagers and their goat herd

In addition to small animal medicine, we worked with local villagers to improve food animal health. During this time, we went from farm to farm vaccinating goats and cattle for foot-and-mouth disease, a virus that causes blisters on the hooves and mouths of these animals, which causes serious concerns for livestock. In addition to vaccination, we analyzed their fecal samples for parasites, dewormed them with parasiticides, and took blood samples for brucellosis testing.

This was important because for many of the members in these communities, their herds are their main sources of income and food.

The last two days in our rural villages consisted of performing physical exams on cats and dogs, as well as spaying and neutering them. Many of these animals were either strays or community dogs that roamed the streets, while some belonged to households.

Under the supervision of multiple veterinarians, I performed my first spay and neuter. I was so thankful for the education I received at Texas A&M because I had a head-start on suturing—many of my peers were performing their first sutures, and I was lucky to have built up confidence with this skill on models in the past.

Transporting a patient to the recovery room after a neuter

After performing the spays and neuters, we monitored our patients throughout their recovery. All together, we spayed and neutered more than 150 animals free-of-charge for the local communities.

Not only will these procedures help prevent stray overpopulation, but they help protect the pets from future illnesses. Some of the animals we encountered had pyometra (a bacterial infection of the uterus), which, left untreated—highly likely due to the lack of veterinary care in the area—is usually fatal. Even more, by spaying and neutering the animals, we decreased their change of developing certain types of cancer and many other illnesses.

Finally, it was time to analyze the goat fecal samples for Haemonchus, a dangerous intestinal parasite. To do this, we used the McMaster fecal egg-count method, in which we were able to determine the amount of parasite eggs per gram of feces by looking at samples under a microscope. We processed more than 200 samples and collected data that will help with research and determining if Haemonchus parasites in the area have developed resistance to Albendazole. After analyzing all of the fecal samples, we determined that there was a 92 percent prevalence rate among the goats in the villages.

Educating Thai Farmers—and Myself
We also collected data on the farmers’ awareness of caprine (goat) parasites. We developed a questionnaire with basic questions about how their animals may become infected and what measures they used for prevention. After analyzing the responses, we determined that many farmers were not aware of the proper use and dosages of their dewormer medications. Unfortunately, this may lead to increased resistance of nematode parasites to dewormers, which may explain why some goats were heavily infected.

One thing I loved about this program was the variety of experiences we received. As someone who grew up in a suburban area, I had very little experience with farm animals. Through this program, I was able to learn how to handle livestock such as goats and cattle and practice my clinical skills with these animals. Before this program, I had never drawn blood from a goat before, but now I can say that I’ve practiced that skill more than 200 times.

Even more, we weren’t limited to domestic species—at the end of our stay in Thailand, we got to tour Kasetsart University’s exotic ward and raptor center. The Kasetsart University Raptor Center is integral to the conservation of birds of prey in Thailand. In the past, people used to hunt owls because they were seen as “bad omens” but because of the raptor center’s education and conservation efforts, farmers are now installing owl nest boxes in order to attract them and use them for rodent control.


Learning raptor handling and medicine at Kasetsart Raptor Center

After touring the facility, the veterinarians at the center graciously walked us through bird of prey handling and medical techniques. As someone who wishes to specialize in exotic medicine in the future, I was thrilled to practice administering injections, drawing blood, and placing splints on raptors in need of care.

After learning about bird of prey medicine, we then split into small groups to install owl nest boxes around the campus. One thing I was intrigued to learn is that without a suitable nesting area, many owls will fail to pair up and reproduce. By increasing the number of nest boxes in an area, we hope to boost owl numbers back to what they once were.

A sampling of traditional Thai food during our last night in Thailand
Immersing Myself in the Culture
One of my favorite things about the volunteer program was that it encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the Thai culture. As an adventurous eater, I enthusiastically tried every delicacy I was offered, whether it be fried crickets, fertilized chicken eggs, or stew with the entire fish thrown in. Many of the dishes were very spicy, which I loved, but it definitely wasn’t easy for everyone, especially some of the western students.

Instead of sweet breakfasts that are staples in the U.S., we would typically eat spicy pork and rice for breakfast. Although it was different, I felt like I was in heaven eating authentic Thai food for every meal. I also was excited to try fruits that I had never imagined existed; many of them looked foreign to me but all tasted amazing.

Luckily, we were able to take a few breaks from our medical work to learn about Thai culture. While working with the other Thai students, I would ask them about their Buddhist holidays and they would tell me stories about growing up in Thailand. We were able to travel to museums that displayed artifacts from hundreds of years ago and visit sacred temples with golden statues of Buddha taller than a two-story house.

Nong Lam University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Moving on to Vietnam
Soon, our time was over in Thailand and we were off on our journey to Vietnam. We landed in Ho Chi Minh City and arrived at Nong Lam University, where we were welcomed by veterinary students from the school. After a short welcome ceremony and a morning full of lectures, we headed out to volunteer and plant trees with high school students in the local community.

After spending a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, we once again split off into our smaller groups and left for the rural communities. Once we arrived in these villages, we readied our supplies and set off on our mopeds, zooming from one local farm to the next.

Planting trees in the local Vietnamese Community

In these rural Vietnamese villages, many families raise their own livestock, including chickens, goats, pigs, and cattle. Although many of these practices were different from what I’ve seen in the U.S., I was excited to learn about lifestyles and practices in a culture different from my own.

At each new household, we were often greeted with warm smiles and hot tea. The Vietnamese veterinary students usually translated our conversations with the villagers, but sometimes young children would walk up to me and shyly squeak out a “hello!” before running back behind their parents.

My team in front of a herd of cattle that we just vaccinated

Similar to our volunteer work in Thailand, we vaccinated cattle for foot-and-mouth disease, gave them deworming medicine, and took blood samples for brucellosis testing. The skill of the Vietnamese veterinary students were impressive; at times I felt like I was at a Texas rodeo watching them rope and catch the cattle.

Once we were finished with our large animal work, we switched gears to start working with small animals. Over the next few days, we vaccinated dogs and cats throughout the village and spread helpful information about the importance of rabies prevention.

My small research group conducting rabies research in Vietnam

My group’s next research project was more epidemiology (medicine dealing with diseases) focused and assessed the rural village’s knowledge and awareness of rabies. Unfortunately in Vietnam, rabid dogs are the leading cause of rabies infections in humans. Although progress is being made to combat the disease prevalence, there is still work to be done to educate the public about the dangers of rabies and increase vaccinations among dogs in the area.

After developing a questionnaire, we went from house-to-house asking villagers what they knew about rabies, how they thought it was transmitted, whether their pets were vaccinated, and what they would do if they were bitten by a suspicious animal.

While most had proper knowledge of rabies and responded that they vaccinate their dogs, there were still a few others that believed in outdated and unscientific practices, such as rubbing rhino skin into the bite wound. Others admitted that in the past, children had died from rabies bites because they either did not know the severity of consequences or were afraid to tell their parents. From this we determined that more education is needed to further combat rabies in the area.

Crawling through the tunnels of Cu Chi which were used during the Vietnam War
Experiencing History
We were lucky enough to learn some history when we were not volunteering. On one rest day, we took a trip to Cu Chi tunnels, which were a network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. I was astonished to learn that people lived in these tunnel systems for years—especially since many of tunnels were too shallow to stand in and some were almost too small for me to fit through. We also paid our respects at the Ben Duoc Temple, which commemorates the lives lost during the Vietnam War
Walking up to the Ben Duoc Temple

Finally, we had a chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City before we left. My favorite part was the night market, where they would close off multiple streets and vendors would set up cart displays of traditional food and souvenirs.

When our three weeks together was up, it was time to say goodbye. We attended a farewell ceremony, at which we ate traditional Vietnamese dishes and our groups received recognition for their work. After hours of singing, dancing, and a little bit of happy-crying, we wished our new friends safe travels back home.

As I took my taxi back to the Ho Chi Minh airport, I couldn’t help but smile thinking of all the fond memories I made with my veterinary student friends from around the world.

WHOOP for Junior Year!

As sad as I am to see such a fun and busy summer end, I am super excited for my third year at TAMU!

The past few months have been packed with adventure and meaningful experiences. To start off the summer break, Angelica, a fellow CVM Ambassador and mentor, and I attended a two week pre-vet program in Chintsa, South Africa!

We had the time of our lives and got to interact with so many different types of animals and amazing people. It was my first time abroad, and it made me want to travel again as soon as possible!

My favorite part of the trip was the interactions we had with the giraffes. One was with a giraffe named Abby that lived on a reserve and had been raised by humans since birth because him was orphaned. Abby is a very friendly giraffe and loves people, especially when they feed him. We each got to take turns doing so, and Abby even licked my forehead!

Another exciting experience was that we got to be involved with a giraffe capture in an effort to relocate a male giraffe to a different reserve, which allows conservationists to maintain a diverse gene pool!

During the rest of the summer, I stayed busy by working at the local veterinary
clinic I have been volunteering at since I was in high school. One of my volunteer activities was also with a church-based organization called Summer Lunch, for which volunteers set up a pavilion tent at an elementary school park each weekday during the summer to distribute paper bag lunches to children in need of a meal, as well as to their other family members. It was such a rewarding experience for me because I love working with kids, and being able to provide them with something so important to their everyday lives was wonderful.

Another volunteer job I had was at the Dallas Zoo! I enjoyed working with and learning about exotic animals so much in South Africa that I wanted to continue it.

At the zoo, I worked at their Animal Nutrition Center. I got behind-the-scenes experience in helping to prepare the diets for the zoo’s thousands of animals! It was very interesting to see what each animal ate and how much food they needed to consume on a daily basis. I plan to continue volunteering there whenever I go back home for school breaks!