Serving in South America: An Alternative Abroad Experience


University of Kentucky student and Equine Science major Michelle Newman sat down with me to discuss her unique study abroad experience. Michelle traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the summer of 2016 to provide veterinary care to stray dogs and cats in rural South American communities.  

Q: Tell me a bit about the study abroad program you chose.

A: I traveled with other Animal Science, Equine Science, and Pre-Vet students to rural towns in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to work with the stray animals in those communities for two weeks through a program called “Vida Volunteer.” The people there typically don’t have the resources to have their animals spayed and neutered, which is why this program exists. It basically organizes volunteers to try and control the overpopulation problem. We also treated for fleas and ticks that often carry dangerous diseases and did a lot of preventative care as well.

Q: When you started looking into different study abroad programs, what about this particular program caught your eye?

A: Well, I knew I wanted to work with animals in some way. That’s what I’m passionate about. It really was great timing because a good friend of mine was looking into programs as well and heard great things about this particular one through the Pre-Vet faculty here at UK. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are known for the number of stray animals they have on the streets. As soon as we started looking into the program a bit more seriously, I knew this was a place where our help was truly needed. I really hadn’t planned on going on a service abroad program but I am so glad I did!

Q: What kinds of things were you able to do through this program?

A: We were working with a great group of staff that were licensed veterinarians who live and work in Central America full time. We had a couple of orientation days at the beginning of the trip. These days served as our “training” as most of us had never done a spay or neuter procedure before. After that, we had clinic days in Costa Rica where we would go into a community, set up our little clinic, and perform procedures on dogs and cats for the people there. We also got those people set up with medications and instructions on how to care for the animal while they were recovering. We did the same thing with the staff in Nicaragua and we had clinic days as well. We also had a vacation day where we went to the beach, took a boat ride, and played with monkeys!

Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about participating in an alternative study abroad program such as service abroad?

A: I would highly recommend looking into service abroad programs. I’m the kind of person who is really hard to get out of my shell. Going to these rural communities was a huge culture shock for me. I didn’t realize how different it would be. We only had running water every other day, there was no A.C. and no wifi. And so going without those things that I’m so used to having was hard at first. But it was such a valuable experience. It makes you realize how other people are living in this world and how fortunate we are to have what we have here. Reflecting back on my experience, it was the most rewarding thing to help the animals in those communities and to really be able to see the difference we were making in that short amount of time. I had a fantastic experience!

Interested in learning more about service abroad programs through our office or other abroad experiences? Visit the Education Abroad office in 315 Bradley Hall to learn more!

Natalie is a senior at the University of Kentucky double majoring in Secondary English Education and English with a minor in Psychology. She studied abroad during her junior year in the beautiful London, England at King’s College.