Loop Abroad alum Kylie Miller shares her study abroad experience participating in the Amazon Veterinary Service program.
This past summer I participated in a veterinary study abroad program in Ecuador, which was primarily spent in the middle of the rural Amazon rainforest. I quickly realized that there are unique challenges in the Amazon, whether they were personal, in a professional sense, or at a government level. Most memorable in the veterinary realm of the trip was hosting a two-day clinic at a local town where we practiced speaking Spanish with the townspeople to help collect histories, give routine vaccines, and dispense medications for pets. We also played a role in the prep and release of a group of yellow-footed and red-footed tortoises, two vulnerable Amazonian species. We took various measurements of the tortoises to determine body condition scores, inserted microchips, and recorded the data for each individual. Early the next morning we were scheduled to hike an hour into Selva Viva, the nature preserves located behind amaZOOnico, carrying all the tortoises. Unfortunately, the government official from the Ministry of Environment never arrived. One thing we learned from this was how strict the Ecuadorian government is about wildlife release and protocol. Instead, the tortoises were released the following week, when all required personnel was present.
This veterinary study abroad gave me the opportunity to work with people from different cultures to achieve a common goal: improve the lives of wild and domestic animals. Not only did I come out of this experience with a new perspective on veterinary medicine, but also on different cultures. A veterinary study abroad is supposed to expand your horizons on more than just veterinary medicine. While in the Amazon we stayed at Runa Huasi, an eco-lodge run by an ingenious family from the neighboring island. It did not take long for me to see how deeply the Kichwa people value their community. Everyone was greeted with a smile and open arms. The dissimilitude between their community-based lifestyle and the individualistic society that dominates Western culture was shocking when compared. The proverb “it takes a village” applies to every aspect of their lives; each person is intimately invested in the success of everyone in their community. Since returning to the United States, I have made an effort to reach out and connect with others more often, in an attempt to build my own community.
I also brought back with me a fresh perspective on the natural world. The Kichwa have a harmonious relationship with the environment around them, and it was beautiful to witness and left me inspired. I cherish the memory of our serendipitous meeting and now carry a new appreciation for all of Earth’s creatures. This veterinary study abroad introduced many new aspects for me to consider as I go forward, both in my veterinary career and personal pursuits. Traveling and working with Loop Abroad has helped me expand on my interpersonal abilities. The experiences I gained on these trips significantly enhanced my communication skills, self-confidence, and knowledge of potential paths in veterinary medicine. All of these factors, combined with my rigorous academic coursework, have prepared me for both veterinary school and my future in community engagement. My journey to Ecuador and the experiences I had there are by far one of my greatest achievements, and my time in the Amazon will have a lasting impact on my life.