Why did you choose this program?
I wanted to take part in a study abroad that combined my love for culture and travel with veterinary medicine.
When I came across Loop Abroad's Veterinary Semester program I immediately knew it was what I wanted to do. I had always wanted to step foot in Asia, and the fact that I could combine that with veterinary experience was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The application process required a lot of paperwork, but the Loop Abroad staff were extremely helpful and understanding whenever any complications arose.
I was responsible for getting all my vaccines (the only mandatory one I hadn't had was rabies, but I opted to get a few others, too) and getting my medical forms signed.
Loop Abroad booked and paid for my flights, so all I had to do was make sure I made it to the airport on time. I ended up having a long layover in Hong Kong before my connecting flight to Thailand, so I booked myself a hotel there, but the layover also gave me time to explore Hong Kong before my flight to Thailand, which was really cool.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Don't be afraid to go out and explore in your free time. There are so many unique restaurants, markets, and cultural landmarks that you don't visit officially with the Loop Abroad program, but whenever you're in Chiang Mai (the main city you live in) you usually have weekends free and a one-week midsemester break where you can do what you want - some of my classmates went to Cambodia!
As an introvert, it was difficult at first to step out of my comfort zone, but eventually, I grew comfortable with the customs of Thailand and explored around on my own. You can ride a red taxi truck or tuk-tuk to anywhere in the city for extremely cheap (though sometimes they may try to charge foreigners a higher than normal rate, so learn to bargain!), and once you understand how transportation works, exploring will be much easier than you think. If you're not up for taking taxis, Chiang Mai is a very walkable city, too.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
You spend the first few weeks in the city of Chiang Mai, where you have a Thai culture & society course and begin learning clinical veterinary skills at a dog shelter (this also involves assisting in surgeries).
Then you travel to the south of the country to the island of Koh Tao, where you help with conservation work, snorkel and/or scuba dive, and learn about marine veterinary medicine. Eventually, you head back to the mainland where you work with elephants and other exotic animals.
The program takes you all over the country and has a nice mix of cultural exploration as well as veterinary lectures and skills.
Chiang Mai is considered the "home base", so you'll always come back to it in between the traveling adventures that the semester brings.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was learning how to be more independent. I've struggled with anxiety all my life and going abroad to live halfway across the world for four months was a nerve-wracking thing. However, I did it and, looking back at how much I have grown, it was probably one of the best things I could have done to help my anxiety issues.
I still remember the exact day that my mindset changed - it was fall break, so everyone had the week off, and I decided that I would explore the city on my own. I walked all over Chiang Mai visiting temples and admiring the markets I came across. There are so many small yet unique parts of the city and culture that I wouldn't have happened upon if I hadn't gotten the courage to explore and allow myself to get lost (not too lost, though - Google Maps is a wonderful invention).
That day made me realize that you gain so much freedom when you learn to embrace your independence and yourself, and this is something I am truly thankful for.
What was one of your favorite memories during your time abroad?
I happened to be in Thailand during the famous lantern festival, Loi Krathong. My classmates and I were taught how to make our own banana boats (Krathong) out of banana tree trunks, leaves, and flowers.
Afterwards, we walked into the city to the river, where we each released our boats into the water, a ritual meant to honor the water gods, and also released floating lanterns into the sky.
Seeing all of the lights illuminating the night sky and everyone enjoying themselves was so surreal and beautiful. To take part in a cultural tradition that is not your own is an eye-opening experience and made me appreciate my time in Thailand even more.