Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Stephenson


Jessica is studying pre-veterinary medicine at Kansas State University. After graduation, she will attend vet school at Kansas State. Her interest in pursuing a career in zoo/wildlife medicine is why she chose to volunteer with Pod Volunteers.

Why did you choose this program?

I choose Pod Volunteers after hours of research. I knew I wanted to spend a summer abroad but I didn't know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I stumbled across Pod Volunteers by chance and I'm so glad that I did. As I read about their animal care placement at the Belize Zoo I realized that was where I was meant to go.

Pod arranged my placement at the zoo, my lodging for my entire stay, and my meals. They even helped me to arrange a ride from the airport to my lodging through the zoo. The also provided me with plenty of resources and tips to help prepare me for my time in Belize. The only thing I had to arrange myself were my flights.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity you get on your program and be sure to advocate for yourself. This was the first time I had ever left the US, so as a solo female traveler I felt very nervous leading up to my trip. My first weekend there I was too nervous to venture far from where I was staying but then I started to push myself to explore which made my trip a real-life changes experience.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average day starts with breakfast at the TEC before a short bike ride to the zoo. You are assigned to a different keeper every other day. You spend the day with that keeper helping them to prepare diets, monitor animals, perform enclosure maintenance/cleaning, and preparing enrichment. Depending on the animals in their care some of the keepers allow you to complete hands-on tasks with the animals (bottling feeding the orphans or hand feeding the big cats through the bars). The workday ends whenever you and your keeper have finished evening feedings (usually between 4 and 5). You then bike back to the TEC and have the evenings to relax.

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 being a solo female traveler. I am a very shy person when first introduced into new situations. Overcoming this was actually easier than I thought it would be. Once I was in Belize the excitement of what I was doing every day made me forget my fear and nervousness. When I did feel nervous the staff and other people staying at the TEC really helped me to feel comfortable. I made friends with a lot of people I met there that I still keep in contact with today.

Do you have any advice to those who would also want to participate in this kind of program?

My #1 tip for someone going on this program would be to pack a little bit of laundry detergent to wash your work clothes in the sink. The work you have to do at the zoo can be dirty. You'll end the day covered in sweat, food, poo, and an assortment of other things. You are given a shirt that you have to wear to work every day. Being able to wash my work shirt and pants every day so that I could wear clean clothes everyday was great. The TEC does have laundry but you have to pay for each load so I would recommend planning on paying for 1 or 2 loads during your stay and do any minor, daily washing yourself.