Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Clarke

Hannah is a Veterinary student at the University of Bristol in the UK. She loves to see the world, and working with animals is a bonus!

Why did you choose this program?

As part of our studies, we must undertake a certain number of weeks of placement. I am at an age where I am itching to travel, but my financial situation sadly doesn't agree. I thought a program abroad, working with animals (so it counted towards my total weeks of placement) sounded great!

I had attended a couple of talks by Will Fowlds previously and had seen the same course a couple of years ago on TV (Safari Vet School), so I began some research into it. This program was so highly recommended by other Vet students who all claimed that it was the best experience of their lives. I thought it would be silly to pass up this truly once in a lifetime opportunity.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program provider, Vets Go Wild and Worldwide Experience, provided a structured two-week experience. I just had to get my own kit together (they provided a couple of clothing items), sort my flights (they organized transport to and from the airport on their side), get suitable insurance, and organize the appropriate vaccinations.

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

It was much colder than I expected! The team did warn us before we went out, but I thought, “how cold can Africa really be?” Turns out, quite cold! There were lots of early mornings when you'll need to layer up, but it does heat up during the day, especially if you're running around after animals. Just make sure you have layers you can put on/take off.

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

The first thing to note is that we were kept very busy pretty much every day! Most days we had a procedure, either in the morning or afternoon, with lectures (don't worry, they were some of the most engaging lectures I've sat in!), or a game drive for the other half of the day.

As indicated in the itinerary, a couple of excursions are planned. In my case, this included trips to Born Free, a big cat rescue center, Bayworld for lectures and marine mammal dissections, and into the local town, Paterson, to meet the children.

There is time most evenings to chill out and catch some necessary sleep for the early starts!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I didn't really have a “fear” before I arrived in South Africa. My problem became clear the first day we had a procedure. I quickly realized that the vet work out there is very different to that in the UK.

The nature of the work with wild animals means that you have to work incredibly efficiently, which I found quite difficult at first. You're put with a team of people you've known for, probably, less than 24 hours, given drugs and doses you aren't familiar with, and these need to go into an animal you've probably never learnt about!

Between that first procedure and my last, where I was in charge of the whole thing, I had lectures on the drugs, plenty of practice, lots of opportunities to ask questions, and I got to know the girls in my team really well. You learn quickly, and the Vets Go Wild team are very supportive and patient.

How did the experience change your life?

Be prepared for your life to change, not only when you are out in the bush, but when you return home. You'll suddenly have your eyes opened! I've always admired the African wildlife, but seeing the beautiful animals with your own eyes, touching them (albeit when they're unconscious), being in that amazing position where you can help them thrive... It really is magical!

It isn't all so rosy out there, though. One of the hardest lectures I had to sit through was about rhino poaching. I thought I had a quite good grasp of the situation out there, but I really had no idea. It's so much more barbaric and unfair than I could ever know. You will leave South Africa with a responsibility to protect those special animals as best as you can.

Be prepared to leave a little bit of your heart in the bush.