Alumni Spotlight: Paulina Alcaraz-Flores

Tell us about yourself and your trip.

Paulina: My name is Paulina Alcaraz-Flores. I am from Los Angeles, CA. I am currently finishing my first year in veterinary school and am 26 years old. I attended 2 VIDA trips. One was in the summer of 2009 and the other in the summer of 2010. In 2009, the trip was to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In 2010, the trip was to Costa Rica and Panama.

Why did you decide to volunteer with VIDA in Costa Rica?

Paulina: I decided to volunteer abroad with VIDA because I wanted to get hands-on experience in order to apply to veterinary school. I had always wanted to visit Costa Rica so I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Plus I thought 2 weeks was a perfect amount of time (it wasn't too long nor too short). And since I am fluent in Spanish, I knew that I would be able to communicate well with people living there.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Paulina: We spent 1 or 2 days on orientation, which is when we were taught some basics of spaying and neutering. We spent a total of about 6-7 days spaying and neutering. The other 5-6 days were spent doing activities such as sight-seeing, visiting museums, white-water rafting, etc. On spay/neuter clinic days, we started our days early to set up for clinic and prepare for patients. Throughout the day, we prepared the pets for surgery, assisted with surgery or actually performed the surgery ourselves, and also gave them preventative medications and/or post-op meds.

Veterinary volunteer holding a dog

What advice do you have for future volunteers?

Paulina: I would advise future volunteers to stay open-minded during these trips and to ask questions if something seems out of the ordinary. Things are definitely done differently in Central America, especially in poor communities, but that doesn't mean they're "wrong". It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in helping animals, especially pets that belong to people with scarce resources.

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Paulina: I believe going on these trips with VIDA helped me to get into veterinary school because they set me apart from other applicants. I also learned a lot on these trips so I entered veterinary school with more experience than some other people.