Having recently completed my third year of Veterinary Medicine, I travelled to Thailand with a fellow vet student to complete a work placement in Chiang Mai.
I have a particular interest in wildlife and zoo animal medicine but, due to the high demand for work placements in UK zoos, it is difficult to gain experience in this field at home. It was because of this problem that we looked for a placement abroad instead. Our search led us to a company called World Endeavors, who tailor-make student internships. They soon had three weeks placement organised for us at Chiang Mai Night Safari.
As our time away approached I started to feel somewhat apprehensive about the trip. How would I cope with the language barrier? Would I suffer from culture shock? And what about the climate and the possibility of huge bugs?! All in all, a lot to potentially be anxious about!
There was really no need to worry about most of this because in our first couple of days we had a Thai lesson with a local woman and she took us around the markets to practice speaking with other locals. This was both eye-opening, as we got to see the side of Thailand that the tourists quite often miss; and very amusing for both the Thai people – who were laughing at our mispronunciations – and for us – as we were laughing at ourselves with embarrassment! Altogether a great day and I feel that it helped me immerse myself in the culture and get to grips with Thai etiquette.
On arriving at the Night Safari the vets and the Thai veterinary students, who were also on placement, were very welcoming and friendly, but were all actually quite quiet (unlike the mosquitoes who had a party on our arrival!). We were unsure if this was because they weren’t confident with English, or if they were in fact just of a quiet nature. It turned out that the latter reason was correct, and as long as we phrased any questions we had in an uncomplicated way, we all got along very well and any potential language barrier was not an issue! This made getting involved with all of the veterinary work much easier. Goes to show that no matter where you are from or what language you speak, as long as you have the same goal, working together is easy!
I learned a lot about improvisation in the veterinary profession – including making darts for drug administration to the more dangerous animals – as Thai zoos are not as well off financially as those in Western countries. Furthermore, I saw how religion can have an impact on vet medicine, as most people in Thailand are Buddhist. Due to this, euthanasia is not often performed, so we got to see treatments carried out that would not usually be done in other countries.
The highlights for me were working with the Tigers, including young cubs! And our days off spent with the resident elephants weren’t bad either!