My Second Year Transformational Experience project enhanced my understanding of the demographics, economics, and culture of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, while focusing on aspects of dairy farming. We visited many different dairies including horse, goat, and cow dairies, toured cheese making facilities, and gained glimpses into European culture.
Upon arriving in the Netherlands, the first thing that shocked me was the language barrier. Though I have travelled to many other countries, such as Ghana and the Dominican Republic, I did not encounter such a barrier as I did in the Netherlands and Germany. I was quite disappointed in myself for not being able to understand German, as I took German for 4 years in high school. It was amazing though how everyone quickly adjusted to the communication difficulties that we faced. For example, on one of our first days in the Netherlands we were starving and were at a cafe where the workers did not speak english. I timidly pointed to an item on the menu (it ended up looking and being delicious!) and everyone else followed. I definitely learned the value of stepping out of your comfort zone.
On a more serious note, we spent a huge chuck of our time speaking to various dairy farmers. Many of the farms were family owned. It was amazing to see how even though there were language barriers and cultural differences, that a love for animals and the products they give us could bond us. It was interesting to see some of the different management styles used for dairy farming in Europe, which we do not use due to differences in land size, legislation, and regulations. I am pursuing a career in veterinary medicine and this trip gave me many more reasons for pursuing this career. Farmers all over the world depend on veterinarians to help maximize their animals health, which are ultimately their livelihood. The experiences I have had on this trip have strengthened my interest in choosing veterinary medicine as a career.
One of the experiences that we had on this trip was the opportunity to tour the University of Utrecht’s Veterinary Medical School. It was interesting to see how veterinary schools abroad application processes compared to the application processes in the United States. The application processes, no matter the country in which you apply, seems to be extremely difficult just like in the United States. It was interesting to hear from students in the Netherlands and understand their reasons for wanting to attend veterinary school. Their reasons were quite similar to mine. They are passionate about animals and want to help owners/farmers strengthen their animal-human bond. It was reassuring to see others from different cultures and backgrounds so passionate about a career in veterinary medicine.
Similarly, we also had an opportunity to tour a research facility at Wageningen University. It was incredible to see the scope of their research facilities. They had everything from swine, dairy, companion animals such as dogs and cats, horses, lab animals, sheep, and aquaculture. Listening to the fantastic research they were doing on various things such as nutrition for dairy cattle and how to limit the environmental consequences were fascinating as they opened my eyes to more career paths in the animal science field. I am interested in starting research now and am currently in the middle of applying to do research in the animal science department at Ohio State. Understanding the impact of global research on medicine is vital.
Finally, as I stated above, it was refreshing to see that despite the language and cultural barriers that we faced, we were able to bond over our passion for animals. It was reassuring to see great strides being done in research and hearing the concerns that people in Western Europe have for their animals. When talking to the dairy farmers, I enjoyed learning how they become involved in that way of life. Many of them grew up as children on dairy farms that were then passed down to them. Others randomly came across dairy farming randomly, but ended up falling in love with the personalities of the cows and the way of life. In Europe, they actually have political parties whose sole purpose are to support legislation to better the welfare of animals. Though people in the United States are concerned about animal welfare, in Europe I was amazed at the strength of the animal welfare activists and the transparency from the farmers. Both groups tend to meet in the middle in order to overall better the wellbeing of the animals. I have always been supportive of good animal welfare practices, but this trip helped to reiterate the roles of veterinarians. As a veterinarian, it is important to educate people on the health of animals to ensure a good wellbeing.
As a student in animal sciences pursuing a career in veterinary science, it is extremely easy to get tunnel vision and think that veterinary medicine is the only career to pursue. This is simply not true. This study abroad experience opened my eyes to possibly pursing research as a career. Before this trip, I would never have imagined going abroad for graduate school. Now, when researching postgraduate plans, I will be looking to attend institutions that are both national and international. I loved every experience of being abroad. I realized that the only time I may have in my life to live abroad will be in my postgraduate years. THe Second Year Transformational Experience reaffirmed my desire to attend veterinary medical school, but also opened my eyes to other options.