First, it is possible to gain experience at home.
Obviously, it is more financially feasible and often necessary to gain work experience at home. If you are inundated with student debt, for example, traveling may be out of the question for you. However, if you are looking for something spectacular to build up not only your resume but your life, I highly recommend stepping outside of your comfort zone and exploring your interests in a new location.
Why? Because to travel is a beautiful thing…
It is amazing to witness how the world of “travel” has opened up over my life. Growing up, we never discussed traveling abroad; to go to another country was a once in a lifetime event. My dad traveled for work and I would often accompany him, guiding him via maps before the days of GPS. Going to Florida was an adventure for me, and to be honest it still kind of is.
I think that we become disillusioned with social media showing us all of these exotic locations. We think, “oh that is what normal people do and where normal people go”. I do think it is possible for “normal” people to have a healthy dose of traveling throughout their lives. I talked about this a lot in another blog post (How do you travel so much?) and it still rings true that for most of us, to be able to travel is not without hardship.
To put it in perspective, many of you have seen my photos of the beautiful California central coast. What you don’t see is that today I sit here writing this blog post at the back of an old elementary school – the building was donated to the non-profit I am currently volunteering with, Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI). There is mouse poop behind me, and above my head, there are neon green wasp traps filled with sardines. In the distance, I see the Pacific Ocean, but I also hear cars pass by on the 101 Coastal Highway – a highway that I myself used to commute on daily (click here to read more of my story). Every once in a while, I get a whiff of sea lion poop. Occasionally I hear their characteristic “barking” sound coming from their outdoor enclosures.
An ode to my trailer – and the value of free housing.
When I head back for the night, I walk over a gravel driveway to my trailer. This trailer has been the biggest blessing and a huge part of how I made this trip possible. CIMWI has housing for their interns, which is unique and highly desirable as a poor veterinary student. Oftentimes, especially when it comes to zoological medicine internships/externships, housing is not provided. This is not to be cruel, but it is simply because a lot of non-profit organizations do not have the funds to house a veterinary student.
In the trailer, my space is limited, but quite substantial compared to some of the other places I have stayed. There is a microwave, a fridge, a toaster oven, a little stovetop, a bathroom, a living room with a couch and desk, and then a bedroom. It is honestly more than I could have ever hoped for, considering some of my other experiences. The first that comes to mind is sleeping in a cabana with a mosquito net to prevent the giant coconut cockroaches from crawling on me. The trailer is rustic, with an occasional critter or two (I am out in the middle of nowhere, you know!) and I am so thankful to have stayed here over the past three weeks.
Needless to say, by my serenade of my trailer, you can tell that traveling for experience is not an easy path. Another cost often overlooked is transportation. I did have to rent a car, but fortunately, I got a great deal and was able to afford it.
The reality of work experience (in wildlife):
Since I have been interning at CIMWI, I have worked every day and worked HARD. Wildlife rehabilitation is no joke and it is not for the faint of heart. Most days, I scrub poop off of floors, risk getting bitten, necropsy sea lions with yellow jackets flying around my face, and stuff medication into dead fish while praying that sea lion eats it. I will not lie to you and say that any of my work experience has been easy. If you want to do wildlife medicine, you have to get down in the trenches and know that you are at the bottom of the totem pole. Just because you are a veterinary student does not give you superiority over the people who are there every day taking care of those animals in that environment. You will shine through your work ethic, not what you know. This is the reality of committing yourself to an organization and giving it your all.
Would I ever take back my travel experience?
HELL NO. Working at places like CIMWI is why I am pursuing veterinary medicine – to have an impact on wildlife conservation, to protect animals from unnecessary suffering, and to help those (within reason) who cannot help themselves.
If it is more expensive, why travel?
Sometimes, you have to travel in order to gain hands-on experience in a particular subject. A prime example is what I am doing now – there are no sea lions in Georgia, so I had to travel to California to work with them!
My best advice to you if you are thinking about traveling for experience – DO IT. Put fear aside and DO IT! I often don’t know how I am going to make something work, but I commit to it in my mind and it always works out. This summer, I committed to two externships before they both offered me free housing. I didn’t know “how” at the time, but I was determined to make it work. You only live once. Take risks, live without fear, do something you never dreamed you would do, make a bucket list and check things off. LIVE for those who cannot. Find your happiness in your work.
The only way that you will fail is if you never begin. So begin.