By Julie Thompson, UGA CVM, class of 2018
During my second year of veterinary school, there was a certain point where students in my class came to the realization that, "NO NO NO THIS IS OUR LAST SUMMER EVER." Once we returned to class the next fall, clinics would soon be upon us thus signaling the beginning of this thing called "adulthood" I keep hearing about. At this point in 26 years of existence, I felt pretty accomplished simply because I had finally learned how to spell "diarrhea." Ahhh yes, I have learned so much in vet school... "Epididymis" is next on my spelling list, along with figuring out how horses still exist. So aside from the endless horse riddle, what does a public health vet student do with their last summer?
They shamelessly email CV's to anyone and everyone all spring with the hope that an internship or shadow opportunity might formulate. Or at least this is what I did.
Amazingly enough, it worked. Three months, one grant application, and 21 hours of flying later, I found myself in Hanoi, Vietnam. While here, I had the privilege of participating in an internship with the USAID funded PREDICT Project, which is a program that aims to strengthen the global capacity for detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses. Because many zoonotic diseases originate from animals, PREDICT aims to be proactive and monitors the human-wildlife interface to identify any viral pathogens (novel or known) of pandemic potential (i.e. Influenza, Ebola, etc.). This interface is particularly evident in Vietnam as many areas of the country are actively involved in wildlife hunting, trade, trafficking, and consumption.
This photo was taken while collecting biological samples from a pangolin, a critically endangered animal in Vietnam. Pangolins are highly valued for their scales, and this one in particular was confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. We collected samples not only for the PREDICT Project, but also to determine if it was healthy enough to potentially be returned to the wild. Photo by Julie Thompson.
During my 8 week internship here, I was able to assist the PREDICT team with a variety of tasks. I assisted with a non-human primate necropsy (in full PPE in 90 degree weather), helped collect biological samples from critically endangered species, and actively participated in the composition and editing of various USAID-PREDICT monthly and quarterly work reports, regional presentations, necropsy reports, and a weekly One Health media digest. This aspect of my work was certainly a new experience for me and was also quite a challenge, as I had to quickly learn the appropriate development terminology and professional standards expected from these documents. I learned/Googled several new *adult* phrases like "capacity building" and "coordinated, concurrent, longitudinal surveillance" and wore far more business casual attire than I ever would back home. By assisting with these tasks though, I had the amazing opportunity to attend several collaborative meetings and workshops and to interact with representatives from USAID, the CDC, FAO, WHO, and many other organizations that play pivotal roles in both the human and animal health sectors. I was like a shameless fan-girl and felt like I was a child being promoted to the big-kids table at Thanksgiving dinner. Employ me later please?
Ultimately, the experiences I gained during this trip were incredibly valuable not only for my professional development, but also because the cultural emersion of living in Vietnam has to date, been one of my favorite experiences abroad. A noodle dish called Bun Cha might be my favorite food ever, and it is almost humorous that the most significant "cultural clash" I encountered while traveling was my host family continuously trying to feed me entirely too much food. Three meals a day and even some snack times in between, we would have the same debates about how much food I was physically capable of eating, which ironically taught me more about negotiating and low-balling than any market I have encountered in Southeast Asia. Fun fact: to say, "full" in Vietnamese, you pronounce the word, "no." So even with a language barrier, theoretically I would say, "No, I am full"- a phrase my wonderful host family would promptly disregard and then bring out a new full platter of meat pate.
Hanoi by night. When the streets of the Old Quarter are not packed with motorbikes and cars, locals and tourists alike populate the roads at the Night Market. Photo by Julie Thompson.
Overall I am so thankful for the experience, the delicious food, and generally how overwhelmingly kind the Vietnamese people are. I was interested to see what the general attitude was towards Americans considering the American War (as it is called in Vietnam) was relatively recent, but most people I met were just excited to practice their English and would tell me all about how President Obama was recently in Hanoi and how much he liked Bun Cha. (Me too, Mr. President. Me too.) Even with all the challenges one typically encounters abroad, this internship was nothing short of incredible and has undoubtedly reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in veterinary public health and global epidemiology in the future.
For more information about the USAID PREDICT Project in Viet Nam:
Though I worked full time Monday through Friday, I tried to take as many weekend trips as possible. This photo was taken in Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage sight in northeastern Vietnam. Photo by Julie Thompson.