By Casey Wesselman, UGA CVM, class of 2018
I heard about the Freeman-Asia Grant and the wonderful people at the Univerisiti of Putra Malaysia from my classmate Julie Thompson, and decided that what I wanted for my last "free summer" of veterinary school was to travel far...far away. The application process for the Freeman-Asia Grant was very straightforward and left me with a lot of freedom to set up a quality experience abroad. I requested funds for 6 weeks of travel and ended up spending all six doing a mix of clinical work (4 weeks) and research (2 weeks). I have an interest in small animal medicine and parasitology, and when I expressed this to the host institution they paired me with Dr. Puteri, a small animal parasitologist who got me involved with two of her projects during my two weeks of research.
This honestly was the best of both worlds for me. I got 4 weeks of interaction with fellow students, doctors, owners and real patients. I spent one week in the clinics performing physical exams and helping take histories. It was a wonderful way to see the human-animal bond in action in a culture outside of my previous experience. Malaysia is a majority Islamic country, and I happened to plan my trip from the beginning to the end of Ramadan. This was a totally new and incredible experience, and with every person I met there came an opportunity for cultural exchange.
I spent two weeks in the intensive care unit learning how to triage and create treatment protocols for patients in a setting with much sparser resources than what we are lucky to have in the US. I was impressed with the ingenuity of the veterinarians and staff and loved getting to know them through work and over some great meals. I had some experience with PCR prior to this summer so the first project I helped with was optimizing protocols for the detection of Leishmania in canine and feline blood samples. This was part of a new surveillance project to assess this parasites prevalence in Malaysia. The other project involved screening blood smears for microfilaria of the parasites that cause heartworm disease and elephantiasis from cats and dogs as part of a One Health effort to understand their life cycle in rural Malaysian communities.
Meals. Where to begin. Malaysia is a mélange of cultures given its relatively high GDP and immigration rates from Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and several other southeast Asian nations. Consequently, there wasn’t really a language barrier since English was the common tongue. Malaysia has its own delicious local cuisine as well as a bursting fusion scene that is absolutely mind-boggling in variety. I made many friends and shared a lot of laughs over meals with second and third year veterinary students, doctors and my research compatriots. These meals coupled with some pretty incredible weekend adventures (pictures included!) were what made the trip for me. I was blessed to have all the veterinary experiences that I did, but the people I met were some of the most welcoming I have ever come across…and I’m from southwest Georgia so you know that’s saying something.
I want more of my veterinary student peers to travel abroad. It’s a challenge that helps you grow as a person, exposes you to ideas you’ve never encountered before. I strongly recommend the Universiti of Putra Malaysia Faculti of Veterinary Medicine because it’s the flagship vet university of Malaysia and has an incredibly welcoming atmosphere to visitors. Please contact me personally if you want to know more, I would love to help convince you to take your next great adventure to Malaysia!