I packed my bags and decided to go for it: veterinary school in the Caribbean. I had been working for a vet in San Francisco who had earned her DVM from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on the island of St. Kitts. Obeying an adventurous spirit, I applied for admission. After the usual battery of application forms, interviews, GREs, and essays, I was accepted, and on my way to St. Kitts, an island that my local post office had difficulty locating in the database.
The turboprop plane from San Juan landed at dusk, so even from the air I had only a glimpse of the tropical island where I would be spending the next two years. Through the internet, I had secured an apartment and a vehicle from a graduating vet student. Nothing in my experience prepared me for the haphazard driving situation. Since the island is still a member of the British Commonwealth, (now independent as the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis), drivers use the "other" side of the road. The fact that my 1989 Mitsubishi Lancer was able to mosey down the narrow streets was as awe-inspiring as the distant volcanic peaks visible from the car window.
Soon settling in was over and classes began. I never thought I would attend a school where the lectures and labs were conducted in front of a plate glass window overlooking the Caribbean Sea. One minute I would be in deep concentration on my canine dissection, the next, watching a sailboat glide across the glass-calm sea.
Don't get the impression that classes are a breeze; I am having some of the most challenging coursework of my life. It has been said that vet school is equivalent to running a marathon; you have to have your heart in the work every minute and for the long haul. Physiology, Gross Anatomy I, Nutrition, Introduction to Veterinary Medicine and Histology kept me busy from dawn until late-night. After 7 semesters on the Island I will complete my clinical year at a stateside veterinary medical school hospital. It wasn't until the last final exam of my first semester was completed that I could look around and realize, "Hey! I'm in the Caribbean!"
Several mango coladas later, I was beginning to see the big picture: school is difficult but there are many really cool stress-relievers here. Snorkeling less than 50 yards from shore reveals amazing coral reefs. My most spectacular underwater sighting so far has been a rare 7-foot spotted eagle ray. Also, I saw two Hawksbill turtles--two of only a handful on earth as the species is critically endangered. The most heartwarming turtle experience was that of a mother Leatherback turtle laying 70-100 eggs on the beach at around midnight. With only the moonlight illuminating the beach, I watched as she emerged from the ocean, dug a 4-foot deep trench with her flippers, layed the eggs, covered them meticulously and trudged back to the ocean exhausted. On the lighter side, an African green vervet monkey colony hangs out at a popular beach searching for fruit on the trees and snacks in unsuspecting tourists' beach bags.
Adjusting to "Island Time" isn't easy for Americans, and almost all Ross students are from the States. We forget that in many places, and St. Kitts is one of them, that things aren't open "24/7." Customer service also operates on island time.
I give credit to my Pomona Semester Abroad for enabling me to adjust to studying and living in a foreign locale. Uprooting from familiar surroundings and navigating new territory was much easier after studying in London during the spring of 1998. Since St. Kitts is a former British possession, I had no trouble finding my favorite Cadbury's chocolates here, too.
I'm glad this letter made it to the magazine. I considered sending it by sea inside a bottle, but Pomona is a little too far inland for that. If you're curious about vet school here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.