Study Abroad in Costa Rica

Jul 24, 2012 / Student Blogs

May 19, 2012: Kaitlyn Zebold

Today was the first day of our trip and was a very busy travel day. A group of us flew out of Chicago. Others came from New York, Colorado, and California, but we all met up in San Jose together. We were picked up from the airport by VIDA staff and traveled to a nearby mall for lunch, to exchange money, and to meet our trip leader, Pablo. Lucky for us, the mall had a food court very similar to what we have in the states so we were all able to get a familiar first meal. Many other VIDA groups were there at the same time meeting their leaders as well. During lunch, we experienced our first Costa Rican storm. The ceiling of the food court was a tin roof and when the rain started, the sound was so overpowering, no one could hear anything else. When there wasn’t the roaring of the rain, however, the food court was filled with the cheering of all the local Costa Ricans watching the soccer game playing on TV’s around the food court.

After lunch, we went to exchange money at the bank. The exchange rate was about 450 Colones to each American dollar, which made figuring out pricing a little easier. We were all very surprised though at how many coins they used! Everyone’s bags seemed to get much heavier after the exchange. Next we piled on the bus and headed to Hotel Aeropuerto for the evening. After we settled into our rooms, which all had air conditioning, an amenity we would sorely miss for the rest of the trip, we had Spanish class followed by a short orientation and discussion of the itinerary with Pablo. In Spanish class, we learned the very basics; how to say hello, how to introduce ourselves, and how to talk about where we were from and our families.

Then we went over some words that we would use in the clinics and some phrases that would be important while staying in our homestays and communicating with members of the community. Pablo discussed the schedule for each day and what we could expect. Then he explained how to set up and take down the clinic stations, what was expected of us each day, and the rules of VIDA. After all of this we piled back on the bus to meet a couple other VIDA groups at a local restaurant for dinner. Here most of us tried a very typical Costa Rican dish, the casado. This dish consisted of rice, black beans with chips, a small side salad, a fried plantain, and either chicken, beef, or some other type of meat. At this restaurant we were lucky enough to have both chicken and beef included! This would definitely not be the last time we would see this dish on the menu. Finally we were all driven back to the hotel and went off to bed to prepare for an early morning and long day tomorrow.

May 20, 2012: Margret Donahue

Today was our first full day in Costa Rica. We had breakfast at Hotel Aeropuerto – the traditional “huevos y pintos” (eggs with rice and beans), fresh mango juice and local coffee. After breakfast, we went right to work with Dr. Miguel. Dr. Miguel is the lead veterinarian on our trip. We learned about basic clinic set up and procedures and took inventory of all of our supplies. We were warned as to how crazy clinic days, especially the first one, will be. We’ll be paired up with a new person each day and will need to be as efficient as possible, any wasted time means an animal who will not get the care it needs.
We reviewed some basic male and female anatomy and watched some videos with different spay and neuter techniques, such as scrotal and pre-scrotal incision sites for castrations, and where to shave for the different procedures. Next, we practiced suture patterns (simple interrupted, simple continuous, modified horizontal mattress, and intradermal patterns), as well as transfixation techniques, circumferential ties and Miller’s knots. We also talked about different types of suture; all the suture we will be using is absorbable (even the skin sutures) because it is very unlikely these animals will be going anywhere for a suture removal.
At noon, we took a break for lunch. We ate more traditional, delicious, Costa Rican food at Hotel Aeropuerto; arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and more fresh fruit juice.
The hotel had wifi and computers with internet and skype. This was really good for Kathryn because, despite being in Costa Rica, she had to do an interview over skype for a job during lunch!

After lunch, we talked about some common illnesses/conditions we might encounter: fleas, ticks, bot flies, lacterations, and demodectic vs sarcoptic mange. We also discussed personal safety: all dogs are to be muzzled (even if they seem friendly), how to properly restrain a cat, as well as restraint techniques for IV catheter placement and endotracheal intubation. We went over the de-wormer we would be using (Ivermectin, IM for older animals, PO for younger/smaller animals), as well as the pain medication (dolovet) and antibiotics (enrofloxacin). Everything will need to be written in Spanish, so we went over prescription writing and directions in Spanish.

At 3 pm, we packed everything up and headed to Cartago. On the way, we picked up Dr. Julian (one of the surgeons) and Viviana (our awesome assistant). After a couple hours of driving and seeing the beautiful country side, we arrived at our new amazing hotel at Sanchiri. We all had incredible views of the valley from all of our rooms.

There was also a farm at the hotel with roosters, cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. We ate dinner at the hotel and met the last doctor who would be helping us: Dr. Mario. Everyone enjoyed their dinner, but the best part was that our Coca-Cola came in huge glass bottles!
After reviewing our itinerary for tomorrow with Pablo and Dr Miguel, we all headed to bed; tomorrow is our first clinic day!


May 21, 2012: Nicole Pach

Today, my roommates and I woke up to a beautiful view of the Orosi valley. One of my roommates, Yukari, said the view made her feel like we were in a Folgers commercial because it was so gorgeous and peaceful. After enjoying the view and snapping many pictures from our window, we headed to the hotel restaurant to have breakfast. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto (a yummy rice and bean mixture), juicy and sweet pineapple, papaya, and the best coffee in the world. After enjoying a delicious and filling breakfast, we headed to the bus to begin our clinic day adventure.
We were all very excited but also sad because we found out the night before that Dr. Bennett (an amazing teacher and surgeon) would not be able to join us on our first clinic day due to illness. We were all looking forward to meeting and working with him, because we had heard so many great things about him. After our 40-minute bus ride we arrived in Paloma, Cartago and began to unload our equipment in a local community center. It was awesome to see all of the people already at the clinic with their pets, and I was eager to see if any of my patients were going to be Chihuahuas :o). After unloading all of the boxes and equipment from the bus, the doctors took a few minutes to decide where each station was going to be set up. We needed four separate stations: intake, pre-op, surgery, and post-op. The doctors asked us to pick a station and begin setting it up. Once the stations were set up everything started to make a little more sense, and they asked us to pair up with someone.
Because Victoria and I had helped set up the post-op station together, we decided to team up for our day of surgeries. We ended up being the first pair chosen to do a surgery, which was exciting… until we realized that we were first and had never done this before. Our first patient was a young female Miniature Pinscher. Victoria and I gave the dog a complete physical exam and then prepared her medications, including her pre-anesthetic. Since Victoria was going to be the surgeon and I was going to be the anesthetist,, I held the dog for her as she gave the pre meds and placed the catheter. Once our patient was sedated, we clipped her surgical area and brought her to the surgery table. I cleaned her surgical area as Victoria and Dr. Woodley put on their sterile surgery gloves. Long story short, surgery was a success. Victoria did a great job, and I felt comfortable monitoring the patient for the duration of the procedure. After surgery, we brought our patient to the post-op station where we began preparing her take home meds and clipping her nails.
I luckily got to be the surgeon on our second patient- an adorable Chihuahua! I worked with Dr. Mario and he walked me through the whole procedure, and allowed me to ligate the ovarian pedicle and uterine stump. Even though my hands were shaking, I didn’t feel nervous at all and realized that if I can do surgery in these conditions, I will be fine for junior surgery come this fall. After our two surgeries, Victoria and I had lunch and then spent the rest of the day seeing consults and becoming proficient at physical exams. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but we were so proud that our group saw 30 patients that day.

May 22, 2012: Kelly Jones

Today is our second day of small animal clinic in Palomo de Orosi, Costa Rica! We arrive early at the clinic, and there are already people waiting with their animals in the waiting room of the clinic. We are all excited to start the day, and begin preparing for patients. When we are ready to begin accepting patients, we are paired up by the lovely Viviana, the veterinary technician with us on our VIDA adventure who is fabulous and extremely helpful.

Today I am paired with the student from Auburn, Cary Clark, who we have all grown to love and are happy to have with us on this trip. Our first patient of the day is a medium sized dog whose owner is afraid that the lumps she feels on his back are cancer. We are told by Viviana that we are supposed to do a physical exam and check the lumps to determine if the lumps are due to bot fly larvae or if they are indeed lumps which could be cancerous. When we look at the lumps, we see dried blood matting the hair and are told by Dr. Miquel Somarriba to begin cleaning the lumps and shaving the fur. After noticing a hole on the first lump we cleaned and shaved, and confirming that this was from bot fly larvae with Dr. Miquel, we are told the ways to kill bot fly larvae and the effects of each method; we are also told that the best method is removal – if we can get the larvae out.

Dr. Somarriba then shows us how to remove them, and then we begin on the remaining larvae. We wait until we see the larvae. One of us pushes the larvae out through the hole, another one takes a gauze, grabs and pulls the larvae, wiggling it back and forth until it is removed. We do this 9 more times for the live larvae, and around 4 times for the dead larvae we found. My last larvae actually shot out of its hole when I squeezed it, and it landed only a few inches away from Cary. Then, our patient, who was amazing throughout this entire process, is sent home with antibiotic spray on each hole, oral antibiotics, and mosquito repellant sprayed onto his fur. He is discharged and we receive our next patient immediately. Our next patient is a dog coming in for a neuter. We complete his physical exam, calculate the doses of pre-medications and anesthetic, and have our calculations approved before we begin prepping our patient for his neuter surgery. Cary will be assisting and I will be monitoring the patient during the surgery by taking his respiratory and heart rates every 5 minutes, checking for signs that the patient is not waking during surgery, and recording the doses of anesthetic he receives in order to keep him under the effects of anesthesia throughout the surgery. After the surgery, I take our patient to the recovery area. I monitor our patient until Cary returns, and then we both work to prepare our patient for discharge. Our next patient is a young bull terrier who is in for a recheck of her infected toe. We consult with Dr. Miquel, clean the toe, calculate the doses of antibiotic and pain medications as we were instructed, have the doses checked, prepare her antibiotic and pain medications, and then ready her for discharge. We are now ready to receive our last patient of the day, a dog in for a neuter surgery. We complete the same steps as were done with our first surgery of the day, and after getting the go-ahead, begin prepping our patient for surgery. I place the IV catheter, and I also assist with the surgery…needless to say, I am excited.

During the surgery, I perform transfixation ligations where instructed, and I remove the testicles. After the surgery, I clean the instruments and then join Cary with our patient in the recovery area. We work to prepare our patient for discharge while monitoring him. After everyone finishes for the day and all our patients are discharged, we hop in the van to head back to the hotel. We have around an hour until our Latin Dance Class. When class begins, our instructor introduces herself and tells us she will be teaching us the steps of some common Latin dances. Throughout the class, we learn one type of dance at a time, partner up with someone new, and practice the steps our teacher taught us. After dance class, we are all very tired after our long day, and get ready to eat dinner in the hotel’s dining room. Hotel Sanchiri has a calm atmosphere and an amazing view, even when it’s dark the lights below the hills are beautiful to observe, so it is wonderful to relax, eat dinner, and enjoy the remainder of the evening with our awesome group.


May 23, 2012: Ashley Peters

Today was our 3rd day of small animal clinics. We woke up early again, about 6 am and got ready to head to breakfast before leaving for clinics. We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant at about 6:45am (delicious Pineapple!) and then loaded up on the bus for the 45 minute drive to our clinic location.

I was paired with Margret today. We started clinics about 8:15am after getting everything set up. Our first patient was a cute little Shepherd mix of some kind that someone had actually found outside our hotel and brought into our clinic. She had Mange and a lot of fleas, as well as abscesses on her back end with bot flies inside. So after we performed her spay we had to help clean up her other problems. We did a few consults after that (nail trimming, ear cleaning, Frontline, de-worming) and then received another puppy for a spay. She was kind of an interesting case because she was only a year old, but had already had puppies. But for some reason did not feed them and so had mastitis, and because of this had to have her spay performed in Left-lateral position. (Because she was still lactating and had mastitis)

After we wrapped clinics up at about 5pm, we had case presentations with the doctors. Everyone presented an interesting or cool case they had encountered during the first 3 days of small animal clinics. We had everything from bot flies, to heart murmurs, to Patella luxations. Then it was back on the bus for another 45 minute drive back to the hotel. After a quick shower we loaded up the bus to head to a local restaurant for dinner. I ordered the chicken fajitas, but learned that when they said tortillas, they meant tortilla chips instead of flour tortillas! And got Pepsi in a bottle. The coke and Pepsi tastes so much better over there! (and comes in the cool glass bottles).

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and packed up our stuff, because tomorrow we headed to a new location. My roommates and I read our books for about half an hour before falling asleep; it had been a LONG but good day. 🙂


May 24, 2012: Kathryn McCutheon

We woke up in the beautiful Hotel Sanchiri and had breakfast at 7:30. The breakfast included fresh, local fruit, pinto (beans and rice), eggs, and French toast. We left Sanchiri for the last time at 8 am and headed for Volcano Irazu. On the 2-hour mountainous bus ride there, we took tons of pictures and enjoyed the views. The people were all so friendly and everyone waved as we passed by. When we reached our destination, so much luscious green vegetation and a unique plant called “poor man’s umbrella” surrounded us. We walked around for a little more than an hour and took lots of pictures. There was uniquely colored blue water at the bottom of the volcano that fascinated us all. We then shopped at the gift shop where we found amazing pictures that were painted on feathers and coffee leaves. Many of the volunteers bought some coffee to bring back home to family members.

We left the volcano and drove back down the mountains until it was lunch time. We stopped at a typical Costa Rican restaurant for lunch. Some of the meals included pinto, fried plantain, and cheesy corn tortillas. I, of course, had French fries. Some of the girls found some homemade sour cream ice cream pops and had those for dessert.

After lunch, we headed for Grano de Oro for our second clinic location and our homestays. Once we made it to Grano de Oro, we met our homestay families. Margret, Madoka, and I were the vegetarians of the group, so we all stayed together. Our homestay mother was such a sweetheart and did everything she could to accommodate our eating habits. Our little turquoise house was adorable but so different from any house I’ve ever been in. The interior walls did not reach the ceiling, so we could stand on our beds and see over into the other rooms. There was about an inch gap between the wooden floor planks, so we could see the ground beneath the house. To get to the bathroom, we had to walk through the back porch where the stove was. We knew that there wasn’t going to be hot water, but we had no idea how cold the water would be. It was heart-stopping freezing. We then had dinner with the family, which included pineapple, pinto, cooked vegetables, and a coconut-chocolate bar for dessert. After dinner, another guy that was staying with our family took each of us on a four-wheeler ride. It was so much fun and so scary at the same time. We went 40 km/hr on a pothole filled dirt road in the dark! We finished the night watching some football with the family in the living room. The girls and I went to bed at around 10 pm so that we would be ready for our first clinic day in Grano de Oro.


May 25, 2012: Victoria Giampaoli

“Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”—-this is how I woke up this morning! Today was my first day waking up in my homestay house. And right next to our house are some cows including a very vocal calf. Our homestay mother cooked us a delicious breakfast— gallo pinto, plantains, agua dulce, and pineapple. It was a fun experience getting ready for clinics alongside our homestay siblings (they were getting ready for school). Our homestay mother treated us like her own children.

Jen and I then walked to our first day of clinics at Grano de Oro with our homestay sister, Sarah—we dropped her off at school on the way. It was such a beautiful walk to the clinic. On the unpaved road we passed family farms, children playing in the street, and cows down by the river.

Arriving outside the clinic there was a long line/crowd of people waiting for appointments and animal sterilization. Although it was the first day of clinics at Grano de Oro—it technically was our 4th clinic day so all of us were starting to feel more comfortable with set up and procedures. Grano de Oro is a lot more remote than our previous clinic (and I had thought the previous clinic was at the time!). Today we all saw some pretty rough cases. One of my cases I was assigned to was a dog that had previously been pregnant. However, due to lack of veterinary care, education, and funds someone had kicked the dog to abort the puppies. The owners brought her in for an exam and were not going to spay her—when the vet found out the situation he urged them to let us spay her and they agreed! We were all so excited when they said yes to the spay. We did not want this to happen to her again! She was a very sweet dog and was a perfect example of why we are here—to help beautiful animals like her! I asked the vets if they had seen stories like this before and they told me unfortunately they had. They told me this happens in other countries all over the world.

Today was another long day. We ended up finishing up quite late since our dog took extra long to wake up from anesthesia. It was exhausting but as Jen and I walked back home in the dark we knew we had accomplished something. We stopped off on the way home at a little corner store to buy a powerade—I felt like a foreigner but at the same time I felt like I had lived there for years—probably since the community was so inviting!

We got home covered in dirt, sweat, bug spray, and fleas and our homestay mother had dinner waiting for us! Then it was time for some socializing with our family, shower, and bed. We didn’t have too much trouble falling asleep as we were so tired and needed rest since tomorrow was another clinic day!


May 26, 2012: Madoka McAllister

Today was our second clinic day in Grano de Oro. We woke up early and were at the clinic by 8:00 AM after eating a hearty breakfast of pinto (rice and beans), fresh pineapple, papaya and toast. There were even more people waiting for us at the clinic when we got there, which was a little intimidating, but we were excited to make the most of our last small animal clinic day in Grano de Oro and on the trip. We had a busy day with lots of consults and surgeries.

Personally, Victoria and I saw six animals: one dog spay, one cat neuter and four dog consults. Overall, our clinic saw a total of 36 animals, with 15 of those animals getting spayed or neutered and the other 21 being consults. Some of the interesting cases included: a German shepherd with a really long nail on one of its feet. The foot pad on that foot had been very swollen for a long time, so the nail couldn’t grow properly and had grown so long it was impeding the movement of that foot. There was one female dog, which had a transmissible venereal tumor that she had been suffering from for six months. She also had several bot flies on her tail. Another dog had a total of 23 bot flies all over her body. It took a long time for the bot flies to all be removed.

May 27, 2012: Kathryn McCutheon

Today was our second clinic day in Grano de Oro. We woke up early and were at the clinic by 8:00 AM after eating a hearty breakfast of pinto (rice and beans), fresh pineapple, papaya and toast. There were even more people waiting for us at the clinic when we got there, which was a little intimidating, but we were excited to make the most of our last small animal clinic day in Grano de Oro and on the trip. We had a busy day with lots of consults and surgeries.

Personally, Victoria and I saw six animals: one dog spay, one cat neuter and four dog consults. Overall, our clinic saw a total of 36 animals, with 15 of those animals getting spayed or neutered and the other 21 being consults. Some of the interesting cases included: a German shepherd with a really long nail on one of its feet. The foot pad on that foot had been very swollen for a long time, so the nail couldn’t grow properly and had grown so long it was impeding the movement of that foot. There was one female dog, which had a transmissible venereal tumor that she had been suffering from for six months. She also had several bot flies on her tail. Another dog had a total of 23 bot flies all over her body. It took a long time for the bot flies to all be removed.


May 28, 2012: Yukari Ohtomo

The day started off with our last breakfast together with our home stay families. Nicole, Kelly, Cary, Kaitlyn, and I brought over our presents for our families to the table and had our mom open them. It was a very heartfelt moment because we could see how appreciative she was every time she opened a gift. She even had to walk away because she started crying and saying she wasn’t sure if she was going to see us again. It was such a wonderful experience, and we couldn’t believe it was over already. I remember when we first heard about our home stays, everyone was worried and scared at how the 4 nights would be. Now we all sat around the table wishing we could have one more delicious meal with our Mama.

After our final pictures and goodbyes, it was time to leave Grano de Oro and head for the Pacuare River for our white water rafting day! It was a long bus ride with the smell of sunblock in the air the entire ride because Kelly and Victoria were busy slathering it all over their bodies. When we thought we had finally reached the river, we were told to walk down the very steep mountain path for another 20 minutes. It was so rewarding when we got to the bottom however, because we saw the area packed with people, rafts, life vests, helmets, and oars. The sight made you so anxious! After gearing up, Nicole, Kelly, Victoria and I made a team with our guide Juan Carlos. He told us how this river is a class 4, meaning there are 4 levels (1 being the smallest) of rapids. The day was beautiful and the water level in the river was low, making it an excellent day for white water rafting. Juan Carlos also instructed us on how to paddle forward, backward, and to scrunch down low in the boat for safety. He also used me as a demonstration for the proper way to lift someone back into the boat from the water.

The rapids were the best part of the river, where we often times felt like the boat was going to flip. There was a photographer strategically placed at every intense rapid to capture our just as intense faces. The calmer areas were also nice because it was a break from Juan Carlos always telling us to paddle harder, not that it made a difference because we were laughing so much on the boat we sometimes wouldn’t be able to hear Juan Carlos anyway. After about an hour and a half, we parked our rafts on the side of the river. We hiked up the side to see a clearing and a little wooden hut. Each of the raft guides and the photographer carried their own cooler full of food to the hut and set up our lunch. We got to make our own sandwiches, eat fruit, cookies, and drink different kinds of juices. After our lunch, it was time to head off for another hour and half to the end of the river.

The second half of the ride was just as extreme and just as hard to get reacquainted with paddling in sync as a group. It definitely looks easier than it actually is and I could feel my arms getting sore already. One of my favorite times was when we got to jump out of the raft to swim in between the mountains. Since we had life vests on, I just floated along the river on my back. After another round of rapids, we turned a corner and could see cars and trucks passing on a bridge. Before we knew it, the ride was over.
We lifted our rafts over heads after docking and placed it on the truck at the end of the path. We went straight to the changing area and purchased our DVDs filled with our pictures from the day. We loaded the bus again and headed for our next destination, which was the CATIE campus. CATIE is an institution created for aiding inter-American counties in agricultural issues. We were going to spend a few nights here in the dorm rooms.

The campus was beautiful when we drove in, and the rooms were so amazing because of the fact that we had hot showers and didn’t have to cover our faces for huge wandering bugs at night. We had dinner on their campus cafeteria and it was like we were back in Undergrad again. I can’t wait for what we’ll have planned for tomorrow on this campus!


May 29, 2012: Jennifer Yip

After many days of long clinic hours, today we get to relax and learn a little bit about the native plants and flowers of Costa Rica. We woke up early and ate breakfast at a nearby restaurant. The food was delicious! We had a bowl filled w/many colorful fruits such as papaya, bananas, mangos, and pineapples. We were also served a icy fruit smoothie drink. For our main course, we had black beans with rice, eggs, plantains, and garlic bread. After a filling breakfast, we got back in our taxis and went to the Catie jardin de botanica for a garden tour. Our tour guide took us around the whole garden and pointed out special flowers and plants that were native to Costa Rica, some with medicinal properties. He also noted which plants were not native and told us where they came from. Since they were a botanical garden, they also imported many plants from various other places to grow. They even have an area where workers were crossing two different types of coffee plants together to make a new cross-type. We saw many varieties of plants such as banana trees, sugar cane, lemon and lime trees, and much more. The best thing was that our guide took many of the fruits and nuts directly off the trees and cut them up for us to try! Some of the things we tried were macadamian nuts, sugar cane, and cocoa that is used to make chocolate.

The weather was bright and sunny and also humid. After the tour, we were served fresh cool drinks made directly from the fruits in their garden. We also dropped by the gift shop to purchase coffee beans and other souvenirs. We also bought some ice cream and drinks to cool off from the summer heat! There were also pretty flowers, many of which were bright and colorful.

In the afternoon, most of our group members went to tour downtown with Pablo, our group leader. We took the public bus from the Catie botanical garden to downtown. We decided to first eat lunch at a local restaurant that Pablo recommended. We had sandwiches, salads, and pasta. Next, some of us wanted to visit the bakery and try some sweets. There was such a great selection to choose from and they all looked so good! There were cookies, pastries, sweet breads, cakes, and turnovers. After our sweet indulgence at the pastry shop, it was time for more dessert at a local ice cream parlor to cool off some more before we head home.

It was a great day to explore the city and visit different shops and of course practice our Spanish! To get back to the Catie University, Pablo took us to ride the public bus! This is the real Costa Rican experience! The bus was crowded and packed with people in every seat and even in the aisle. There was also no air conditioning on the bus so it was very hot. When we got back to our rooms, we met up with others from the group that went for a swim while we were gone. We spent the rest of the night chatting about our veterinary and cultural experience and packing to get ready for our long drive back to San Jose tomorrow.