Saturday, January 29, 2011

Adoption fair.

Today was the first adoption fair hosted by P.A.W.S. (People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts). Being a mostly student-run operation it was held on campus. My roommate, Jamie, has been hell-bent on getting a cat since we arrived here, so of course we were there 45 minutes early so she could get the literal pick of the litter. She immediately gravitated toward a tiny, orange tabby kitten. Originally we were going to name whatever cat we got Brinley, after the local rum produced on St. Kitts, but Jamie kept pronouncing it Brimley, so that became our new kitty's name instead.

Amanda (my other roommate) and I will be fostering a dog as soon as P.A.W.S. gets a cat-friendly dog in. Amanda will likely wind up adopting whatever dog we foster, but I will continue to foster until my time on the island is up. I've been fostering through E.A.R.P.S. exotic animal rescue for the last six years or so and realized only months before leaving for St. Kitts that I would no longer be able to do so. I miss it. Fostering is extremely rewarding work for those who have the ability to do so without getting irreparably attached and adopting every animal they take in. Watching a foster gain weight and a healthy skin/coat, grow more confident and comfortable with human interaction and eventually seeing a new owner's face light up when they lay eyes on their new pet for the first time and knowing that all of your hard work has paid off in a happy ending is truly one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Here are some pictures from today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Do you know the produce man?

Ross has a pretty sweet little deal going with local farmers and producers where each week on Wednesday they come by during our lunch break and sell their wares to a hungry student populace. It's actually really nice, like having our own, personal farmer's market that comes to us instead of the other way around. And the produce varies from kind of sickly-looking to gorgeous, just like any farmer's market in the States. Typically they have tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, green beans, apples, bananas and lettuce, as well as fresh eggs and frozen beef.

Well today I felt like treating myself and decided to pick up a steak. He had some beautiful, nicely-marbled T-bones for $36 EC/lb (works out to around $13/lb US) and I grabbed one and some okra for dinner tonight. For those who don't know, I love to cook. In fact one of my top priorities upon getting down here was filling up my new, empty spice cabinet. And I'm sure my roommates are sick to death of hearing me bemoan leaving my lemon zester back home. I've also already volunteered for two bake sales. So tonight was a treat, not only because it was delicious, but because cooking is my way of destressing. I know it has the opposite effect for a lot of people; all that chopping and stirring and clock-watching. But for me, cooking is a dance that once you know the steps, you can do it effortlessly and without thinking. It has structure and timing, a rhythm to it that I find relaxing. Chopping veggies or swirling hot oil in a pan lets my mind wander as my hands go through unconscious, familiar movements.

Anyway, cooking down here can be a challenge. You don't have your pots, pans and utensils, your herbs and spices, your stove/oven or often the ingredients that you're used to. So getting to prepare something tonight that was familiar was definitely enjoyable for me. And look, it turned out beautifully:

Now back to studying for my microanatomy exam on Monday.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Language barrier.

In St. Kitts, lots of things don't mean what you think they should or what you're accustomed to. Like they call millipedes "worms" here. And "customer service" means you'll wait at least 30-45 minutes after you've finished eating to get your check, pay and leave a restaurant. That's just how things are here, and you adjust and move on. Today myself and my roommates learned that the Kittitian meaning of the term "leisurely hike" and our understanding of such a thing are very different indeed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week one.

Everyone always talks about how hard it is to get into vet school. It's so competitive, so few spots for so many applicants, etc. What you very rarely hear about is how hard vet school is once you're in.

I just completed my first week of vet school and I feel like I've been repeatedly thwacked in the head with a copy of Dorland's Medical Dictionary. Information hits you hard and fast here and you're expected to sink or swim. Point in fact, it's only the first week and I'm giving up my Saturday to a review session and a tutoring session (yes, I'm already paying for a tutor) this afternoon and then on Sunday will be essentially locking myself in my room to draw and label bones and review muscle attachments. And that's just for two classes; I'm taking five.

It's a little overwhelming and more than one of us broke down in tears this week. I think the combination of stress over our course load and being thousands of miles away from everything familiar is certainly something that causes many Ross students to pack it in. Luckily for me, I have two roommates who are equally as devoted to their grades as I am. If one of us slacks the other two will be there to keep them motivated.

ETA: Just had my first Histology TA session and am breathing a huge sigh of relief. She had a set of mock exam questions at the end that put a lot of us at ease. I knew 3 out of 4 of them, and that was because the TA was going a little too fast for me to fully read the answer set of the other one. Phew!

ETA 2: The Anatomy tutor session was a lifesaver. Well worth the $30 EC. Going over bones and muscles with someone pointing out prominences and attachments on a skeleton/cadaver right in front of you is supremely more helpful than looking at diagrams in a textbook.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I have a white coat.

Today was the white coat ceremony, formally introducing us as vet students and future professionals!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Last days of summer.

Today is my last day of Caribbean leisure before classes start tomorrow. I'm oddly nervous about class. I'm not a bad student; I study hard, take good notes, read assigned material, etc. In undergrad that rarely netted me below a B. In my last 45 credit hours I think I got one B- and one C. But something about the threat of vet school-level course material has my insides turning into jello.

The heat here will completely reconfigure your appetite. It is much easier to adopt a healthier diet here than in the States because not only does your metabolism slow down, so you're hungry less often and satisfied with less food when you do eat, but it also leaves you craving crunchy, cold things like fresh fruit and salad instead of carb-heavy, fried meals.

I'd been out of academia for about six months before starting here and my immune system apparently requires very little time to acclimate to an environment where I'm not being exposed to a high volume of contagious pathogens on a daily basis, because it was not prepared for being in close proximity to over a hundred people every day. I have been sick with a horrible cold all week. Although I'm on the tail end of it now and can taste and smell things again (YAY!), I still have almost unbearable pain and swelling in my throat. I've been taking 800mg doses of ibuprofren 2-3 times a day just to manage it enough to swallow.

On a happier note, I have more pretty pictures from the last two days of orientation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Orientation week, continued.

They're keeping us busy this week! But as of today we're all officially Ross University first semester students, with IDs, registration and financial aid settled. Tomorrow we have a tour of downtown and a trip out to Reggae Beach. This isn't a particularly involved entry, it's mostly just a photo dump.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting adjusted.

It's taken a few days to get settled in our new place. We arrived smack in the middle of Carnival, St. Kitts' version of Mardi Gras, so our cable, internet and phone took a few days longer to get set up than originally predicted.

We landed on Friday morning after our layover in San Juan. Customs went smoothly and we were met outside by representatives from Ross University with a cell phone ready and waiting for us to call home and let them know that we'd arrived safely. From there our Orientation Leaders took over, assigned to us by location of our residence on the island and took us by taxi to our apartments to drop off our luggage and do a walk through of the place. Everything from a single burnt out light bulb to malfunctioning appliances was noted and the landlord called to fix right away. After that we went to the grocery store.

Ross University certainly takes very good care of its students. We don't want or need for anything in the week before classes start. We have an OL at our disposal for questions, emergencies and anything else we might need. My roommates and I spent a few hours at our OL's apartment using her phone and internet before ours got set up. Our OL, Devinne, has been wonderful and has done a great job of getting necessities such as groceries, utilities and driver's licenses dealt with while also taking us to the beach and great restaurants.

That said, St. Kitts is not the U.S.A. It seems silly to say so, but it has to be said. The moment you step off the plane here you have to be prepared for total immersion in a foreign culture, otherwise you're going to flounder pretty hard. White people are in the bottom 5% of the population here, so welcome to being a minority for the first time in your life! Other things that are different are that it is a developing country. That doesn't mean mud huts and pot-bellied naked children, but it does mean adjusting your reliance on instant gratification that American culture facilitates with things like Wal-Mart. The road here is frequently blocked by herds of goats, sheep or cattle. Dogs, cats and chickens roam freely. Island time is a very real thing here, and if you can't be patient and respect that they do things differently, you'll likely spend your entire time here frustrated. Kittitian culture is also highly conservative, and things like swearing in public can have very serious consequences.

But Ross really tries hard to thin the herd a bit during the interview process and ask questions that will weed out those who couldn't make the adjustment. A large part of my interview was dedicated to how much time I'd spent in other countries, how I would adapt to a new culture, etc. One of the new Rossies' favorite jokes is, "Now, where is Walgreens again?" But we were told by our OL that there have been a few who despite interviewing well made it here and couldn't deal. One girl never left the airport and boarded the next plane back to Miami. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of someone so rigid in their comfort zone, but then Ross students really are in a class all our own. Not only is our academic program intensely rigorous and on par or above par with any vet school in the U.S. but we also get much, much more hands on surgical experience than U.S. vet students and have nearly two and a half years of experience living 2,500 miles away from our home, family and normal lives. As our OL told us, not only do you leave Ross an excellent future veterinarian in terms of education and clinical skills, you also leave with nerves of steel and the ability to adapt to any situation that gets thrown at you.

Today was very busy. We got our student visas, school IDs, driver's licenses, nurse health checks and financial aid all settled and taken care of. Our internet, phone and cable also got set up, obviously.

Enough talk, time for pretty pictures.