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SYMCO 2019

Sarah Muirhead from Iowa State University was awarded a scholarship from SAVMA's International Veterinary Experience Committee. Read on to learn more about what she experienced!


SYMCO 2019 was hands-down, the most incredible adventure of my life. I had never been to a foreign country, and if that wasn’t enough, I was traveling to South Africa by myself. I had some anxieties about missing my flight or losing my luggage, but the arrival was smooth and uneventful. The South African committee members greeted us at the airport, and we went on our way to the University of Pretoria. Slowly throughout the day, we began to meet more local and international veterinary students. 

On the second night, we celebrated our different backgrounds by bringing different foods, drinks, and customs to culture night. We left University of Pretoria and began the long journey throughout the north-eastern part of South Africa. We stopped in Durban, and I swam in the ocean for the first time. In fact, my first time swimming in the ocean was cage diving with sharks! When we arrived at Kruger national park, we were about halfway through the symposium and exhausted. Yet you wouldn’t be able to tell based on the excitement seeing animals in Kruger for the first time. People lept out of their seats to see the elephant walking through the bush and the troupe of baboons running across the road. 

After visiting Kruger, we traveled to a rhino farm and learned more about darting and dehorning. In fact, we had a full two days of darting from the ground, shooting paintballs from a helicopter and dehorning a total of 20 rhinos. It was an incredible learning opportunity – I think I said it was the best day of my life every day for at least 7 of the 18 days. On our last full day together, we had a community outreach event. We teamed up with a non-profit organization called Lessons in Conservation to teach 45 elementary kids about the importance of conservation. After the lesson, we took them on their first game drive to see South Africa’s wildlife! 

Other activities included: numerous lectures from wildlife professionals; visits to an elephant sanctuary, local cultural village, rhino sanctuary, and uShaka marine world; LOTS of time on the bus; wine and gin tastings; sunrise game drives; and lots of Braii. 

We started as 60 international students, 15 local students and 10 devoted committee members. By the end of 18 exhilarating days, we became 85 friends and colleagues. I am honored to have been chosen to represent Iowa State University CVM as one of the United States delegates. Thank you so much for the scholarship to help fund this life-changing experience!


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