Caitlin Cook '20 in Guatemala

William Woods student experiences veterinary medicine abroad with the help of faculty and staff

One of the unique features of attending The Woods is how William Woods students get opportunities to see the world, while still enjoying a small campus experience. For example, students who want to travel for the purposes of visiting another country and learning about its culture can explore embarking on a Woods Around The World program trip. Other students who want to find an international experience in their field of study can find what they are looking for through the university’s Career Services office, which can help match them with study abroad or internship opportunities. 

One current WWU student, Caitlin Cook ’20, brought a new idea to her professors and ended up paving a way for William Woods students to have a different kind of international experience.

Cook traveling in Guatemala

A pre-Veterinary Medicine major with a minor in Spanish, Cook’s plan after veterinary school is to be a travelling vet and serve many areas. When her sister visited Guatemala and sent her a picture of a local clinic in the Central American nation, it sparked an idea: what if she contacted the clinic to inquire about an international shadowing opportunity to work towards her veterinary school application?

“I prayed about it because I thought it was something I was going to need help on.” said Cook. The trip took a lot of faith and support from those around Cook.

At first, the idea seemed as daunting as exciting. She asked William Woods veterinarian Dr. Paul Schiltz, and Assistant Professor of Spanish, Dr. Hannah Bolados, how she might contact the clinic to introduce herself and her idea to them. She also talked to Amy Dittmer in Career Services, and expressed her nervousness about studying abroad when starting her upper level classes. Without experience in the advanced science courses, learning the material for the first time in another language seemed intimidating. But she was undeterred. After translating the name of the clinic and finding it on Facebook and other messaging apps, Cook sent a message introducing herself and asking if there was a way she could shadow the clinic over the summer. 

“It was a back and forth process of talking to the clinic and eventually getting the contact information for the director of the program,” said Cook. “When he seemed on board with the idea, I also secured housing nearby and all of this was arranged in Spanish, so that was a cool experience.”

Cook booked the trip for three weeks, kicking off something that what would be entirely different for both herself and the clinic. While the clinic, with locations in the Guatemala cities of Panajachel and Quetzaltenango, had local interns before, Cook was the first to come from abroad. She even helped teach some of the clinic workers English while she was there. 

Caitlin Cook with a native parrot

“The animals were the same as what you would see in the United States, but it was interesting because some of them that are exotic here are native there, like parrots,” said Cook.  “There were also cases that you would not see in the United States because we vaccinate against them. People would also bring in strays for us to treat, so you would see some sick animals that you wouldn’t normally see.” 

Cook has shadowed Dr. Schiltz in the William Woods barn, as well as both companion animal and large animal clinics locally. The biggest difference she noticed in Guatemala was cultural. While shadowing in the U.S., Cook is normally in the background observing, but in Guatemala it was important for her to greet each client and follow native customs. Another big difference was that there are no training qualifications for a veterinary technician in Guatemala, as they are merely taught by other local vets and do not have required schooling. 

“The culture is kind of ‘fly by the seat of your pants,’” said Cook. “We didn’t really have any schedule down in writing before I got there, and when I arrived, I realized I would be going to both cities every week I was there.” 

Caitlin Cook making her own meal

Knowing where to eat could also be a challenge for Cook. The clinic warned her that not all vendors cooked with a clean water supply and to avoid street food. Since she travelled alone, she needed to learn to navigate these differences quickly. All of these unique challenges helped make the experience very rewarding for Cook. 

“Since I would like to travel internationally when I am done with schooling, it was great to see the profession abroad now, and very rewarding to know the vocabulary as well as I did as well,” said Cook. “The clinic I went to is also mostly a companion animal clinic, and they visited a donkey while I was there, so I was actually able to help teach them about equine handling. Teaching English was a great experience as well, because I tutor Spanish at William Woods, so doing the opposite was amazing.” 

Cook has applied to two vet schools that both work internationally, so she is excited to continue her travels in the future. The programs she applied to travel to other Spanish-speaking nations, such as Mexico and Honduras. 

Caitlin Cook teaching other students at a LEAD event.

On Monday September 30th, Cook was able to share her travel experiences with other William Woods students at a LEAD event, to encourage them to seek their own path to travel while they are at The Woods. Because at William Woods, you can truly be a student of the world, and your opportunities are as big as you can imagine.

For more information on Career Services at William Woods, please visit their page. More information on the Woods Around The World program at WWU can be found here: