I did not enjoy going to vet school in the Caribbean. 

Don’t get my wrong—St. Kitts is a beautiful island.  And Ross was an amazing school.  I regret nothing about my decision to go to vet school there. But let’s be honest, island life has its challenges.

My recent trip back to the island to speak to the current crop of Rossies and spread some Vetitude, was amazing.  

I genuinely enjoyed getting to meet and speak to so many of the students.  Seeing how the campus has changed and grown actually made me a little jealous.  And learning about all the ways they’ve made a Ross education even better since I went there—with improved facilities, more hands-on clinical skills labs, and formal communication training, made me so proud to be a Ross grad.

But being back in St. Kitts also reminded me of the struggle I went through during my vet school years.

There were all the little challenges. I’m not made for the weather for starters.  Sure, the air-conditioning situation has improved greatly since I went to school, but one step outside had my hair poofing up like a chia pet and my make-up melting down my face. And power outages were common—sometimes lasting days on end.  Studying without electricity was a little easier back in my day when we got our knowledge primarily from those ancient forms of education such as textbooks and handwritten notes—but still, the lack of light-limited our studying time to daylight hours only.  And oh how I don’t miss those Kittian cars.  Getting to and from campus wasn’t easy when my vehicle was overheating every five minutes and it took months to find a mechanic who could tell me my fan was broken and fix it.

But the biggest challenges were way more meta than that.

The real challenges for me spoke to the core of who I am.  

In order to pursue my dream, I left my friends, my family, and my country.  I left behind what I’d known my whole life to start over in a new place with a new culture where I knew almost no one (though I was fortunate to at least know one person—my roommate from undergrad who was starting with me.)

The loneliness was difficult to handle.  I was away from my family and friends and as the fat kid growing up, I’d dealt with bullying that had taken a toll on my spirit and given me a case of social anxiety that made it hard to make strong connections. Of course, I made friends during my time there and I am so grateful for them, but a part of me was always holding back from making the deeper connections I saw my classmates form.

And the culture shock was hard.  

I am always striving to respect other cultures and other people who are different from me, but I am also fiercely, independently, me. And being thrust into living in a whole new culture was hard.  How did I balance being me with being respectful of the locals and their culture?  How did I balance the impatient, ambitious, type A in me when everyone around me was operating on “Caribbean time”? How did the animal advocate in me respect the status of pets in this new culture where dogs roamed the streets alarmingly thin and covered in fleas and ticks? How did a strong, independent feminist feel safe in a culture where it was normal and accepted for men to come up to you uninvited and start asking invasive questions like if I was alone, and if I had a boyfriend?

That last one was the hardest for me.  Where did it cross from cultural norms to harassment? What was the line between respecting their culture and protecting my safety?  My return to the island confirmed that I am no closer to figuring that one out then I was when I first got to St. Kitts 15 years ago.

And yet, despite all of these challenges, I stand 100% by my earlier statement.  

I have no regrets. And I wouldn’t change my experience at all.

Struggle makes us stronger.  It builds resilience. It fosters kindness and understanding. Life on the island wasn’t easy, but I had a goal, and my focus on that goal was all I needed to sustain me through the ups and downs. 

I am the vet I am today because of my time at Ross.  And I am the person I am today because of my time on St. Kitts.

And if we’re being totally honest, studying on white-sand beaches, waking up to beautiful rainbows, and basking in the abundant sunshine helped ease the pain a bit too.