Veterinary student uses her learning in the U.S. to study abroad in Belize

Taylor Graham
May 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Erika Del Pilar, a veterinary and biomedical sciences major, has regularly been involved in the veterinary field during her time at Penn State and recently pursued a study-abroad experience in Belize. In an interview with Taylor Graham, a Student Engagement Network intern, Del Pilar talks about how she was able to take what she learned in the classroom and practice it first-hand overseas.

Q: Can you tell me more about yourself and your involvement?

Del Pilar: I’m a senior majoring in veterinary and biomedical sciences. I’m planning on graduating this upcoming May. During my time here, I’ve become involved with the reproductive research team in the College of Agricultural Sciences. I’m also involved with a volleyball league. It’s not affiliated with Penn State, but we play on the weekends and I really enjoy it. My trip to Belize was the first time I was involved with a study-abroad program.

Q: How did you find out about this opportunity?

Del Pilar: I spoke with someone in the College of Agricultural Sciences that handles scholarships and other engagement opportunities. I asked about both study-abroad opportunities and scholarships, so she gave me a list of options. It was from her that I found out about Belize and the Student Engagement Network. I discovered that the program was during the month of June, with two weeks focused on wildlife health and the other two focused on large- and small-animal health. I went with a group, but they were students from different colleges and levels. I didn’t know anybody going into it, but we all met as soon as we got there.

Q: Where did you stay during the trip?

Del Pilar: We stayed in two very different places. The first two weeks, which was the wildlife course, were spent in cabins in the middle of the woods. It was smaller, with four people to a room. We even had mosquito nets over our beds. The second two weeks we stayed in a resort in Belize, which was a big change going from a small cabin with scorpions in our room to a resort with air conditioning and our own rooms. It was very interesting to go between both locations.

Q: What were your favorite parts of each course?

Del Pilar: The last two weeks in the city was nice because it was very hands-on. I got to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to do here in the United States, such as suture someone’s pet. You wouldn’t be able to do that here unless you had a veterinarian degree. I also got to castrate a pig and give vaccinations to horses and cows, so I had some great experiences that I couldn’t do back in Pennsylvania. For the wildlife part of the course, I liked that we got to see the conservation efforts currently happening in Belize. We got to visit the Belize Zoo and the baboon sanctuary, which was really cool. This part of the trip was much more about observing and learning in comparison to the hands-on work we did later on.

Q: Were you able to do anything else on the trip, other than the veterinarian work?

Del Pilar: We got to explore a lot. In the mornings, we would get up and eat breakfast and then go to wherever our destination was for that day. We went to a lot of different farms. After a few hours of us practicing something, like vaccinations, we would stop somewhere fun on the way back. We visited things like waterfalls and ruins, which were very beautiful. And after dinner sometimes, we would have time off to explore anything else that we wanted to see.

Q: Did this experience give you any clarity on your professional future?

Del Pilar: I think overall it made me realize that veterinarian work is something I definitely do want to do with my life. In the United States, I’ve only ever observed and studied things … I never really got to do them. But by going abroad to Belize, I was able to do them. It made me confident that this is something I really want. After graduation, I’m going to pursue veterinary school. I haven’t chosen one yet, but I'm definitely going.

Q: Why do you think engagement is important for students at Penn State?

Del Pilar: It’s important to get out of your comfort zone. You can grow a lot from it and I think that if you just stay in your comfort zone and don’t push those boundaries, you won’t know all the opportunities that are available to you. Do your research. By talking to someone in my college, I was able to find out about the Student Engagement Network. I started researching them on my own and saw that grants were available. I think a big worry for a lot of students wanting to go abroad is the financial aspect, so I really appreciated that the Student Engagement Network was able to help with that. It alleviated a lot of worry and stress, allowing me to have a good experience in Belize.

About the Student Engagement Network

To learn more about previous grant awardees and their engagement experience stories, visit

Additional details about the grant program, including eligibility requirements and instructions on how to submit an application, can be found at

The Student Engagement Network is a joint initiative between Undergraduate EducationStudent Affairs and Outreach and Online Education. The network's mission is to advance the power of participation by connecting students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact and become leaders of the world.

For more information about the Student Engagement Network, visit or email

  • Image: Penn State

    Del Pilar is assisting the vet with a local horse on a different farm and administering a vitamin shot.

    IMAGE: Provided
  • Image: Penn State

    This is the group of students and veterinarians that Del Pilar worked with after a long day of surgeries, vaccinations, and check-ups at the free clinic.

    IMAGE: Provided
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Last Updated June 11, 2019