Brandon Woods (’12 biology) is a third-year student in the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine who reached out to us after the August issue of “Young Alumni News” to tell us more about how he spent his summer vacation: On an internship in Borneo, researching endangered orangutans. (Read more from Brandon on the EcoHealthNet Alliance website.) We were thrilled to have the opportunity to add his story to the feature. Watch for even more summer vacation stories to be added to the blog in the coming weeks. Did you do something cool with your summer vacation? Contact Young Alumni Council marketing committee chair Andrea Fellows ’06 at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story with Young Alumni News.
YAN: What inspired you to pursue this opportunity and travel to Borneo?
BW: My inspiration to pursue this opportunity in Borneo boils down to four things: a curiosity of new cultures, a concern for wildlife conservation, a passion for public health, and of course a great thrill of adventure! After I discovered the internship on the EcoHealth Alliance website, I felt like this global veterinary research project was the perfect culmination of all my experiences. I wanted to make the most of my last summer before I started my senior year of clinical rotations, and what could sound more exciting and practical than an overseas study on orangutans?
How did your time at Iowa State prepare you for the cultural differences as well as the challenges of the internship?
I believe that two of the reasons why I was selected for this internship were my past international experiences and research projects at Iowa State University. Studying abroad for a semester in Tasmania pushed me out of my comfort zone in a land down under, where I explored cultural diversity and grew more independently. Likewise, volunteering on a Nicaraguan veterinary mission trip also taught me how to be culturally sensitive in a foreign country. For example, I respected the local traditions while I toured the Kotakinabalu mosque and tasted exotic foods like bird nest coffee and grilled eel. My years in ISU’s Honors program and my capstone Lyme disease project prepared me for the internship challenges surrounding wildlife ecology research. I learned valuable skills such as how to manage a demanding work load, how to communicate effectively, and how to problem solve and persevere. Although nothing could quite prepare me for a hike through a cockroach and bat-infested cave!
How did you show you are “Forever True” while in Borneo?
Even though I was half way around the world in the hot, humid heart of Borneo, I still showed pride for my alma mater. When I wasn’t wearing my jungle gear or a white lab coat, I sported the good ol’ cardinal and gold and shared Cyclone stories with my new-found colleagues and friends!
What advice do you have for the class of 2015?
I think three of the most important pieces of advice that I learned in Borneo were to remember the big picture, collaboration is key, and balance your time with work and play. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated and can’t see the forest for the trees, but try to keep positive, zoom out, and remind yourself of your overarching goal. I would not have been able to do this internship and promote orangutan conservation without the widespread collaboration of veterinarians, wildlife forest rangers, scientists, and others — so remember that the keys to success are teamwork, compromise, and communication. Lastly, this trip would have been more fatiguing than fantastic if I only worked and never truly experienced the culture, cuisine, and color of Malaysia, Borneo. On one of my days off, I went scuba diving in a crystal clear coral reef and it definitely was a breath of fresh air. Stay focused and work hard, but take time to explore, reenergize and monkey around, at least for a little while.