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International volunteering opened Adam Lichtensteiger's eyes to the veterinary profession. Photo by Debra Marshall.

Global volunteering motivates B.C. student

A trip to Bali opened Adam Lichtensteiger's eyes to the distressing number of stray dogs that were fending for their lives on the Indonesian island. Disturbed by what he had witnessed, Lichtensteiger decided to help.

Although Bali doesn't accept foreign volunteers, Lichtensteiger learned that he'd be welcome in Thailand – a country with similar problems. He signed up with Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS) Care for Dogs and booked his flight.

"It was an amazing experience working with the vets and vet nurses and travelling to different cities in Thailand offering free spay and neuters for owners and for stray dogs and cats," recalls Lichtensteiger, who is from North Vancouver, B.C. "It was also rewarding to see the people that we were helping. I even had a monk approach me and thank me for my efforts."

Lichtensteiger also volunteered for the Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand, an opportunity to work with primates, exotic birds and a variety of other species, including elephants.

"All the animals were interesting, but it was hard to ignore the elephants. It's pretty amazing to get to walk, feed and bathe those massive animals. There were moments when I was laughing and giggling like a child."

Those experiences helped Lichtensteiger, who had done a lot of soul searching while seeking a career that would mesh with his lifelong interest in science and nature. But it wasn't until his family's dog was diagnosed with cancer that everything became clear.

"My parents spoke so highly of the veterinarian, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head," recalls Lichtensteiger. "Here's a job in the realm of science where I could work with animals and really make a difference in the lives of animals and people."

Once Lichtensteiger's mind was set on a veterinary career, he focused his energy on boosting his grades and getting as much volunteer experience as possible.

Through his experiences in Canada and in Thailand, he was able to develop skills and gain an appreciation for the demands of the veterinary profession. He will put that knowledge to good use at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) where he's now a first-year student in the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program.

Lichtensteiger and his 77 classmates received an official welcome to the WCVM and to the veterinary profession on Friday, Sept. 23, during a white coat ceremony in Saskatoon, Sask. The new students, who will graduate from the WCVM in 2020, come from communities across Western Canada and the northern territories.

So far, Lichtensteiger is really enjoying the anatomy labs and the animal production labs – opportunities to get practical skills and learn about the body systems by getting hands on with bones and tissues.

As far as his future, Lichtensteiger is open to any opportunities that might present themselves during the next four years. He's also looking forward to making lifelong friends, and he hopes to continue travelling and volunteering around the world.

"I would love to go back and practise surgery skills with Worldwide Veterinary Services in the future. I hope I can find a way to travel the world volunteering every year throughout the rest of my career," says Lichtensteiger. "Volunteering adds a new and fulfilling dimension to this world, and it's a great feeling to know that you've made a positive impact."

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