Preparing for my Internship
In the Spring of 2016, suddenly I was stuck at a crossroads in my life. I was 23 years old and feeling lost. I went to school, got my associates degree in veterinary technology, and was working in the field I had always dreamed of. However, something was missing. The veterinarian I was working for was difficult, and I was the only tech in his small practice so there was no one to learn from. I was constantly being yelled at for rookie mistakes, and was often lost under the pressure of the fast past clinic. I had attempted the VTNE, the veterinary technician national exam, and failed. I kept telling myself that lots of people fail certification tests the first time, no big deal. However, the months went by and I kept putting off studying and just lost motivation to try it again. That’s when I started thinking about my past and realized that I had always wanted to work with exotic animals and wildlife. The vet tech program was always meant to be a stepping stone in a plan to reach that much bigger goal. That’s when I decided to quit my job, go back to school, and search for zoo keeping internships I could do for the summer.
After being accepted into the University of New England animal behavior program, I started looking for zoo internships across the country. I decided that I wanted to spend two months out west in Arizona because my aunt and uncle agreed to let me live with them for the summer if I found an internship close to them. I also liked the idea of spending time with family that I didn’t get to see as often, including my eighty-eight-year-old grandmother. I started googling zoos near their town, and Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park happened to pop up. After exploring the website, I was excited to see how many animals Wildlife World Zoo (WWZ) had at their facility, and so many different species! It is the largest collection of exotic species in Arizona. This zoo has even more animals than the Phoenix Zoo, and more impressively it was privately owned by one man. I applied almost immediately. Although I continued to apply to other internships, I had my heart set on Wildlife World Zoo.
Shortly after sending in my application, I received a call from Jamie the volunteer coordinator (and assistant curator, and senior zookeeper; this woman was seriously busy.) It was the call I was hoping for: I was accepted as an intern! I learned WWZ was very relaxed when it came to their internships. There was no uniform, I, for the most part, could pick my own schedule, and choose the departments I was interested in as long as there was space. I learned that really the only difference between an intern and a volunteer at WWZ was that interns had a required amount of hours and received a certificate stating you had completed all the hours at the end. The volunteers and interns had pretty much the same job, but it was probably the most hands on work than any other zoo I had looked into which is what really appealed to me about it.
About a month of preparation went into packing and planning for my trip. Finally, the last week in April had arrived. My family always plans a yearly visit to Arizona to see our extended family and we decided that we would all fly down together, and I would just stay for my internship. I gave myself a few days to get settled, and set up a meeting with Jamie the week before I started. My family decided to check out the zoo on the day of my meeting so we could all get a feel of where I would be working for the next few months, and of course check out all the animals.
Jamie came and picked me up at the gift shop in a golf cart, a common mode of transportation at large zoos. We made our way back to her office and sat down and discussed the departments and days I would be working. Although she didn’t have room in birds and primates, which was one of the departments on my list, she did have room in small mammals and hoofstock, my top two choices! She also added me in the ponds and carnivores department, another area I was thrilled to work in. I would work Friday through Monday 9-5. After our brief meeting, my family and I explored the zoo. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari park was so big we couldn’t even get through it all in one day. I left feeling excited for the next two months and couldn’t wait to see what this internship brought me.
The next few days came and went and it was finally time for my first day. It was my father, mother, and sister’s last day before flying home so I was happy they got to send me off on this new adventure. My first day I would be in the small mammal building. This building housed bats, small primates, rodents, and much more. It felt like the first day of school again. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. My mother eagerly awaited to take my picture by my shiny new rental car. I suited up in the appropriate khaki shorts, tee shirt, and sunscreen. I packed a hearty lunch and giant water jug to get me through the day. I laced up my sturdy work boots and posed by the car for a photo. Then I was off for my first day…
**Read part two in this series, linked below:
Don’t forget check out Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari park on their website linked below!
For tips on how to find animal related internships and volunteer work yourself, please check out my how-to article provided in the link below.