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Alum Discovers Unique Opportunities Traveling the World

Edwin Arriola

Heading overseas provided some very exciting challenges. While living abroad, I was exposed to drastically different cultures and ways of life

Edwin Arriola’s journey toward becoming a veterinarian may have started at Cal Poly Pomona, but it took many unexpected turns that carried him to distant lands.

The Guatemalan native’s trek has taken him from Southern California to the Caribbean, and Scotland to New Zealand, where he currently works as a veterinarian for a government ministry.

“The journey was very exciting. It was unique,” Arriola says. “I think it goes without saying that not many people have had the experience that I did.”

Raised in Los Angeles, Arriola (’10, animal and veterinary sciences) became interested in the biological sciences through having birds and rodents as pets and – of all things – video games.

“I was obsessed with the game Resident Evil, and fascinated by the Ebola virus, because of an AP Biology course that I took in high school, and so I was interested in disciplines which could help me work in a research setting,” he recalls.

Coming to Cal Poly Pomona

Arriola applied to Cal Poly Pomona, because he was familiar with the campus: his older brother was majoring in civil engineering there. He also applied to UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

At first, UC Davis was the only school to admit him; he was initially denied admission to Cal Poly Pomona because of a clerical error.

“Still, it was a difficult decision choosing between UC Davis and Cal Poly Pomona,” Arriola recalls. “In the end, it was location that helped me decide. I wasn’t ready to leave home yet.”

He thrived as a student at Cal Poly Pomona. Arriola even spent nearly a year living and working at the sheep and swine units. Before arriving, he had no intention of working with large animals. But he gave it a shot and fell in love with it, changing his career perspective.

The Caribbean Calls

After graduation, Arriola was recruited to a brand-new veterinary program at the American University of Antigua. In 2011, he was accepted into the program’s fourth class, which consisted of just 11 students. The very small class size combined with well-known visiting professors from veterinary schools through the United States gave what Arriola felt was a quality education.

“The students and professors in the Caribbean schools were very well motivated,” he says. “I think part of it may be that quite a few people look down on the Caribbean programs, and so the Caribbean programs feel that they have a point to prove and do their best to outperform programs within the United States.”

While in Antigua, Arriola enrolled in an online program to earn his master’s degree in public health at Walden University.

But by the end of the year, American University decided to shut down the veterinary program because of low interest. Arriola had applied to transfer to the University of Edinburgh, but had not heard whether the program had accepted him. Meanwhile, he and his fellow American University veterinary students were given admission to the program at St. George’s University in Grenada.

“Fearing the worst, I accepted my admission to St. George’s,” Arriola recalls. “It wasn’t until the morning of my flight to Grenada – when I was sitting comfortably in my window seat on an American Airlines flight – that I decided to check my email one last time and found out that the University of Edinburgh had offered me admission.”

St. George’s had offered to pay the first semester for the transferring students from American University. So Arriola went to Grenada for one semester and then transferred to the University of Edinburgh for the final three years of veterinary school.

Sojourn to Scotland

“I had many people ask why on earth I was moving from the sunny, tropical Caribbean to cold gloomy Scotland,” he says. “However, I was very excited to make the move, which I think made my adjustment significantly easier.”

Besides studying, students in the Caribbean were encouraged to relax, but there weren’t too many student clubs or activities. Edinburgh offered more: Arriola wound up performing in the university wind band, joining the photograph and theatre societies – opportunities that weren’t available in the Caribbean.

“The biggest challenge was having to make new friends all over again,” he says. “I am an introvert, so making new friends actually is quite a big effort for me.”

While in Edinburgh, Arriola’s entire class was sent an email from a recruiting agency advertising a position with the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries. The ministry was looking to hire a veterinarian to ensure food safety at slaughter plants. Initially, Arriola didn’t give the opening much thought and shared it with a friend. His friend insisted that he apply and give it a chance.

“I don’t think I would have actually gone through with the decision if it wasn’t for her support,” Arriola says.

New Zealand Niche

Today, Arriola performs ante mortem inspections of livestock to ensure they are healthy and determine their animal welfare status. He also checks facilities to ensure hygienic processing, that workers are washing their hands and sanitizing their equipment.

“If the other vets who also work here, and myself, are happy with our findings, we then move on to approve health certificates so the products can be exported to different countries, including the United States,” he says. “I enjoy the work because I know I am contributing to public health.”

Arriola is also enjoying life in New Zealand, finding plenty of time to explore the picturesque island country. But he eventually wants to find a job in biosecurity, epidemiology or pathology, and his unique experience has made him open to exploring the world.

“I hope to one day get a chance to work with the World Health Organisation or the World Organisation for Animal Health. However, I’m not in any particular rush to get there,” Arriola says. “In the meantime, I will keep my eyes and ears open to new opportunities and hope to find employment in parts of the world that I have not yet been to.”

Going overseas isn’t for every aspiring veterinarian, but it can be a very valuable experience. Arriola considers his experience amazing.

“Heading overseas provided some very exciting challenges. While living abroad, I was exposed to drastically different cultures and ways of life,” he says. “In addition to this, I have had the chance to see some amazing landscapes from different parts of the world. Having friends from all over the world also has some very nice perks!”

“Going to a university outside the United States probably also increases your willingness to further travel and, potentially, to consider employment opportunities abroad,” Arriola adds. “The world is huge, and we should get to see as much as we can of it.”

Published on April 27, 2016

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The Impact Map shows how Cal Poly Pomona alumni are making a difference in Southern California and around the country. Explore the map or share your own impact.

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