I enjoyed my time teaching at the Affiliated High School of Peking University. The students I taught hailed from many different provinces in China, and I would like to think that they returned to their homes with a better sense of the various fields that comprise the concept of One Health. Ironically, my health was compromised the second I stepped foot onto the tarmac in Beijing. My teaching cohort and I were greeted by a tiny sandstorm while waiting to ride a bus to the airport terminal. Over the course of two weeks, I developed a cough and sore throat but powered my way through teaching by drinking as much hot tea as I could boil every morning. My students’ eagerness to learn was a key factor in giving me the strength to teach.
It was sometimes challenging to relate my lessons to the daily lives of second school students in China, all the while being sensitive to the cultural differences surrounding different topics. For example, not everyone in China is a fan of dogs. Pet ownership has skyrocketed in places like Beijing in recent years, and similarly has the number of stray dogs. I noticed dogs wandering around streets, in shops, and even in art galleries in the 798 Art District. A much less appealing thought is how many strays (that may or may not have rabies) and even pets are illegally taken and may eventually become food as part of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival every summer. Needless to say, it is a controversial subject. I made a point of not making any value judgements of the people who participate in this annual tradition, but I definitely did make sure to stress to my students about the ethical and public health implications about eating said meat.
I felt somewhat conflicted, because I would have liked to help the dogs and cats that I saw in the streets. However, I lack the know-how to best treat them at this stage in my education, and I also deemed it improper for me, as a foreigner who does not speak the language, to visit restaurants and try to explain to owners that allowing their flea-infested animals inside near where patrons dined was not the best idea. Similarly, if they were kept outside the shop in a dirty kennel with no water, who was I to try to intervene and potentially cause a problem? I may look back at my “negligence” as being foolish, but I just did not think it would have been right for me to get in the way.
That said, I have so much respect for one of my best friends in vet school who, on a recent wildlife rescue mission, happened across a sick cat in a local market and brought it to her overnight accommodations to give it fluids, food, a bath, and dewormer before returning it to the market the next morning. What a champion! Everyone has his or her own style of problem-solving depending on the circumstance, so in this situation, I left my teaching to be the agent of change that I hoped to see in the students. The newest generation always inherits the problems of the one that came before it, and I have confidence that the students I had the pleasure of teaching will come up with some wonderful solutions.