I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew it had to be meaningful. I was in the process of planning a 5-month long trip around Southeast Asia and Australia, and I wanted to do something to give back. I didn't have to search long to find this program. And within a few clicks I was in. Something about working with elephants in a foreign and beautiful land spoke to my heart, and I was compelled to listen.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Since I was including this program in a 5-month long trip, it was up to me to make all the arrangements to get to the pickup location on my own. But the program was there to assist when I needed. Any question I had about the program itself and the steps leading up to it was answered with a virtual smile. I felt like I was taken care of, even before I got to the pickup point. And for a first-time solo traveler in a country where few people speak English, feeling like someone has my back is a huge help.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Be open to learning new things. Be open to receiving what comes. Be open to going with the flow. And most importantly, be open with allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel. These programs are not easy. They are not a walk in the park with someone holding your hand. There will be moments when you can actually feel your limits being pushed, and it's a difficult thing to feel. But keep at it! Once you do something you never thought you could, a door opens up, and after that, there is no limit to what you can do!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Average days were simple. Simple, but challenging.
After breakfast, we started out hikes at 7 am. We often hiked for an hour or so before we found the elephants. Once we found them, we began observing and monitoring their behavior. We worked as a team and recorded everything. It was a great way to exercise our team building skills. Not to mention being so close to these magnificent creatures!
After that, it was lunch time. Lunch was prepared by our families and we took it with us on our hikes. It was never disappointing, the food was incredible!
When we get back to the main hut, we record everything we observed.
Afternoons are reserved for volunteering with the locals - there are many options. Sometimes the village has a soccer match and we are, of course, invited to cheer them on!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was being lost in a foreign land. This was completely new to me and I was alone, until I found my group. But I was also in the mind frame of "I'm alone, and that's OK". Once I found my group and we began our journey to the village, that fear subsided and a new one arose.
How was I going to survive this physical challenge of long hikes every day?
That took a couple of weeks, I'll be honest. But by the third week, I felt stronger, and was able to enjoy the hikes. I was also in the best shape of my life, so that was a bonus!
The third fear was how was I going to communicate with the locals with such a strong language barrier. As an introvert, this was a nightmare! But the families were so kind and so sweet that, despite this difficulty, I couldn't help but smile every time I saw them. Very quickly, that fear subsided as well.
If you could do something differently, would you?
YES! Absolutely! I would speak with the staff about my introverted tendencies and express how acclimating was a challenge for me. I would ask for help with the integration process. These things are not easy, but there are people there to help you. I felt that I didn't use my resources fully, and I regret that.
Next time, I will ;) Then again, next time, I will also be a different person than I was. Stronger, more confident, and more open to experiences. And that's thanks to this program. Once you dip your toe in the first time, it's easier to jump right in the second, third, and forever after.