Alumni Spotlight: Tom Ogilvie

Tom is a cover supervisor and IT technician from Leeds. His big passions are environmental sustainability, animal welfare and cultural diversity.

Why did you choose this program?

It started out by me wanting to do something more worthwhile with my summer break from work. After looking at provider after provider after provider, I finally came across GVI. What first caught my eye about GVI was the immense variety of their programs. You can work with children, train as a safari field guide, teach Buddhist monks, volunteer in conservation and the list just goes on! It was GVI's Chiang Mai program that stood out from the others. It looked like I could really get integrated with the community while also helping with elephant conservation. The duration of the program was also very flexible, so it could fit in my term break perfectly.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I honestly can't commend the pre-departure team, and even the GVI staff as a whole, anymore! Everything I needed to organize for my placement was clearly laid out as soon as I'd signed up. Documentation wise, GVI can arrange a DBS check for you (for a small fee) but you're free to get it yourself too. I'd never had to apply for a visa before, so I wasn't sure where to start. Thankfully, GVI was on hand to help and even direct me to the nearest consulate where I could collect it. GVI arrange transport to and from the village at the beginning and end of your stay. All accommodation and food are set up for just before and throughout the program too.

In short, GVI is always on hand to help with whatever you need and are happy to organize things where they can.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't be afraid of going on your own. In fact, I'd recommend it! Traveling to Huay Pakoot was the furthest I'd travelled on my own. I was slightly hesitant, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity, so I took the plunge. The vast majority of volunteers at Huay Pakoot arrive on their own too so you'll all be pretty much in the same boat from the get-go. Because of this, it makes it so much easier to get to know everyone. I am seriously surprised at the number of genuine connections I made with other volunteers during my stay. We even have regular meetups when back in the UK!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day starts with beautiful views and even more beautiful elephants. Hiking to the elephants every morning quickly became one of my favorite things to do. Not only are you surrounded by breathtaking scenery, but knowing you’re actually helping to keep these magnificent creatures in the wild, where they belong, is a wonderful feeling.

One of the best parts of this program is you actively take part in helping collect research on the elephants. This is then passed on to the Thai government, so you really feel like you’re doing something truly worthwhile too.

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 wondering if I could adapt to village life. Although it sounded pretty much idyllic, I couldn't be sure until I got there. All my fears washed away on the first day, however. Not only were all the other volunteers and staff ace, but the villagers were also SO welcoming and friendly I instantly felt at home. I genuinely had no reason to worry whatsoever!

Would you volunteer/intern with the same company again?

Yes, absolutely! As I said before, one of the greatest things about GVI is the amazing variety of their programs. I've found myself counting down the days I can return to Huay Pakoot and I am absolutely certain I'll be applying for other programs in the near future!