I chose the GVI Chiang Mai program for it's many different aspects. I liked how the program covered three different projects - the ethical elephant tourism, community development and biodiversity. I wanted to be part of a program that opened my eyes to three different types of conservation to see which I was most interested in. I was also intrigued to stay within a home-stay family and fully immerse myself into a completely new culture.
Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Bristow
Hannah took part in this GVI program for credits towards her University degree. She is coming away with not only a huge amount of professional and personal development, but unforgettable memories and friends for life. She is already saving up to go back!
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
GVI's pre-departure team were so helpful and helped to ease my mind, as this was my first time travelling alone. They help you complete any relevant documentation, give visa advice and answer any questions you have (no matter how obvious). I cannot fault the help that I received before going, this gave me a lot of confidence before setting off. The only thing you are really left to sort on your own are your flights and vaccinations.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
I think it is important to know what to expect when turning up in the village. I knew what to expect but still had a bit of a culture shock during the first week, which is totally normal and I think most volunteers go through the same experience. My only other advice would be to enjoy every second of the program - you will wish you were back as soon as you land back at home. You get out exactly what you put into this program as every activity is voluntary. I know that I feel as if I got the most out of the program by going on as many hikes as possible and getting involved in all community activities too.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
A typical day on a project consists of waking up for breakfast at around 6:30 am before leaving for the elephant hike at 7:30 am.
On the hike, you will find the elephant and then collect data. This can either be an activity budget, behavioral data or a health check. The behavioral data consists of independent behaviors, vocalizations, and interactive behavior.
You will arrive back at base in time for lunch and then take part in the afternoon activities.
Afternoon activities depend on the day; however, they consist of: going up to the school to teach English or conservation classes, making elephant medicine or listening to presentations about the project and sustainable conservation.
The evening activities also vary depending on the day but you can teach the mahouts or members of the village English, speak to a villager about their life in Huay Pakoot and once a week everyone has fun at the quiz night.
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 the change in culture. I have only ever traveled with other people and mostly to Western countries. I was worried about the food and the different way of living. In my first week, I did find it hard to adjust however as soon as I did I had the best six weeks of my life. I soon learnt that the food, beliefs and bathroom situation was very different to back home, but just because it was different doesn't make it wrong. I fell in love with the simplicity of life in the village by the end.
What was the most rewarding part of your experience abroad?
The most rewarding part of GVI Chiang Mai was my personal development. I am so grateful for the skills that I have learnt that will stand me in a good position for professional opportunities, but more importantly, I grew personally throughout my six weeks.
I arrived very unsure of what to expect and left not wanting to come home AT ALL. I really have a different perspective about almost everything now that I am home and have some direction with how I want to spend the rest of my life, not to mention the life long friends that I have made and the unforgettable memories that I have created too.