Alumni Spotlight: Jimena Ayala


Jimena its a eco-friendly traveling MD, who loves learning things about new cultures, food, history as well as nature and ecology, always trying to take care of the environment as much as posible, and have a lot of fun.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I knew I would be able to get in touch with nature, while learning more about conservation, and get involved with traditions and culture from another country.

I wanted to travel to Southeast Asia and thought what better way to do it than this. Not only was I able to be with elephants, which its a very important part in the tourism of Thailand, and sometimes these animals are not treated as well as they should be, but also I was able to get in touch with people from the country, learn traditions, history and even a new language (which was not Thai; the people from this town speak a special native language that the Karen people in Thailand and Burma speak.)

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

The program provided all the information to get ready for the program, what to bring, etc. Also, they offered transportation from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the town where the program takes part at. I was given food and water as well as a place to stay for the whole program (You could bring extra food or snacks if you wanted to).

I had to buy the airplane ticket and transportation to Chiang Mai (because I bought my airplane to Bangkok, I took a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, visiting some places in the middle) but you can also buy flights directly to Chiang Mai.

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

Go to every hike, try every workshop and try to really learn the language form the village. I always brought a paper with words and phrases on it in my pocket so if I needed it I would just pick it out and use some words. They really loved it.

Try talking to your host family, help them and show interest in what they do, what they work, etc.

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

You wake up at your host family house, you get your lunch which they prepare, and walk to the base. In my case, it was an uphill walk and I was able to see the sunrise. It was beautiful. Then you eat breakfast at the base and everyone meets (usually eggs + bread or rice; I recommend, if you are special with food, to buy some extra fruits, cereal, milk or whatever you like). Then a van picks you up and takes you to the elephants (sometimes this changes and you can hike somewhere else like a cave, or go to the school and teach English, try them all if you can).

You hike; some hikes are longer than others. Then with the elephants, we do some health checks and behavior checks (we stay 1-2 hrs with the elephant; you can not touch it, but we can watch it as much as we want; they are beautiful). Then we hike back, go to the van and eat lunch at the base (some days we eat lunch at the forest, which its a great experience, and sometimes with the mahouts, which are the guys in charge of babysitting the elephants). Then it's time for some classes, either language or conservation, workshops or just some free time.

Later, we eat dinner at the host family house (some days it's cooking class so we eat somewhere else, or we eat all together at base sharing the food). Then we go to English classes around the village, and later just chill at base, watch a movie or play some games, and go back to sleep.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was afraid as an alone traveler for the first time to get lost, or maybe something happening to me. But Thailand felt super safe, and traveling alone sometimes it's good too.

I was able to meet many new friends at the program, some of them later traveled with me for a few days. The food was delicious, everyone was very nice (in and out of the program). The hikes were tough, but such a good work out, and you get used to them.

Everyone was ready to help if needed, so I think you don't have anything to worry about.

What did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed being in such a calm and natural place. I loved the sound of the chickens in the morning, the sound of the wind, the smell of the forest, all the animals we saw (we also saw snakes (they don't do anything, don't worry) frogs, birds, a whole bunch of amazing insects (I saw a blue bee, that was my favorite)), etc.