I chose this program because I had a friend who became a staff member. He recommended it but I have been to 2 other GVI projects before this so I had considered it before. My friends was so insistent that this project was different and I needed to experience it so he convinced me, and he was right.
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?
I booked directly through GVI so I had a couple of phone calls to give me information and then a pre departure pack that was emailed to me with kit list and info on the program. All you need to organise before you go are flights and accommodation before the Saturday of your program start. Luckily Chiang Mai is so easy to get around it was fairly simple. You can also get in touch with other volunteers and meet up before the start date.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
My main piece of advice is don’t worry about the home stay. I was concerned as I’d only been on programs with dorms and wasn’t sure how it would be living with a family. It was one of the highlights! The thing to remember is it’s unusual for you but not for the family, they do it all them time. They’ll welcome you into their house and if you want to spend time with them they love it, but they’ll also understand if you’re quiet and want some space. I miss Old Chiefs little bedroom already!!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day begins with breakfast from 6:30 at base. Elephant hikes begins at 7:30 and you’re picked up by the mahouts and taken to the elephants. A survey lasts about 2/3 hours and then you’re brought back to base for a packed lunch made by your home stay. Afternoons can be spent teaching at school or doing an intern project. Dinner is at 6 at your home stay and in the evenings there are usually things going on at base, like a quiz. This is a typical day Monday to Friday and weekends are yours to do with what you like. You can stay on base or visit places near by, I went to Pai, back to Chiang Mai and to Doi inthanon.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Going into it my biggest fear was the language barrier with the locals and how they would feel about westerners living there. On base we were given pakinyaw lessons and even though I only knew a few basic words the villagers appreciate it and wanted to learn more English from me too. They loved having us there, they all enjoyed us visiting the houses at the end of harvest for a party and our weekly football matches. Once I left I felt a real part of the community and was really welcomed with open arms.
Do you interact with the elephants?
No, we only observe the elephants because we want to get accurate data on elephants in the wild. We do get very close and they will often come and sniff you, especially when you’re new. But as a rule only the mahouts will interact with the elephants.
Are the elephants dangerous?
No, the mahouts are very good at keeping the elephants a safe distance away and not in any compromising positions (ie above you on a slope) staff will also help keep you out of their way when they’re in the forest.
Will my home stay be able to cope with my dietary restrictions?
Yes! I’m a vegan and my food was great! My home stay didn’t really understand why I didn’t eat eggs but they were fine to cook for it.