Having just finished school I was eager to get out and experience the world. I searched for "working abroad with animals" on the internet, as you would expect hundreds of opportunities turned up. I narrowed it down to a few but the friendly nature of the GVI staff who listened to my many phone calls and questions made me want to experience more. I booked on to go for 3 months to Thailand, my first time travelling alone and outside of the EU! I was very nervous when I first landed but the GVI field staff immediately made me feel at ease and it wasn't long until I felt at home.
When I arrived in the stunning rural village, Huay Pakoot, I was hosted by a Thai family, living alongside them. It was difficult at first with the language barrier but I soon felt confident in my Pakinyaw language skills to hold conversations with most of the villagers thanks to the lessons for the staff and the aid of the long term interns on the project.
My first hike was incredible! Walking out into the forest to be overwhelmed by the magnificent giants, Asian elephants. Nothing will ever beat asking "where are the elephants?" and have them pointed out to you only a few meters away hiding in a tangle of leave. Over the course of the three months I spent working alongside the mahoots and their elephants I learnt how to recognise behaviours that were normal and stereotypical of the Asian elephant. This has aided me in deciding what to do as a career as I really enjoyed learning about each individual. Their unique looks and behaviours that made them each find a space in my heart where they will stay forever. The GVI volunteers got to laugh and joke around with the 'elephant watchers', the men of the community that own elephants in the GVI herd. This always made the hikes entertaining and I have created some really good friends. After too little time it came to my last week and my last hikes to see the creatures I had fallen in love with, it broke my heart to say goodbye but I know they are still living the best life, being free.
GVI Chiang Mai also offers an opportunity to teach and aid the community. Twice a week a small group of volunteers would make the walk up to the top of the village to teach English to children grade 1-6. It was really good fun planning and presenting lessons and seeing improvements in the students. We also had the ability to help out at Auban, the nursery, playing with the little tots of the village. We did not only teach the children but once a week we would hold "Homestay English" allowing the adults to practice their English. Likewise, we would hold "Homestay Pakinyaw" allowing conversation practice for the volunteers.
I loved my adventure with GVI and the only thing I can recommend is to go for as long as you are able. No time will ever be enough to learn about the community, work alongside fantastic people and see the beautiful elephants everyday.