I had always wanted a “real” volunteer experience and so, after three years of saving and a dream I thought would never be true, I was now sleeping in the jungle of Chiang Mai, Thailand with my sister, best friend, and three half wild elephants.
I was a world away from my usual life – only a week ago, my thoughts were occupied by college rankings and preparing for tests, replaced now by excitement and fear. I was joining the Elephant Nature Park, nothing more than a small camp carved in the forest of Chiang Mai, a refuge for abused domesticated elephants given a chance to finish a life free and loved.
The camp was small, the cause just one of many others, but what I learned there was universal and changed me for the best.
My dreams are filled with ways to change the world for the better, often envisioning myself dedicating my career to provide care for those less fortunate. The grand scale of these dreams couldn’t help but feel daunting. There was never a clear road from here to there, but at that instant, flooded with intense emotion, I felt a sense of clarity. Feeling part of a community, we were working directly to help stop injustice. I wanted to give back, trying to help those in need. However, the person to most benefit from this experience was none other than me. I realized how important stepping out of your comfort zone is to accomplishing great things.
Besides helping keep the camp going and the elephants happy, a day was dedicated to teaching English at a nearby school village. Though my lesson was nothing more than teaching them basic anatomy, I could sense through the students’ smiles that my minimal effort had a much more significant impact. Perhaps changing the world is as simple as bringing a smile to the face of someone who needs it – as simplistic as it may sound. This is what I remind myself when my big dreams start to seem distant. Whether working alongside mahouts, teaching English, or chopping stalks of corn in the blistering sun, the lesson is the same. The small steps pave the way to the opportunity for bigger outcomes. I have come back revitalized, full of purpose and determined to be the best person that I can be. The vastness of the world reminds me daily of how much there is yet to learn and to do. Education seems to have been the main tool in preparing me for the next chapter of my life. Combined with my eagerness, I am convinced those two will allow me to make a powerful difference.
This will always remain one of the best experiences and vacations of my life. Being able to have spent it with my sister not only contributed to the happiness of this trip but classifies as one of our richest bonding moments. I was able to connect with her in ways that I would have never imagined. The green, grand, gorgeous, landscape of the Chiang Mai jungle remains a perfect painting that will always be imprinted in my mind.
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