I landed in Seattle only a month ago, and today I started packing to leave again on Friday. It has been a whirlwind of just over thirty days. Landing the night before Thanksgiving after almost three months in Madagascar with Stony Brook University‘s biodiversity and culture study abroad program, I have just begun adjusting to the cold and rain here in the Pacific Northwest. After four weeks of unpacking, writing a research paper, catching up with friends at holiday parties, and spending time with my family, it is time for my next adventure!
When I began looking into study abroad programs, I never even knew that there were opportunities outside of the traditional study abroad. I had always wanted to travel while I was in school, and was even more inclined to do so as I learned about options like global learning programs, exchanges, internships, and independent study. Seeing that there are unique opportunities in education abroad pushed me to look for something that really interested me.
While sifting through Western Washington University’s programs, I stumbled upon the internship program at Highland Farm Gibbon Sanctuary in Mae Sot, Thailand. I was elated. My background is working with wild animals in a captive setting, and in the last few years, I have started to find my career niche in primatology. A huge part of working with primates in captivity is providing them with two big things. One is enrichment, changes to their daily lives with toys, food, things to stimulate their senses or change their environment. The other is training! Primates are very smart animals, and they benefit from training just like a pet dog or cat would. These two things, enrichment and training, are my two big goals that I have while I’m interning at Highland Farm Gibbon Sanctuary.
Although I have created goals for myself with the animals while I am working with the animals at Highland Farm, I also have thought about what I personally want to take from this upcoming journey, and the things that I may be nervous about encountering. Thanks to WWU and IE3 Global, I have been well-prepared before I arrive at my host site. Because a part of the process with IE3 includes doing research on your proposed town and country, I feel better about my knowledge of the culture that I will be experiencing for almost three months. In October, the people of Thailand lost their King after a reign of 66 years. I have read many articles to learn more about how Thailand is coping in this time of mourning and what the next steps are, but this is a subject that makes me feel more ignorant of their culture. I am aware of what is happening, and do not want to be disrespectful towards the Royal Family or the Thai culture as I move into my new home for the academic quarter.
My other concern shouldn’t be much of a concern, but it is to me. My experience in Madagascar was phenomenal. I’m normally a very independent person and did not think that I would make lifelong friends, but the 16 students that I traveled with changed my mindset very quickly. I never thought that my time there would be as impactful on my life as it was. I’ve kept in contact with my Malagasy friends and have already planned a return trip. The time that I had was amazing, and I’m worried that I will compare my last trip to this upcoming one. I have reminded myself how different these trips will be, and that I need to approach them differently and with an open mind. I am very excited for this opportunity in Thailand, and am hoping that I can remind myself that there will be high points and low points in each trip, and that it’s okay and good to have a completely different experience.
I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to travel at different points in my life, but have yet to visit Asia. I am thrilled to finally be able to venture to a new part of the world, specifically one of the first countries that I added to my bucket list as a little girl. The rich cultures found throughout Southeast Asia are something that I am eager to explore. I am also excited to work with a whole new variety of animals in a setting unlike any other zoo or sanctuary that I have seen. Being able to bring in my experience to enhance the lives of gibbons, macaques, bears, binturongs, jackals, and others will be exhilarating while I am learning the techniques of animal care from this facility.
I should keep packing and finish gathering my last minute things. The next time I post, I’ll be settling into my room in Mae Sot!!