Global Service Scholar: Matthew Lightner
Country: Thailand

What always surprises me about traveling to a new country is how far removed the reality of the new place is from the pictures I have seen and from my imagination. I imagined Chiang Mai, Thailand to be a sort of mountainous, outdoorsy town comparable Lake Tahoe, Calif. in terms of the energy it emits and the feeling one has while in the town, as well as the geographical composition of the town (mountains and hills, trees). The actuality of Chiang Mai is of course, much different. It is less a small town and more a bustling, active city, with malls and freeways and McDonald’s and the like. Traffic is much more hectic than in the U.S., yet in my experience so far, I’ve seen less evidence of automobile accidents. There are Buddhist temples as far as the eye can see, and yet the nightlife is as lively and vibrant as any similar-sized U.S. city. The people are generally kind and welcoming, despite a noticeable difference in the standard of living relative to that in the U.S., and many locals work as merchants of some kind. In general, my expectations of what Chiang Mai would look and feel like were not met, but not necessarily for better or worse.

I am most looking forward to working with elephants and exploring the intricacies of such marvelous creatures. Additionally, I am really looking forward to being away from the city at the elephant sanctuary. I am a firm believer in the notion that people need an opportunity every once in a while to detach from technology and the chaos of modernity in order to reconnect with themselves and to remind themselves of the sacred nature and beauty of the Earth that birthed them. With limited cellular data and wifi access at the camp, I will certainly have a lot of time to contemplate, relax, and reconnect.