Global Service Scholar: Irene Sin
Country: Thailand

It has been a week since I left Thailand and I miss the country. Although I did not feel useful all the time as a volunteer at the elephant camp, I miss being around my elephant, Tata. Waking up and seeing her, bathing her in the river, and feeding her were the best parts of my day.

While I was a volunteer at the elephant camp, I learned a lot about Thai culture and how it differed from my own perspective. As an American citizen, I have been lucky enough to have access to necessities that I would have never considered to be a privilege. For example, in Thailand, you cannot drink tap water because the water is not considered safe to drink due to the bacteria and contamination in the water. Here in the States, I have never had to consider drinking from bottled water because the water sources are all clean and safe. In restaurants everywhere, water is automatically served without any extra charges but in Thailand you have to buy it because there is no tap water available for customers to drink. I also realized how lucky I was to be living in America because I had so many different opportunities available to me that would not have been possible if I were a Thai citizen. I have become more appreciative of what I have.

What I appreciated the most throughout my time in Thailand was meeting the other volunteers outside of the Global Service Scholars program. There were many other volunteers from all over the U.S., as well as the world, and working alongside them helped me grow as a person. Because we were all in a foreign country together, it became easier to bond with one another. We shared the same happiness of bonding with our elephants and sadness over how they were treated.

The revenue of the elephant camp I volunteered at comes entirely from the tourism industry. In order to make a profit, there is an elephant show four to five times a day by the same ten elephants. The rest of the elephants give tourists rides on large metal chairs for hours every day, and there is even an ox cart ride offered at the camp. Although the mahouts do care for the elephants, they also depend on these elephants for their income and so they push the elephants to work hard. To me this was a completely new experience because of how differently animals are treated in Thailand in comparison to the States.

I understand that they are entirely dependent on the tourism industry to survive but even so it was hard to be around. After spending a month as a volunteer, I have decided that I’m going to continue working on my goals of advancing environmental conservation. I had previously only focused on what I could do within the States, but now I want to expand my views and goals towards an international conservation project. I plan on starting small in California, and hopefully I will be able to continue to expand on my goals.