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Erica Guillen
A Chiang Mai mahout walking alongside an elephant.

I came to this internship with the intention to change my perspective. Not just on conservation, but on life. The only thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to return home as the same person. I come from a place where people don’t really think about conservation. The city I live in is massive and apathy is a way of life, not just to nature but to other people as well. Defensive driving is the only way to get around, people openly curse at you for getting in their way, you don’t know your neighbors and indifference is a means of survival.


I knew I wouldn’t encounter these things here and I was not surprised upon my arrival. This village has a way of engulfing you, of making you thankful for the simplest things. A perfect stranger welcomed me into their home with open arms, they make me lunch and dinner practically everyday and most surprising of all, the smiles I receive daily are genuine and fill my heart with warmth. I always knew places like this existed but I never had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. Aside from the villagers, who are beyond sweet and welcoming, the other volunteers have a way of making you feel like family within a day. It takes a particular type of person to leave their home, family, friends and western comforts to move to the forest and embrace a culture that is completely unlike their own (and it is completely unlike their own). There is no place like this village, there are no villagers like these villagers. I am sure you can find similar villages, but none of them are just like this one.


On my second night here, the temperature dropped just a bit more than the night before, my homestay family presented me with an additional extra thick blanket, without my asking, because they assumed I would be cold. I have only been here a week and I can’t imagine feeling somewhere else, the way I feel here. I wake up at 5am to the sound of roosters before my alarm goes off, excited to run the to coffee shop to watch the sun come up. I eat breakfast with the rest of the volunteers, made for us by one of the villagers before our hikes to see the elephants. I spend my mornings chasing one elephant or another, collecting data, wondering “how is this my life?”. After experiencing a life like this, how do you go back to any other? For now, I will count my blessings and dream of a way to make this feeling of bliss my permanent way of life.

-Erica Guillen, long term intern

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