THAILAND - "The people I met and the things I learned really helped me decide my future goals and career path," Chelsea Gilgore said after returning from a class she took in September titled "Corporate Social Responsibility in the Developing World" that was held in Thailand through the University of Washington.
"I hope to someday work in public health or research dealing with topics such as HIV/AIDS which was one of the main issues we studied while over there. Southeast Asia has the fastest growing rate of HIV/AIDS in the world and is becoming as dire a situation as it already is in Sub-Saharan Africa," she explained recently.
"Last winter I received an e-mail from UW talking about these exploration seminars they were offering that went a multitude of places. Some programs went to France, England, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa and also Thailand. One program even went to Oysterville to study Willapa Bay," she related. "The reason I chose the program to Thailand was that I thought it would be interesting because it was a culture completely different from mine and one that I had little knowledge of. Also the fact that the itinerary included riding elephants enticed me more than a little bit."
To get into the program Gilgore had to write an essay and although dozens of people went through the application process, only 16 were chosen. "Before going we had many meetings and learned about the Thai history and culture. We also had to write a pre-departure research paper on a multitude of topics regarding the countries of Thailand and Cambodia."
"My flight to Asia was long, lasting almost 24 hours and including a layover in Japan. I was so excited and a bit scared that I couldn't sleep. I arrived at 11 p.m. and my cousin who lives there picked me up at the airport. I had time to explore on my own and get a feel for things a few days before the actual class began.
"We met with people from the International Rescue Committee, which is a non-profit organization that helps various countries all over the world. In Thailand, their main focus was with Burmese refugees and getting them placed in other host countries. Another meeting we had was with the United Nations. They were focused on the AIDS crisis there and with education, prevention and treatment for the Thais and Cambodians. After learning about these different organizations and speaking to people about my career goals, I hope to work for the UN or IRC in some capacity after I graduate from the UW."
While the serious business of the class took precedence, she also saw baby elephants roam the streets of Bangkok with Thais trying to sell bananas to tourists to feed them. "The elephants are really cute and end up with lots of bananas given to them by tourists, but the pure sugar fruit diet they are fed is very bad for them and a lot of the small elephants get hit by the crazy traffic there or fall through drainage grates on the road," Gilgore explained of the commercial exploitation of the young animals.
While in Bangkok, Gilgore visited a crocodile farm. "They did a show and stuck their heads in the croc's mouths. At the end of the show they asked for people to come in and touch the crocodiles and I jumped right in there with 10 crocs and even touched the one I got my picture with.
"My friend and I stayed after the seminar was over and we heard about this place called the Tiger Temple where Buddhist monks raised tigers that were supposed to be friendly. We had to spend a long time tracking the place down, but we eventually rented a small car to get there. There are absolutely huge tigers everywhere. They lead you around from tiger to tiger and you get to pet and hug them. Once you leave the pit there are monks playing with the cubs and I got to play with several cubs for a good 15 minutes. It was long enough to fall in love and decided I needed a tiger cub of my own someday.
"In southern Thailand it is very beachy and tropical. I stayed at a fishing village on Naga Island. I was among the first Americans to visit the island. The people were so friendly and interested in us. It was shocking because they were so happy with the simple things. They didn't have heat, air conditioning, running water or electricity. They had a solar panel set up outside of each hut that provided enough electricity to charge a cell phone for emergencies. ... It was neat living with people who were so happy and content with what they had."
She concluded by saying, "I miss Thailand everyday, it almost felt like it was becoming home. I miss the people, the culture and the crazy way of life. I will definitely go back probably more than once because the place is addictive. I don't think I will ever lose the desire to return."