Ashley Moss - 2014 Program Participant

Volunteer with Thai host mother

My lovely home stay mom Ploy!

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international volunteer program because I always had goals of travelling and experiencing different cultures. I wanted to experience the way others live and have the opportunity to meet many different people from around the world.

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad with GVI?

I ended up choosing to volunteer with Global Volunteer International (GVI) because from the beginning they were supportive and encouraging! They explained everything I would be doing on my trip in detail and they made me feel comfortable about my first solo adventure. They answered questions I had before I applied and the staff was always helpful and friendly! They also put my family at ease by sending me an itinerary of exactly where I would be.

What was your favorite part about Thailand?

I spent one month in Thailand and I completely fell in love. It is such a beautiful place and the people in Chiang Mai were so welcoming and fun. You'll notice they love to make you eat tons of food too! The village I lived in was amazing; it was about five hours away from Chiang Mai, so we were surrounded by mountains, forest, and wildlife. I couldn't ask for a better place for my first big travelling experience. Did I mention there were elephants?

Volunteer feeding an elephant in Thailand

My first day meeting the elephants!

What aspects of your program made it unique?

I chose to volunteer with the elephant rehabilitation program. It's not every day you wake up in your home stays home and then get ready to go on hike to hang out with elephants. This was unique because we had the opportunity to feed and spend time with the elephants in the village, and we also studied their personalities. We learned so much about wildlife and how beautiful and intelligent elephants are. It will give you an outlook on life that you most likely didn't have before hand.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff was amazing! On my trip we were with the staff for every single hike, and they taught us everything they could! It felt like learning from a good friend. It is almost a year and a half later and we still keep in touch.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I honestly wish I would have done it sooner. I kept putting it off because I was afraid of going alone for an entire month. I didn't realize I'd make so many friends right away. It's been a little over a year now since I went to Thailand and I've done so much more travelling because of it! It gave me the confidence to put myself out there and see the world. Now I'm planning out my around the world trip, and I definitely have Thailand to thank for that.

Describe a day in your life as a volunteer in Thailand.

During the week, we woke up with the sun, had some breakfast with each other, and started our hike. The elephants were pretty far into the forest, so it took about an hour to get to them. Once we found them we fed them bananas because they love them (and they'll love you for it). We spent roughly three hours with them every day, and all the volunteers, staff, and mahouts got to spend time together in the forest and make lunch. It was almost surreal being in the middle of a forest not one foot away from this amazing animal.

Afterward, we'd hike back to the village, wash up, and spend our day with everyone. I spent time with my homestay mom and we started teaching each other our own language. We all ate dinner together, played games, and even watched a few movies! Some nights we would all sit by the fire and make food.

We also had the opportunity to spend time with the kids at school or daycare. I spent a lot of time playing volleyball with the girls (they won every single time). It's hard to put into words what these days meant to me.

I remember not wanting each day to end because I wasn't ready to leave. Every day was a new and exciting experience.

Elephant walking in Thailand

I love this one, I swear she's smiling!

What was your favorite things to do on you free time?

I know this will sound strange, but one of my favorite things to do in our down time (besides play volleyball and see elephants) was to walk and hike around the village. I made many friends here and we would walk around saying hi to all the villagers and explore. The view in itself was worth the long walk.

We found this litter of puppies pretty close to our base and we visited with them every single day. We fed them and ran around with them. As simple as that sounds, there was something so perfect about it. It gave me a chance to look around and really believe that I was there. I felt so thankful to be there, and thankful for all the people who allowed us into their home.

What was your accommodation like?

When every volunteer got to the village we met our homestay families. These families are people who have lived in the village for along time, and they're extremely welcoming. How I would describe their homes best is a cabin. What more can you ask for? It was like camping in the mountains all year round!

Each volunteer was given a place to sleep. I had a room all to myself with a little porch facing a huge mountain. We had breakfast with our staff, but lunch and dinner was made by our homestay family. They make amazing food! I never felt like I had to ask for anything because they had it all covered. It was so much more than I was expecting and could think to ask for.

Mountain view in a village in Thailand

The view from my family's home in the village

Looking back, how has your time in Thailand impacted your life?

I have changed in many ways since I've been home. I would say the biggest difference is the way I live now. I am a much more positive person and I try my very best not to take things for granted.

I am also much more confident. I had a hard time telling my family and friends that I was going to a country on the other side of the world to work with elephants. A few years ago I would have avoided talking about travelling completely. Now it's one of the biggest factors in my life, and I love meeting others who love to adventure out. I'm not afraid anymore. I know I can do it, and it feels so good to say I lived one of my absolute dreams.

I promise it's everything you're hoping for and more.