Aspen's Elephant Rescue Internship

I was one of twelve students from across the USA accepted by the School for Field Studies for their Ecology and Conservation of Southeast Asian Elephants program this summer.  I’ll be studying in Cambodia for 4 weeks with 11 other people--it's a highly selective program!

This is the organization I'll be studying with: Elephant Valley Project 

There's an excellent YouTube video about the project as well.

While there I will be studying the culture and traditions of the people of Cambodia and how the elephants are incorporated into their ecology and conservation techniques. Each week I’ll be placed I a different part of Cambodia. For example, one week I’ll be in the heart of Siem Reap and the next I could be deep within the jungles of Sen Monorom Town, where lush Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is located.

How I found this program and my motivations behind it

Though I have always wanted to travel and explore different parts of the world, I want it to be for a purpose. Whether it’s for learning or helping those who are less fortunate, I want to be able to experience different cultures and traditions of those around the world.

It’s also been a dream of mine to be able to work with elephants and help them in any way I can. Elephants are a focus for me because of their mistreatment due to the ivory trade.

This is something I’ve been so passionate about because of something I saw when I was a little girl: I visited a zoo and saw a rhino suffering from dehydration. I looked around his cage. He had a pool that was almost as dry as his skin, a water dish that was flipped over with nothing inside, and the rhino was panting and wailing. It was one of the saddest things I had ever seen and all I wanted to do was help. From then on, it has been my mission to do anything I could for these mistreated animals.

Prior to graduating high school, I was searching for places I could volunteer. Ideally, I could find a place that would allow me to work with elephants, one of my dream jobs. I had found a place (via Ivory Ella, I think) in Cambodia that I could help out with elephant rehabilitation. It seemed to be the *perfect* situation. Traveling, check. Helping elephants, check. Volunteering, check. However, they required a fee to come; not a terribly high one, but one that likely keeps out the 'just because' crowd - kind of like pet adoption fees. But between those fees and travel costs it was going to cost about $4000. Uncheck. We just couldn't swing it financially. 

So travelling the world (and helping elephants) was back to just a dream. That was until I came to Iowa State and learned about their Study Abroad program and found out about all the different opportunities available for me. Before finding a program, you are paired up with an advisor to help find the perfect placement for you. I was asked about my preferences of where I want to go and why I want to go there. I told them I have always wanted to go to somewhere in Asia to work with elephants. This helped them find multiple different options that fit my preferences. From there I was able to pick and choose from those they showed me, though there was only one that stuck out to me. It was the only one I applied for because for me it was either that or nothing.

Luckily enough I was one of twelve others that were accepted into this program. Not only is this a great opportunity to travel the world, but I’ll be able to explore another culture outside of my own.

Process/How I was chosen

Throughout the application, I had to complete multiple steps through both Iowa State and School for Field Studies including; having to fill out multiple short essays, obtain personal and scholarly references, and a few quick personal surveys. I even had to send my transcript 3 different times due to mishap. The whole process of applying and interviewing and waiting for the announcement took almost two months to complete. With there only being 12 spots available to anyone across the US to compete for, it was a very nervous time!

I’m extremely excited for this trip because it will allow me to get the experience and education I will need to pursue a future in this field!


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Matthew Geraghty 
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