Coming from the US to Asia for the first time, every day has offered up new experiences and knowledge. One of the most impactful moments I have had since my recent arrival to study at Chiang Mai University was when I met my first elephant.
In the US elephants are very foreign to us as they are not part of our culture or habitat. So when my study abroad programme USAC organised a trip for all the American international students in the programme to see elephants in real-life we really didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be fun to share our wonder at our first elephant experience with you.
Upon arriving at our elephant destination, we were invited to make the elephants’ medicine balls. Though messy and slimy, making the food myself made it feel more valuable when feeding the elephants since you put in the work yourself.
When first walking to the elephants I was surprised to see how excited and happy they were to see us with food. This moment was the first time I saw an elephant in real life, and I remember thinking how enormous they truly are compared to the photos I’ve seen on them. This is why at first I was scared feeding them, but I soon learned they were very gentle with handling food from your hand.
We had a mud bath and then a spring water bath with them, and this was when I saw their more playful side with humans come out. An elephant sprayed me two times with water and I found it funny that the elephant found it funny. This observation made me realize they are more human-like than I thought and have similar emotions to us.
Other students had a similar experience like Kiley Povlich who when she first saw the elephants felt she was “in the presence of greatness. They were so majestic and beautiful, they left me speechless”.
Jacki Jakovac another student had an “overwhelming disbelief of the elephants. It was hard to comprehend how something I’d only seen in pictures was suddenly tangible, but that feeling soon turned to pure joy to be in their presence”.
I didn’t want the adventure to end but was glad to have the opportunity since it changed my previous viewpoint on elephants. Before I saw elephants as just another animal, but now I see how kind-hearted, compassionate and gentle they are. I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of elephants and their significance to Thailand’s culture.
Photograph by Ailish Fahey