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Natalie Holt: Student Report from 2019 Alternative Summer Break to Thailand

Natalie Holt splashes an elephant in the river.

Splashing water on an elephant at Thai Elephant Home.


The only information I had about Thailand before going on this trip was from a quick Google search the night before our departure. I was expecting the culture to be much different from ours, however I was surprised by how much the United States had in common with Thailand. Of course, they speak a different language, use a different alphabet, and have a different type of government, but overall it wasn’t difficult to connect to the people and understand their culture. The first morning after we arrived our wonderful in-country guides gave us a quick Thai language lesson that would turn out to be very useful for the rest of the trip. Afterwards, we spent our first day at a local history museum and cultural center which focused on the origins of Thailand and Chiang Mai. It was interesting to learn about the culture of Thailand, and how the city of Chiang Mai came to be. That evening we went to the street market where locals sold different clothes, jewelry, and other things they had made. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

Cup of iced coffee with whipped cream.The next day, we spoke with a Buddhist novice about his daily life and the basic ideals of Buddhism. This experience was very insightful, and it gave me a new perspective on my own life. Later that day, we visited the children’s home for the first time to begin building a fence. I enjoyed the work, but connecting with the kids impacted me the most. The next day we went to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. It was beautiful, and definitely worth climbing the 309 steps to get to the top. From there we went to a hill tribe village, and we hiked through a botanical garden to a coffee shop at the top. The breathtaking views from the top of the garden paired perfectly with the frozen caramel coffee I ordered. Then it was onto our second day at the children’s home where we continued building the fence.

Natalie Holt with several young children.

Natalie Holt with several children at the orphanage.

The third day of our trip began with a cooking class. I especially enjoyed this activity because I love to cook, and I love Thai food. We prepared three dishes, as well as a dessert, and I was very satisfied with the results. Once we all finished our food, we departed for our last day of work at the children’s home. This day was the most exciting for me because I had the opportunity to weld, which is something I had only done once before in my life.

The next day was one I had been looking forward to the whole trip. It was elephant day! We drove for about an hour and a half to a Thai elephant sanctuary where we had the opportunity to feed, bathe, hike, and play with mother and baby elephants. It was an unforgettable experience, and I absolutely fell in love with these giant animals. We went back to the worksite later that day to say our final goodbyes.

Five TCE students pose with white tiger.

With the white tiger.

The next day was our last, and, since our flight did not depart until 11 at night, we basically had a free day. We decided to spend our last day getting up close to real tigers, and afterwards, hiking at a nature reserve where the views were incredible. Of course though, all good things must come to an end, and we all had to say our final goodbyes to this amazing country. The hardest goodbye was to our two amazing in-country guides who went above and beyond during the entire trip to make sure we were comfortable and safe. This trip helped me realize that although a place may be completely on the other side of the world, it may not be as different from us as we think.

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