I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study abroad through the School for Field Studies (SFS) in Cambodia over the summer of 2022. I participated in the Summer I program titled: Elephants of the Cambodian Highlands. I completed one academic course focusing on the ecology and conservation of southeast Asian elephants in a four week period. I chose this particular program because I am very interested in studying mammals, ultimately with a goal of future work in the field of conservation or wildlife biology. During this program I was able to get vital hands-on experience with one of the largest mammal species to currently walk the earth. I was able to learn about Asian elephant veterinary care, responsible elephant tourism, conservation efforts being done in Cambodia for the elephants, indigenous groups and their relationship with elephants, and so much more. Additionally, I spent around two weeks in the jungle of the Mondulkiri Highlands of eastern Cambodia at the Elephant Valley Project. To me there could not be a better elephant sanctuary. These previously abused captive elephants are finally able to live like real elephants and being able to learn how this organization started and how it functions is crucial knowledge for my future career.
Additionally, I was able to make life long travel partners during my study abroad experience. Two weeks in the jungle with no wifi or cell phone service really bonds a group together. Also, I was able to meet people from all over the world and really got to make connections both academically and socially. Specifically, during this experience I was able to meet people that work in all aspects of conservation. For example, I was able to get perspectives of the people that run wildlife sanctuaries, the mahoots that practically live with the elephants, professors from Australia and England, forest guides, locals, and many more. Lastly, all of these interactions were able to broaden my understanding of the world of conservation and just how many people need to be involved for change to happen.
My biggest recommendation to students who are looking to study abroad is to go to a place that is not typically visited. I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in Asia and Cambodia is a place that I thought would be hard to get to on my own. Therefore, while studying abroad in Cambodia I was able to experience the entire country and its wildlife while having the safety of a group and people that speak the language with me at all times. For instance, I began my trip in Siem Reap and stayed there for a week. Here we got to visit the stunning Angkor Wat and many other temples and religious sites. Then we drove all the way across the country to the Mondulkiri Highlands to live with the elephants and finally we ended in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Again, I recommend going to a place that is not commonly traveled to so one can have the safety of a group and be able to go to an amazing place that many people will never get the chance to experience.
In the end my study abroad journey was amazing and I was able to make memories that will last me a lifetime. There is a program out there for everyone; one must just make the first step in researching and applying to different programs. Even though I am graduating this fall I loved studying abroad so much that I actually plan to either do a postgrad study abroad or an internship abroad.
Madison Cassella (BS Environmental Science) spent Summer 2022 studying abroad in Siem Reap, Cambodia through The School for Field Studies. Madison had the following to say about studying abroad, “While studying abroad in Cambodia I was able to make so many core memories that I will always be thankful to have experienced. By participating in an SFS program I was able to gain crucial hands-on experience, as well as, learn about the essential aspects it takes to truly work toward conserving Asian elephants and threatened species in general. Overall, I highly recommend getting out of your comfort zone by studying abroad; just go wherever it may be. You can go to the middle of the jungle just like I did with no wifi or cell service, you may be surprised just how close you can get with people and how many amazing memories can be made even in a short four week summer program.”
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