Ryan holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban Forestry from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The fall following his college graduation, he embarked on a month-long environmental volunteer program in Thailand with World Endeavors.
“It was my own idea,” said Ryan. “I was looking for a personal experience, and I wanted an internship abroad with natural resources.”
Ryan flew to Bangkok, where Mr. Pong, the World Endeavors contact, picked him up and took him to a hotel. The next morning he flew to Chiang Rai, where he was met by his “buddy” Mr. Chamrat, who brought him directly to his host family in Bon So Village, a small village of 500 outside the city of Phayao. “It was pretty neat how everyone in the village knew I was going to be there,” said Ryan. And while only the 14-year-old son spoke limited English, Ryan noted that they were able to get by on basic sign language, especially when they were speaking in the international language of food.
“I loved the food…it was the best part,” said Ryan, relating how all the food was homemade, the Thai people not being overly fond of fast food, or even the chocolate that he brought over as a gift (they prefer fruit).
Of the chicken, pork, rice (served with every meal), vegetables, and noodles that he ate, Ryan said, “Everything was spicy. The Thai people like to sweat when they eat.”
After the initial week with his host family, Ryan was taken around to experience natural resource management in Thailand. He spent one week in Phu Sang National Park and the next week at Wianglo Wildlife Sanctuary. “The experience really opened my eyes to how different countries manage their natural resources,” said Ryan. He noted in particular that Thailand is working to address its problems with illegal logging. During his internship he observed an ongoing program that enlists landowners who have property along the circumference of the wildlife sanctuary and encourages them to report any suspicious activity or information about places where illegal loggers may be entering the sanctuary.
During Ryan’s stay at the wildlife sanctuary, he witnessed conservation work that was attempting to re-introduce four native species that had all but disappeared from Phayao Province: a gibbon, two species of deer, and a wild peacock.
Ryan returned to spend the last week of his stay with his host family, during which time he helped the villagers to plant trees in their community forest and repair dams in the mountain streams.
At the end of his internship, the villagers put on a ceremony to send him back home. Based on the belief that the body has 32 organs, each with its own spirit, the ceremony was intended to bring all the spirits back to the body. Involving chanting, tying a string around the wrist, moving food from bowl to bowl, and a group of young girls doing Thai dance, the elaborate ceremony sent Ryan back to the states with something to think about.
“The experience really sparked a fire to go and travel,” said Ryan. “I’d like to go back to where I was staying and visit the people again.”