Knox alumna Mrinalini Chakraborty '12, national field coordinator for the Women’s March, was recently intervi...
Office of Communications
2 East South Street
Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
Majors in Biology and Asian Studies
What was your study abroad experience like?
The first week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was spent learning in a fully immersive class where the professor never spoke english. It was all in Thai! Next, I went to an elephant sanctuary an hour outside of Chiang Mai where I experienced the tourist side of elephant conservation. When I arrived, there was an elephant named Monalisa who planted a big kiss right on my mouth and nose! The next two weeks I spent at an elephant tour site where I saw the worker side of elephant conservation. I woke up everyday at 5:30 a.m. to retrieve my elephant, MeKeow, from the jungle and give her a bath. I stayed with her all day as the Mahouts, or the elephants' caretakers, took tourists on rides through the river and small town. The evenings were spent doing research, walking around the small town, and spending time with my host family! I spent the final week in another location with a Karen tribe member. The Karen tribe views the elephant they own as a family member. Elephants have such a great sense of smell that if I were to go visit my elephant again in three years, she would remember me. We walked the jungle looking for medicinal herbs and food for the elephants, talked to locals about the history, and prepared the medicine! I got to meet another elephant, with beautiful, huge untouched tusks. I was able to watch him as he devoured an entire banana tree, root to leaf.
What was an experienced that helped you learn more about your future goals?
It was a very significant moment for me to learn that some of my past research wasn't showing the whole picture. I took Conservation Biology (BIOL 314) last year and focused on Asian elephants. I thought elephant riding and taxis were horrible. I told myself I wasn't going to ride them if they had a seat on them, but my mind changed when I realized there's way more going on behind the scenes then what a tourist sees while they are there or a researcher reads. The short story is that the Mahouts need money to provide food for their family, and their family includes their elephant(s). In order for them to get this money, the specific village I visited has to work as an elephant taxi location due to their lack of enough open land to be a large sanctuary. Without this income, the Mahouts would have nowhere to get money and provide for their elephants. Additionally, by being an elephant in this village, they and the villagers are safe from poachers, crop loss, and fatality.
What would you say to prospective students considering studying abroad?
Attend the study abroad fair and utilize the resources provided during Fall Institute Day and on campus. I went into the study abroad office four times and took brochures before I decided where I wanted to apply to! Bren Tooley, Director of Global Studies, is really great at answering questions, clarifying confusion, and making you feel like you can do it, because you can! I was really nervous and overwhelmed, but once I went to all of the meetings, events, and talked to Bren it all just fell into place. Also, just open Bren's emails. They're wonderful. The sooner you start thinking about study abroad, or the sooner you visit the study abroad office, the better! Why not do everything you've ever dreamed of? Visiting a different country was the best decision I could have made so far at Knox... well, besides joining the Ultimate Frisbee team.
Back to Hello.knox.edu