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Penn State Student Spends Two Weeks In Thailand Working With Animals

What’s your wildest and most vivid memory from this summer? Was it cliff jumping? Hiking? How about being chased by two elephants on the other side of the world? For current Penn Stater Lexi Pannepacker, this was just one of the many highlights from her summer in Thailand.

Pannepacker — a Biobehavioral Health student — embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, in what has been an unforgettable summer.  Through the Veterinary Service program, Pannepacker had the opportunity to visit Thailand for two weeks, where she volunteered alongside a staff veterinarian. For the duration of her first week, she was responsible for helping and assisting animals in the Animal Rescue Kingdom shelter in Chiang Mai, Thialand. Home to over 100 dogs, the shelter housed dogs who were abandoned, beaten, or in need of proper care and a loving home.

She spent her time providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing ear and eye problems, treating wounds, assisting with sterilization surgeries, and essentially learning the everyday life of a real veterinarian. Along with gaining invaluable experience, Pannepacker was able to make an impact on the animals she cared for.

“I found out about the program from an email from the pre vet club, and I was instantly hooked because I’ve always wanted to work with elephants basically since I could talk,” Pannepacker said. “I thought giving back and doing something with what I love would be an amazing experience. I have always wanted to travel, but knew I couldn’t fit in a study abroad during the semester.”

The group she traveled with also spent one week at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand to experience animal rescue and assistance on a larger scale. The park is home to over 40 rescued elephants, who were cared for by volunteers hailing from all corners of the globe. Students fed, bathed, and cared for the  elephants while learning firsthand from a professional.

“The Elephant Nature Park was about 1.5-2 hours outside of the city in a valley,” Pannepacker said. “It was so beautiful. It had elephants, water buffalo, cats, dogs, goats, cows, and even a monkey!”

Lexi Pannepacker
Lexi posing with her elephant friends in Northern Thailand.

While this Junglebook-esque adventure was educational, Pannepacker had the time of her life experiencing things some only dream about.

A highlight of the trip was Pannepacker’s run-in with a pair of elephants at the Elephant Nature Park. Pannepacker and her friends were river tubing on the river that ran through the park. When they approached the exit area, two elephants and their trainers came down into the river near them.

“They told us just to move to one side, and we did.” Pannepacker said. “However, the elephants stopped and looked at us. They trumpeted loudly and began walking quickly towards us. We rushed out of the water up a hill, but the elephants just wanted to play with our tubes!”

Though life in Thailand was an unforgettable experience, there was the unavoidable element of culture shock that Pannepacker had to endure throughout her visit abroad — with food being the biggest obstacle.

“A struggle when traveling to Thailand was the food. I don’t really like Thai food so it was hard to adapt to it, but I survived. I ate a lot of Nature Valley bars and snickers.”

Pannepacker was able to overcome those foreign obstacles and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience she was fortunate enough to be a part of. Hopefully, future students will follow her lead make a difference for animals in need all over the world. For Pannepacker, this is only the beginning of her future in the realm of animal health.

About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])


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