Craig Wiroll can’t wait to begin his internship with the Save Elephant Foundation at Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai, Thailand. Wiroll was awarded a $6,000 Freeman Fellowship grant by the UO Center for Asian and Pacific Studies to help cover expenses related to the internship.
“I have such a passion for wildlife, animals, and the outdoors,” says Wiroll, a master of public administration candidate in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management.
The University of Oregon Center for Asian and Pacific Studies administers the Freeman Internship Fellowship, which provides a stipend for a handful of undergraduate or graduate internships in East or Southeast Asia each year.
Wiroll found the Save Elephant Foundation internship through International Education, Experience, and Employment (IE3), an organization that offers international internship opportunities to students.
A popular destination for ecotourists, Elephant Nature Park rehabilitates elephants that have been abused for commercial purposes, whether as street performers, transportation, or for hauling trucks.
“They’re treated as machinery more than as animals,” Wiroll says. “When the tourist season’s over, it’s often cheaper to let the elephant [die] than it is to maintain their health. The goal of the Elephant Nature Park is to allow elephants to live their natural lives—free of rides, intensive labor, or performances.”
Although Wiroll has worked with public and nonprofit organizations domestically, “this experience will let me gain knowledge of international nonprofit administration first-hand and allow me to be more knowledgeable about how to work and interact with international agencies—and perhaps even lead to future employment opportunities abroad,” he says.
His first week in Thailand will be experiencing Elephant Nature Park as a tourist. The remainder of his internship will be spent assisting the park’s management. He’ll help coordinate volunteers; plan events; assist with event public relations and outreach; assist with Save Elephant Foundation publications, events, and meetings; and update the foundation’s website.
The Freeman Fellowship Internship committee was “enthusiastic about your plans and unanimous in its support of funding,” wrote Jeff Hanes, director of the Center of Asian and Pacific Studies and a Freeman Fellowship committee member, in an email to Wiroll. “You should feel proud of what you’re accomplishing with your education—and your life.”
Wiroll earned his bachelor of art in journalism from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2010, and moved to Corvallis a few weeks later. He served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), and also served a year in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) throughout the Pacific region of the U.S.
“Once I learned about [AmeriCorps]—where I could do service work full time, plus get a stipend for school while also traveling to new and exciting places while meeting cool new people—I said, Sign me up!” he says.
Today, he serves as a board member with Food For Lane County, and cofounded Just Food UO, a campus food group advocating for food justice, sustainable production, and security.
Dyana Mason, assistant professor in PPPM, taught Wiroll in a “Public Sector Theory” course and will help him draft an independent study prospectus before he leaves for the internship.
“When students have an opportunity to do things like this, it can only broaden their perspectives about their personal path and their personal interest. I would encourage all students to pursue opportunities like this if they’re interested in serving communities abroad,” Mason says. “Any employer would be excited about seeing [his experience in Thailand] on a resume. The organization he’s working with in Thailand will be lucky to have him.”
This will be Wiroll’s first international experience. He plans to immerse himself in the culture, interact with the locals, and expand his spiritual belief through the Thai society, which is 98 percent Buddhist. He says he’s excited to learn firsthand about the religion, visit temples, and interact with monks.
“Hopefully I have opportunities to do that, because this probably will be a spiritual experience for me regardless,” he says. “I am not someone who can do just one thing. My active spirit causes me to want to continue to work with my hands and outdoors,” he says.
“Any job that will allow me to positively impact my local community, lets me be both creative and analytical and doesn't force me to sit in a box all day is my dream job.”