And it all began with a mouse…


8 months ago, today, I was packing up my Volkswagen Tiguan and excitedly saying goodbye to my neighbors and friends. I had just finished college and was about to embark on my grand new adventure. I was going to Disney World! Now I know some of you may be thinking “Wow… what a weirdo! She’s how old? And a “grand adventure” is going to Disney World?” To those people, I say, “Yeah dude Disney is freaking sweet?! It’s like the happiest place on the planet, who wouldn’t be stoked to go there?”, but I digress. Anyway, I wasn’t going to Disney just for the fun of it. I had just accepted a 7 month long paid internship as the one and only Endocrinology Intern at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Animal Kingdom.

“Endocrinology? What’s that?” Great question! Well endocrinology is basically the study of hormones. So, I had the awesome job of working in a laboratory with some amazing scientist and running special tests on biological samples, which told me how the hormones were behaving in an animal.  I could tell from one test how an animal might be feeling that day, if a female was pregnant or cycling, if a male had hit maturity and even if an animal was adjusting well to their habitat. Pretty cool huh? Well at least I thought so. You want to know the best part of it all? I got to work with animal…poop…daily. Not just any poop though, we are talking some cool poop here like rhino and elephant poop. Still not selling you on it? Well maybe that’s not the most glamorous part of the job, but fecal samples play a key role in non-invasive monitoring of animals. The great thing about this type of sample collection is that I can take an animals fecal sample and not impact them at all.

It wasn’t long before I became a lab rat (or as I liked to call myself a lab monkey) and fell in love with conducting research. I felt like I could make such a large impact on the management and welfare of a wide range of animals all from my lab bench. So here I am sitting in an amazing lab, working with my now best friends and I’m at Disney World. Who would ever want to leave? Well surely not me, right? Well, as I have come to learn recently, life has a funny way of working itself out. It wasn’t more than a day after I had set my mind at staying at Disney forever, when my best friend Macie, an animal behavior intern in my lab, came running up to me in the morning, hastily pushing her phone in my face exclaiming “Chloe, I found your destiny!”. She started talking about this posting from her university in Ohio that was looking for a master’s student to study elephants using the exact hormone monitoring I had learned at Disney. It was what I had always wanted. As I read the Facebook posting I noticed that the name of the university was strange and hard to pronounce. Well it only took me a few link clicks more for me to discover that The University of Pretoria at Onderstepoort was a real college… IN SOUTH AFRICA!

No way a girl from the American suburbs, whose craziest interaction with an animal was sticking her hand inside the rumen of a cow, was going to pack her bags and move to South Africa to study giant, wild elephants, right? Well, you can guess by the title of my blog alone where I am now I’m sure. I applied to the master’s program and as fate would have it, I was accepted. I had to sadly leave behind all my amazing friends I made at Disney, but they were so incredibly supportive and knew that this was an amazing opportunity for me. I had less than 2 and a half months to; accept the offer, pack my bags from Disney, drive all the way back to Chicago, obtain a new passport, get a South African visa, have every vaccination under the moon (one day my arm won’t have vaccine bruises I’m sure), pass an FBI background test?!?, and so many other things I can’t even list them all here without being extremely obnoxious. Somehow, with the help of many amazing people, I got it all done just in time for my flight.

It looks like it’s time to start the next chapter in my life and follow this crazy dream! As Disney said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Go chase your dreams guys, and thank you to all of those who have helped me reach mine.