Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of blog entries about working at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. Internships at CHCI begin with PRIM 220, a course on our philosophy and procedures of caregiving. The following piece was written by Lindsay, who was a PRIM 220 student in the fall, and continues working here as a volunteer. She tells us a little about herself, and the experience she had as a beginning intern. We will continue this series with accounts from other individuals at various levels of experience and training at CHCI.
Hello! My name is Lindsay and I am a junior here at CWU. I had the privilege of beginning to work at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in September of 2007 through the PRIM 220 class that is offered every fall. This was a very big opportunity for me not only because I am majoring in Primate Behavior and Ecology but also because I have had a life long dream of working with animals, and it introduced me to some amazing beings; Washoe, Tatu, Dar, and Loulis, and also stories of Moja.
I came to college unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. Three days after moving into my dorm I saw the PBE major in the course catalogue and never looked back. The next week I went to my first Chimposium and from that day on I went to class with the goal of someday being able to work at CHCI. Although the thought of being given the opportunity gave me butterflies, and some personal doubts, it brought ten times more excitement.
I remember going into the new intern orientation, looking around and thinking to myself, “Alright, Lindsay, you got yourself here, now let’s see what you can do with it.” It was such an exciting feeling sitting in that room knowing that the chimps were right on the other side of the window. I met people that day that, little did I know, would become my confidants, my friends, and my mentors.
I also learned what I would have to do to pass the PRIM 220 class. We learned about the different tests we would be taking and that we would have to get an 85% on them in order to advance to the next. We were introduced to several books that we would be reading; those books would change my life. As the quarter progressed the best thing about those tests, nerve racking though they were, was that every time I took one I had a friend sitting next to me taking the same test who was just as nervous as I was.
The first day I went to work, my duty was to clean the West room. Never in my life would I have imagined being so ecstatic over being given the duty of “pooper scooper”! I was so close to the chimpanzees! I got to hear them, watch them, just plain be in awe of them. The longer that I worked at CHCI the more I looked forward to going to work. My mom now calls me every night to see if I have any new chimp stories. While I am not able right now to directly interact with the chimps, I still every day am amazed by something that I have seen or heard Tatu, Dar, and Loulis do.
During my second month at CHCI, Washoe passed away. This taught me so much about myself and the other humans there. They are a family, the people and the chimps. Washoe achieved so much more in her lifetime than many people I’ve known, and it was such a humbling experience to see all that she had done and all of the people who loved her. I along with all of the other PRIM 220 students had such an eye opening experience to how lucky we really were to be working there.
After college my dream is to own and run my own animal shelter, and I don’t think I would be able to accomplish this if I wouldn’t have had my experience at CHCI, which I will be continuing until I graduate. The first three months and the tasks I was asked to do in class have given me so much life experience. I’ve learned technical things about caring for other animals, but also emotional things. I know now that to be successful you must personally invest yourself in everything that you do. I would suggest that anyone who loves animals, loves fun, or loves the feeling of being in a place where a difference is being made, visit CHCI. Take the PRIM 220 class, and your eyes will be opened I promise. Read the books and you will be amazed at the things that you have yet to learn.
There was one quote in the book Next of Kin by Roger Fouts that I feel really sums up my experience at CHCI thus far. “It was Washoe who taught me that “human” is only an adjective that describes “being,” and that the essence of who I am is not my humanness but my beingness.”