Like many world adventurers, former volunteer, Haley, was both anxious and excited to embark on her trip to teach English in Thailand. She was open-minded and ready to dive head-first into this new culture, and her orientation provided a memorable-yet-practical few days to help her better assimilate in her new home.
“When I arrived in Trat, Thailand, the program coordinator, Meaw, greeted us with such a big smile on her face… She helped us fit in by introducing us to various people in the community and teaching us about Thai culture and people. Day one of orientation was simple, relaxed, and very informative, as Meaw taught us some history of Trat, and about the norms of Thai culture and the general way of life here. Day two of orientation was very fun; we had a Thai language lesson on a beautiful little beach.” - Haley
We want you to be prepared when you volunteer in Thailand. Whether you’re being proactive about your safety, adjusting to the culture, or making new friends––your preparation is our top priority.
But sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference in your everyday interactions, and before you embark on your adventure, we’ll help you adjust to the Thai way of life with a comprehensive orientation. We’ll answer all of your questions about language, transportation, travel, and what you can expect in your everyday life.
Here are 5 things we’ll cover about Thailand customs during your orientation (that you might not have known beforehand):
1. Flash them pearly whites–smile. All the time!
Westerners might not be keen to smiling all the time, but in any kind of situation, it’s a cultural habit that Thai people smile any chance they get. Whether it’s a basic hello or offering condolences to another person, be sure to offer a graceful smile with it. Thai people have an infectious, happy way of life, so it won’t be hard to catch on––you’ll just smile anyway!
2. No pointing
When you volunteer in Thailand, it’s important to note that pointing is considered rude. Keep yourself from using your pointer finger to indicate things. Instead, use your whole hand to gesture carefully in the general direction of the thing or place you want to point out. However, pointing at inanimate objects or animals is usually acceptable. But if you must indicate someone, you can do so by lifting your chin in their direction.
3. Palms down when you ask someone to come to you
In the western half of the world, inviting someone to come near you with an open hand is common. This may be a tiny change to a tiny gesture you never thought twice about, but in Thailand, you’ll find people have their palms faced down when they gesture to someone. So instead, have your hand faced down while you gently motion your fingers toward yourself to motion someone to come over and join you.
4. Leave your shoes outside
You might have heard the common notion to take off your shoes when you enter someone’s home, but in Thailand, they take it one step further. When visiting a Thai person, remember to leave your shoes outside before entering someone’s house, even if you are visiting their work office!
5. Reach for the spoon
During your Thailand adventure, you’ll learn that it’s a bit taboo to eat with a fork. Many restaurants might not even offer you one, so reach for your spoon before you dive into your Som Tam like all the locals. It shouldn’t be hard, because you get more for your bite with a spoon, anyway!
Haley learned far more than just these five Thai customs during her orientation, and it was enough to put her at ease and make her feel comfortable as she embarked on this journey. You’ll be provided with all the need-to-know information, and you’ll soon find that the small things, like reaching for the spoon or how you gesture with your hands, will become second nature while volunteering abroad.
Haley rediscovered her passion for her teaching, the warmth and kindness of Thai people, and the rich local culture that she will now carry with her forever. Your orientation is important, but remember––it’s only just the beginning.