Now––do you remember your last day of high school? (Hang on with me even if you’re still in school!) As a senior, you ruled the roost. You could probably navigate the hallways with your eyes closed, and you enjoyed lunch with a good group of friends. You had a daily routine.
This routine was made up of habits: small tendencies we all make when we get comfortable and familiar with people or places. You spent four years in high school developing your habits of studying, working, sleeping, and being with friends and family, and in the rest of your life, you’ll do the same thing.
Our volunteers do this, too––especially when they become comfortable in a culture unlike the one they grew up in. They learn to love the norms of that country’s people, and form habits of their own.
If you volunteer in Thailand, you’ll definitely notice these small habits, and they just might stick with you when you return home:
1. You won’t touch people’s heads or embrace at the shoulders/hug as often.
In Thailand, it is considered respectful to avoid contact with a person’s head. Overall, you avoid intruding on another’s personal space, including hugs. In many parts of North America, hugging is quite normal––even sometimes expected! But in Thailand, it’s a bit taboo to embrace so often. That’s for special occasions and for people you’re especially close with.
2. You won’t shake hands––you’ll wai.
No need for strong formalities here! You won’t see or experience a lot of handshake greetings when you volunteer in Thailand, but you’ll catch yourself doing the wai (a brief bow) at new friends like it’s second nature. Again, it’s a personal space thing. Thai people don’t touch each other often, including greetings.
3. You’ll sit cross-legged.
While it might feel good to sit back and stretch your legs, here, you’ll make a habit of crossing your legs when you sit. It’s considered rude to point your feet at people, and in an effort to respect all of the people in your host country, you’ll automatically cross your legs without a second thought.
4. You’ll become easy-going. You won’t embarrass a waiter if your order comes wrong.
Ah, one of the great things about the beautiful people of Thailand. Their easy-going attitudes are absolutely infectious. “Same, same” will be your new catchphrase. Life is too short to argue about small issues, and sometimes people make little mistakes. You’ll learn this quickly and end up brushing off the small stuff––no big deal.
5. You’ll ditch 3-course meals.
No more having to wait for your entree after your appetizers. No one likes to wait for what they really want out of a delicious meal. Volunteers in Thailand now know and appreciate the concept of just taking what you need, when you need it. At meals, you’ll most likely be served three dishes, appetizers, and dessert, all at one time.
On a similar note, eating out is much more common here than in other countries. Once you return home, you’ll find yourself venturing out to your favorite restaurant or eatery more often than you did before because you got accustomed to it while traveling!
Some things just stick with you forever. It’s especially easy to catch onto the habits of the beautiful people of Thailand, and you’ll keep these Thai tendencies and charms long after visiting. From the way you eat to the way you interact with friends and family, these cultural norms will always remind you of your time abroad.