I chose to volunteer because I wanted to combine my passion for traveling, exploring, and discovering with my love for kids into a service experience. When my friend and co-volunteer told me that uVolunteer had an opportunity for teaching English in Thailand, I knew immediately that I wanted to do it, especially because I was an English major who tutored writing in college.
When I arrived in Trat, Thailand, the program coordinator, Meaw, greeted us with such a big smile on her face. She made me comfortable right away. Trat is a small town and she helped us fit in and assimilate 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.
My first day teaching at Ban Tha Rue Jang School was something I will never forget; it literally warmed my heart. The teachers and administrators were very welcoming, showed me around campus, and were so happy to have me there as a teacher. It was the students’ reaction to me that made me most excited, though. They looked at me and smiled and waved with such energy, I knew from there it would be such a pleasure to teach them. Despite the language barrier, the students have demonstrated an eagerness to learn. They can barely wait until the end of class for me to check their notebook. At the end of class, many of them come up to me, hug me, and want to follow me wherever I go. It’s strange because I have never been treated in such a way and I feel lucky to be teaching in an atmosphere of positivity. The students are so inspiring.
There is also a lot of time to interact with the kids outside of the actual classroom. I loved playing with them outside and having them show me the amazing things they do, such as playing music and cultivating a vegetable garden. At times, I wish I spoke more Thai to help ease the communication barrier but luckily much of the time I have had a teacher from the school in the room with me. It is the volunteer’s responsibility for lesson planning, which I did not know beforehand, but thankfully Meaw is very helpful. I think Thailand is the perfect place to volunteer, especially to teach English, as the students truly do need English-speaking teachers on a regular basis. They are extremely capable of learning the language and I know how hard they are willing to work at it.
Aside from teaching, the uVolunteer program enables you to immerse yourself in the local culture. My daily schedule allows me ample free time to go out and explore the town, meet people, build friendships with those I meet, etc. Meaw also makes sure we always have good food. She has introduced me to so many different types of Thai food, both in restaurants and from her own cooking in the uVolunteer house. We also had a cooking lesson where we learned to make green curry with chicken, which was very cool. The house where we stay is simple yet comfortable. Living there has allowed me to experience what daily life activities are like in Trat, such as doing the dishes and laundry. It might not be as luxurious (or quick) as it is in America, but actually taking more time to do things is what makes it enjoyable.
The scheduling of the program also allows the volunteers to travel on the weekends. I was able to visit the nearby island of Koh Chang for a few days and I had a great time. The balance between work and fun is perfect. And the work itself, teaching, is fun. It’s true, sanuk is a part of everything here. Throughout my time here, I’ve realized that I have been more of a student than a teacher. I have absorbed and experienced so much through the program. I owe a big thank you to uVolunteer, Meaw, the students and administrators at Ban Tha Rue Jang School, and everyone I have had the chance to meet or encounter for giving me a refreshing perspective on life: The people in Thailand just live. They don’t worry too much about anything. They rely on themselves to make the most of their lives. And they are always smiling. I’ll carry a lot of the “Thai way,” as Meaw says, back with me to America and this experience will affect my life everyday, whether I know it or not.