If I tell you that I had one of the best experiences of my young life teaching English in Thailand with the KHT you will think that this is the kind of comment you write after being a volunteer in a charity project. However, this was my own personal experience. If you really want to know how it feels like, it is best for you to go and find it out yourself rather than just read my opinion about it!
(Though do read it, just in case, you know).
So, why was such a good experience going to Thailand with the KHT? Because of the people, as simple as that. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet the Karen if I had gone to Thailand on my own since I hadn’t even heard of their existence before knowing the KHT. Karen and Thai people are the nicest people I have ever met, of course you travel thousands of miles away from home to live with them and do your best to help them, so they’d better be nice! Seriously, they are adorable, and sorry but I can’t find any word to describe them better! They are very welcoming and they will make every effort to make you feel like at home, and you will see that people are really polite and respectful to each other. Even the British who seem so polite to me, aren’t that polite! And the children…they are just amazing, you are going to miss them loads when you go back home. They will make you smile any time and you will see that they are happier than us in many ways, they are cheerful and grateful, not selfish or self absorbed persons that whine about the things they don’t have.
Although you are going to need loads of patience at school. Their level of English is not really good and the working pace it will be completely different to what you are used to or it will definitely clash with your idea of a school as an organized institution. It seems that there is no order or that everything is a mess. But things do work, so don’t worry and pay attention especially at the beginning, once you get to know the children everything will be easier. Yet, the best advice I can give to you is to be passionate about what you are doing and to show some enthusiasm and interest, since they will always be keen to learn from you! Certainly, it is going to be an adventure from many points, you will learn about other people’s culture and way of living but especially from yourself. If you pay attention carefully, at the end of your stay, you will understand better the things that you couldn’t understand at first. Of course, there are things that you are going to miss like having a proper loo and a shower but then again that is part of the adventure and, potentially, part of the funny stories you will tell to your grandchildren one day. The most ‘unpleasant’ thing to me, were the cockerels that my family had (and they had like five or six of these evil creatures) just underneath my bed, so you can guess that I didn’t need to set the alarm in the early morning to go to school. But this was the only thing really, so don’t forget to pack your ear plugs.
A brief note to ‘gap ya’ lovers: please don’t go there to sit around with other volunteers and talk about how much you miss home and the things at home or how cool was at your university or school. You are just there for a few months, so Be there. Buddhism, which is the main religion in Thailand, (though many Karen are Christians) speaks about the importance of living in the present moment and be part of it mindfully. An opportunity like this is unique, you will do and see things that you haven’t done or seen before, so don’t waste it whining about the things you have done for ages and that you don’t do anymore, you went there for a specific reason. Before going to Thailand, I strongly encourage you to do some kind of volunteering or altruistic activity in your own country where I’m sure there are also people who need help. I think that once you have worked helping other people, you will be more sensitive to the needs of others, especially to those with such a different cultural background. You don’t need to go to Asia or Africa to ‘make the world better’, you are not a saviour, no one is waiting for you to save them. Volunteering should not be used to define a social or personal status. Volunteering is a will to help to others, to offer a service without a pay or without taking a personal or moral benefit. So when you offer what you have to offer, do not do it with disregard of the people you are intended to help, forget the shallow humanitarianism and instead of that, appeal to common sense.
When you travel you not only do it through space and time, you also do it through people’s lives. And some of these will end up being part of your own. It is your choice to make it a good experience or not. It looks very different at first, at least that is what we like to think. Though you will soon realize that we are not that different, you may have been or you will be a Karen at some point of your life.
Teaching Volunteer, January – March 2014