Volunteer Review: Jessica W., Teach English and Other Subjects in Thailand
When people ask me how my summer in Thailand was I always reply ‘amazing’. But when I really think about my experience amazing doesn’t seem to sum it up.
Last winter, fed up of the cold and the hard Uni work I decided that I couldn’t put up with another wet English summer! I needed to get away and feel like I was doing something with my life. I knew that teaching abroad was the perfect option as I intend to teach after graduating from University and it would not only look very impressive on my CV but allow me to gain valuable experience as well as cure my very large travelling bug.
After dragging my parents along to a Projects Abroad talk in London I convinced not only them but myself that maybe running away to Thailand to teach wasn’t such a hair brained scheme. I would highly recommend going to a talk because they are not only so informative but it made me realise just how community spirited Projects Abroad are. They really do care about the individual person; it’s not just a way for the staff to make money!
After signing the papers and paying my money I sat back and waited for my Thai adventure to start. After numerous inoculations and many ‘I’m so jealous’ speeches from friends I was ready! To this day I am still amazed at how helpful Projects Abroad were on the run up to my departure. As any person travelling on their own would, I had many queries, but instead of feeling like a nuisance every time I contacted the office, I was made to feel welcome and was able to ask questions to friendly, helpful and very chatty staff! As someone who hates to talk on the phone their approachability was very useful.
When I arrived at Krabi airport I had been very delayed and was panicking that the person due to meet me might not still be there. I shouldn’t have worried. The first thing I saw when I walked into the arrival area was a beaming Nou who welcomed me with open arms. She made me feel like I was the only volunteer in Thailand with her easy going, chatty and friendly nature. She took me back to the conservation house at the main office in Ao Nang where I met the conservation volunteers.
Ao Nang itself was an amazing place to be, very accessible from the Projects Abroad office and had all sorts of restaurants, shops and bars to choose from. I had such a wonderful time I didn’t want to leave! But after two days with the conservation volunteers I travelled up to Lamae in Chumphon to start my teaching placement.
My first impressions of my wonderful host family were how amazingly welcoming they were, they welcomed me, quite literally with open arms and couldn’t do enough for me! Concerned that their typical breakfasts of spicy food and rice weren’t suitable for a Westerner, ‘Mother’ provided me every morning, with two slices of toast with nutella and hot chocolate. By the end of my month with them I could safely say I didn’t want to see chocolate for a very long time (not something I ever thought I’d say!) but I was deeply touched at the little touches and the effort my family went to in order to make me feel at home.
I became particularly close to my host sister, Fa, who at 13 was quite possibly the most intelligent teenager I have ever met! Her dedication to her school work was astounding, often having extra lessons after school and badgering me to correct her grammar and written English! My host brother, Mak was an extremely hyperactive, crazy 5 year old who spent his entire time climbing trees, falling over, crying and then getting on his bike only to start the whole process of falling over and crying again. By the first day I had learnt from experience where the plasters were kept.
My host Mother, armed with a Thai/English dictionary did everything she could to make me feel part of the family, declaring almost daily from the time I arrived that she would miss me when I left! Father on the other hand took nearly the whole month I was there to open up and smile at me. A painfully shy man, we bonded at a funeral of a family friend when he and Fa starting giggling after Mother muttered something which sounded rather angry. Father turned and spoke directly to me for the first time saying ‘Thai Boxing, gold’. The funeral was taking place on the day of the Olympic Thai Boxing finals and Father was concerned we wouldn’t get back in time to see it! After a ridiculously fast and furious drive home, in which I’m quite sure we broke the sound barrier, we made it home just in time. Luckily the Thai competitor won and Fathers only English of ‘Thai Boxing, gold’ was used once again.
Luckily the school I was teaching in was literally a minutes walk away, as a teacher at the school, Father’s house was on school grounds. This meant that my walk into the languages office (where I very excitingly received my very own desk!) each morning, took only a few minutes and as it was through school grounds, enabled me to build up a rapport with some of the pupils already around. Some were extremely shy and only when I said hello in Thai would they reply. Others almost ran away when I asked how they were so I began to ask them in Thai ‘Sabai dee mai kha?’ until they were comfortable enough with me to attempt their very limited English.
During my first week at Lamae Wittaya School I was asked to tutor some pupils for a competition. I loved doing this but had to accept that a lot of the pupils would memorise what they were being told without actually learning. It was quite frustrating, especially when the teachers shrugged it off as normal. However my early morning and after school tutoring resulted in more gold medals than Lame Wittaya had ever received before so despite the annoyance I was quite proud of their achievements! I hoped that the confidence gained from the gold medals would give the pupils the encouragement and confidence to concentrate and learn English properly rather than memorise it.
After a few weeks in Lamae I travelled back to Ao Nang with a few other teaching volunteers to go to the monthly BBQ. Although it was a bit of a trek, a van to Surat Thani and then a bus to Krabi, it was well worth the effort! Lamae was incredibly quiet and there was nothing to do and no where to go after dark so being back in civilisation was fantastic! We spent the day on Railay beach which we got to by longtail boat as it is cut off from traffic. Words can’t describe just how beautiful it was, the mountains overlooking the beach were immense and if you looked closely you could see rock climbers. Relaxing with volunteers outside of the school was a fantastic experience and led me to find a travelling partner once my placement had finished.
I’m not going to deny that being in such a remote place as Lamae was quite a hard experience. As quite a sociable person I found it rather difficult being so far away from other volunteers, however I would not have changed my experience for the world. I gained so much confidence and many life skills which have not only helped me at University but will continue to help me when I become a qualified teacher. I would thoroughly recommend that anyone thinking of having an overseas adventure, but is anxious about travelling alone, to go with Projects Abroad. Not only does it enable you to travel independently but with full support; it also broadens your horizons in a way you may not otherwise experience. I will certainly do much more travelling and work abroad thanks to my experiences with Projects Abroad.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.