I am fast approaching the end of my Volunthai experience. I am based in Yasothon province in Kho Wang. How do I begin to describe such an experience?! If I had to describe all of the wonderful and amazing experiences I have had I would be here for pages, so here are the highlights! Itís 4am, I am on the bus to Si Sa Ket from Chaiyaphum (following my over night training) alone. I am really feeling alone! I am the only ďfarangĒ on the bus and quite frankly I have no idea where I am to get off. Hand on my heart, at this point anxiety was really setting in. What was in store for me for the next few weeks? I had no idea. My mind was racing.
The bus conductor informed me we had arrived at Si Sa Ket. I got off the bus feeling a mixture of excitement and fear. There to greet me was the head of English from my school. Instantly I felt relaxed. She was so friendly, warm and bubbly. The fear vanished; the excitement grew. Going to the school for the first time, I truly felt like some sort of A list celeb. They were so excited to see me, as was everyone in the village!
Teaching is a very individual experience but for me this is the true reward. Seeing the students laugh and smile is a beautiful sight. During my time here, I can honestly say I have not seen even one minor confrontation between student and teacher or student and student. They are friendly, mild mannered, helpful and adorable! Many of them are scared of speaking English Ė this is where the challenge lies. Being a teacher, I went about assessing the needs of the kids during the first few days. I believe that training them to speak is where we can make a real difference Ė pronunciation mainly. The teachers here can provide them with new vocabulary and worksheets. What makes a volunteer stand out is their ability to speak English. A good website is www.soundsofenglish.org. If you would like more info on this feel free to e-mail me. firstname.lastname@example.org It is amazing what fun you can have with some chalk and a few words!
As for weekends, well, I have rice farmed, learned to cook traditional Thai food, visited many temples (even one made from 1,000,000 bottles), shopped, pampered myself for next to nothing, visited the Laos border, had my fortune told by a monk! My homestay can not do enough to ensure that I am comfortable and happy all of the time. She is so selfless, and would surely half her heart with me if I asked. They can not do enough for me.
However, I would recommend that you read and examine what Michael has written in his information pack very carefully. He really does tell it like it is. At times, you are certain to feel isolated, confused or frustrated. I experienced a culture shock even though I had traveled in Thailand previously. Itís natural. Itís difficult to get used to not being able to go anywhere by yourself or even read a menu and order food for yourself. I guess if you enjoy traveling then you are a pretty independent person and this sort of removes part of the independence. However, this is part of what makes the experience stand out from the usual tourist trail in Thailand (which I have also experienced). I have learned so much more about Thai culture than I ever would back packing. A lot of what I learned simply isnít accessible when back packing. If you are not prepared to deal with this as Michael suggests then this experience is not for you. For me it has been so fulfilling and rewarding.