The Hayes Family, Nan Province
When we were looking for volunteer groups which could accommodate our young family Volunthai was one of the first to take us on and certainly one of the most welcoming. Our experience in Thailand could best be described as transformative.
I am not entirely sure what my expectations were heading into our stay from early October through the end of November. Having never been overseas before I had no frame of reference for comparison. But regardless of my naiveté I was not only impressed but very much humbled by the people and culture. Prior to our travels we had read up on what to expect in Thailand in terms of cultural norms and the like. While the books and blogs are correct that the Thai people always seem to be smiling I do not think they did justice to how welcoming and gracious they truly are. Our encounters in every city, temple, restaurant, and shop were pleasant and seemingly memorable.
I would unequivocally recommend this program to anyone who is interested in volunteering and teaching. The children with whom we worked were not only highly engaged but very attentive and excited to learn English. The teachers also often engaged in learning activities clearly interested in how they could continue teaching after we had left. They were also very willing to entertain our interests in learning more about their culture, food, and language.
I would recommend that anyone interested consider a longer term stay especially if the assignment is with the younger learners. In our experience the younger children took a week or two to feel comfortable with us. Though once they did feel more comfortable with our teaching they became very affectionate often greeting us with hugs and high fives. We also found that especially with the younger kids that games, songs, and activities with action were very effective.
I would also suggest, especially for westerners, to be prepared for a much different pace of life and for flexibility in planning. My wife and I both agreed that timing seemed to be very much like island time. Things got done to be sure but there did not seem to be an overwhelming rush like we see in the United States. Moreover, plans tend to shift and sometimes do not even exist at all. For anyone who is regimented in a routine or expecting to have an extensive game plan this could be frustrating or unwelcome. As we came to learn this is one of the best parts about Thai life. All things get done in due time, and most importantly with a smile on your face.
Michael, once again thank you. I will forever be grateful to the people with whom we spent so much time in Thailand. Their generous and kind hearts will warm my soul for as many days as I have left to live. I cannot believe how impactful their friendship and love has been and I will be forever indebted to them for it.
You can contact us with any questions, and see more from our trip to Thailand, as well as other please we're volunteering around the world, here:
Ian and Yolanda, USA/Australia
On arrival in Nan Province, Mr Patiwat assigned us to help school children at Keungngammongkol Primary School, a villlage close to town. The school had 240 school children, from pre-school, Kindergarten to Grade 6. Each grade was a class of 30 students.
Ian was assigned to class/grades 4 - 6, and I was assigned to class/grades 1 - 3. We taught each class everyday for about 1 hour, a total of 3 hours/day, and preschool/kindergarten were taught once a week. For the rest of the day, we prepared lesson plans and researched for materials on the Internet. Ian used the school's course books as a guide for the lessons, adding his own worksheets, flashcards, games etc. I used more materials from YouTube.
After a few days of being in the classes, I noticed that the children enjoyed singing and exercises. I engaged the students by introducing new words to their vocabulary. Every day, I practically played the same songs ("Head, shoulders, knees and toes", "If you're Happy and you Know It", etc...now ringing in my ears! Lol) then checked on their memory of the new words they were supposed to learn from the songs. I noticed that the children had difficulty in reading and speaking English, and therefore practiced by reading lyrics of songs, practiced speaking by encouraging them to speak speak speak, pronouncing the words from the songs, and engaging them in simple conversation.
We committed to helping for one month, and as much as we would have wanted to extend our stay, we had already booked our flights out. I left the teaching materials I used to a couple teachers and asked them to continue to play the videos, with the hopes that the children retain the English words that they have put into memory, and engage in simple English conversations.
As to our homestay, we were hosted by the school deputy principal, Mr. Teerawat Kiddee, who spoke some English. We had a very spacious room, with a mattress set on the floor, and we were okay "Japanese style". We were also assigned our own Western toilet/wet bath. Mr. Kiddee did most of the cooking, if not buying prepared food. He and his son, Mark took turns on giving us a tour to the mountains and nearby places of interest on weekends, introducing us to local food and traditions, introducing us to neighbors who are actually relatives.
All the school teachers and staff were so accommodating and friendly, our stay for one month was an experience of mutual friendship and everyday joys and laughter. There was so much to learn from everyone including the children.
Raman and Caitlin, UK
My friend Caitlin and I had a truly unforgettable experience at Chae Hom School. We both taught 12 classes each week individually whereby we taught English vocabulary and grammar through various activities. You can definitely tell the difference between Western and Thai culture in school where, for example, students remove their footwear inside the building and in teachers offices. A highlight in school was on the day when students maintained the plants and gardens around the campus in the morning to demonstrate their self-discipline and respect for their environment. Caitlin and I were overwhelmed by how respectful and appreciative Thais are, and how they are always willing to give a helping hand. Thai people are also the most humorous and chilled people we have ever met! The students and teachers became our friends and family, whom we already miss dearly!
No words can describe how ideal our homestay, family and town were. We had a scenic view of beautiful rice fields. Our host, Seksan, lived with his mother, his 4 dogs, twenty chickens, several fishes, a bird and a cat; a full house! His sister, her partner and nephew lived in the home next door but it felt like they lived in the same home we did since they were always around. Seksan is a teacher whom specializes in Thai wood carving he showed us how he designs and creates various wooden products (Ive attached a photo) and we got the chance to create a smaller product ourselves! We were immersed to all kinds of Thai foods (they are seasoned so well and most probably the tastiest food weve ever had!) but our favorites were definitely the exotic fruits, such as dragon fruit.
Big thanks to Volunthai!!!
Wow! Our first mention in a TED talk! This was given by the author John Marshall, who volunteered with us a few years ago and also wrote a book about the experience:
Briony Weddell, 18, Australia
When I first got to Thailand I imagined smiling faces, elephants, and exotic culture. It was all I had expected, and more!
I have so many fond memories of my experiences in Thailand, and I was very fortunate to be placed with a family who I now call my own. Everyone was so accommodating and I felt I blended in right away. In my host family there was a mother and a father with a five year old daughter (I have always wanted a little sister!). Some spoke limited English, but we soon found a few jokes and couldn't stop laughing! Some of my favourite memories would have to be playing soccer in the park with my host family while the sun went down, and walking into school every morning to see the smiling faces of my students, all wanting a high five! I also enjoyed going to the night market for dinner, and generally any time with my host family.
Teaching in Thailand can be challenging at first. My host mum and all the Thai teachers were very supportive, and in no time all my worries had vanished. I gained confidence and soaked up the amazing experience. After school finished I would go for a walk in the park with my little sister sitting on my shoulders, merrily singing nursery rhymes. One thing I found in Thailand is that the people can be quite shy, so I urge you to try to connect with them. Once you do, they are the kindest, funniest, most laid back people with a truly positive outlook on life.
Thank you Thailand for this amazing experience, I hope to see you again soon!
Audrey Dillhoff, USA
I graduated from Texas A&M University in May 2015 and wanted to do something different. Volunthai was the perfect opportunity for me. I committed to 1 full year teaching and it has been the best decision I have ever made. Here in rural Thailand I am working with students who overflow with happiness, despite the obstacles they have faced. I have treasured learning about their stories and aspirations, so much so that I stay after school to further tutor or talk with them. The people here are constantly teaching me how to lead my life with continuous generosity, love, selflessness and kindness. Thailand is truly the Land of Smiles!
For more about my year in Thailand (and lots of photos), you can visit my blog:
John Marshall and his family volunteered with Volunthai a few years ago, and his new book 'Wide-Open World' has a great chapter on the experience.
His blog also has some pics from their time in Thailand:
Fodor's Travel just included Volunthai in a slideshow about volunteering around the world!
Here's a link to a Washington Post article that volunteers George and Mary wrote about their experience:
Yvanka, the Netherlands
In January I was a volunteer on Mahachanachai Wittayakom secondary school in Yasothon, Thailand. I had a great time with all the students and with my host family. I would definitely recommend being a volunteer at that school. You'll have a warm welcome.
The Perry Family (with two small children helping in the classroom) made this awesome video of their time in Si Saket Province:
Let them know if you have any questions about volunteering with Volunthai: Madeline Perry firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Lucien, France
My friend and I were volunteers in Mahachanachai Vittayakhom school from June to August as part of our French university program. During these months I was an English teacher for different classes and different levels of students. When we arrived, the teachers and students were very nice to us and we had a very warm welcome. We prepared lessons about us and about France and we asked them to present about themselves to learn something about them. At the beginning it was difficult to communicate with them because they didn't understand our English and we didn't speak Thai. Fortunately, we and the students were very motivated to communicate and we adapted our lessons with role-playing games such as how to get directions, how to order in a restaurant, and how to make a telephone appointment. The students did the dialogue with us and after that presented in pairs in front of the class. We also made games for the younger students to learn animals, foods, introductions, etc. We also taught some French games because they were very curious about that. Therefore we created a real relationship with each class.
I think the biggest challenge is that it was difficult to communicate with them at the beginning because lots of them were very shy and didn't have confidence by themselves. Thai students are very attentive and eager to learn but they dared not to talk with us. Therefore, we decided to propose playful lessons instead of boring lessons. Thanks to this, the students felt more relaxed and they understood that the main aim was to speak even if their English is not perfect. It was a very beautiful reward when they started talking more and more.
I learned lots of things about Thailand, in particular about the Buddhist religion, and about the importance of the king. I discovered lots of traditions about the monarchy through their celebrations. Thai people are very attached to their traditions. I can see that with the many celebrations at school when the students dress up to pay respect to teachers, the king, and the monks. I also saw that Thai people are very open minded, straightforward, and generous. The students and teachers insisted on eating with us and sharing their food (sharing is very important in Thailand).
Our last day was very difficult for everybody to say goodbye, but I hope to stay in touch with lots of my new Thai friends!
I was a volunteer in Thailand from June to August as part of my French business school coursework. I learnt a lot about myself and I am definitely more open minded now. My principal mission was to teach English to the children and I am sure that they enjoyed it. I adapted my teaching to the students level, and tried every day to be creative. Thai students are very excited about to have foreigners as a teacher. Now my students can speak about themselves and they are able to explain their ideas in English.
I also learned a lot about Thailand. Firstly I was very lucky to live with host family. It is the best way to know a new culture. Moreover my host could speak some English, so it was nice to speak with him to learn more about Thailand. Thai people are very nice and always smiling, and they are always very happy to help you. To illustrate this idea I remember that every single day they asked me if I was happy, and when I answered Yes, they replied that they were happy because I was happy! This anecdote shows exactly the mentality of Thai people. And even though my hosts was not rich, they gave me everything I needed.
To conclude I want to say you thank you to Volunthai for this fantastic experience. It was exactly what I was looking for: the rich human experience of discovering a new culture.
I am a student in France and I volunteered in June-August as part of my coursework. Volunteering has taught me values that I would learn not in normal travels like sharing and valuing your neighbors. It also taught me to stay humble and to not judge anyone. I think volunteering is a great life experience and this will serve me in my future work to enhance my relationships with people.
I learned a lot of things about Thailand, like religion plays a very important role in the peoples life. What also struck me was the hospitality of the Thais. They were ready to accommodate us without us even knowing us. For example, on the first day we arrived, we had the honor of being invited to a wedding that we didn't know the couple. That really impressed me and I have very fond memories. I also learned to appreciate Thai food. The food can be very spicy, and it took me some time to get used to it!
My biggest challenge during the placement was to win the confidence of children to learn from me. It was not always easy, but I think I succeeded. Every day I tried to play sports with them or make them more comfortable around me, and I think I succeeded!
George and Mary in Ubon Province
Mary and I started our second volunteer teaching assignment at Khemmarat Pittayakom ("sharp knowledge") School yesterday. We were introduced to the 1,800 7th to 12th grade students after the flag raising, asked to make a few remarks, and presented with bouquets! Then we met with the English teachers and were given a tour by Mr. Itthipon, the head of the English Department. Today we started our classroom teaching. The school is very near where we're staying; we love the convenience and the opportunity to get to know our neighbors better, but we do miss all the wonderful teachers and students at our previous homestay, Baan Nong Phue School, where we volunteered for almost 5 months. [You can see our photos from Baan Nong Phue on this blog's photo section, and read more about it below]