Natalie is graduated in 2013 with a degree in education. She is currently working as a teaching assistant and part-time at a restaurant, but she loves to travel.Interviewed on - 10 August 2016
My brother inspired me to take this trip. I went to visit him in Paris during his junior year abroad and loved the experience, so I wanted to try something new!
The reviews of this program online were great, and the program details seemed like things I would realistically be able to do on my first trip to Asia.
My favorite part of Thailand was being able to see temples and understand more about Buddhism and Thai culture; I learned so much!
The local staff was amazing and accommodating. Our directors were supportive and so knowledgeable of the places we visited, and the locals in the area were very appreciative of our efforts to speak Thai (thanks to the lessons from our director during our first week)!
I don't feel as though there was anything difficult about volunteering abroad, but it did take time to adjust to the culture and climate of Thailand.
I wish I had stayed longer after my trip to explore more; there is so much more to see!
A typical work day in our program consisted of school/lessons from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with lunch in the middle of the day. We did five or six lessons per day, about a half hour for each lesson. On our days off, we spent time exploring on foot, bikes, and boats, and were able to visit popular and cultural places (i.e. malls, temples, markets, etc.).
I think meeting new people from all different places, and having the ability to explore as much as we did made this experience really unique.
In my free time I loved walking on the street and finding new places to visit and to eat. The street markets were fantastic places to shop. Our excursions were always incredible. We visited many temples and were able to get a better feel for the areas in which we stayed by exploring on bikes and on foot.
Our accommodation was slightly different in each location, but we always shared a room. In Bangkok, we stayed in a hostel (three bunk beds per room) which was clean and almost felt like college all over again, so fun! In Ayutthaya we stayed four to a room, and in Korat we stayed two per room. All accommodations were clean, and although some took some adjusting, they were all worth the experience!
I was surprised that the religion and culture of Thailand is woven into every part of their daily lives. To see how important the Thai culture is to the people of Thailand was really amazing.
Every participant should know what they are truly getting themselves into. Every part of your day will be different from home; the atmosphere, language, customs, language, and food all take some adjustment, but if you plan ahead and do your research (what is polite, what to wear, what to expect from food, etc.) you will be fine.
It was very difficult to communicate with locals. Not many people spoke English, so it was definitely important to try to use the Thai language we had learned or come up with different ways to communicate (i.e. take photos of food you like, so you can show it at a restaurant).
I wish I had known what lesson topics we were going to be teaching, because as I tried to prepare materials for my lessons, I kept thinking of materials I had at home that I could have used and wished I had brought.
Think about your whole day and pack accordingly. I tend to get sick easily abroad, and should've thought to see a doctor and get medications before I left. I also spent the whole time wishing I had brought things like a pillowcase for hostels and a sweatshirt for the plane.
I feel like volunteering abroad really changes your perspective on a number of things, and I really believe that we all left feeling as though we had done something so meaningful and eye-opening.
To come home and know you have made a difference in someone else's life, while also immersing yourself in another country's culture and learning about another part of the world, is a truly wonderful feeling.
I want to travel so much more! I feel like I can do anything now, and this experience has taught me so much about myself as a professional and a traveler.
I would absolutely recommend this program to others, because the entire experience will change your life and teach you so much. For me, I was able to learn about and experience a culture and an area of the world that I may not have been able to navigate on my own. Be prepared, but do something that scares you!
I would like to explore different parts of the world, so I would like to go to another place in Asia or Europe.