Natalie Riecker - 2016 Program Participant

Foreign tourists near a beach in Thailand
Me and my bestie

What inspired you to go abroad?

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!

Why did you choose GeoVisions?

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.

What was your favorite part about Thailand?

My favorite part of Thailand was being able to see temples and understand more about Buddhism and Thai culture; I learned so much!

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

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)!

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

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.

Girl wearing a bikini on a boat in Thailand

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had stayed longer after my trip to explore more; there is so much more to see!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

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.).

What made your experience with GeoVisions unique?

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.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

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.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

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!

Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand
Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand

What surprised you most about Thailand?

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.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

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.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

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).

What is one thing you wish you would have known before teaching in Thailand?

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.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Thailand?

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.

Long-tailed Macaques in Lopburi, Thailand
Long-tailed Macaques in Lopburi, Thailand

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

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.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life? 

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.

Would you recommend GeoVisions to others? Why? 

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!

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I would like to explore different parts of the world, so I would like to go to another place in Asia or Europe.