10 Things to Consider Before Volunteering Abroad in Thailand

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As someone that’s considering volunteering abroad in Thailand, you are courageous, adventurous, and desire to see change. However, you may not have stepped outside the borders of your own country, don’t speak a lick of Thai, or aren’t sure what to expect in this Southeastern Asian culture...and quite frankly, are nervous!

White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

White Temple in Chiang Rai Thailand

This is normal, and congrats to you for taking that first step in pursuing a calling to serve. Before you volunteer in Thailand, peruse these top ten things to consider before you book your ticket and set off on your volunteer abroad experience.

1. Can I Really Live Halfway Across the World?

Volunteering abroad in Thailand is one of the most exhilarating and adventurous decisions you could make! As you may know this beautiful country (for most of you) is literally on the other side of the world! To some volunteers this may be exactly what you’ve been wanting, while for others it may strike a nerve! Of course there are pros and cons to the distance, if one word of advice could be given it would be…don’t let fear hold you back! There are many aspects of life that are completely uncontrollable; rest assured that you will not be alone in this adventure!

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Thai people act with respect in all circumstances; in fact it’s the most important characteristic of their culture and relationship building! There are many levels of displaying it, including different titles given based on age and various Wie’s (bows) to be shown at the each time of greeting. A volunteer in Thailand will not be expected to understand this to the fullest upon arrival, make sure to take the time to talk to your leader and do some research on this system and you’ll be an expert before you know it!

Figurine Buddhist Monks in Northern Thailand

Figurines of Buddhist Monks holding offering baskets at a Temple in Northern Thailand

3. A Whole New World

There are many cultural differences that you will experience as a volunteer in Thailand and it’s not possible to understand them all before your arrival! Prior to coming, work towards learning to laugh at your own mistakes! Your time as a volunteer abroad is a long lasting learning experience. Do your best to go easy on yourself and maintain an open mind. 

4. Phut Cha Cha Dai Mai Kha?

“Can you speak slower please”? This phrase is one to keep in your pocket when volunteering in Thailand. The younger Thai generation has strong English speaking skills and is ready to help ferang (foreigners) who are still learning survival Thai at any point. Upon arrival, do your best to ask questions, take a few language classes, and definitely do not be intimidated! When considering volunteering in Thailand view language learning as a unique challenge.

5. Suprise!

Many Westerners don’t exactly like surprises. In the West, people tend to be significantly more schedule conscience and anything someone may do to interfere with that is seen as rude. In Thailand, scheduling is a foreign term! When considering volunteering in Thailand it is very important to evaluate how schedule conscience you are yourself. This spontaneous way of living is different to many coming to the field. Rest assured though, that after a few sighs of frustrations you will learn to love this easygoing lifestyle.

Pha See Eaw Noodle Dish in Thailand

Pha See Eaw- Famous Thai Noodle Dish

6. Noodles, Rice, and Soup Oh My!

If you are from a Western culture there are three distinctively different cuisines for each meal. Right? When volunteering in Thailand you will notice there really isn’t a distinction. While Thai food is delectable, an incoming volunteer may want to start the adjustment prior to coming. The food types and flavors affect each volunteer differently. A word for ALL volunteers, try as much as you can, chances are, you’ll enjoy more of these unique dishes and traditions than you ever expected! 

7. Jai Yen Yen! Keep Your Cool!

Generally speaking, the Western business environment is a stressful one! Even just in daily conversation Westerners tend to raise their voices, yell, and scream. Thai people, on the other hand, will nearly never show even the slightest sign of losing their cool. In the Thai culture the people are taught to always smile, never complain, do not yell, and definitely don’t display anger. When considering volunteering in Thailand it is critical to be aware of this and to keep oneself in check while in the field. Losing one’s cool could result in the end of a relationship. Don't let this cause fear, just awareness!

Dragon fruit at market in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Fresh dragon fruit at a market in Chiang Mai

8. Right Before Your Eyes…

In the Western world, often people are distanced from many social injustices that surround them. In order to get an accurate depiction of a crisis one would have to turn on the news, pick up a magazine, or watch a documentary. In Thailand, many of these injustices are in plain sight! Amidst the beauty and splendor, those who volunteer in Thailand may witness beggars, signs of human trafficking, and deep poverty. Before volunteering in Thailand it is very important to consider that sights such as these will be a part of daily life. The incredible thing is that during your time as a volunteer in Thailand you will have the opportunity to do something about it, to make a positive impact! 

9. In My Mind Thailand is…

Stop there! It cannot be emphasized enough; don’t approach your volunteer experience in Thailand with expectations! If you have never been to Thailand, your head is most likely spinning with varied glimpses of what the country may be like. The best thing you could possibly do for yourself is to enjoy where you are right now, and take one step at a time. This will allow you to stand in awe and wonder during each exciting stage.

Truth is that Thailand is a whole world different from the place you call home. There is so much to explore, so much to discover and you can’t do that until you get there. During this time of preparation, don’t expect…anticipate.
Sign in Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wise words on Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai

10. Brace Yourself!

Some of you have never left your country of origin, so there is no doubt that you all have a vast array of questions, concerns, dreams, and wonders going through each of your minds. With all of this aside make sure you’re ready, because volunteering abroad is bound to change your life. Whether you end up deciding to spend years volunteering abroad in Thailand, or come back to your home country and spark a fundraising or awareness initiative, be excited! Very few people have the incredible opportunity of volunteering in Thailand in their lifetime, you are preparing to be one of the many fortunate ones. Make sure to come back and share you experiences with the world!

After reading this list, is volunteering in Thailand at the top of your list? Is it the country where you have decided to make an impact? This beautiful place has its differences, its challenges, and its beauty. Now that you’re armed with more cultural information on how to be successful and not detrimental in the Land of Smiles, it’s up to you to decide if you’re ready to take on volunteering in Thailand full force!

Here are 3 Volunteer Programs in Thailand to Get you Started:

Topic:  Before You Go