Two volunteers from Edge Hill University, Emma & Becca, have written an excellent blog about their first two weeks in Chiang Rai. They are volunteering in a primary school and living in accommodation a short walk from the school, their host family live in a separate house and here they talk about how they’ve been welcomed into the community and how one day is never the same!
Working out where to start with writing about our experiences so far in Thailand is really hard because of the number of random events that happen in just one day. There is never a typical day here, everyday is different and with it brings new experiences and a lot of culture. When we first arrived and heard we were not staying with a family we were shocked and a bit apprehensive if we are honest, but after only 2 weeks here we would not have it any other way. Living separate to a family means you have your own space to relax but at the same time you have an amazing experience with a whole school of host parents. We definitely think that by living by ourselves we have not missed out on anything, we still visit host’s houses, we eat lunch and dinner with our big extended Thai family and our hosts still want to take us everywhere to see their culture.
Coming out with no teaching experience was quite scary but make sure you really take on board all the advise your Student Leaders give you. They have done it before and they know exactly what you are letting yourself in for. Confidence and enthusiasm goes along way when teaching the children out here, they are used to having boring parrot lessons with recorded songs, so get them on their feet, colouring in, dancing, shouting and playing games. The satisfaction we get from knowing the children have enjoyed a lesson gets you through the hard classes where you feel slightly defeated. The children are so loving and are so keen to learn English. When you really make a breakthrough it reminds you why you are our here and gives you the confidence that you are making a difference.
Being prepared for spontaneous events is something you really need to be aware of out here, to name one random event that has happened here for us is being taken to a Thai funeral. We were having some free time emailing family in our bedroom then we heard our host mum ‘Chit’ at our back door, after going down stairs she said “you come funeral?”. We agreed to go even though it was a very strange situation not knowing the woman who had passed but every Thai experience is something to remember as you get immersed in a whole new world of culture just in one afternoon. Others include going to temples, going dress makers to have your Thai outfit fitted, and experiencing the wonders of the market, it really is an eye opener.
Weekends away are great, on our second weekend the whole of the VESL Team for July this year met up in Chiang Rai. This gave us time to talk about our experiences and gain perspective on our projects. The weekends are your own time to go ride elephants, see temples and do general tourism but give some time to your hosts on some weekends as they want to show you things you would never have thought about visiting. Our hosts want us to see as much of their culture as possible and with their help we are seeing more than we dreamed of.
The food situation is scary, much of the food and fruits they give to you don’t look appetizing but surprisingly we have only had one or two meals we weren’t fond of. Food may look gross and inedible but try it! If you are not a fan of rice then you should probably get over that because it comes as part of 90% of meals, we thought before we came out here people were exaggerating but they are not. However the rice does come in many forms so there is slight variation. The fruits out here are strange, what they think is sweet our taste buds say sour and what they think is sour is actually sweet. If they tell you to dip in sugar, be warned their sugar is mixed with salt and it’s a bit eye watering. For all we crave English meals, we do tend to have a new surprise everyday and we like majority of things they give us. If they offer you Pumpkin, pork and egg, TRY IT! It’s a refreshing change to some of the meals.
Coming out here we had prepared for everything to do with bites, however the worst we have had is ant bites on our feet which were rather itchy. As long as you use the right repellent and don’t get cocky thinking you won’t get bitten, the bite situation here is not bad. Advise would be if your host offers an electric bat take it, they are awesome and its quite a fun activity for a bed time routine and if you don’t bring tiger balm with you, get yourself to a chemist and buy Golden Cup balm it’s the same thing and really works!
This is just a taste of life in Thailand because as you can imagine we can go on forever as our journals will show when we get back to England. One last point we would like to make is to take every random opportunity as it comes and be prepared for absolutely any situation you may be put in.
Read blogs, talk to past volunteers, read online forums and most importantly have a good relationship with your Student Leader, they are your fountain of knowledge, they are here to keep your confidence up and provide advice. They will be your rock throughout so make the most of them. This experience only in two weeks has been life changing; we are falling in love with the way of life, with the people and with the beautiful views of this amazing country.