Volunteer case study: a home away from home

Chandni volunteered in a rural primary school in a remote part of Chiang Rai for four weeks this summer, here she reflects on her experience having recently returned to the UK, from living with a host family to trying the new food!

On the 26th July 2013 I left home to teach English in a small village in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I was feeling super apprehensive and nervous to be travelling alone for the first time. However I was even more nervous for the complete change in lifestyle, food and weather! My first night sleeping at my host family’s house was completely different; beds are on the floor, it’s extremely hot and all you can hear is the sound of bugs.

Chandni with her students

Chandni with her students

A typical day for me began at 6.15am, where I would begin to get ready for school and be ready to leave the house by 7.30am. Breakfast almost always consisted of rice with either pork or chicken. This was pretty hard to stomach at so early in the morning! My host dad felt a bit sorry for me and decided to give me toast for breakfast! Oh but I didn’t escape rice so easily! Rice is one of the staple foods here, so you’re bound to eat it pretty much every day, in one form or another.

My school was in a pretty rural area, but was surrounded with beautiful views of paddy fields (something you definitely don’t see at home). I was pretty nervous to teach as I’d not previously taught before, but I had nothing to worry about. The children are very eager to learn and they will want to know everything about you! Most are very shy to speak and extremely timid, but that’s just one of the things I helped them overcome.



Lunchtime at school was always from 11.30am-12.30pm and my project partner and I always had a separate meal made because the normal food was too ‘pet’ (spicy). Everyday there was different food and you mustn’t be afraid to try it! Just give everything a go; even if you don’t enjoy it you can say you tried it! Be sure to reply with Aroy! (tasty) or Mai –aroy (not tasty), so your host family can get to know your likes and dislikes a little better.

Fruit is one of the most amazing things you can try in Thailand! Some I’d never even seen or heard of until I came out here. Some are sour and sweet, some look weird but they taste incredible! One of the fruits I fell in love with didn’t look very edible, but had an intriguing ruby red, spiky skin, which is removed to reveal the yummy fruit inside. It is called Rambutan and it was delicious!

Body parts

Interactive lessons: learning body parts

Lessons involved being active and getting the children out of their normal desk and chair routine. Whilst teaching the topic the human body; a fun and interesting lesson involved the pupils drawing around another pupil and then naming the different body parts. The lesson was a good way to get the pupils learning naming basic body parts. By moving the desks and creating a new learning space in the classroom, the pupils were energized and even more eager to learn what was going to come next!

I usually taught 3 lessons a day, any free lesson periods I had I used to plan and organise lessons for the following day. One of the school days fell on Thai Mother’s Day so as a change from teaching, the pupils were able to make mother’s day cards in English!

The feeling of teaching is unexplainable; you really do gain a feeling of satisfaction. The children are most eager, especially after being very shy on the first few days! I found that most would follow me around and try and ask me questions about my home life in English!

Chandni with her host family and volunteer partner

Chandni with her host family and volunteer partner

Weekends are free time and a great way to unwind and relax. The first weekend the July VESL volunteers spent the weekend in Chiang Rai city. It was good fun and it gave the volunteers a chance to compare and contrast their first week at their project, visit the night market and do some shopping!

Keeping one weekend free for your host is also great as they will take you places you would never think of going as a ‘tourist’. This gives a chance to experience real Thai culture, not to mention unforgettable memories with your host family. My host was very eager in showing my project partner and I as much as they could! As a result I think I’ve had an amazing time here and experienced so much more than I would have if just came as a ‘tourist’.

My time in Thailand has been a memorable one; being able to teach English to children who have so little and in a school with very few resources has been a challenge. A challenge which I think I have completed well.Teaching in 35 degree heat is not easy, so I hope I’ve made a difference to my pupils who are very enthusiastic and have a bright and exciting future ahead of them.

My host family have made me feel like I’ve never left home; a home away from home! I share many memories and good times with them, all of which I will never forget.

Interesting in volunteering in Thailand? Apply now!

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